‘Better Than Before’ – a review

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Some people love habits- they make you more productive with less effort. Others can’t stand habits- they make you predictable and less open to spontaneity. Thankfully, one of the biggest points of Gretchen Rubin’s book, BETTER THAN BEFORE, is that habit formation does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. The most important thing to do is get to know yourself, and then use the strategies that work for you.

In order to help you with this, Gretchen provides several chapters on Self-Knowledge. One of her approaches is to divide people into the “Four Tendencies”: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels, and she often suggests specific tips for habit formation in light of these tendencies. Although I never like being pigeon-holed in a category, I do think identifying your most prominent tendency- as defined by Gretchen- is a helpful tool as you set out to establish the habits you are hoping to keep.

I sometimes felt mildly impatient when Gretchen Rubin was discussing certain concepts that seemed obvious to me, but I also think she has a knack for breaking down and describing various behaviors or habit phenomenons. For instance, she labeled many “loopholes” that we consciously and unconsciously use to get out of our good habits, and I found her descriptions insightful, helpful, and often amusing. I definitely had a few “Yup- I totally know what you’re talking about,” moments.

Over-all, I do think BETTER THAN BEFORE is a worthwhile read. In her matter-of-fact but likeable style, Gretchen lays out thought-provoking suggestions for building and sustaining habits. If you actively engage with her ideas, I think the book can be a useful guide and reference to make your life “Better Than Before.”

To read more about Gretchen, you can visit this link: http://gretchenrubin.com/about

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’

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I am currently reading Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I am only about 50 pages in, but I was so transfixed by some of the most recent pages that I had to comment on them.

Although I find it difficult to take in too much subject matter about the Holocaust at one time, as it is so hauntingly horrific, I have been keen to read this particular book. Uniquely, Frankl details his experience both from the point of view of an inmate who lived through the concentration camps and from the point of view of an observant doctor, deeply curious about how he and others managed to survive.

Not long after describing a number of inhumane events, Frankl goes on to talk about how these atrocities strengthened the inner life of the prisoners:

“The intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of his existence… As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before…”

He went on to describe how emaciated prisoners rushed to see a sunset, or the unexpected beauty from a bird that alighted on the frozen pile of dirt which he had dug.

Frankl went on to say:

“A kind of cabaret was improvised from time to time…those who had fairly good positions in camp… came to have a few laughs or perhaps to cry a little… There were songs, poems, jokes, some with underlying satire regarding the camp. All were meant to help us forget, and they did help. The gatherings were so effective that a few ordinary prisoners went to see the cabaret in spite of their fatigue even though they missed their daily portion of food by going.

Elsewhere, Frankl had commented on how utterly valuable and eagerly anticipated that portion of food was… and yet some people– who were starving– would give up that precious food for the sake of a performance, of art.

And though my and many people’s deepest desire is to put a stop to humans’ cruelty to each other, I cannot help but be moved by the fact that these terrible conditions stoked a deep sensitivity to the rare instances of beauty… and of art. For this beauty and art gave them back tiny reminders of their humanity, which was otherwise denied them completely.

Although I have never been under conditions anywhere near as extreme, I can absolutely think of pieces of art that have moved me beyond words. Even this past week, I saw a one-man show that left me stunned… my friend and I sat in our seats until everyone else had left the theater. I didn’t want to “break” what I had just seen.

But how often does art truly affect people that deeply? Sadly, I think commercialism often shoves things down people’s throats, convincing them they have to like it, and then we become so overwhelmed with the competing stimuli that we just want to retreat or find refuge.

But even in the chaos of commercialism, art can thrive. It may or may not announce itself, but it’s there. And I would like to hope that our sensitivities have not been dulled to it… that we are still able to be moved beyond words.

I would love to hear anybody else’s comments… what art has deeply affected you?

 

 

‘The Total Money Makeover’: A Review

Dave Ramsey is a spirited combination of personality and information. Though his financial advice is sound, his particular strength is taking into account people’s psychology and emotions.

The Total Money Makeover is one of several books written by Ramsey, and covers the “Baby Steps” needed to take you from being in debt (sometimes grossly in debt) to financially thriving. Unlike people who propose get-rich-quick schemes, Dave emphasizes that it takes hard work, but that with strategy and “gazelle-like intensity,” you can do an overhaul on your personal economy.

Dave’s own experience with money gives credence to his advice: he himself owned millions in real estate in his 20’s, went through bankruptcy, and managed to rebuild himself  and a million-dollar organization. Part financial adviser and part motivator, Dave weaves his own story with the stories of many other people’s financial success to inspire your transformation. Along the way, he debunks financial myths and supplies financial truths in their place.

