Read Jason Harvey’s Book, "Achieve Anything In Just One Year" (103/366)

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

In searching for an unrelated title on today, I stumbled across “Achieve Anything in Just One Year.” I thought it was a bold title, so I checked out the reviews. It has tons of 5-star ones, so I was intrigued enough to read the first chapter (they have it available free on the book’s Amazon page). After the first chapter, I was hooked, and bought the Kindle edition so I could read it today.

“Achieve Anything in Just One Year” is a daily guide book with a quote each day, and daily exercises for you to follow to stay focused on your goals, and to mold yourself into the kind of person who achieves them. I found it very exciting and inspiring. Most people realize that success takes hard work, but a lot of people don’t realize how much of that hard work is just having the vision and tenacity to keep at it. This book reminds the reader every day, in different ways, that they are, and their success is, a work in progress.

Some cool notes:

For one week, the book focuses on “the wisdom of children” and one of those entries reminds us, “When we become adults, we have a funny way of complicating simple situations.” The reader is encouraged to simplify decisions. “If something doesn’t work, fix it. Don’t worry about what others will think of your failure. Just find a better solution … be direct in finding solutions to your problems … the route to success is undeviating. Stop trying to complicate it with detours to save face.”

For one week, the book focuses on meditation and its benefits, and helps the reader through a few meditation exercises. I thought this was really cool, especially since a lot of people think of meditation as “New Agey” and sometimes “spiritual mumbo-jumbo” but I think meditation is an excellent tool for centering your thoughts and energy, de-cluttering your mind, and gaining new insight and energy to keep going with renewed motivation.

The book talks about how important “play time” is to having a balanced life and reaching your goals. I am somewhat of a “Type A” personality, feeling like I need to be accomplishing something every waking minute. Ha ha ha, this doesn’t mean I actually DO this, but I *feel* like I should be. I don’t often give myself license to “play”, whether that be enjoying a movie I’ve wanted to see, or going for a run when I’m behind on a deadline. But specific break and play time is extremely important – not just for sanity, but also for productivity.

A great reminder is presented in one of the entries – that everyone fails, and that no matter what you have failed at, “The beauty of life is that as long as you’re breathing, you get a do-over. You have an opportunity to change the way things are every single day, and every single moment.” I thought that was an important fact to point out. People get so discouraged with their failures, and sometimes end up seeing themselves as the failure, when the truth is that it’s never, never too late to make a change and keep going.

There’s a wonderful entry about famous actor James Earl Jones in the book, and about how as a youth he had a horrible stuttering problem. Can you believe that? He says he practically gave up speaking until one of his high school teachers found out that he secretly wrote poetry. His teacher praised him on his surprising and excellent work, and noted that the other students wouldn’t even believe he’d written it – his teacher then encouraged him to read the poem in front of the class – and because of that vote of confidence from his teacher, he was determined to overcome his stuttering and read his work aloud. He was able to read the whole piece without stuttering. And look at the talent that the world has enjoyed because he overcame that great obstacle! What an awesome story.

There are plenty of other really cool entries in this book – but like I mentioned before, it’s not just a book to read – there are exercises, and you’ll need to get a journal that you’ll have with you, all the time if possible. You’ll get the true benefit of this book if you’re able to do all the exercises. I know for a lot of people, getting a journal and carrying it around, journaling every day and following this book every single day for a year sounds like a lot of work … but as Nick said when he started I’ve Never Done That last year, “Anyone can do easy, right?” I plan on following this book for a year, and seeing what awesome changes I can make in my life and myself. If you’re skeptical about this book doing anything special, remember it’s not the book that does anything – it’s the person willing to change, learn, and grow. I think this is an excellent tool for accomplishing that goal.

