January 2011

Books to inspire personal change

January 2011

Books to inspire personal change

January 2011

Books to inspire personal change

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Are you ready to make a fresh start in the new year? We’ve lined up a bevy of guidebooks to help you launch 2011 with a renewed sense of purpose and effective new strategies for dealing with life’s challenges. Choose the approach that best suits your lifestyle and take those first steps toward a new and improved you.


Dave Bruno was a success: booming business, loving family, nice home and solid Christian faith. He owned lots of stuff, which led to wanting more stuff, leading to a blog called Stuck in Stuff, where he complained about consumerism but continued to buy—wait for it—more stuff. Finally, all that stuff started to take its toll, and in a quest to examine his consumption more closely, Bruno decided to pare back to just 100 personal items for one year. He chronicles that journey in his inspirational new memoir, The 100 Thing Challenge.

Bruno’s book is often funny, as when he finds a pair of cleats he will never use again but had kept “in case I started to age in reverse.” One-liners like those sometimes steal focus from the project, which is only described in detail halfway through the book. By that time, our attention has been diverted down so many side paths it’s hard to remember what we came for. Thankfully, a detailed appendix will assist readers inspired to try the 100 Thing Challenge themselves, as many apparently have.

After reading about Bruno’s experience—which he says helped him to regain his soul—you’ll never look at the contents of your junk drawer the same way again. And don’t feel too conflicted about buying the book: Bruno counts his whole “library” as one item, a form of cheating any avid reader would wholeheartedly endorse.

—Heather Seggel


Guides to sustainable living bend the shelves at bookstores these days, but David Wann takes sustainability farther than most. In The New Normal, he maps out a future without dependency on fossil fuels, cheap goods or processed food. Because we are all faced with a warming world, he offers steps to deeply transform our resource-dependent routines to self-reliant, more fulfilling lives that are easier on our planet.

Changes in population, technology and available resources have outdistanced our cultural ideals, says Wann. For our “new normal,” we should ditch old status symbols, such as huge McMansions in the suburbs, and instead value actions that build local communities, such as bike-friendly thoroughfares, energy-efficient housing and shorter food and energy supply lines. Wann describes how meeting our needs locally will make life not only sustainable but more meaningful, through closer ties with our family and neighbors.

The New Normal provides both the vision and the actions needed to change the status quo. It is an excellent resource for people who want specific information on creating a sustainable culture where they live—and beyond.

—Marianne Peters


Dr. Henry Emmons’ new book, The Chemistry of Calm, offers natural solutions to overcoming anxiety, maintaining that there is an alternative to panic attacks and Prozac. Emmons, a psychiatrist, laid the groundwork for a holistic path to wellness with his last book, The Chemistry of Joy. In this follow-up, Emmons outlines what he calls the Resilience Training Program.

Meditation, diet, exercise and supplements comprise the program. What Emmons lays out is a very doable regimen for readers that begins with self-care and acceptance. Although many other self-help books center on fixing the problem(s), Emmons takes the position that individuals are innately healthy and simply need to refocus.

The shift from anxious to peaceable takes seven steps. Emmons walks readers through each in The Chemistry of Calm, from how to choose better food options at the grocery store, to using dietary supplements linked to brain health, to integrating a routine of meditative exercises.

For Emmons, “Mindfulness” is the key to corralling the thoughts and emotions that ratchet up our anxiety, and The Chemistry of Calm is an in-depth how-to guide that can benefit us all.

—Lizza Connor Bowen


Fifteen years after the phenomenal success of Simple Abundance, which spent a year at number one on the New York Times bestseller list, author Sarah Ban Breathnach admits, “All the money’s gone.” Her new book, Peace and Plenty, explains how she hit bottom and offers an approach perfectly timed for the new year: “a fresh start for all of us: living well, spending less, and appreciating more.”

Ban Breathnach’s writing is therapy on a page as she copes with her monumental losses: multiple homes, nine assistants, extravagant purchases (Isaac Newton’s prayer chapel in England, Marilyn Monroe’s furs) and a thieving husband. In dealing with the aftermath, she uncovers the emotionally volatile relationship women have with money.

Instead of writing another dry investing how-to, Ban Breathnach gives women a guide to finding spiritual and emotional peace after financial loss. Anyone who has suffered financial catastrophe—losing a home to foreclosure, losing a job to the recession, losing it all in a messy divorce—will find reassurance and compassion. With gentle advice, Peace and Plenty helps readers face their guilt about past money mistakes and move forward.

Ban Breathnach brings her Victorian sensibilities to plain-Jane finance; her budget includes a Christmas Club, her cash system creates a pin money stash. Readers rediscover the “thrill of thrift” by cleaning out purses and closets for a fresh start, and pampering themselves with poetry and early bedtime routines.

Ban Breathnach, who popularized the Gratitude Journal, now recommends several more tools for inexpensive self-reflection. The Journal of Well-Spent Moments, the Contentment Chest and the Comfort Companion all focus on finding the positive without spending much money.

