• The Last Romantics

    One of the book clubs I’m in is the monthly Barnes & Noble one. It’s a nationwide thing, so if there’s a store near you, there should be an event. I really like it, because it exposes me to authors and books that I wouldn’t typically read. Generally speaking, that’s what I like about book clubs, but often homebrew book clubs fall into niches with certain genres and such. (Which is fine, but that’s why this is also fun)

    The book we discussed this month was The Last Romantics. The book follows the story of four siblings over most of their lives. While it lightly touches on other events, the story primarily revolves around two unexpected deaths, and how the siblings fall apart, pull together, and how their lives are affected moving forward. 

    The story is told from the perspective of the youngest sister, Fiona, who will later grow up to become a well-known poet. She’s essentially telling her family’s story for an audience. Personally, I love family stories. I love seeing how people are shaped by events, how their relationships change, and how the author drops little teasers such as “the pause”. That alone kept me turning pages, because I wanted to see what “the pause” was, and whom it affected!

    Some of the criticisms of the book were that there were too many loose ends,  and that there were more stories that should’ve been told. I understand, but I think the book primarily revolves around two main events, and while there are details that help fill in around those two events, this is why the book is the way it is. To understand “the accident”, you have to understand “the pause” because the pause sets up this path. The book then follows the aftermath of the accident in bits and pieces, but everything really ties back to those two things. Personally, I think the fact that we get any sort of “this is what happens to the characters later” is a nice little bone. The more I think about it, it’s not all that different from the ending of Titanic - we finish up the primary event of Rose’s life, and then we’re given glimpses of what happened for her moving forward. 

    Not everyone loved the book, and it is a different read, but I really enjoyed it. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll end up re-reading it, but I’m going to keep it, at least for a while, because I would like to. Given how many books I plow through (though not as many as I’d like lately!), that’s saying something. 

  • 5 Seconds

    Recently, I read The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins after having heard her speak virtually. I had seen the cover of the book beforehand, and I know I rolled my eyes. It sounded super gimmicky, and maybe it still is, but it's a gimmick that actually makes sense. 

    It's super easy.

    Any time you are on the verge of making a decision, and you know that you're going to find a reason not to do the thing you're supposed to do, just count backwards from 5 and move. What it does is it reboots your brain and takes it from automatic to manual, and then you can make yourself move.

    Let me explain a little better. The way this came about was that Robbins needed help getting out of bed in the morning. Counting backwards from 5 and then getting up before her brain could object helped her take charge of her day, instead of laying in bed, going back to sleep, or putzing on her phone for an hour before getting up at the last minute. 

    You can use this trick when you need a boost of bravery. Need to make that phone call? 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and dial. Want to go to the gym? Count down and lace up the shoes before your brain finds excuses not to. (And we know that there are always excuses not to)

    It can also be used to help reroute anxiety. When an anxious thought hits, count backwards and then start thinking of something positive - like your kids, or your pets, or whatever makes you genuinely happy. To be honest, it didn't really work the first time I tried it for this, but I kept practicing, and I have to say, I've been able to cut off a lot of anxious thoughts before they spin out. 

    The neatest thing I've learned from the book is that anxiety and excitement are really the same thing in our brain, just interpreted different ways. So if you can start telling yourself that you are excited about the thing, (like going out to meet people), you can start getting your brain to cooperate. 

    So, as I said - simple stuff, and really neat. I recommend picking up the book, as it's a pretty quick read, and Robbins does a much better job explaining it than I ever could. (Which makes sense, since it's her thing) 

    If you're looking for a boost, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and GO.

  • Console Wars

    Recently, I finished Console Wars by Blake J. Harris. Coming in at a little over 600 pages, it's a good chunk of book. I ended up chipping away at it on my tablet over a couple months, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment. It was a really interesting read, for a few different reasons.

    Console Wars has a lot of facts and backstory on the big three console makers in the early-mid 90's. For instance - did you know that Nintendo started out as one man who made playing cards? Japan had a ban on playing cards until the late 1800's. When that ban was lifted, Nintendo was one of the first makers to hit the market - and their cards were better quality than a lot of others, so they took off. I love reading about things like that. 

    Another point of interest for me is that the bulk of this book takes place around the time that I was just starting to play video games myself. I wasn't necessarily old enough to get excited about video games coming out, but Sonic 2 was one of the first games I really played with my dad. (Along with Mortal Kombat, Streets of Rage, Street Fighter...) For me, it was really interesting to see what was going on behind the scenes during a time period I can remember. (I mean, I read my fair share of history books, and I have no practical knowledge of Tudor england, so this is cool in a different way)

    It's also interesting to see how the choices made by these companies over 20 years ago now have shaped how the industry has taken shape. If it weren't for Sega pushing back against Nintendo, they may have continued to dictate fiercely how stores could handle their products. Like not offering discounts. You read that right. It's because of Sega that Nintendo was forced to discount their games from time to time. 

    What makes this book really shine is that it's not just an impersonal narrative filled with facts. It primarily follows the journey of Sega's Tom Kalinske as he turned Sega into a real competitor for Nintendo in the early 90's. Throughout the book, you get to know the people involved in the story. As the book starts to wind down, it's even more frustrating that Sega of Japan made such poor decisions for their American counterparts, because you've spent so much time with them. 

    How would Sega have fared if they hadn't pushed the Sega Saturn out to America too soon? What if they had tried to work harder with their Genesis software, the way Nintendo had a rebirth of the SNES with Donkey Kong Country? 

    Seeing the glory days of Sega, and seeing now what they've become - which is hardly a blip on the gaming radar - it's depressing. But if you have any interest in the history of video games, this is a journey worth going on. 

  • Lilac Girls

    This was one of those books where, as soon as I read the back cover, I knew I wanted to read it. Lilac Girls did not disappoint.

    The book is set around and during World War 2, and follows the lives of three different women - Caroline, a New York socialite who pours her time and money into trying to help refugees and those stuck in France; Herta, a german doctor who finds herself working at Ravensbruck concentration camp; and Kasia, a Polish teenager who works for the underground. 

    Given the time period and the subject matter, I knew that the novel wouldn't be a fluffy walk in the park. But I have to admit, for a good chunk of the book, I could only read so many chapters before I had to put it down. At times, the novel is bleak and gutwrenching - it seems like nothing good can happen to these characters. But that said, it also feels very authentic. Anything lighter would be doing the subject matter a real disservice.

    It's a great story, and a potent reminder of the damage that unchecked hate can do. Personally, I think this one should be required reading. It's that good.

  • Better Than Before: LOOPHOLES!

