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Sage advice from a clutter of books

Sage advice from a clutter of books

Spring cleaning.

When we hear those words, we think of washing windows and dusting neglected baseboards, de-cluttering closets, going through those boxes in the attic, deep cleaning the kitchen, tidying the basement, and polishing up furniture in the living room and study. 

Some take spring renovations another step and go on a diet, slimming down for that trip to the beach in July, or else head for the store, looking for such items as seeds and plants for the yard and garden, a dress for the prom, lawn furniture and grills for the backyard.

In all this spiffing up and bustle, some of us may also be inspired to do some interior cleaning —not of the house or garage, but of ourselves. Like the kitchen, sometimes our hearts and minds can use some sunshine and a good scrubbing. 

If you’re so inclined, here are some books to help you with that task.

In The Other 90%: How To Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential For Leadership and Life (Crown Publishing, 2002, 316 pages), Robert Cooper, a student and teacher of neuroscience and a motivational speaker, joins art to science, and pushes readers to make greater use of the dormant powers of the brain. 

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Though many probably open Cooper’s book looking for advice on leadership, I found some of his ideas for personal improvement most helpful. In his chapter “Be Quick Without Rushing,” for instance, Cooper shares several small tips I have tried to put into practice: techniques for breathing and posture, awareness of the importance of light to our brain and thinking, and sipping ice water, which not only serves as a stimulant to the body and mind, but may even aid in weight reduction.

The spirit of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier At Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life (Crown Publishers, 2002, 273 pages) is as exuberant as her title. I discovered this book when I saw my daughter reading it and found a friend on these pages. Reading Rubin is as pleasurable as sitting at a kitchen table over coffee with a neighbor. Her rules for happiness, listed at the end of the book, include such axioms as “One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself,” “The days are long, but the years are short,” and “The only person I can change is myself.” That last one, that emphasis on taking personal responsibility for our lives, is, of course, a major theme in all the books under review here.

In Tribe Of Mentors: Short Life Advice From the Best in the World (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2017, 598 pages), Timothy Ferriss has once again written a doorstopper-sized book. Ferriss, the author of best-sellers like The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body, has in this book compiled interviews, most of them responses to written questions, with over a hundred people he finds fascinating. Ranging from famous sports figures to a former chief rabbi, from CEOs to television star and outdoorsman Bear Grylls, these achievers share with us such points as their favorite books, the advice they might give to a college student, and what they do when they feel overwhelmed. Interspersed throughout these questions and answers are what Ferriss calls “Quotes I’m Pondering,” many of which will cause the reader to join him in his musings. (Note: your reviewer is a sucker for quotations.)

Because of the wide array of personalities presented in Tribe Of Mentors, readers will find hundreds of tips applicable to their own lives: books to read, games to play, ways to handle stress and failure, uses of technology, advice of all sorts. Tribe Of Mentors is definitely a “dipper book,” which as I have explained in earlier reviews are those volumes most of us won’t read from cover to cover, but will instead open at random when seeking entertainment, wisdom, and inspiration.

Finally, if you wish a more ordered approach to change, particularly if you have suffered some major blow or feel yourself a failure, I recommend Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos (Random House, 2018, 411 pages). A noted clinical psychologist, Peterson, who on YouTube has drawn both applause and catcalls for his many lectures and interviews, blends his knowledge of science, mythology, and religion into one of the most remarkable books I’ve read in the last decade. 

Though I’ve already read and reviewed 12 Rules For Life for The Smoky Mountain News, I have since then come back to this book nearly every day, mostly in response to the chaos and turmoil in my life for the last few years. Each visit to 12 Rules brings me solace, a relief from my self-inflicted pain, and the inspiration to keep moving ahead. Winston Churchill supposedly said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” Peterson’s book tells readers how to keep going on that dark path.

Enough. Time now to go reseed part of a lawn, shop-vac some spider webs from the basement, and read some Jordan Peterson.

Or maybe I’ll just take a nap. Reading all these inspirational books has exhausted me.

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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