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{Review} Essentialism vs. Yes Man

Essentialist or Yes Man? | The book dr. |

What to do when your personal philosophy hits a roadblock.

I’ve just finished reading Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. I loved it the first time I read it, and got just as much out of it this time around.

For those of you who haven’t read it, the basic principle is this: we often get distracted and waste our effort by pursuing too many goals at once. We make a millimeter of effort in a million different directions, instead of choosing what really matters. Focusing all our energy on what matters means much more progress much faster.

This is the path of specialization. I know this experience well: when I read 20 books at once, I never really get into any of them and I never get to finish any of them. If I just read one book at a time, I really dive in deep and finish it faster.

This makes sense, and I can see some ways I can make more concrete progress by saying no to more things that I’m not really that excited about, or that are less important to me, in favor of the ones that I want the most.


One of the other books that I have read that is a huge game-changer is Yes Man. I recommend each of these books all the time.

The quick summary of Yes Man by Danny Wallace is this- a guy who was stuck in a rut and feeling depressed got jolted out of this space when he was confronted by a man on the bus who told him he said no too much and that he should say yes more.

He then went on an odyssey of saying yes to every opportunity that came his way for the next year and it completely changed his life. When I was reading this book a friend was reading it as well. We were so fired up by this philosophy since it was so life affirming. But it did give us pause when trying to make plans with each other. We didn’t want to force the other person to join us, just because of the yes.

So we started leaving a lot of voicemails that sounded like this: “Hi! I just thought you’d want to know that I’m going to the movies today. I’m going to see Fantastic Movie at 3pm at this theater. Just thought I’d let you know. Bye!” That way, there was no question and no required yes.

But as I was working my way through Essentialism, feeling really good about saying no more, I remembered Danny Wallace and the joy of saying yes.

Am I an essentialist or a yes man?

This sort of thing is enough to put me into an identity tailspin, so I’ve been cooking on it all week. Do I have to choose one? Can I have both?

I think I can.

Here’s why:

  • The message of both books is, at their core, to say yes to the things that really matter.
  • The reason Danny Wallace had to go big on the yes was that he had gotten in the habit of saying no to everything all the time.
  • The core message here is: don’t say yes or no without considering why you’re saying it.

What I am looking for is a philosophy that combines both of these ideologies.

Let’s call it The Essential Yes.

Anyone want to be a part of this movement?

Here are the principles:

  1. Life is meant to be joyful and juicy
  2. Going all in creates a better result
  3. It’s important to consider all your options before going all in
  4. Go big at the beginning- brainstorm every single thing you might want to say yes to
  5. Then choose what you want to say yes to right now
  6. Go all in on that for as long or as short a time as you choose
  7. Repeat
  8. It’s ok to change your mind or to return to step 1 at any time
  9. Enjoy the process

That’s it… I think the major thing is that we make mindless choices in life a lot of the time, and this leads to unhappiness. We say yes to things without asking ourselves if they are really want, so we need to strengthen our no. If this is your tendency, I suggest you read Essentialism. We might also say no right away, fearing we’ll be disappointed or get overwhelmed, so we stay small and hide from anything new that feels too dangerous. If this is you, I say go for Yes Man.

We’ll all meet in the middle on this method.

The point is to say yes to the things that matter and no to things that don’t.

Have a philosophy that helps you sort through these choices? Please do share below in the comments. I can’t wait to hear!

Until then, I’ll just be here dreaming of a podcast episode that’s a debate between Greg McKeown and Danny Wallace on just this topic. Heaven. I will do my best to make it happen…

{Reader’s Life} On cleaning out your head.

Cleaning our your head | | the book dr.

Anyone else out there addicted to input?

I’m showing my age, but I’ve always left a little bit like the robot Johnny #5 in Short Circuit who ran around tearing books as he flipped through them at blinding speeds muttering “input, input.” If you have not seen this cinematic gem, here’s a little peek.

It’s so easy to get trapped in the more is more mentality, even with reading. Spending lots of time in the bookstore has created mountains of books that want to be read. And people just keep writing more and more stuff that sounds amazing. It’s easy to get into a frantic busy mentality, even with an activity that is supposed to slow us down and take us deeper into ourselves, like reading.