    Habits can be both surprisingly tough and yet, very fragile. There are habits that, once cemented, would take great difficulty to break, and others that require our concentration long after the "magic" 21 day mark. (By the way, 21 days is actually not the magic number. It varies greatly by person, by habit, and how that person forms habits. It's not a bad marker, it just doesn't tell the whole story.) 

    Safeguards help us to aniticipate and minimize temptation. It can keep a lapse from turning into a full relapse. 

    How do we put safeguards into place? Implement "if-then" statements. Put the energy into planning up front - IF they want to go out for coffee, I'll get a small. IF they want to go to a movie, I'll bow out because I need sleep. IF I get a milkshake tonight, then I'll skip dessert tomorrow. Putting energy in up front means that we don't need to think on our feet later. 

    Research shows that when people are forming habits, the earlier repetitions help most to establish it. Start your habit strong, and protect your habit the most right in the beginning, and it will pay off later.

    You can also use planned exceptions. The key word here is planned. Exceptions are best made for something memorable. Skipping the gym to watch tv may not make you feel great later, but skipping the gym to go to a once-in-a-lifetime concert is another story. Think about how you'll feel about the exception later. Will you say "it was worth it!" or not? If it isn't worth it, you may want to reconsider.

    Now, I'm going to run through loopholes. The strategy of loophole spotting can be useful, because for most of us, we will come back to some of the same loopholes over and over. Knowing what we're doing can help us either close the loopholes, or at least make a mindful decision. 

    Moral licensing - Permission to be "bad", because we've been good. "I went to the gym last night, so I can totally have an egg mcmuffin for breakfast" (Note: You can just have the egg mcmuffin without justifying it. It's okay.) 

    Tomorrow - Now doesn't matter, because we're going to do it tomorrow. "I'll eat well tomorrow."

    False choice - Thinking that two activities are in opposition to one another when they aren't necessarily. "I'm too busy to make dinner. Better eat out." 

    Lack of Control - Feeling like we can't control things when we can. "I can't possibly resist buying this book."

    Arranging to fail - A chain of seemingly harmless decisions that allow us to engineer circumstances that we can't resist. "Oops, I forgot to eat breakfast this morning, and I'm right by this bakery." or "I watched too much tv and now I can't do the dishes."

    This doesn't count - Self explanatory. "I can eat whatever I want because I'm on vacation."

    Questionable Assumption -  Weird mental blocks that may or may not be true. "I can't exercise now, I've already showered today."

    Concern for others - Acting out of consideration for others or to fit in socially, whether or not it's warranted. "I have to eat this cake, because aunt Edna would be upset if I didn't."

    Fake self-actualization - Disguised as an embrace of life or acceptance of self. "YOLO!"

    One coin -  The idea that "just one" doesn't matter, whether it's one good deed or one bad. Not realizing that things do, in fact, add up over time. "Why bother working out tonight?"

    Whew. There are a lot of loopholes that we can invoke! What do you find that you fall prey to most often? 

    Next week, we'll look at the strategies of distraction and reward. See you then!

  • Better Than Before: To do, or not to do?

    Today, we're going to cover the topics of abstaining and convenience. 

    There are people who can have just one cookie and be done. Then there are the people who can't have cookies within a five mile vicinity, or they will eat every. single. one. There's nothing wrong with either, but it's good to know which temperament you fall into. 

    For some people, moderation - drinking, eating, spending - just doesn't work. It's easier for them to resist temptations by just never giving in. To people who prefer to moderate, it may sound crazy, but they actually feel less deprivation when they never indulge than if they do it sometimes. 

    The reason is that abstainers can exhaust themselves asking questions like, "How much? Does this count?" Not indulging removes the need for these questions, which strengthens self control. 

    On the other hand, moderators can get panicky or feel rebellious if they think of never having or doing something. 

    I am very much a moderator. On the whole, I find that I would rather have something really good once in a while than never. Once I find something - say, really good chocolate - it's easier for me to say no to stuff like Hershey's. 
    I'm not so sure about Matt. If we have sweets in the house, he has a hard time staying away from them. I wonder if it'd be easier for him to just abstain entirely, but I don't know.

    Now, as far as making habits goes, we are very influenced by convenience. The amount of effort, time or decision making required, all plays a part on whether a habit is likely to stick for us. This is why, the further away the gym is from either home or work, the less likely we are to go there. It raises too many mental questions: when do I go? should I go first thing in the morning or on the way home from work? do I feel like going? should I pack up clothes to take with me? what's traffic going to be like? 

    So figure out why something feels inconvenient to you. Make it easy to do right, and hard to go wrong.

    On the flip side, you can make bad habits less convenient. Do your dinner plans go out the window when you drive by McDonalds? Take a different way home. Do you eat seven oreos every time you pass by the box? Put them in the cupboard. Do you have the night munchies? Delay gratification by just fifteen minutes, most of your cravings will diminish. 

    We are suckers for convenience. If you want to help bolster a good habit, figure out how to make it as convenient as possible. If you want to get rid of bad habits, make it more difficult. 

    Next week, we'll take a look at safeguards and, one of my favorites - loopholes! See you then. :)

  • Better Than Before: First Steps

    Today, in our series on Better Than Before, we're going to take a look at the strategy at first steps. Because, inevitably, in order to form a habit, you have to start.

    Every action has an ignition cost. This is why good habits are helpful, because they make the starting process automatic. 

    Often times, we want to wait for the perfect conditions to pick up a habit. A monday, where there's good weather, when we're feeling rested, when we have enough money, when there's a break in the schedule, after we lose ten pounds. But the truth is, the conditions will never be perfect and neither will you - just start now.

    Tomorrow logic wastes time, and also it may allow us to deny that our current actions clash with our intentions.

    Many people form habits better when they take smaller steps, because they feel like they master the habit better. Feeling like we've conquered something is a real boost, and can encourage us to keep going. 
    Others work better with a blast start - a period of high commitment. With a blast start, it's important to note that this period cannot be maintained forever, and you have to plan for this. But, it can give you real momentum to forming a habit. If this is appealing for you, plan in advance how to shift the intensity of your blast start into a sustainable habit, otherwise, it will backfire. Ultimately, however, there is no right or wrong way.

    We have to be careful about stopping habits. When we stop a habit, it halts our momentum, breeds guilt, and breaks the habit such that we have to make decisions all over again. Some habits are sturdy, and they'll easily pick back up - but some are fragile, even after years. I think we all have at least one of those fragile habits. They're the ones that, if we didn't work diligently at it, we'd drop, like a precariously balanced ball. It's not that we don't value the habit, but some habits just have trouble sticking. Knowing which habits these are means that we can guard against things that would weaken a valuable, yet precarious, habit. 