Not every step will apply to everyone, but I would still recommend Dave Ramsey’s book to anyone with curiosity about how to improve their financial state. I myself am working to incorporate his principles into my own life.

“The Way You Wear Your Hat…”

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Express Yourself!.”

There’s a joke in our household.

Let me explain: I practically never go clothes shopping. Most of my wardrobe is hand-me-downs, with the occasional thrift store purchases. But the times when I do hit a Discovery Shop or Goodwill, this is a common conversation…

I hold up a piece of clothing, for my companion to appraise.

COMPANION: Would you ever wear that?

NATALIE: Yeah!

Doubtful look from companion.

NATALIE: I mean, you know, for a costume.

Even more doubtful look from companion.

NATALIE: But this would be so great for a costume!

To be fair, I think the reason my companion is doubtful is that the piece I choose is rarely something glamorous. It’s usually a little quirky, awkward, interesting. “Who would every wear this?” And that sparks ideas…

Hats, wigs, an interesting shirt or dress– all of these bring characters with them.                                                                  image (10)

The Mainstreet Theater Company presents the West Coast premiere of Roald Dahl's The Magic Finger, based on the book by Roald Dahl and adapted by David Wood. Directed by Abigail Deser at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga.

The introverted accountant trying an open mic for the first time. An Italian poetry teacher. A Cockney washerwoman. A proud spinster who secretly hopes to be loved, though perhaps she doesn’t even acknowledge this to herself.

And so a little piece suggests a person, which suggests a world, and then I play.

Because people fascinate me. I have trouble with small talk because I’m always wondering deeper questions about people’s lives… what drives you right now? What is your biggest fear? Your biggest joy? What you hope for more than all else?

One of my favorite parts in the rehearsal process is when we finally get to wear our character’s costumes and shoes for the first time. Because then you are literally “in their shoes.” Do the clothes constrict, do they flow? How does this go with the character? And the shoes? Heels, flats? Big steps, small fluttery ones? Feminine, practical, athletic?

A couple years ago, I performed in a show called I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE.

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All four of us played about 10 characters each, exploring romantic relationships in all their stages and ages. We ran five months, but I never tired of the show. It was a non-stop show, you jumped in and you were going for two hours, with hurried costume changes, peeling off sweaty clothes after only minutes of wearing them, throwing on new ones and leaping back out for the next scene.

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It was fantastic. Not only were there new things to discover every night in the performance, but the audience was always different. They responded differently to things, laughs came in new places, sometimes guffaws. We got to know them a little bit, they got to know us a little bit. They’d come up to us afterwards, “Oh, we loved that part where you… that’s exactly what my husband/wife…”

Because somewhere we’d shared something. We’d connected. I might not know their name or career, but I know what touched their heart, what struck their funny bone. We have been intimate, we’ve had an exchange. We’ve affected each other. And maybe even discovered a little more about what it means to be human.

I love that.

So next time you see that odd piece at a thrift store… 😉

BIG TREES

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There’s just something about Sequoias.

You stand there with your head nodding slowly up and down. No words. What can you say? “BIG TREES.” They’re just there. Thousands of years old. Beautiful, rusty-red strength, with sprinklings of dogwood around. So delicate next to the massiveness of the Sequoias.

You breathe them in. You’d climb them if you could, but it’s a little far up to that first branch. You touch the bark. You look at the wounds from fires, the wounds that didn’t kill, from fires that actually are necessary for Sequoias to thrive. You ponder that.

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You walk along the trail on the ground which shows you how long a Sequoia would be lying flat. You turn back to marvel at how far you’ve come. You laugh at your “tall” human friend when he practically disappears next to these trees.

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You sing a little because the echo is very satisfying, but then you let the silence fill you. The peace. You breathe easier.

And for the next few days, you feel them alive inside you. You carry them wherever you go.

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You think about history, going 100 years back, 1000 years back, 2000 years back. They were here, alive. Not so big then, perhaps not so impressive, but here to bear witness.

And in your head, you keep hearing “…how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…”

Christ’s love.

There are no words. Not really. You try your best, but how do you communicate the reality of it? The massiveness of it? The constancy of it? I wonder sometimes if that’s really why I sing, for release of joy, that music inside. But the scope of it, how do you show someone that? How it’s amazing, wonderful, and yet beyond all comprehension?

And then you see BIG TREES. And though they pale in comparison to Christ’s love, there’s something about them. A glimpse? A hint? A wink?

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