Category Archives: Self-improvement

Books that are meant to actively better the reader’s life in some way. Includes how-to guides, manuals and the like, but mostly comprises your typical “be confident; place boundaries!” variety, as well as typology (personality type) books.

REVIEW: FLUENT IN 3 MONTHS: TIPS AND TECHNIQUES TO HELP YOU LEARN ANY LANGUAGE

Fluent in 3 Months: Tips and Techniques to Help You Learn Any LanguageFluent in 3 Months: Tips and Techniques to Help You Learn Any Language by Benny Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


As a person with the ambition to become a polyglot myself (some would even say that with my 5 languages spoken at different levels of mastery I could already call myself one), I can tell you that Benny Lewis is to a great degree what I would like to become one day. If there ever was a more encouraging person that anybody can do it, he would be it. He managed to learn so many languages – I don’t even remember how many – starting in his early ’20s with Spanish and never ever stopping since.

This book is a collection of his most useful techniques and methods and his unmatched motivational skills. While reading it I was feeling so pumped to learn all the languages I could get my hands on, and he really made it all look so easy! Motivating doesn’t even begin to describe it.

My main problem with his work is that he’s not very precise on what actually being fluent means when talking about becoming fluent in three months, something which other people on the web have commented on too. This is part of his own definition from the book itself:


He continues by saying that fluency in a language is difficult to measure (“there is no absolute, discernirble point you pass when can say, ‘Now I can speak the language fluently.'”) and suggests that for all intents and purposes a B2 level on the Common European Framework, by that standard, should be enough. That’s debatable of course and depends on the needs of every individual learner, and, as a holder of a B2 in German and Spanish myself, I still don’t consider myself fluent in either language; rather, I’d consider myself a competent speaker for everyday situations, but no more.

The book itself in general made me think about what my individual needs and goals about each language I’m learning are and gave me plenty ideas and methods on how to reach them. Its best point was the motivation it gave me and that it helped visualise what I’d really like to do with my language-speaking.

Also, Fluent in 3 Months is the first book I’ve seen as of yet that takes advantage of the possibilities granted by dynamic content – as opposed to traditional, static content found in books – made possible by the web: it has links to articles and resources kept updated by the author, which sort of act as mini-expansion packs for the book, e.g. links to useful services, such as Memrise, italki or Polyglot Club. Benny’s idea is that if you own the book, you should always have access to fresh content which in some cases might not be the same as what’s included in the book, as could be the case for example with the links to language-learning websites.


All this said, I don’t particularly like Benny’s tendency to whore himself out and his advice out behind paywalls on his site. Even if you buy his book as I did and subscribe for the extra content, there’s still a “premium membership” you’ve got to pay if you want to have full access to what he’s written over the past few years. I understand that he’s put a lot of work on all of this and that learning new languages full-time has been his main occupations for the better part of his springtime of youth, but I have to admit that it all rather leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Regardless of this, though, if you’re about to tackle a new language or would love to learn more about how effective language-learning works, Benny is one of the best people out there to turn to, or at least to his work. Again, if you can be skeptical about his method and his general aims in learning lots and lots of languages fluently in a sense, you can’t deny that the guy has a talent of being able to very straightforwardly pump you up and make you feel like even learning Mandarin or whatever else you might think a difficult language could be is a piece of cake and only a matter of dedication. And, in the end, if this book left me with anything very concrete, it’s that dedication and the willingness to forget about shyness and/or other bullshit excuse it’s the only thing that might be stopping us from becoming truly good at – or at least having just the right attitude for – speaking our favourite languages.


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REVIEW: ΑΝΑΚΑΛΥΨΕ ΤΗΝ ΠΡΟΣΩΠΙΚΟΤΗΤΑ ΣΟΥ

Ανακάλυψε την προσωπικότητα σουΑνακάλυψε την προσωπικότητα σου by Patricia Hedges

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Το ξέρατε ότι το 45% του πληθυσμού (τουλάχιστον στις ΗΠΑ, για την Ελλάδα δεν ξέρω) είναι SJ (traditionalists), και ένα άλλο 40% είναι SP (experiencers); Προσωπικά μπορώ να βγάλω αρκετά συμπεράσματα για τον κόσμο χρησιμοποιώντας αυτά τα στοιχεία και κοιτάζοντας τα αποτελέσματα των εκλογών ανα τον κόσμο, ή γιατί οι άνθρωποι επιμένουν στα παλιά και γνώριμα, ή γιατί οι άνθρωποι κυνηγούν τα χρήματα πάνω απ’όλα, ή γιατί τέλος πάντων οι περισσότεροι άνθρωποι συμπεριφέρονται και σκέφτονται πολύ διαφορετικά από μένα – και άλλοι, βέβαια, πολύ παρόμοια.