Related Links:
Achieve Anything In Just One Year: Be Inspired Daily to Live Your Dreams and Accomplish Your Goals


Read Thom Rutledge’s Book "Embracing Fear" (81/366)

“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”
Bertrand Russell

I’ve always been kind of a worrier. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessive about it, but I’m certainly not as laid-back as Nick is. For example, in making an important decision, I always like to do a ton of research, collect all the information I can possibly get, weigh as many possible outcomes of a situation as I can, and then make an informed choice … but many times, it seems like all that work just causes me more anxiety. I guess I get wrapped up in “analysis paralysis” and then when it comes time to make the decision, sometimes I feel that, while I’ve done all this research, and that I am making a good decision, I also partly just make one to get out from under the avalanche of information I’ve piled on myself – and then I can’t help but second-guess my choice.

I also worry about my family and friends and their well-being, about the future and what it holds; all the unknowns in life. I guess everyone does at times, but I do feel that there have been occasions when my worrying, or that fear of the unknown, or fear of failing, has caused me to hold back, to not push myself as hard as I knew I could, and I very well could have missed out on great opportunities because of that.

I think part of this habit of worry and fear of the unknown comes from being the youngest child, and being the only girl; although my parents raised me and my brothers pretty equally, I was for the most part more protected than the boys. I still remember one occasion when my parents wouldn’t let me go see a special screening of Walt Disney’s “Bambi” at the neighborhood theater with the kids from the family next door, even though I was older than their youngest boy, and he was allowed to go.

A few years ago, I saw the book “Embracing Fear” by Thom Rutledge at a Borders bargain table, and thought it looked interesting. It had been sitting on my shelf ever since, and I had never gotten around to reading it until today. Well, there’s no time like the present, huh? I cracked it open this morning.

One major note: I really appreciate how Rutledge’s style is not the stereotypical namby-pamby, “love your soul, think happiness and light and it will manifest itself with no effort on your part, wrap yourself in a magical blanket of protectiveness” self-help drivel or psychobabble. He’s been through a tough life, he knows that you have to work at happiness, and though he’s been a mental health professional for decades, he doesn’t claim to know all the answers – he notes that learns just as much from his clients as they do from him plenty of times – and that attitude toward life and knowledge is one that I share. That being said, if you’re at all interested in reading this book, you can rest assured that while the points I outline below may seem silly to the skeptical, they are effective (Rutledge talks about that in the book, too – some things may seem corny at first, but if they work, they work – and goal is progress).

Some neat key points in the book:

“Personifying” Your Fear ~ There’s a normal, healthy type of fear that keeps you (hopefully) from jumping off the roof of your house “pro-wrestling style”, and then there’s irrational fear – the kind that keeps you from going for that promotion at work because you think you won’t get it, or even worse, that keeps you from even applying for a job because you feel you’re not good enough. Rutledge says that giving these two very different types of fear personas – the healthy one being your “Ally”, and the irrational one being more of a “Bully”, helps you to define them more clearly, to separate them, and to see them for what they are, instead of wrapping all fear together into a confusing mass, or wall that hinders you from making good choices for yourself.

Saying “No” To Fear ~ Fear will always be a factor in life; there’s no denying that, and it’s silly to think otherwise. People with absolutely no fear are known not as fearless to most … rather, they’re probably thought of as foolish – or at the very least, kidding themselves. Saying “no” to fear means that you feel the fear, understand and accept it, and respond to it rationally. Instead of, “I can’t ask for a raise – I won’t get it. I’m worthless. What’s wrong with me? I’m a loser,” processing the fear you might experience will result in something closer to, “If I ask for that raise, I may not get it. I’ll feel disappointed. I may feel embarrassed. But if I don’t get it, I can ask what I can do better. I’m going to ask for the raise.”