    But what do you do when you're faced with an unavoidable stopping point - like vacation?
    Figure out in advance when you can pick the habit back up, and commit to it. Write it down, tell someone, whatever you need to do in order to make sure you get back on track as soon as possible. 

    Another critical reason to avoid stopping habits: Starting again is often harder than the first time. Retreading old ground feels boring. It can be hard to go through something all over again when we know what progress we had made. It's super discouraging, and we should avoid it. 

    But when do we start a habit? (Aside from the answer NOW)

    Any beginning is a good time for habit creation. I'm talking birthdays, marriages, new year, moving, even re-arranging furniture. If it feels like a clean slate, it's a great time to take advantage and create new habits.

    We should start habits the way we want to continue them. 

    What we assume will be temporary often becomes permanent; what we assume is permanent often proves temporary.

    Invoking the strategy of monitoring, which we talked about a couple weeks ago, can make sure that good habits don't get disrupted by change, which can be an unintentional consequence of the clean slate - it can wipe away the good habits as well as the bad. Habits are a mindful thing!

    Next week, we'll take a look at the strategies of abstaining and convenience. See you then!

  • Better Than Before: Scheduling and Accountability

    Today we're going to talk about scheduling and accountability, and how they can be used to bolster your habits!

    Setting a specific, regular time for an activty to recur is one of the most familiar and powerful strategies of habit formation. It makes us (except for rebels) much more likely to convert an activity into a habit.

    Habits grow strongest and fastest when they're repeated in predictable ways, and for most of us, putting an activity on the schedule tends to lock us into doing it.

    Scheduling forces choices, and makes us confront the fact that we can't do everything, that there are limits on our time, energy and resources. Scheduling one activity means that we can't possibly do another at the same time. Keeping to a schedule makes activities automatic, which helps build habits. (Because remember, having to think about things over and over again is draining!)

    Upholders are particularly attracted to scheduling, because they love how predictable schedules are and they find satisfaction in crossing off to-do lists. 

    In order to utilize scheduling, we must decie when and how often a habit should occur. Mornings? Every day? Once a week? At night? What works best for you, and fits the flow of your life?
    The best way to avoid having to think about your habits and make choices over and over again is to do something every day. It avoids having to think "is this the right day? if I don't do it today, can I make up tomorrow?"

    As far as times go, mornings are good because they're predictable, and self-control is strongest. But while that may be an ideal for those reasons - if mornings just don't work for you, don't try to force it. 

    What scheduling helps with is consistency. It forces repetition and takes away decision. 

    Scheduling can also help us to do things that we want to do, but won't otherwise make time for. Sometimes, we get buried under our to-do lists, feeling like we might never catch up, and it's easy to shove personal projects out of the way. But when we pencil these things - exercise, reading, art time - they're on our list and just as important as the other things.

    Scheduling is an invaluable tool for habit formation; it helps to eliminate decision making; it helps us make the most of our limited self-command, it helps us fight procrastination. Most important, perhaps, the strategy of scheduling helps us make time for the things that are most important to us. How we schedule our days is how we spend our lives.

    Now, to be really effective, scheduling must be paired with a form of accountability. I'ts not enough to schedule a habit, have to follow that habit. 

    Accountability means that we face consequences for what we're doing - even if that consequence is merely the fact that someone else is monitoring us. 

    We behave differently if we believe someone is watching - we show more self command.

    Obligers in particular need external accountability - this would be a good place to invest! They may find an accountability partner useful. But some people - obligers or not - may not take it seriously if it's a peer that is keeping them accountable. In this case, it's in your best interest to plunk down the money for a coach, a trainer, a class, whatever it is that will help you take it serously and stay on track. 

    You can create accountability by going public with your intentions. But, for some people, this undermines the ability to actually stick to a goal. As with everything else, know yourself, and make the choice that best suits your personality.

    But in the end, accountability is helpful for everyone.

    Next week, we will look at the strategy of first steps and how a clean slate can help form habits. See you then!

  • The 5am Miracle: Part 1 of 2

    The 5am Miracle: Part 1 of 2

    I read this book called The 5am Miracle, a few months ago. It's based on a podcast by Jeff Sanders that features tips on productivity and living your best life. It's a nice little boost of intelligence and motivation. So, first, I'm going to tell you a little bit about some of what the 5am miracle is about. Then, for the next week, I am going to try and live by the habits I set up based on that book, and tell you about it.

    Caveat: While Sanders strongly recommends getting up at 5am, I understand and honor the fact that I am not a morning person. At all. The only time I get up at those sort of obscene hours and stay up is when we're taking a trip up to Michigan. So I'm going to adapt the 5am miracle into, say, the 8am miracle. Maybe 9am. I'll think about it and get back to you on that.


    Why get up at 5am? Because 5am is a block of time when life is calm and peaceful. There are few distractions, and you can take time to yourself. 5am is a symbol for taking control - life and time are in your hands. Few people use their minutes wisely, and getting up at 5am can be your most precious asset.

    Sanders, thankfully, states that the goal is to be intentional about your time, not necessarily adhere to 5am literally. PHEW.

    The plan for the 5am miracle is as follows:
    1. Have an intentional and written plan for the day.

    2. Consistently implement healthy habits for optimal energy and enthusiasm.

    3. Have short term objectives that help you achieve goals.

    4. Track your progress, make necessary adjustments, and hold yourself accountable.

    Sanders encourages the use of quarterly goals, in lieu of yearly ones, as it's easier to make adjustments and keep track of things in that shorter amount of time.

    He also talks about anchor habits - well chosen habits that are used as triggers for us to remember other, complementary habits. An example might be:
    Anchor habit: Getting out of bed
    Complementary habit: Making the bed

    Anchor habit: Eat breakfast
    Complementary habit: Have quiet time

    Then, you create your ideal routines - an evening routine and a morning routine, and have some variations; namely, you want a routine for your normal morning, and one for when you're in a rush. Better to plan for those mornings when you're short on time than to be surprised.

    Below are some suggestions for your evening routine:

    - A solid workday boundary
    - Reviewing tasks for the following day
    - Put everything away
    - Set alarms
    - Turn off bright screens one hour (at least!) before bed
    - Reading fiction to allow your brain to transition into a carefree state
    - Making an ideal sleeping environment

    For your morning routine, you simply (ha!) want to prioritize habits that align daily actions to your biggest goals.

    Now, there's a lot more to the 5am miracle, but this is the section I wanted to focus on and report back. If this idea piques your interest though, I would encourage you to check out his book for yourself, as it's really interesting and inspiring.

    Next week, I'll report back on my experiment and tell you about my habits, whether or not they were successful for me, and what I learned from it. Until then, take care.