Πείτε ό,τι θέλετε για το MBTI: ότι είναι παρωχημένο, ότι εξαπλουστεύει, ότι δεν επαρκεί – όλα αυτά ισχύουν, παραμένει όμως για μένα ένα χρήσιμο εργαλείο στην προσπάθεια μου να καταλάβω τους ανθρώπους γύρω μου και να δω τον κόσμο μέσα από τα δικά τους μάτια και τη δική τους αντίληψη (ή διαίσθηση!) Κι άλλωστε, ποιο επεξηγηματικό, αναλυτικό σύστημα μπορεί ποτέ να είναι πλήρες;

Για όσους δεν ξέρουν τι είναι το ΜΒΤΙ, είναι μια μέθοδος αξιολόγησης προσωπικότητας η οποία αναπτύχθηκε τη δεκαετία του ’60 η οποία βασίζεται στις θεωρίες του Carl Jung σχετικά με τις γνωστικές λειτουργίες (cognitive functions) του ανθρώπου (αίσθηση, διαίσθηση, συναίσθημα και νόηση – sensing, intuition, feeling and thinking) και ανάλογα με τη σειρά προτεραιότητας – ή ευχέρειας – που χρησιμοποιούνται αυτές οι λειτουργίες αλλά και την εξωστρέφεια/εσωστρέφεια τους, προκύπτουν 16 συνδυασμοί και τύποι προσωπικότητας.

Βρήκα πως το βιβλίο, αν και χρήσιμο για την αρχική κατανόηση του συστήματος, παρέμεινε στα απολύτως βασικά, και αν και δημοσιεύτηκε τη δεκαέτια του ’90 δεν ανέφερε την προγενέστερη θεωρία του Keirsey σχετικά με την κατάταξη των 16 τύπων σε 4 μεγαλύτερες οικογένειες γενικότερης ιδιοσυγκρασίας. Επίσης απογοητευτική βρήκα την πολύ επιφανειακή αναφορά στην ανάλυση της κατάταξης των λειτουργιών για κάθε τύπο, όπως για παράδειγμα στους INFPs (ΕσΔΣΑν σύμφωνα με την ελληνική μετάφραση, ο οποίος τυχαίνει να είναι κι ο δικός μου τύπος) πρώτο είναι το Εσωστρεφές Συναίσθημα (Fi), μετά η Εξωστρεφής Διαίσθηση (Ne), η Εσωστρεφής Αίσθηση (Si) και η Εξωστρεφής Νόηση (Te), με κατάταξη απ’την πιο ανεπτυγμένη στην λιγότερο ανεπτυγμένη λειτουργία.

Αυτή η ανάλυση μπορεί να φανερώσει πολλά για τους στόχους, τις προτεραίοτητες, τις ιδιαιτερότητες και τις πιθανές αδυναμίες των ατόμων που ανήκουν σε κάθε τύπο, αλλά ξεφεύγει από την απλή κατηγοριοποίηση και περιγραφή των τύπων και φτάνει σε μεγαλύτερο βάθος. Προφανώς μια τόσο βαθιά ανάλυση δεν ήταν ο στόχος του βιβλίου, αλλά εμένα μου έλειψε, γιατί χωρίς αυτήν δεν αιτιολογείται το από που προκύπτει ο διαχωρισμός των τύπων. Είναι ενδιαφέρον ότι γενικά δεν είναι γνωστή η θεωρία περί γνωστικών λειτουργιών, ακόμα και για αυτούς που ενδιαφέρονται για το MBTI.