The “Ladder Technique” ~ Rutledge uses a technique with his clients to help in breaking down fears, and getting to the bottom of them. Like the example above, if the person gets denied a raise, the fear is that they’ll feel disappointed and embarrassed. Sometimes just identifying what specific fears are involved helps when trying to process what might be holding you back, and sometimes they lead to deeper fears, which is where the ladder technique is really valuable. The same example from above might be more like, “If I ask for the raise, I may not get it. If I don’t get it, I’ll feel like I’m not valued at the company. If I feel I’m not valued at the company, I’ll feel I’m not valued at all. If I’m not valued at all, what am I doing with my life?” It may sound silly, and that ladder might seem a bit extreme, but I think we’ve all had similar, irrational thoughts like that, and a lot of people push all that aside and either try not to think about it, or some unfortunate few wallow in it – and yet, really don’t go through the process of evaluating it. The ladder example here may mean that the person’s main concern is not really the promotion, or the job even, but his or her direction or purpose in life. The ladder technique helps to point to the bigger issue – the initial issue is just the tip of the iceberg – there may be a fear acting as a vague vice constricting us or dark cloud hovering over us – and finding the base of it all can truly be enlightening, and empowering.

Pushing Through The Wall ~ A very powerful exercise Rutledge uses with clients (here in a much more brief explanation than in the book) is to have them imagine a brick wall in front of them – to make it as real as possible in their minds – to see the texture of the bricks, to “touch” the wall, to imagine what’s on the other side … then to think about how the wall is big, but the bricks are small, and that the mortar is of their own making. They then imagine what would happen if they destroyed that wall – would they step through? How would they proceed? Finally, they’re led to put their hands on the wall … and then to push through it and see what’s on the other side … to revel in that, and to see that there is a horizon … and there are also other walls. The neat thing about this exercise is that in a nutshell, the mortar is fear, and the bricks are life. And there isn’t just one “Wall of Fear” that Rutledge is leading you to believe you have to push through, and then your world will be fear-free and perfect. There will always be walls, and you have to learn to push through them. And the best way to do that, is to understand your fears, to be able to embrace them, and accept them, to feel the fear, and to not let it stop you from going forward.

I really enjoyed this book, and I’m glad I finally read it. It’s nice to see examples of a lot of things I’ve thought about, in black and white, to know that I’m not the only one who feels these things, and also that there are plenty of great ways to be able to Face, Explore, Accept, and Respond to the many exciting challenges in life. I really feel the concepts I’ve read about in this book have helped me to understand my relationship with fear, and that I’m much better equipped to handle challenging (read: scary) situations now. With practice of the techniques in this book, and an attitude of embracing fear, accepting it, and moving through it, I’ll learn to not worry so much. I’d definitely recommend this read – even if you don’t feel you have “issues” with fear, there’s something in it for everyone.

Related Links:
“Embracing Fear” (Amazon, Used)

Read The Book "Snoopy And The Red Baron" (72/366)

“Curse you, Red Baron!”
Snoopy, in “Snoopy and the Red Baron”

I’ve loved Peanuts since I can remember – everyone in my family has, starting with my grandpa – and it’s really such a part of American pop culture that I was surprised to realize the other day that I take a lot of its development for granted. I know Snoopy has many different personas, but I never really thought much about his WWI Flying Ace one, where his arch nemesis is the Red Baron (who was a real person, by the way). While organizing a few bookshelves, I came across a small red book, titled “Snoopy and the Red Baron” rel=”external”>Snoopy and the Red Baron” and realized I had never even known a book about this very popular and famous Snoopy persona had been written. How cool.

The book is very simple, made with two different colors of paper, and black and white drawings. No fancy stuff needed here – although the characters are adorable and heartwarming, the writing is always what has made the Peanuts so great.

The most charming parts of this book (and so many of the Peanuts’ adventures) are the fantasies created from Snoopy’s extremely vivid imagination (and how most surrounding him simply tolerate it).

I love how he temporarily pauses his imaginary world when he has to, but slips right back in just as soon as the “pretend offender” is out of the way.

I also love how Snoopy, being an extremely brave, macho dog of course, can find the peril in any situation. That’s not a harmless jumprope! Oh no!