  • Better Than Before: Setting a good foundation

    Better Than Before: Setting a good foundation

    For the next several weeks, we're going through Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. This phenomenal book on habits is available at your local bookstore or from Amazon. Check it out!

    If you want to take something seriously, the strategy of monitoring is a good place to start. People monitor their weight/food intake, their budget/spending, and if you want a habit to stick, consider monitoring that, because we manage what we monitor. It's easier to know whether something is working or not, and to make adjustments along the way, when we're tracking what's going on. Self measurement brings self awareness, which strengthens self control. Yikes, that's a lot of "selfs" in that sentence.

    To make monitoring work for you, you must identify precisely the action that's being monitored, and don't be vague about it. When we guess, we're often inaccurate. A good example is our tendency to underestimate how many calories we consume, and overestimate how much moving we do. This is why wearable activity trackers can be a good helper, because they can give us a better idea of what we're doing.
    So if you want to track how many hours you're working on a project per week - make sure you take note of when you start and when you stop. Keep a file open on your phone, or a dedicated notebook nearby. Make it easy to monitor, and you'll have data to look at in no time!

    Monitoring is beneficial because it helps us determine if a habit is worth the time, money and energy it consumes. Getting up an hour early to work on something, but finding that your output is slower than if you carved out an hour in the evening? Maybe not worth your time.

    Now, another thing I want to talk about is foundational habits. These are habits that are good starting places, because they tend to reinforce each other. Examples of foundation habits are those that help us to sleep better, move more, eat & drink right, and unclutter.

    Fostering good habits takes energy & that energy is in short supply; we're better off exploiting that energy to create the habits that will do the most good.

    That, my friends, is foundation habits in a nutshell. They give you the most bang for your buck, so to speak. These habits help you believe that you can keep an important habit, and help you trust yourself to follow on your own co.mittments. Keeping foundation habits sets you up to keep more complex habits, or habits that don't directly affect these key areas of your life.

    But it's important to take into consideration your values and temperament when making these habits. What works for you may not work for me. While you may decide that you need to straighten out your sleep habits first, I may find it more valuable to unclutter my living space first. Do what is right for you.

  • Better Than Before: The Four Tendencies

    Better Than Before: The Four Tendencies

    For the next several weeks, we're going through Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. This phenomenal book on habits is available at your local bookstore or from Amazon. Check it out!

    Some of us struggle to form habits, others take to them like glue. Some of us can do anything for others but struggle with doing anything for ourselves. Have you ever wondered why, and more importantly, how to work with it to make your habits work? 

    Knowing ourselves better means that we can manage ourselves better, and if we're trying to work with others, understanding them can help us get more things accomplished as well. Enter, the four tendencies.

    So what are these tendencies? 

    First, let's look at upholders.

    An upholder would ask, "What's on the schedule and the to do list for today?"  
    Upholders want to know what's expected of them, and will meet those expectations. Upholders are probably the kids in class who would call the teacher's attention to not having collected the homework yet. 
    But because upholders are self directed, they have little trouble keeping resolutions or meeting deadlines. That means if an upholder's boss wants them to finish a project, they will make this just as much of a priority as heading to gym after work. Upholders take both outer and inner expectations seriously.

    The downside to upholders is that they will struggle in situations where rules aren't clear, and they will feel compelled to meet expectations even if they seem pointless. Upholders feel uneasy when breaking even trivial rules. 

    Upholders are a pretty small category of people, but I am definitely among them.

    Next, there are questioners.

    Questioners, respond to things only if they conclude that it makes sense. They question all expectations. Their motivations are reason, logic and fairness. A questioner would ask, "What needs to get done and why?" They will resist rules for rules sake, and are often willing to do exhaustive research. They are motivated by what they believe are sound reasons (mind you, they might not actually be sound. The questioner just has to believe so!) 

    Some questioners are inclined to uphold, others are inclined to rebel. The key for a questioner is to believe a habit is useful, and then they will stick to it.

    Obligers, however, are motivated by external accountability. "What must I get done today?" 
    While obligers make terrific colleagues, family, and friends, they find it difficult to stay self-motivated. They depend on external accountability with consequences like deadlines, fees, and fear of letting others down. 
    More than anything, obligers need accountability. They are suseptible to burnout because they have trouble saying no when someone asks. They will find it difficult to form habits, because habits are for our benefit, and obligers do things for others. 

    Lastly, there are rebels. Rebels resist all expectations, and act from a sense of choice. "What do I want to do today?" is a rebel question. They work toward their own goals, in their own way. While they might refuse to do what they're 'supposed' to do, they can accomplish lots own their own terms. 
    Rebels highly value authenticity and self determination. The rebel's best asset is their voice of dissent. A rebel cannot be asked or told to do something - in fact, being told what to do may create the opposite effect. Rebels resist habits, but they can embrace habit-like behaviors by tying actions to choices. As long as they feel it is worthwhile and doesn't tie them down, it will happen.

    Most people are questioners are obligers, by a wide margin. Knowing your tendency can help you fram habits in a compelling way - as you can tell from the information above, we are all motivated differently, and trying to treat a rebel like an obliger would end in habit disaster!

    If you have trouble identifying your tendency, Gretchen Rubin offers a quiz to help you figure it out on her website

    On a personal note, I think that mental illness can muddy the waters a bit as far as tendencies go. I know that when my brain is not well, I behave far more like an obliger than an upholder. (Meaning, I struggle to do anything for myself.) But when I'm doing well, I take myself seriously, which I believe is my natural state. Does that make sense?

    So, now, you hopefully know your tendency. What comes next?

    There are some other questions that you can ask yourself to further understand how forming habits could help you. Don't think too hard about the answers to these, and we'll kind of come back to this information when we're talking about forming habits. 

    Are you a lark or an owl?

    While many of us will, at some point, try to change our habits in this area, research shows that to some extent, our preference is hardwired, though it is also affected by genes and age. Young children and older adults tend to be larks, while teens are owls. 
    Much to the chagrin of owls out there, the world tends to favor larks, which can make it difficult for owls to function at their best. 

    This is something to consider when forming a habit. If you're a lark, don't overload yourself with heavy brain work in the evening. If you're an owl, dragging yourself out of bed early to hit the gym may end up in repeated failure. 

    Do you marathon, sprint, or procrastinate?

    Marathoners tend to work slow and steady on a project. A sprinter works in intense bursts of effort, usually thriving under the pressure of a deadline. Procrastinators look a lot like sprinters, but with one key difference: sprinters choose to work under pressure, a procrastinator can't help it.

    Are you an underbuyer or an overbuyer?

    When you're starting a new project, do you feel the need to buy out the store, or do you insist on cobbling along with what you have, even if it really isn't sufficient?