Γι’αυτό εγώ θα συνεχίσω την αναζήτηση και την έρευνα μου στο θέμα των τύπων προσωπικότητας και της αναλυτικής ψυχολογίας γενικότερα με κάτι λίγο πιο εξειδικευμένο (μου τρέχουν τα σάλια για το βιβλίο που λίνκαρα παραπάνω του Keirsey). Πάντως, ως εισαγωγή στο MBTI το βιβλίο δεν είναι άσχημο, και είναι από τα λίγα (το μόνο;) που βρήκα μεταφρασμένο στα ελληνικά. Για κάποιον λόγο δεν μας πολυενδιαφέρει το θέμα εδώ πέρα…

Αν διαβάσετε ως εδώ και θα θέλατε να μάθετε περισσότερα, μερικές καλές πήγες:

http://www.keys2cognition.com/explore.htm
http://kisa.ca/personality/
http://www.typefinder.com/
(καλά τεστ για να βρείτε τον τύπο σας)

“What does it feel like to be me?” αν είσαστε μεταξύ δύο τύπων, διαβάστε ποια περιγραφή του τρόπου σκέψης σας σας ταιριάζει καλύτερα.
http://www.keys2cognition.com/cgjung.htm Για περισσότερα σχετικά με τις γνωστικές λειτουργίες/cognitive functions και για βουτιά στα λίγο πιο βαθιά.

Και το Personality Cafe, γιατί μερικές φορές η επαφή και η συζήτηση με άλλα άτομα του ίδιου τύπου και ο εντοπισμός των κοινών τόπων βοηθάει στ’αλήθεια. Καλό κι αν νιώθετε μοναξιά, ότι κανείς δεν σας καταλαβαίνει κτλ.




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REVIEW: WRITING COMEDY: A GUIDE TO SCRIPTWRITING FOR TV, RADIO, FILM AND STAGE

Writing Comedy: A Guide to Scriptwriting for TV, Radio, Film and StageWriting Comedy: A Guide to Scriptwriting for TV, Radio, Film and Stage by Ronald Wolfe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



Another book from the fresh batch of donated books to the English section of Sofia City Library.

This book from the early ’90s is a guide for anyone who would like to try their hand in writing scripts for comedy plays, shows, sitcoms, radio or stand-up comedy.

Most of the actors, writers and productions referenced are from that time, leaving out the comedy I’m familiar with (Monty Python and the work of their individual members; britcoms of the last 15 years), with the exceptions of Fawlty Towers, Blackadder and Alo Alo.



Some specific tips for individual formats, like the importance of the gag in the sitcom, or more general ones that can apply to all forms of comedy writing, I found particularly effective and insightful, e.g. always asking yourself what’s wrong in a given situation when writing the story, or where the conflict could come from which might produce the comedic effect. These ones I think I’ll remember down the road, in contrast to most of the rest of the book which chiefly had practical information, i.e. how to pitch your script to producers or make it in America, content which as little (?) as 20 years later seems terribly out-dated.

The relevant parts I thought made for good and motivating advice that made me want to try writing something serious even more, seeing how simple and straightforward some examples of funny writing in the book were. What I realise, however, is that it’s not a guide I need the most; it’s the dedication and motivation to sit down and just write, whatever that could be.

Still, I’ll remember the part about conflict.



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REVIEW: GAMES PEOPLE PLAY

Games People Play: The Psychology of Human RelationshipsGames People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships by Eric Berne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Games are serious business. Opposite to what we usually identify as characteristics of games, fun and a specific goal aren’t them: the main prerequisite for their existence is a framework of rules. These rules can govern such games such as top league football, gambling or war. They can also be found as transactions following specific unspoken rules that hold a specific purpose for all parties involved played in human relationships. These are the games Games People Play is about.

I enjoyed this book. Parts of it were more geared towards therapists and psychologists rather than laypeople with an interest in “the psychology of human relationships”, such as myself. Still, Eric Berne was obviously breaking new ground with his Transactional Analysis, and even if the book is a little rough around the edges and psychology has advanced a lot since the early ’60s, Games People Play is a good starting point for those who are willing to look more deeply into this part of the field. I wonder what new games and further insight on games and transaction analysis has emerged since the writing of the book!