And only Snoopy can merge the two worlds together in his own mind at the end of his adventure to bring it all together. It is, after all, the world he has created out of his very lively, exciting, wonderful imagination.

As I said, I never even knew this book existed, and I was excited to find it was published before I was even born (1967). It was actually given as a gift to my dad, as he was joining the Navy. He was 25 years old when he received this book – younger than I am now – but still an adult. Even though it was probably packed in a box for decades and that’s why I never got a chance to read it when I was a kid, I’m glad it survived the years and now I feel like I have even more appreciation for it as a grown-up. Woh-woh-woh-woh-WOH.

Related Links:
Snoopy and the Red Baron

Read the Classic Literary Reference "The Elements of Style" (41/366)

“Rule 17. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!”
William Strunk Jr.

Do you recognize this book? Was it required reading in any of your courses in school? Most people reading this blog won’t recall this book, and that’s an absolute shame. I am completely against cutting funding for athletics, art, and music, but while English hasn’t faced the same budget cuts, there is still not enough importance placed on proper English communication – especially spelling, grammar, and writing!

“The Elements of Style” was written by Professor William Strunk, Jr. and was self-published for use in the English classes he taught at Cornell University in 1919. E.B. White, famous author of the classic “Charlotte’s Web“, was a student of his, and obviously learned a great deal from him. Forty years later, Macmillan and Co. commissioned White to revise it for college and general use.

My grandpa had a copy of this book. I never thought much about it – I assumed it must have something to do with how to dress or behave – and I never came across it in school; but a few years ago, our friend Aaron was talking about buying an illustrated version, and that piqued my interest. Nick had a copy of the 4th edition (non illustrated) from an English course in college, so I flipped through it, and realized that it was a set of grammatical rules, or guidelines for formal writing. While I thought it was very interesting (I’ve always loved writing and have always tried to follow the writing rules I learned in school), I didn’t get around to actually reading the book until today.

One of the issues I think most will have, almost immediately upon picking up this book, is that we’ve forgotten the vernacular of English writing and composition. Do you remember the definitions of the words: “Noun, Verb, and Adjective”? Sure. What about the terms: “Participle Phrase, Split Infinitive, or Nonrestrictive Modifier“? Unless you are a writer now, or were an English major, these phrases are at best vague memories filed away in your mental Rolodex. Luckily for the majority of us, there’s a glossary at the back of the book (at least the 4th edition – not sure when they started including that, but thank goodness they did); but the fact that so many of these terms are like a foreign language to most of us shows how little importance is placed on proper writing skills.

While many will say we don’t need to worry about writing proficiency – we’re not all striving to be novelists, or even journalists for that matter – we’re still all writers, no matter how informal a shape our writing might take. Have you sent an email or been on Facebook lately?

Professor Strunk was a bold-minded man. He had very clear ideas of what was correct and incorrect, and wrote this book as a set of rules, with a pretty much infallible voice and crusade-like passion; but he was definitely not without humor about and acceptance of the ebb and flow of human communication. Here’s a great example – an excerpt from the chapter on misused words and expressions:

Try. Takes the infinitive: “try to mend it,” not “try and mend it.” Students of the language will argue that try and has
won through and become an idiom. Indeed it has, and it is relaxed and acceptable. But
try to is precise, and
when you are writing formal prose, try and write
try to.

I’ve always considered myself a decent writer. My high school AP English teacher did like to slash countless essays of mine with her red pencil though – in an autobiographical assignment, my statement: “I play a lot of basketball” was corrected to “I play much basketball.” I thought that sounded ridiculous at the time, and thinking of it now, she really should have corrected my sentence to “I play basketball often.” I’m sure Mrs. Victoire read “The Elements of Style” but unfortunately, she missed the point of the book.