    An underbuyer needs to remember that spending money to support a good habit is worthwhile. An overbuyer on the other hand, should remember that acquiring stuff isn't enough to establish a habit.

    Do you prefer simplification or abundance?

    Do you thrive best when life, your space, is simple and unnecessary things are eliminated? Or do you work best when you add new things and spice things up with variety?

    Are you a finisher or an opener?

    Finishers are cautious to form new habits, whereas openers can be overly optimistic in their ability to take on new habits. (I am definitely an opener. Once I buy a new box of cereal, the old one is dead to me. It's a problem.)

    Do you work best wtih small steps or big steps?

    Some people prefer to take their habits in modest, manageable steps. A slow accumulation of triumphs can be encouraging, and they can avoid burnout this way. Others prefer to take big leaps, because changing gradually will lead to a loss of interest and the changes will feel too insignificant. 

    Whew! That was a lot of information. Hopefully you have a little better grasp of your tendency and a little better idea of what things might help (or hinder) you when making habits. In next week's post, we'll talk about a couple key strategies in habit formation: Monitoring and foundation habits. 

  • Felicia Day's Memoir

    Felicia Day's Memoir

    I recently got the bug to read more memoirs and biographies. There are a lot of interesting people out there with things to say, and some of them are even still alive! Plus, I figured, I read a lot of almost every other genre - I should be even more well rounded. (Yes, I'm a weird little overachiever.) 

    So, that being said, once I finished #girlboss, I moved onto Felicia Day's memoir. Now, if you don't know who Felicia Day is - she's really big in the geek world. She made her own web series, The Guild, back before that sort of thing was commonplace, and she starred alongside Nathan Fillion and Neil Patrick Harris in Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog. Both of those things are well worth your time, if you want some geek cred and some entertainment. 

    Geez. Now I have a real hankering for Doctor Horrible. I really need to pick that up on dvd. 

    Anyway. I think I typically only blog about books and movies when I really like them anyway, but this book struck some chords with me. It was really nice to read about someone who feels just as neurotic and worried about everything as I am. Plus, it's inspiring to see someone as neurotic as I am still accomplish something. 

    Felicia hasn't just had things handed to her. She's worked hard for years - she's a chronic overachiever, after all - to make the cool things she has, and she's had lots of things not work out for her along the way. 

    It was a really fantastic read. Good pace, and very funny. Felicia Day totally speaks my language. If you're looking for a good memoir, this would be a good one to pick up, especially if you consider yourself geeky. 

  • No Sweat: What sustains us, we sustain

    No Sweat: What sustains us, we sustain

    Today is the last post in my series on the book No Sweat by Michelle Segar. If you've enjoyed the series, please consider picking up the book for yourself!

    Do you always put taking care of business (whatever that is - work, school, spouse, kids, household work) ahead of self care? 

    If so, you may have a problem, and you are definitely not alone. 

    I know, fulfilling responsibilities seems like it has nothing to do with exercise, right? But here's the thing - we're brought up being praised for taking care of others, getting schoolwork done, completing tasks, but not so much for taking care of ourselves. I mean, how often do we speak highly of our kids for staying up late to finish up a project, but not for knowing their limits and going to bed early? Culturally, we're told to get things done. We're encouraged more to be martyrs under the title of "good wife/mother" and sometimes looked down on for "taking time for ourselves". 

    It has to stop, because we're burning ourselves out, and the results are all over our bodies. When we tune out anxiety, exhaustion, pain, depression - often red flags that something isn't right - our bodies will turn up the volume and give you even more serious aches and pain. 
    When we are socialized not to take care of ourselves and to focus on numbers (the scale, measurements), we don't take into account how our bodies feel. 

    Positive emotions make us feel more expansive and creative, but negative emotions, like stress, reduce our abilities to see opportunities and to make good decisions. So it's a spiral. Don't take care of yourself - your body stresses out - and then you can't see the opportunities in front of you to take care of yourself. It's a pattern that can be broken, as long as we recognize it and pay attention to our bodies and our need for self care.

    Think of self care like a pyramid. No Sweat calls it a self care heirarchy. Put the non-negotiable thing, the thing that you cannot function without, on the bottom. Work your way up from there. The thing on top is the thing that is nice to have. My self care heirachy would probably look something like this:

    Caring for ourselves replenishes our energy and supports our well being. Give yourself permission to stop following all the shoulds. Yes, you should vaccuum and get the dishes done and do a little extra work tonight. But what are all these shoulds costing you? Give yourself permission and unlock self care.

    If you don't mindfully give yourself permission to prioritize time for your own self-care, no one else will.

    If you don't have a pattern of self care already, it may sound counter-intuitive, but giving to yourself means that you can give more to others. Self care, and exercise, is fuel. 

    What sustains us, we sustain.

    Self care fuels us, our mood, our energy, and allows us to be and yield what matters most to us - a patient parent, a loving spouse, a creative worker.

    I hope this little guide through No Sweat has taught you some things about not only the importance of physical movement, but in having a good relationship with it. The book is an absolutely amazing, encouraging read, and Michelle Segar puts things so much better than I did. So if this is a topic that resonates with you, I highly encourage you to go ahead and pick up the book for yourself

    Thanks for reading!

  • No Sweat: Taming your inner feral kitten

    No Sweat: Taming your inner feral kitten

    Over the next couple weeks, I'm going to be talking about a book I read recently, called No Sweat by Michelle Segar. It's an amazing book, and I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself.

    So, if all physical movement matters, and we need to have a good, concise WHY to keep our movement sustainable for a lifetime, how do we go about that?

    We need to reframe exercise as a gift. 

    What do you need more of, or less of in your life, and can physical activity help with that? 

    "But I want to be healthy! Isn't that a right why?" - It can be, but how we feel about the movement we're doing is going to be more influential than the nebulous "better health" of the future. So, if you absolutely hate slogging along on the treadmill, knowing that the cardio is good for your heart isn't a very sustainable motivation. Eventually, it's likely that the dread of the slog is going to win out, and you'll quit. This doesn't mean that some of us aren't able to power through anyway, but with no shame - most of us need a more immediately noticible benefit in order to keep going. 

    So! If you want to stay motivated and make physical activity something that you can sustain for a lifetime, you need an immediate reward to go along with your why. There is the arguement that we shouldn't bribe ourselves into exercising - and this is true-ish. You can't bribe yourself into doing an activity you really truly despise - not in the long run. 
    BUT, you can help yourself build a positive interaction with exercise if you do something you enjoy AND give yourself an immediate reward. 