It was for this reason that I cut my Goodreads reading goal for 2016 nearly in half. I was a crazy reader last year, cramming in books at every turn and not as available to the rest of my life as I wanted to be. It’s such a bewitching identity, isn’t it, being a reader? People murmur with appreciation about how much you’ve been reading and it feels good, doesn’t it?

But what is the point of reading all these mountains of books if we don’t allow them to sink in and really impact us?

There are so many books that I’ve read over and over again because they still give me something when I do. But one thing that has happened that I’m not proud of is that sometimes I read with a plan to “come back later and really get into it” later on. Writing this down feels embarrassing, and I wonder if I’m the only one who does something this foolish.

[Tweet “If you’re going to read a book, read it like this is the last time you’ll get your hands on it. “]

Life is too short to plan on re-reading later.

Here’s how to suck all the marrow out of each book, Dead-Poet Style:

  • As a traveler’s notebook junkie, my first tip comes from that world: Use one insert in your traveler’s notebook as a Commonplace Book. What’s a Commonplace Book, you might ask? Read this excellent post and find out. You could also keep one of these in any other manner of notebook, or even in Evernote, but I personally like the physical experience of pen on paper. Having quotes and bits of books I have loved close at hand lets me digest them and return to the ideas later, while letting go of the book itself.
  • Another journaling/notebook practice: After finishing a book, take a few minutes to write a little bit about it. What was the book about? Did you learn anything new? Any new actions you want to take as a result of reading it. (hint: this is not just limited to non-fiction. A novel can inspire to-dos like “get a flowy nightgown and spend more time lounging in it with tea, or “the next time I see a sunset, stop and look at it for at least 5 minutes,” or “try meditation” (my guy’s action a year ago after reading A Tale For the Time Being.) )
  • It’s ok to take a break before picking up another book: I have finally gotten to the point that if I finish a book in the evening, I won’t start another one until the next day. I used to try to press on and now I find that counter-productive. I’m going even further in the “let it breathe” direction and sometimes leave a few days between books, even though that makes me a little nervous. The longer you let a book marinate, the deeper it can sink in. 
  • Come up with a one-liner about the book: Once you’ve finished a book, done your journaling session, and seen if there’s anything you want to do inspired by the book, come up with a catch phrase about what it means to you. Sometimes these may not come until later, such as “The book that got me into running” or “new ideas about fear that got me pretty excited.” Sometimes the catch phrase won’t come until later, but having one will help shelve the book in your head and clean out your memory. Try it- think of a book you’ve read recently, give it a catch phrase and then imagine putting it on an imaginary shelf in your head. Doesn’t that feel good?
  • Keep a list of what you read: Even if it’s just in Goodreads, which is how I track my reading. Having a list so you know you can remember what you’ve read, really does make me feel more able to let it go when I finish and also to dive more deeply into it while I am reading, because the need to rate the book when I’m finished causes me to engage more thoughtfully. Plus, it helps to scan over the list a few times a year- I probably do this once a month or so- and then I can muse on what I got out of each book and have a little memory jog- sometimes I’ve completely forgotten some of them!

After using a few of these practices, I’ve been able to feel a bit less crammed with input. The antidote to input apparently is just some output. Even if it’s just for yourself, being able to digest a book a bit before moving on the next will help with that overstuffed dinner feeling that can come after being on a reading bender.

Anyone else have this issue? What do you do when you want to clean out your head and have the most rewarding experience reading a book- I’d love to hear your methods as well!

{Reader’s Life} The Best Podcasts for Readers

Best Podcasts for Readers | Caroline Donahue | the Book Dr.

It’s true: I love books and read like a maniac. But sometimes, I want to do something with my hands while I’m reading. I might want to knit or clean up the house or go for a walk or a bike ride.

[Tweet “Pro Tip: physical books aren’t great on a bike ride. #liveloveread”]

I have talked about the audiobooks I love before, and that list might be due for an update, but I have to share the other resource that readers aren’t tapping into already: delicious nerdy podcasts.