While it is written as a set of rules, in his introduction, E.B. White notes,
“Style rules of this sort are, of course, somewhat a matter of personal preference, and even the established rules of grammar are open to challenge. Professor Strunk, although one of the most inflexible and choosy of men, was quick to acknowledge the fallacy of inflexibility and the danger of doctrine.”

The rules in “The Elements of Style” were not meant to simply be a rigid formula to establish “right and wrong” in writing, as much as they were a guide to a starting point for understanding and clarity. If you are at all interested in improving your written communication skills, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Although I know I have not followed Professor Strunk’s rules unfailingly (he’d probably gurgle with aggravation at this writeup), I appreciate that there is a book I can turn to for guidance on how to be more focused in my writing, and how I can most effectively “omit needless words!”

Related Links:
The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition
The Elements of Style Illustrated

Read the National Best Seller "Born to Run" (34/366)

“You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.”
~ Jack “The Dipsea Demon” Kirk

If you’re on Facebook at all, you must have seen the numerous “Sh*t XYZ [people] say” videos. It started with “Girls”, and lots of other gems followed: “Girls to Gay Guys”, “Asian Dads”, “VFX Artists”, and yesterday, our friend Ruel posted “Sh*t Barefoot Runners Say”. It was HILARIOUS to us since we’ve been minimalist runners for the past few years:

Back in 2009, I was introduced to the concept of barefoot or minimalist running. I changed my running technique and even went through the CrossFit Endurance training certification. I had been into running since around 2004, and had completed several half marathons and one full before this, but at the cert I learned a lot about how through the past several decades since the first “running shoe” came out in the 70’s, runners have been getting injured more and more with technological shoe “advances” – not less and less, because most running shoes are designed to prohibit the natural movement of the foot, and cause more problems than they “solve”.

At the cert, I was also introduced to and encouraged to read the book, “Born To Run”, and I bought it that very weekend. Though I’ve been practicing minimalist running for a while now, and have also coached Nick a bit with it (he used to get terrible shin splints and hated running, but since changing his technique he no longer has those issues and actually ran his first marathon last year) that book sat on my shelf for two and a half years until I saw the video Ruel posted. After having a good laugh, I decided I really should finally read the book.

“Born To Run” is about an indigenous tribe of peoples in Mexico called the Tarahumara (Tara-oo-MARa) or Rarámuri, who run for ridiculously long distances over varied rough and steep terrain, and who run at all ages – from children to great-grandparents – they run all their lives, and in sandals or “huaraches” that are basically nothing more than a piece of rubber protecting the bottoms of their feet, fastened with a leather strap. They have no plantar fasciitis, no Achilles tendonitis, no shin splints or any of the other “running” injuries that are common with the “modern” runner.

The author is Christopher McDougall, a former war correspondent for the Associated Press and now a contributing editor for Men’s Health magazine. He decided to write the book to address his own nagging questions about the broad modern medical community’s view on running and how “bad” it is for the body. His journey takes the reader from the office of one of the country’s top sports physicians in Philadelphia – where McDougall was told that at 6’4″ and 230 pounds, his body just “wasn’t built for running” – to the Leadville 100 Ultramarathon in Colorado, up freezing peaks, across blazing deserts, following the stories of athletes who push their bodies to the absolute limit for their love of running, and finally to where it all converges in Mexico’s Copper Canyon and the “greatest footrace the world has never seen”.

This book was fantastic. Engaging, witty, thought-provoking, and honestly, invigorating. If you like to run, you may want to get this in both the print and audio versions, since reading the book constantly makes you feel torn – between continuing to read, and lacing up those huaraches for a run.

Related Links:
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Unabridged CD)

Read Lewis Caroll’s "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" (20/366)

“Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.”
~ The Duchess, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

On the 4th of July in 1862, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, his friend reverend Canon Duckworth, and the sisters Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell were on a boat trip on the Isis River in Oxford. Alice grew bored, and asked to be told a story with “lots of nonsense in it”. Dodgson proceeded to tell the girls a story that he made up as he went along, and “Alice’s Adventures” began.