    We all know I love animals. Recently, I went through a little feral kitten training. If you get to feral kittens when they're young enough, you can help them build a positive reaction to humans. Basically, you scoop the hissy, sassy little kittens up, wrap them up like a little kitten burrito (so that they can't claw you to death), and give them tasty treats and kitten food, all while giving them positive interaction and cuddles. Eventually, the kittens will look at humans and go "HEY! GOOD THINGS!" and voila! 

    So we're essentially treating ourselves like feral kittens when it comes to exercise. Give yourself positive interactions with exercise and little rewards along the way, and your body will eventually go hey, this is a good thing. I want this thing. And that is what we're aiming for.

    Changing your personal Meaning of exercise and physical activity from a chore into a gift will transform your relationship with movement.

    When you connect your right why with what your body needs and wants, your meaning of exercise changes from a chore into a gift. So instead of exercising because you should or in order to fulfill a narrow goal (weight loss), you'll want to engage in movement because this movement makes you feel good.

    Liking something triggers wanting that thing. So if you like what you do, you'll want to do more of that thing. So listen to your body when you're moving around. Do you like what you're doing? If not, try something else. Move any way you can and want to. Because remember: it all adds up.

  • No Sweat: It all matters

    No Sweat: It all matters

    Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be talking about a book I read recently, called No Sweat by Michelle Segar. It's an amazing book, and I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself.

    Humans tend to avoid things that make them feel bad. So, if we want to make exercise something that we can sustain for the rest of our lives, exercise needs to be something that makes us feel good! 

    When you think of exercising, how does that make you feel? Does it fill you with dread? Do you feel bored? Or maybe you're invigorated. 

    For me, when I think of exercise, I think of cardio - like running. I think of my legs hurting, my lungs barking at me, and it makes me not want to touch that with a ten foot pole. But when I replace running with thoughts of Piyo - I feel a lot differently. I imagine feeling strong, feeling like I've accomplished something. 
    Even within exercise, how we feel about it can change!

    I have a challenge for you: Make or find a list of various types of exercise and decide whether those things make you feel positive emotions or negative. 

    For me, going to the gym is a positive thing, as are walking outside, exercise dvds, yoga, ballet beautiful.
    Ice skating is a huge negative. Running? Negative. Group sports, definitely negative.

    See what kind of patterns emerge, as these might help clue you in as to what will work for you!

    When you enjoy exercise and have a meaning for it that is personally motivating, it is far more likely to stick. If you don't know what you enjoy, feel free to try out a bunch of different things! Pay attention to your body while moving - does it make you feel good while you're doing it? How do you feel after? If you hate every moment of it and don't feel the reward after, you are not going to stick with it. So find something that excites you. 

    Now, fact of the matter is, lots of us exercise because we want to change our bodies. But is this a good, lifelong motivation? Science tends to suggest that it's not. People who exercise for the purpose of body shaping describe their thoughts about exercise much differently than those who are being physically active for enjoyment. The body shapers use say things like they are "feeling winded and uncomfortable" whereas the non-body shapers focus on how good it feels to be moving.

    Even more interesting, 

    We wanted to know whether these groups of women did differing amounts of exercise. They did: the women with body-shaping motives exercised almost 40% less than those who were not exercising to shape their bodies.

    So clearly, the why of changing your body is not a good lifelong motive! 

    When your whys for exercising are body shaping or achieving weight loss, it frequently leads you to exercise at higher intensities even if you don't like to exercise that way because your objecgive is to burn as many calories as possible.

    If you want to lose weight, you are more likely to treat exercise as a form of torture, and "punish" your body with exercise. That is not sustainable in the long run. 

    So what then? 

    One secret is to count all your movement. Exercise is not just 50 minutes on the treadmill, it's not just hot yoga, it's not moving until you're so sweaty and sore that you can't function. 

    The truth is, we undervalue the act of moving around, and the little things that we do throughout the day. It's actually just as good, if not better, to keep our bodies moving in little ways than to have one block of 'exercise' - because if we are making a point to move around often, we are sitting less. 

    The update that the duration of physical activity needs to be at least ten minutes long to benefit health was based on not having methods sophisticated enough to measure physical activity that was less than eight minutes long. There is growing support, using advanced measurement technologies, that shorter amounts of movement can benefit health and energy levels, and that being sedentary promotes physiological changes that harm health.

    I'm not saying that you can't go for a daily run if that is what makes you happy and what makes you feel good. But, don't discount the little things you do throughout the day. Look for reasons to move around a little more, to take the long cut instead of the short cut. These things add up, just like exercise. 

    Make your body happy, and give yourself more credit for the things you do. It all matters!

  • No Sweat: Why your Why Matters

    No Sweat: Why your Why Matters

    Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be talking about a book I read recently, called No Sweat by Michelle Segar. It's an amazing book, and I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself.

    Knowing that you should do something - even if there are many good reasons that you should do it - is not enough. The obligation mentality will fail us more often than not. 

    On page 34 of No Sweat, Michelle Segar says,

    We develop our perceptions and understandings about things over our entire lifetime, based on our own idea of how the world works that we've constructed from specific experiences and interactions, especially emotional ones. Whatever Meaning you ascribe to exercise, for example, is completely unique to you because it has been constructed from your interactions with physical activity.

    That means, your best friend may have an entirely different Meaning for exercise than you do, because they have been exposed to it differently. Maybe you grew up in a family who was constantly moving, playing sports, and exercise is really more 'movement' than an aerobics dvd. Or perhaps you grew up looking at magazines of perfect bodies and feeling that there was no way you could ever make it through these complicated routines. It is totally unique to you. No one can tell you how to perceive anything, because they aren't you.

    When someone tells you that you must do something OR ELSE, we certainly aren't very motivated. Perhaps we'll get that room cleaned, but OR ELSE doesn't make us want to keep the room clean. In fact, OR ELSE is more likely to make us do the exact opposite when we're left to our own devices. So when looking at exercise, if our relationship is based on OR ELSE or YOU SHOULD, it's probably a stressful relationship. 

    It all boils down, scientifically, to the self-determination theory. According to sdt, we feel no ownership when we are told that we must or should do something. It's when we want to do something because we place our own value on it that we will take ownership, and feel satisfaction from it. (So when your company promises lower health insurance premiums for people who walk x steps on a daily/weekly basis, they are actually preventing you from taking ownership of your health.)

    Changing your relationship from a should to a want isn't easy, but it's not impossible. Understanding that it is in fact a choice and can be a gift is a good place to start. 

    On page 42, Segar says,

    If the underlying reason for the behavior feels like something we should do (i.e., the Wrong Why), it leads to a chore-based Meaning, and as a result, it is more likely to make performing the behavior depleting and increases the chance that we will not have the desire or energy to stick wtih it. We are more likely to sustain behavior like physical activity when we view it as a gift, something that is fun or personally meaningful.