I am not only an audiobook junkie, I am also a podcast junkie. There, I said it.

I have culled my overloaded podcast-listening app to share my favorites just for you.

Here they are: My Top 10 Podcasts for Readers:

  1. New Yorker Fiction. Let’s start with a classic. This is a beautiful format: an author reads a favorite story published in any previous New Yorker issue and discusses why it was meaningful to them. Just lovely.
  2. Slate Audio Book Club. For those who wish they were in a book club, but can’t imagine scheduling one. Bonus: These hosts pick the best books and have excellent commentary.
  3. Revisionist History. For Malcolm Gladwell nerds and history buffs. This show started recently and I’m already heartbroken that it’s only going for a 10 episode season, much like GoT. If this intro video doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will.
  4. Books on the Nightstand. New episodes every Wednesday with the enticing feature “Two Books we can’t wait for you to read,” at the end of each episode. Good for those who need book-buying enabling, and want a peek inside the publishing world.
  5. Drunk Booksellers.  A nod to my much-beloved Book Soup days. Plus, this one is for those who like GIFs in their show notes and a theme song called “Bitches in Bookshops.” The rowdy choice of this list, for sure.
  6. Literary Disco. For those who get overwhelmed with a weekly show. This one comes out monthly, on average, and covers a wide variety of genres. They’ve done Sci-fi, fiction, a book on writing itself. Nearly 100 episodes waiting for you.
  7. The Secret Library. Shameless self-plug. This is my show, where I interview authors and book professionals about the process of writing and creating books. This is for you if you want to go inside the book-making world.
  8. Let it Out. The feel-good health and wellness show of the list. Many authors in the mix including host Katie Dalebout who just published an excellent book on journaling. Great for feeling warm and fuzzy.
  9. World Book Club from BBC. It wouldn’t be me without a British link, would it? Incredible mix of authors with contemporary books as well as old classics.
  10. The Guardian Books. Ok- two British shows. This one crosses the line between talking about books and the cultural context surrounding them.

These shows are all, at the time of posting, still active and releasing new episodes. I could do an entire post just on the shows that are no longer active, but still have episodes online you can listen to after the fact. That may come in the future. Until then, enjoy listening to some nerdy deliciousness that will hopefully delight your bookworm hearts.

Have any podcasts that you love? Please share them with the rest of us in the comments…

{Dear Book Dr.} 52 Books That Will Change Your Life!

52 Books that Will Change Your Life |

One of my very first projects here at the Book Dr was to ask for letters from readers. This was originally the entire concept of the Book Dr. site.

[Tweet “I wanted the Book Dr to be a place for book recommendations when people were in the shit.”]

In the past couple of years, this home has grown to a place for even more than that, but I still love prescribing books for various life situations and challenges.

People wrote lots of letters. They wrote about how shitty online dating can be. Wondering how to write a Bollywood memoir. Feeling that a novel was needed after a long bout of non-fiction. I loved answering these letters with suggestions of books that would be helpful.

Over the course of working on these letters and developing this blog into something more, I realized there were a lot of topics that I wished people would ask about so that I could suggest books in response. I had a first aid kit of books just waiting for someone to ask for it.

But people never know you have the perfect solution for their woes unless you tell them about it, right?

So here I am. I made this eBook, 52 Books That Will Change Your Life for those of you who want a book that will help in a variety of situations. I’ve broken things out into topics and have a number of books that I love and have been indispensable to me and others I’ve shared them with on the topics of money, relationships, growing up, health, support (and spirituality), building skills, and expansion & adventure.

I’ve read these books over the past decades and each one has stuck with me ever since I read it. Its concepts and ideas still serve me and it’s a book that I have recommended to someone else because I loved it.

I’m working on more of these lovely eBooks because they are such a joy to write and dream up, and you’ll find this one and others to come in the Secret Library section of the site here. It’s open to all subscribers to Footnotes, which brings letters for book lovers right to your inbox.

Sign up here, and you’ll get the password to the Secret Library where 52 Books That Will Change Your Life is waiting for you right now.

Happy reading!

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