I would give this half a star more just for its third part, “Beyond Games”, where Eric Berne moves on to what people need in order to grow out of games and attain autonomy: awareness (where I even recognised parts mentioned by Anthony de Mello in Awareness), spontaneity and intimacy. His short descriptions for each were, as was already mentioned, quite quotable, but transcribing several pages here would have made it even less likely that this review might be read by anyone. His concluding remarks, however (“After Games, What?”)… Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!

 

The sombre picture presented in Parts I and II of this book, in which human life is mainly a process of filling in time until the arrival of death, or Santa Claus, with very little choice, if any of what kind of business one is going to transact during the long wait, is a commonplace but not the final answer. For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behaviour, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy. But all three of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared. Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as “togetherness”. This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it.

Epic final sentence is epic?

As a sidenote: I first came in contact with transactional analysis a few years back through these two excellent introductory videos [1][2] by TheraminTrees and have since wished to know more about this fascinating field. These videos summarise very well the content of this book, so if you’re interested, you can watch them, and if you want more, you can follow them up with this very book.

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REVIEW: TRICKS OF THE MIND

Tricks Of The MindTricks Of The Mind by Derren Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book, Derren Brown, famous British “illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer, and sceptic”, sets out to reveal the secrets of his work and actually tell people “I have no real powers, and I hope this settles it!”. We get to see all of the above sides of his: amazing breakdowns of his work and shows and spectacular analyses of what parts of human psychology and neurology he manipulates and why. Most of all, however, we see his sceptical side.

Derren Brown dedicates the majority of his book and prose on an excellent and thorough debunking of things like parapsychology, homeopathy and alternate medicine. He goes through them with an aura of “I would like these things to exist but they cannot, and here’s why”. The idea is that they’re all a mix of delusions, confirmation bias, psychological tricks and many other “flaws” of the human psyche he actually explains are the reason he can trick people.

Now, my personal opinion still is that the scientific method is far from perfect and that a lot of what we see that works in these fields but shouldn’t, based on what we can know and understand about the world, is not necessarily less real than what can be proven; conversely, the scientific dogma is trying to concvince us that if it can’t be proven, it shouldn’t work. However, anecdotal evidence from countless sources (which Mr. Brown rejects based on the fact that they cannot be integrated into a greater theory, but how could they ever be?) tells us a different story.

Repeatabiliy, correlations between cause and effect and the need for evidence are concepts inseparable from the scientific method, but the scientific method is only one way of looking at things. You might say it is the one that works more reliably, but that doesn’t mean that it always works or even that reliability should be our end-all-be-all criterion when creating our world theories. For example, how does reliability and repeatability fit in with the double slit experiment? Or how about the decline effect (excellent article by the New Yorker), which questions the whole idea that once something is proven, it should be able to be repeatedly proven anew? What if it fails to? Is it a problem of the experiment or an incompatibility of the nature of things with the idea that, given the same known and unknown conditions, A should always lead to B? Maybe Douglas Adams had it right all along:

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

In short: if Derren Brown is an open-minded sceptic, I choose to be the unorthodox researcher, the explorer of the fringes, the one who looks for the truth that slips between the seams, what gets misunderstood by the scientists of its time, ridiculed, rejected by the dominant paradigm, including the rhetoric of this book of course. “I have the rational intelligence to be a scientist, but it’s not in my personality to fill in cracks in established mental models. I seek anomalies that open cracks.” ~Ran Prieur (there’s more from him coming up)

I believe that the author’s bias towards positivism is a resulf of him, as discussed in the book, being religious at a young age and at some point changing sides completely. Since then he seems to have kept insisting that the paranormal or parapsychology must have the same psychological root as religious belief. This is a bias which can also be seen in the studies he chooses to cite to prove his points, as well as the books he recommends at the end of the book for further reading; most of them are, predictably, reinforcing what he already talked about in the book – more scepticism in line with The God Delusion (which I’m curious to read). Is he making the same mistake of maintaining reverse cognitive and confirmation biases, the very same thing he set out to point out to us that everyone is doing?