    (Emphasis mine)

    Segar suggests that we look at our Why as a source of fuel. Filling your tank with low quality fuel will only cause you to sputter out before you get where you're going. So we need the Right Why - something personally meaningful.

    But just to complicate matters, having LOTS of Whys is actually more detrimental than having one good solid Why. Multiple motives actually decrease motivation because we get distracted by competing outcomes. Is it for weight loss? Feeling better? Looking good? Getting healthy?

    Segar says on page 47,

    Marketers understand this perfectly. Consider how the most popular companies market their products to us. They don't give us three different reasons to buy their product; they brand it with one primary meaning. they know that to really get us hooked and coming back for more, again and again, they need to identify a very strategyic, emotionally focused benefit from using their product or service that we'll focus on and desire to keep having. One make of a car, for example, may be "sexy", while another is "sporty." We want one or the other, but probably not both.

    So if you want to change your relationship to physical activity, start to consider:
    - What is your current relationship to exercise and fitness? What messages have you grown up with and internalized? Are they positive, negative, both? How have they impacted you.

    - What is your current why? Does that work for you? Do you have too many whys?

    - What do you want your why to be? 

  • No Sweat: Exercise is good BUT

    No Sweat: Exercise is good BUT

    Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be talking about a book I read recently, called No Sweat by Michelle Segar. It's an amazing book, and I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself.

    We know that exercise is good for us. We know that we should do it. While there are studies upon studies that contradict each other - coffee is good, coffee is bad, meat is good, meat is bad - one thing remains the same: exercise!

    And yet.

    We don't. At best, many of us struggle with it, and lots of us don't even try. We're too busy, we're too tired, we don't like it.

    On page 5, Segar talks about an experiment with breast cancer survivors. She says:

    We split the participants into two groups, one that exercised and a control group that did not exercise. The results were as we expected: The survivors who exercised showed significantly lower levels of both depression and anxiety than the control group.

    She goes on to mention that the people in the experiment talked about how good exercise had been for their health. But three months later, nearly all of them were no longer exercising.

    We can see tangible benefits in exercise - lowered anxiety, better mood, more energy - and yet.

    Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we go through these cycles of failure, only to give up on something that is so good for us?

    One answer lies in our relationship to exercise. What does exercise mean to you?

    What messages did you get from friends, family, the media about exercise? How do you feel when yout hink about exercising? What motivates you to exercise, and what keeps you away from it?

    One of the first things I think of when I think of exercise is the mile. Starting in fourth grade, everyone had to run the mile once a year for gym class. I've heard stories of other schools training the kids for this event. Ours didn't. I distinctly remember the mile changing my relationship to gym class. We went from playing dodgeball and diving under a colored parachute to the dread of this incredibly un-fun, oppressing thing.
    The day that we actually ran the mile was bad. I didn't come in dead last, but I know I was close. I hated every miserable step of it, I hated feeling bad at something. I remember being overjoyed when I was homeschooled the next year because it meant that I wouldn't have to repeat that experience.

    So when I think of exercise, I think of failure and inadequacy. Exercise is the punishment for not being good enough. When I'm honest with myself, it makes sense why I wouldn't be too keen on sticking with it!

    I suspect that I'm not alone, and that many of you have your own stories of exercise baggage.

    We need to change our relationship to exercise if there's any hope in turning it from a chore into the gift that it's meant to be. That's right, I said gift. It may be hard to believe right now (and I wouldn't blame you for scoffing), but moving our bodies is not meant to be punishment.

    It may not be an easy task, but it's a worthwhile one.

  • Henrietta Lacks

    Each of us, in our own way, want to make the world a better place.

    Maybe it's for our kids - we'll change neighborhoods for better schools to keep them safe and give them a better start.

    Or we want to be the next Beethoven, Jane Austen, or Spielberg.

    Perhaps ending world hunger or easing the suffering of others is the legacy we want to leave.

    So many aspirations, so little time in our lives.

    I've been reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - shamefully belated, since my parents lent it to me with their fervent recommendation a year and a half ago. (oops)
    The boiled down version is that Henrietta Lacks changed modern medicine with her cells, and never knew it.

    Her cells, the first to survive and multiply in a petri dish, are the reason the Polio vaccine was able to be distributed. She was sent into space to test the effect of zero gravity on humans, and has played a part in many vaccines and disease research - including AIDS, depression, and even in-vitro fertilization. Our knowledge of cells and cell culture took leaps forward because of Henrietta.

    All because she had cervical cancer.

    Cells were taken from her body without her knowledge, and used without her permission. She died without knowing what amazing effect she had on the world.

    Do the best you can to bring about the change you want to see in the world around you. But don't discount the possibility that you may have some effect that you may never know about, in ways you'd never imagine.

    Because we live in a world where one person can rock the world of science without even knowing it.

  • Living well

    Recently, I picked up and devoured the book "Until I Say Goodbye", by Susan Spencer-Wendel. The book is a memoir, as Susan was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gherig's) at 44, with a husband and three fairly young kids. Rather than pity herself, she chose to take her loved ones on trips that would be good memories for them to hang onto, and to live as fully as possible. She wrote much of the book with her thumb, on an iphone, as she could no longer move her hands.

    My maternal grandma died from ALS in June 2004. While I don't think there's really any good way to die, I think that ALS has to be one of the worst. To be fully present in your brain, as your body stops working, little by little.

    On the one hand, I wouldn't consider this book to be light fare that you prop up before bedtime. It's a good read, but a difficult one emotionally. On the other hand, I apparently don't like sleep, so staying up to read this book is exactly what I did.

    It's a sentiment we hear often, but I think bears repeating. We really don't know how much time we're going to have. To some extent, we assume that we're going to get married, have kids, see those kids graduate, marry, and have kids of their own. We're going to sit on a porch with our spouse when we're old and gray, watch sunsets and sip coffee before our lives fade to the end credits.

    But we're not guaranteed any of that. Morbid thought? Perhaps. A local man was killed recently when a tire flew off a truck on the other side of the interstate and crashed through his windshield. How could he possibly have known what would happen when he set out that day? How can any of us?

    Our lives are all too short while the days drag on. Whatever dreams you have, whatever relationships you cherish, whatever is important to you - don't continue to put those off until the great 'someday', when everything will align. The things worth doing, the things worth having and cherishing, are rarely easy to obtain and keep.

    I think it must be better to try, fail, and do rather than stare down our lives and regret the things we never touched.

    Whatever you do, whereever you are, whomever you want to be, live with passion and hope. I won't say "live each day as if it were your last", but rather, live each day as though it matters. Because it does.