After telling the girls more and more of the story on different trips, Alice loved it so much that she asked that Dodgson write it down for her. He wrote a manuscript, complete with illustrations, and gave it to Alice as a Christmas gift. Later, Dodgson’s friend and novelist Henry Kingsley saw the manuscript and encouraged him to publish the book. Dodgson asked advice from his other friend, George MacDonald, an author of children’s stories, who took the manuscript home to read to his children. His six-year-old son Greville declared that he “wished there were 60,000 copies of it”, so Dodgson decided to publish it. After a few revisions and changes, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published (under Dodgson’s pen name “Lewis Caroll”) on July 4, 1865, exactly three years from the date of that first boating trip .

Everyone knows the story of Alice in Wonderland, and has seen the movie(s) that the story has inspired, but “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was never required reading for me in school. There have been several books that I’ve read, either having seen the films or seeing the films after, and I’ve always enjoyed reading the books – there are always insights that the films have a hard time showing – details that are always cut out for time or other purposes.

What I never realized about “Alice in Wonderland” was how brilliantly the story was written. Even though the original tale was requested to be “full of nonsense”, Caroll actually weaved very clever trans-language puns and inside jokes (most of them mathematical, as he was actually a mathematician, not a children’s author) into the final version. Even almost all the poems in the book were actually parodies on popular English poetry of the time.

I also didn’t remember that there was a second installation of Alice’s adventures. “Through the Looking Glass” is Lewis Caroll’s second Alice book, and Walt Disney decided to merge the stories from both books together for the animated classic “Alice in Wonderland”. After reading “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and reading more about the history behind it (and the Disney movie), I realized there were characters I had yet to read about, that I had seen in the film.

With the rich history of this book, its background, and its author, doing research on the Wonderland adventures has made me feel as if I have gone down the rabbit hole myself. I’d write more, but I’m late – I’m late! For a very important date to read “Through The Looking-Glass”.

Related Links:
The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition
Alice’s Adventures Under Ground: A Facsimile – a wealth of information on the Alice Adventures and Lewis Caroll

Read Sun Tzu’s "The Art of War" (4/366)

“Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy’s purpose.”
~ Sun Tzu

I like to read, but there has always been a growing list of books I want to read “sometime soon”. In our world of computers, smart-phones, email, and streaming TV, it’s hard for people to find time to read anymore.

“The Art of War” is an ancient Chinese military strategy guide written by general Sun Tzu, whose principles have stood the test of time and changing environments – it is still read today for military use and even in business practice. One of the earliest english translations of the text (and the one I read) was written in 1910 by scholar and translator, Lionel Giles.

Inscribed bamboo-slips of the most complete copy to date of The Art of War were unearthed in Yinque Mountain, Linyi, Shandong in 1972 and were dated back to the 2nd century BC (below, L). The bamboo book (below, R) is a copy of “The Art of War” and is part of a collection at the University of California, Riverside. The cover also reads “乾隆御書“, meaning it was either commissioned or transcribed by the Qianlong Emperor.
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“The Art of War” really isn’t a one-time read. As simple as the concepts are, the guide was meant to be studied and meditated on. Although the treatise was written for military strategy, it more deeply is about the human psyche, with other circumstances having effect on both the psyche and the situation at hand. Although there are 13 chapters, each dealing with different aspects of war, I believe they all relate back to the same principles of knowing yourself, and knowing your opposition.

Sun Tzu stated 5 essentials for victory:

1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Victory lies in the knowledge of these five points.

One of the most famous excerpts from the book follows the 5 essentials for victory:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

I enjoyed this book, have re-read several parts, and am now listening to the audio version. Again, although it was written as a military guide, it has meaningful insights on self-control, patience, and wisdom. It’s available for free through many sources on the internet, but I’ll be buying a copy for my bookshelf.

Related Links:
The Art of War (Hardcover)