All that said, even if I disagree with his scope and can see the limitations of his argument (which could be a cognitive bias of my own, mind you), I did enjoy his argumentation and have to commend his style. He didn’t insult people who fall into the cognitive mistakes he outlines and who believe in these irrational behaviours he has taken advantage of to become who he is now; he didn’t try to hold the scepticist view just to prove a point or win the argument, as too many people to count are used to doing, themselves becoming the very zealots they swore to destroy; he was gentle and careful with his explanations and approached the topics with an genuinely, not just a supposedly, open mind; his whole style gave off the impression that he is actually interested in the truth, that he has the real spirit of a researcher and isn’t just the pretention of one. If we disagree in scope and -naturally- look at things from different perspectives… So be it. All I know is that I gained something from his healthy scepticism and his book is now serving as a platform for further investigation of mine in all directions.

An excellent example: from the books section of Ran Prieur’s website:

Charles Fort was the first paranormal investigator, and he’s my favorite natural philosopher. He spent 27 years in libraries collecting notices of physical phenomena unexplainable by science, and put them together into four books in the 1920’s. You don’t have to be into weird stuff to appreciate his style of thinking: that all our attempts to make sense of the world only seem true by excluding stuff at the edges that doesn’t fit, and we can keep updating and revolutionizing our models to fit new observations, but there is no end to this process. This should not make us feel troubled, but awe-struck and amused. The Book of the Damned is Fort’s first and best book, and his one-volume Complete Books are still in print. Here’s another source of Fort online.

[…]

I’ve been into paranormal and new age writing for most of my life. My advice is not to exclude it completely or your mind will become cramped and inflexible. It’s safe to dip your toes into it, but if you go into it deeply, you have to commit to going all the way through. Because you’ll reach a point where your mind cracks open and you’ll think you suddenly Know the Truth, and you’ll be tempted to stop and set up camp. You must not stop, but keep looking at different perspectives. Then you’ll think, wait, now this is the Truth, and now this… Hold on here! It’s looking like reality itself is so packed and multifaceted that it’s easy to make any nutty system of thought seem like the Truth — including the dominant paradigm itself. Now you’re getting it!

The smartest and most thorough book on the “paranormal” is The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen. Even though his writing style is aggressively clear, it’s still hard to read because the ideas are so difficult. He covers anthropology, literary theory, shamanism, stage magic, UFO hoaxes, psychic research, and more, and the general idea is that it’s the very nature of these phenomena to only exist on the fringes. How can this work? The answer is simple but sounds so crazy that even Hansen only hints at it. Another big idea is that real unexplained phenomena and hoaxes are not opposites, but blend together.

I love the books of Fortean paranormal researcher John Keel. They’re all great, but my two favories are The Mothman Prophecies and The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings. Like Keel, I think UFO’s are an occult phenomenon (which means something very hard to explain), and an even smarter author who thinks like this is Jacques Vallee, whose most important book is Passport to Magonia.

A great source for all kinds of fringe books is Adventures Unlimited.

Some books that try to merge woo-woo stuff with hard science: The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot, The Field by Lynne McTaggart, and The Self-Aware Universe by Amit Goswami. And for a critique of the untested assumptions that underlie science as we know it, check out The End of Materialism by Charles Tart or The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake.

[…]

So when Wilhelm Reich developed physical tools to work with the esoteric energy he called “orgone”, or when Royal Rife cured serious diseases with precise frequency generators, or when Louis Kervran found biological creatures transmuting chemical elements (his book is Biological Transmutations), or for that matter, when ordinary people experience UFO abductions or miraculous healings, these are not hoaxes or delusions. They are honest and accurate observations that fail to be integrated into consensus reality… so far!

*deep breath* Okay. I’ve written this much already and I haven’t even mentioned any of the more practical things covered. Mr. Brown included tricks for improving one’s memory and memorising things (like the incredible Method of Loci), techniques for spotting lies and deception, and others shared with the foundation of NLP for disconnecting with bad memories and reinforcing positive visualisations. You can even find the fundamentals of hypnosis in there, but it’s a topic which, to be honest, he muddled through, unable to tell us precisely or convincingly what it is but very keen on telling us what it isn’t. Now all I’m left with is “what’s hypnosis finally?”