  • Habits

    Right now, I'm reading "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. For some reason, I love books about how and why we do certain things, and habits are super interesting to me. I haven't gotten all the way through the books, so I certainly can't tell you how to re-wire your brain, but here's some interesting things I've learned.

    Old habits don't just "die hard", they actually stay in our brains. That's why it's so hard to stick with a new habit in the long run. If the right 'cue' hits your brain, it may very well trigger that old habit loop. But, if you're very dedicated, you can get your brain to respond to the new habit loop instead - but the old one will always be in your brain somewhere.

    Habits work like this: There's a cue, triggered somehow. Environment, time of day, a smell, a reminder on your phone ...
    Then, there's the action. You exercise, you want french fries, you eat breakfast, you put your right shoe on before your left. Whatever.
    Followed by the reward. You feel endorphins, you're no longer hungry, you've been praised, your feet aren't cold. In any case, your brain is happy!

    The way to make a new habit stick is to make your brain crave the reward when the cue hits. That's how, theoretically, you power through exercise, by finding something that is so worth it to your brain that you're willing to stick with it.

    You can also re-wire habits by taking the same cue, the same reward, and replacing the action.

    Granted, all of this is easier said than done, but the book gives some really fascinating stories and facts about all of it.

    I've started thinking about habits that I have, since I'm someone who really thrives on routine, but stinks at purposely implementing it. I figured out that this is why I love the idea of a weekend where we have nothing to do, but I get completely fidgety when Saturday rolls around. I don't really have 'weekend habits', so if I don't have the structure of a deadline (ie: We're leaving at 2, need to make brownies and shower before then), I just feel like I'm wandering.

    It's some interesting food for thought.

  • The Sweet Spot

    I've been reading the book "Quiet" over the last few weeks. It talks a lot about introversion - from how the trait has become frowned upon in society over the last hundred years to the science of how it affects us. Fascinating stuff.

    One concept mentioned is that of the "sweet spot" - which, simply put, is being aware of how you're feeling with the stimuli around you. Research has shown that introverts are more sensitive to what's going on around them. Not in a "introverts are better than extroverts" kind of way, but noises and interactions light up parts of an introvert's brain more than an extrovert ... like how a fair skinned person might get sunburned faster than others. Science suggests that an introvert may be more like a four lane highway, taking in things faster, more intensely.

    You can be understimulated just as you can be overstimulated, and it wouldn't be weird to hit both a few times in the same day. My sweet spot is definitely not the same as Matt's, and probably isn't exactly the same as yours, either.

    Thinking about this concept makes it easier to understand why some days, I feel great and chatty in my group of friends, and on other days, I'm a clam.

    When a couple of friends of ours come back from out of state, they usually have some sort of 'friend gathering' where all of their closest Michigan friends are invited to drop by. I like all of the people that attend these things, but I have a very difficult time socializing at them. Thinking about it, I believe it has something to do with these gatherings being a lot of people whom I don't see on a regular basis, all at once. It's a lot for me to process. While being under stimulated is why, if we don't have anything to do, anyone to see, for a solid week, I get absolutely stir-crazy.

    Anyway, it's a pretty simple concept, but try paying attention to it sometime.

  • Book Binges!

    These days, I'm almost always reading two books. (Sometimes more, oops.) One is a good old paperback, or the occasional hardcover. But the other will be on my Nook tablet. Typically, I save the Nook reading for night, or on the go. I read -way- more as a result! Not having to fight with book lights or worry about keeping Matt awake at night makes things so much easier. (As does the ability to pick up the next book in a series without limiting myself to store hours - nice perk!)

    As of today, I've read at least 38 books this year, which isn't bad! (There's at least one book that goodreads isn't bringing up that I know I added and read) I'm reading pretty consistently, and trying out series I never would have touched if I had to commit the shelf space (or pick up at full price - I've tried a number of books thanks to $1.99 and $2.99 Nook sales.)

    So I thought I'd share a few of the highlights and duds that I've read this year. Maybe you'll find something worth reading, too.

    Divergent/Insurgent: This dystopian YA series is being made into movies, the first of which comes out in March. The final book in the series comes out sometime this fall, so I can only speak for the first two books. They're fun, and addictive. The romance between the two main characters is a little eye-rolling and cheezy, but the setting is interesting, and they're pretty quick to read. The books take place in a futuristic Chicago, in which society now divides people into factions based on traits and beliefs. Super interesting concept, and the second book throws a big curve ball. I'm looking forward to finishing the series. I feel like it's a bit cheezier than Hunger Games, but I've enjoyed it about as much.

    Eon: This YA novel will probably finish in my top ten of the year. Eon is a crippled young lady who is forced to pose as a boy and train to be a dragon apprentice. The setting is rich, the characters are compelling and complex, and the story gets progressively more nerve-wracking. I've got the second book (it's only two books total) on my shelf, and I really need to get around to it. Eon is completely worth reading.

    The Ashford Affair: This is Lauren Willig's first stand-alone novel, weaving between events in 1999 and the early 1900's. It's a beautiful story about love, family, broken trust, uncovered secrets, and what and who are important. I totally cried at various points in this book. Again - completely worth reading.

    The Selection/Elite: This series is Cinderella meets The Bachelor, and I can't really recommend the series. They are, without a doubt, a 'guilty pleasure' along the lines of Taylor Swift. The characters don't act in a logical manner, many characters are flat, and while the series is trying to ramp up the dystopian YA factor, I'm not sure anyone really cares about this conflict. We just want the Prince and our Cinderella character to end up together already, sheesh. It's totally a soap opera YA series. Again ... I can't recommend it. (But I am totally going to have to pick up the third one next year, because when you've invested two sleepless nights into these books, you have to see it through) Read these only if your cheez and syrup levels are SUPER low and you also want to feel the need to sit down your main character for a lecture every 40-50 pages.

    Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are: I like a good psychology book now and then. It doesn't make for great blog fodder, but if you do too, check it out. Spoiler alert: Friends are really good for us mentally, not just in childhood, but throughout our lives.

    The Other Tudors: Henry VIII's Mistresses and Bastards: Because I needed to read another book on the Tudors like I need another hole in my head. This book proposes that Henry actually had a lot more mistresses and illegitimate children than history records, based on evidence such as log books, family records, etc. I don't know whether it's likely, but it makes for a pretty interesting read. If you find this one in the bargain section (as I did) and it sounds interesting to you, give it a try.

    Right now? I'm making my way through the Fever series by Karen Moning - Paranormal isn't usually on my plate, and this series is full of mystery and has really got my attention. I'm also reading Stiff, a book on the science of cadavers, but that one is a bit slow going, because while interesting, I can't say that I'm always in the mood to read about cadavers before bed.