There are books that are simply not worth getting through, books that are hard to get through but worth the effort and then there are the books that you savor and sink your teeth into. The kind that you can’t wait to get back to and you’re sad to finish. My next few posts are about books like these. It’s rare that I get such bounty in my reading selections. I realized while writing this post that I have a lot to say about these books so I’ll stick to a few books per post.
Better than Before
Gretchen Rubin is one of my favorite authors and I love her sincerity in her conquests to understand herself better and make improvements in her life. When I heard that her latest book was about habit formation I knew I had to read it. The book did not disappoint – It was research packed and to me the best part about the book was that it was detailed and not at all generic. I love that the book’s first chapter was titled “Self Knowledge”. The first thing to know about habit formation is that generic “one size fits all” strategies rarely work. There are some of us who respond well to some techniques and others who don’t. I appreciate that this was spelled out in a big way in this book. The worst thing is for someone to apply habit formation techniques that are bound to fail for them and then getting discouraged about it.
The book starts off with the concept of “Four tendencies” that I had shared on this blog a while ago. The idea is that people mostly conform to one of the four categories of Upholders, Obligers, Questioners and Rebels. When I read this a year ago I was convinced I was an obliger but as I read this book I realized I was a Questioner-Rebel. This realization has been crucial for me – It has made me realize why I function the way I do. I don’t do well with chores that don’t make “sense” to me, I abhor soft deadlines and I never learn something well enough till I know the “why” of what I am learning.
From this point, the book is packed with strategies for habit formation while emphasizing why certain strategies will work for some types of people and not for others. Out of all these strategies, there were some that I applied and found out worked very well for me. I found that the practice of “Monitoring” your habits can positively impact your focus and keep you motivated to stay on track. I began the practice of marking every yoga class I attended with an ‘X’ in a monthly calendar. Just two months of doing this has helped me tremendously and helped me take the mind games out of getting myself to mat. I also loved the concept of not rewarding yourself with things that undermine your habit formation. For example: rewarding yourself with a donut after months of good eating. Such rewards can be replaced with things that help reinforce the habit such as a new knife or a new cooking appliance. She also points out that it is important to treat yourself occasionally so the donut can be your treat every now and then but making the donut a reward in itself won’t help you stick to your habits. I also loved the strategy of safeguards – planning in the case of failure. To me the best opportunity to use this strategy was when I return from a vacation and fall off the exercise, eat healthy, be productive (basically do anything other than watch TV) wagon. I am yet to apply this but the next time I take a vacation I want to safeguard against this phenomenon by planning for how I can ease back into a routine.
When I picked up “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg in December 2013, I had hoped to read a book like this. While I enjoyed the book I think “Better than Before” is a far better book for the reader who wants strategies they can immediately apply in their lives.
“The desire to start something at the “right” time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now.”
“Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.”
“The reward for a good habit is the habit itself.”
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids
This one was recommended to me by my friend R and I am glad she did because reading this book reminded me what it’s like to truly relish your reading. I got through this book really quickly! The book, as is evident from the provocative title, is about the decision not to have children. The stories have been curated and edited by Meghan Daum who in her opening essay states that one of her objectives with this book was to step away from the typical way in which non-parents are viewed (selfish, shallow, self-absorbed). I loved the book and I think if anything these sixteen essayists are thoughtful and considerate individuals who chose the path that is correct for them. Many of them are committed role models to their nieces, nephews and other children in their lives, acknowledge the struggles of parents (especially mothers) today and want a better world for the children of their friends and family.
While the decision to not have a child is common between these authors, their reasons for the decision were very diverse. The essays that stood out to me were the ones that brought focus to how little is being done for families by societies today. The fact remains that raising a child is not easy and for all the gushing and gifting that surrounds Mother’s day and Father’s day – very few countries have family friendly policies and reforms. Now some will agree that this on its own may not be reason enough for people to choose a life without children. However, for people on the fence who haven’t really felt a calling to a life as a parent, this is enough to push them over the edge.
This book comes to me at a great time. My husband and I are in our 30s and will be celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary this December. Every trip back home, we’re relentlessly questioned about whether we’re trying to have a baby and given a barrage of advice on the topic. I find that the cultural message right now (at least in my community) is that there is something wrong with you if you choose a life without children. Books like this point out that the choice to not have children is a complex one that cannot simply be attributed to a laziness or fear of responsibility like it has been in the past.
Eventually, I think it takes courage to stand up for what you believe in and follow through with your convictions. Whether that conviction leads you to bring in children into this world and raise them or whether it leads you to choose a life without children. We can all stand to be a little more supportive of each other’s choices.
“But until there’s a better social deal for women—not just fathers doing more child care but vastly more social resources directed at the situation, including teams of well-paid professionals on standby (not low-wage-earning women with their own children at home)—birthrates will certainly continue to plummet.”
– Maternal Instincts by Laura Kipnis
“There is no life without regrets. Every important choice has its benefits and its deficits, whether or not people admit it or even recognize the fact: no mother has the radical, lifelong freedom that is essential for my happiness. I will never know the intimacy with, or have the impact on, a child that a mother has. Losses, including the loss of future possibilities, are inevitable in life; nobody has it all.”
– Beyond Beyond Motherhood by Jeanne Safer
“In any case, children are no guarantee of immortality—they’re only a genetic reprieve or extension at best. Eventually the species Homo sapiens will die off, and even if we escape the sun’s expansion into a red giant and colonize another star system or download our consciousness into machines or evolve into pure energy life forms, eventually (according to current consensus) the universe itself will undramatically gutter out in a boring heat death and everyone—your kids, their kids, your great (23)-grandchildren, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Lincoln, Nietzsche, Akira Kurosawa, and me—will be even more utterly nonexistent than completely forgotten, since there won’t even be anyone around to forget us”
– The End of the Line by Tim Kreider