Yes. This review is too long. If you skipped to the end, let me tell you that this book is worth it. It will make you think and it will make you look into real techniques that are both impressive and useful, if only you can just sit down and practice them (which it’s doubtful I will, not because of lack of interest but because of lack of dedication – for now).

To think I haven’t even watched his shows…

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REVIEW: THE ARTIST’S WAY: A SPIRITUAL PATH TO HIGHER CREATIVITY

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher CreativityThe Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Artist’s Way is one of those books that change you – one of those that are made to change you, and you buy them because you yourself want to change. It’s a course in self-discovery, acceptance and creative birth.

These are the basics: for every morning of every week for the 12-week duration of the course -one chapter for each week-, the blocked artists choosing to follow the Way have to:

1)Do three pages of free writing every morning, a daily ceremony known as the Morning Pages. This acts as a mind-clearing meditation routine, a brainstorming machine and a way of spotting trends: weeks after writing the pages the artist on the Way may analyse his or her morning pages and notice trends in his or her daily writings: unfulfilled artistic urges, changes that need to be made for the person to reach harmony and happiness, sudden ideas and other great things.

2) Take themselves out to at least one Artist’s date per week, in which they have to indulge in whatever it is they love doing but would not normally allow themselves to be lost in (remember, this book is meant for blocked artists -read: most of us-).

3) Complete tasks in personal archaeology and self-discovery, wherein they have to dig up favourite creative childhood pass-times they gave up because of humiliation, “growing up” or other creativity-killing reasons.

I completed my 12(+1 lazy one) weeks a few days ago. I can safely say that it had great effects on me. Doing morning pages has now become more of a good habit of mine, and even if I didn’t do all of the tasks, it’s one of the books you have to go through at some point again for inspiration. It says so in the end, too.

If you’re a blocked artist, believe you can’t do art because you think you’re too old to start or “can’t draw” (or are “tonedeaf” or “terrible at writing” or “have no ideas” ad nauseam), think whatever you do needs to be perfect from the beginning or don’t bother because what you would create wouldn’t appeal to the masses, you should really try following The Artist’s Way.

The only thing I would add to the course itself would be a special NoSurf task or, even better, a complete revisit to the book that takes what the world looks like in 2013 into account; I strongly feel the internet is becoming, at the same time, the most important invention and the single strongest creativity and motivation killer mankind has ever known. I mean, in the 1993 edition that I have, there’s already a no-reading week included in the course for eliminating distractions and for focusing time and energy on the creative juices within, but the internet is proving to be a distraction magnitudes greater than reading the paper or a book could ever be. We come in contact with the works of the world’s most talented and creative on a basis of addiction, almost.

What I really mean is that I’ve grown tired of and alarmed at the great artists I personally know who keep getting demotivated by seeing someone else’s graphic, photo or drawing on Tumblr or listening to that fantastic song or watching that clever video on Youtube, instead of getting inspired, as they claim they should be. It’s more “look how much others have progressed instead of me” and much less “this is possible and I could do it too.”

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REVIEW: AWARENESS

AwarenessAwareness by Anthony de Mello

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Thinking you can change yourself by changing your situation or your surroundings is like thinking you can change your handwriting by using a different pen.” (paraphrased)

I want to be more aware in my life. That’s why I had been looking for books on the matter a few months ago when I found this one. I ordered it from World of Books and for the first time they disappointed me: the book never arrived at my doorstep. Thirsty for thought-provoking material and wisdom shared aplenty, I looked for the book online and lo and behold, there it was in audiobook form.

To be exact, I didn’t find it exactly in audiobook form. In fact, the recordings I found were from some seminar in which Anthony de Mello presumably delivered the contents of this book to a crowd of wisdom-thirsty individuals such as myself over a period of a few days. I don’t know whether or not me listening to the recording of that seminar could count as actually reading the book, but for now it’ll have to do. See? I’m cheating and probably no-one will read this far to actually notice!