Advice and anecdotes from famous women who’ve dealt with their own reversals of fortune are included throughout, but Ban Breathnach is at her best when sharing the deeply personal stories of her own financial foibles. And perhaps her greatest lesson came from the treachery of her English husband: Protect yourself first, she advises.

Sharing tears, laughter and many cups of tea with Ban Breathnach, readers will come away with a new perspective for finding peace.

—Stephanie Gerber


Everybody knows the world lacks compassion, yet it’s something we deeply desire. To care about others, we must set aside our own egos, which is hard. Toward this end, self-described religious historian Karen Armstrong has written Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, calculated to mirror other 12-step programs and help us “dethrone ourselves from the centre of our worlds.”

Armstrong is the 2008 TED Prize winner and creator of The Charter for Compassion, crafted in 2009 by prominent religious leaders of many faiths and the general public. She believes that all religions are saying the same things, albeit in different ways, and that we must restore compassion to the heart of our religious practices. Considering that her narrative draws from the myths and precepts of many disparate faiths, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, her prose is clear and her concepts surprisingly easy to follow; it’s a warm and, yes, compassionate book. Yet she is still able to convey a sense of urgency: We are hardwired for compassion as well as cruelty, and it’s time to take the high road.

Armstrong’s genius is her ability to distill an impressive amount of information into just over 200 pages, making complex concepts easy to understand. In the end, living compassionately means following the Golden Rule: Always treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. With Armstrong as a guide, we can learn to do just that.

—Linda Leaming


If getting your family’s financial house in order seems like an overwhelming task, then Ellie Kay’s The 60-Minute Money Workout is for you. Every topic is broken down into chunks that make paying down debt, planning for retirement and even college planning doable in just one hour a week. From warm up to cool down, Kay acts as your money trainer as you discover your money personality and get on the same page with your partner.

Kay is called America’s Family Financial Expert for good reason. She brings real wisdom from supporting seven children on an annual income of just $55,000. The Kay family pays cash for cars, has no college loans and even paid off $40,000 in debt.

Her head-of-household experience shines in chapters like “Cha Ching Guide to Paying Less” and “Travel and Fun Guide Workout.” She shares loads of family-friendly ways to shop smarter for groceries, clothes and gas, saving time and money that can then be spent on more meaningful family vacations. She addresses other common family money matters with “workouts” for situations from launching a home-based business to determining children’s allowances.

Kay admits to being born thrifty, but she balances it by giving generously. Her 10/10/80 spending budget allocates 10 percent to giving and 10 percent to savings. That’s a hefty chunk for someone overwhelmed with credit card debt. But her Giving Guide Workout challenges you to strengthen your generosity muscle by doing more to share your time, resources and money, promising that you’ll feel and live better. And if you don’t have a dollar to spare, she includes 25 gifts that don’t cost a cent.

—Stephanie Gerber

Before you can start using your brain most effectively, you must understand it. This is the thinking behind Your Creative Brain, which contains the most up-to-date research-based exercises and rules to help you deliver your creative potential. For those who consider themselves “uncreative types” or are too attached to tried-and-true concepts, Your Creative Brain acts as an interactive guide to determine your weaker points and put them to work.

According to Harvard psychologist and researcher Shelley Carson, creativity is not an attribute reserved only for crafty types or inventors. Carson is the first researcher to frame creativity as a set of neurological functions, and Your Creative Brain lets you discover her findings for yourself.

Carson’s research explains the seven “brainsets” of the mind and how you can use those brainsets to increase creativity, productivity and innovation. Quizzes and exercises help you understand how your brain works, determine where your creative comfort zone lies and pinpoint the areas in your creative process which need some beefing up.

From Rorschach tests to association exercises, Your Creative Brain doesn’t simply teach you how to be more creative—it actually starts the process for you.

—Cat D. Acree


When John Kralik was a boy, his grandfather gave him a silver dollar, along with the promise of another if Kralik would send a thank you note. He wrote the letter and got the second dollar, but Kralik didn’t get the lesson behind it until midlife.
Overwhelmed one New Year’s Day by a series of personal and professional setbacks, he decided to focus on gratitude by sending one thank you note per day for a year, to anyone and everyone: his children, clients of his law firm, an on-and-off girlfriend, even his regular barista at Starbucks. And things did change in Kralik’s life; his work life and home life both improved, he reconnected with old friends and boosted his health and self-esteem, and his focus shifted from the problems in his life to the things that were going right, and deserving of recognition and thanks.

For a small story predicated on a seemingly minor activity, 365 Thank Yous is told with impressive humility, heart and soul. It’s touching when the Starbucks worker explains his reluctance to open Kralik’s note, anticipating another complaint from an entitled three-dollar-latte drinker, only to be pleasantly surprised by the gift of simple appreciation.

Readers will forgive Kralik for taking 15 months to write all 365 notes, and thank him for sharing the fruits of the project in this sweet and uplifting book.

—Heather Seggel



365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life
By John Kralik

ISBN 9781401324056

Peace and Plenty
By Sarah Ban Breathnach
Grand Central

ISBN 9780446573702

The 60-Minute Money Workout: An Easy Step-By-Step Guide to Getting Your Finances Into Shape
By Ellie Kay

ISBN 9780307446039

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