All that cleared up and taken out of the way, I most certainly did enjoy listening to Anthony de Mello’s lectures and his style. Of course, most of his teachings about the uselessness of language, the subjectivity of reality, the difference between the “I” and the “me”, the inherent selfishness of what we commonly refer to as love or falling in love etc. wasn’t anything new to me. In fact a lot of what I heard are deeply held beliefs of mine. But a lot of other things he mentioned are matters I will want to revisit, for I think they are as timely and deep as ever and a single listen cannot possibly contain their gravity, moreso because, as with all the great teachers, De Mello’s teachings and the new mentality he proposes are intoxicating in their truthfullness, but alas, one cannot handle and take in this much truth all at once. At any rate I believe he was right in warning the listener about the dangers of substituting one brainwash for another: the point is to always be aware and to forget about existing concepts. What would the difference between “enlightenment” and dogma be otherwise?

I can easily see myself revisiting this countless of times at random intervals in my life. It does feel like a flow of precious advice and living the way De Mello suggests feels deep within me like a precious ideal one would do well to strive for – or not strive for, since there should be no effort involved! I’m giving it 4 stars instead of 5 because it wasn’t anything groundbreaking for me – “just” a collection of profound, valuable insight.

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REVIEW: WHATEVER YOU THINK, THINK THE OPPOSITE

Whatever You Think, Think the OppositeWhatever You Think, Think the Opposite by Paul Arden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is so short you can throw in a re-read every time you’re about to lend it out and it gets better every time because every time you’re just a bit older and different parts stay with you in new ways. I think I’ve already read it 4 times in random the years I’ve owned it just by picking it up and putting it down 30 minutes later having read it all and thinking about it anew. I like thinking outside the box in extreme ways, if not practically in my life at least in theory (figures: why else would I enjoy books such as this?) and Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite encourages that side of my character. It mostly comprises stories of bad decisions that in the long run proved to be good; of people finding out that the secret is letting yourself risk and tread new water no matter the (illusory) danger, ultimately reaping all the rewards. In the end, being different from others also means deciding irrationally, for everyone else tries to be rational and make decisions like that too.

Of course I should say that the ultimate capitalist dream is to be a unique, bleeding-edge entepreneur and Paul Arden seems to be preaching to precisely that choir in particular. His work has a “live and let die” vibe and the fact that a lot of his stories of success, creativity and “bad” decisions have to do with advertising, “making it” and getting rich, turns me off a bit. At the very least, it’s a different kind of inspiration from what would really get me going, what would really speak to my core. Still, it’s advice you can presumably use in many different aspects of life.

Amidst all this you can certainly be forgiven if you don’t really notice the top-notch graphic design that makes Arden’s words even sparklier and more alluring. The less is being said and the better its presentation, the more mysteriously seductive what’s being said is. It’s not just the power of the words alone, there are other forces at play here… Scary thought if you’re not willing to admit that humans are mainly weak, malleabe and inconsistent beings.

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REVIEW: H AYTOEKTIΜΗΣΗ

Η αυτοεκτίμησηΗ αυτοεκτίμηση by Christophe André & François Lelord

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Κλασικά: διαβάζεις ένα τέτοιο βιβλίο, βλέπεις ξεκάθαρα πώς μπορεί να σε βοηθήσει, αυτά που μαθαίνεις μένουν μαζί και για λίγο καιρό… Σχεδόν λες ότι ίσως και να έχεις κάνει ένα βήμα για να αγαπήσεις τον εαυτό σου περισσότερο και να μπορείς να ζεις για τον εαυτό σου και όχι για τον αποδχή από τους άλλους — που αν το σκεφτείτε είναι λίγο περίεργο, αφού ο άνθρωπος ως κοινωνικό ων ΖΕΙ για την αποδοχή των άλλων και ο εξοστρακισμός και η απόρριψη είναι ο εφιάλτης του. Οπότε αυτοί που έχουν υψηλή αυτοεκτίμηση νιώθουν πως δεν χρειάζονται τους άλλους ή αναγνωρίζουν ότι σε περίπτωση που απορριφθούν δεν είναι δικό τους το σφάλμα αλλά των υπόλοιπων και αποκρούουν το χτύπημα λες και δεν ήταν τίποτα;

Τέλος πάντων, αυτά μένουν για λίγο μαζί σου αλλά συχνά το μεγαλύτερο κομμάτι τους ξεπλένονται από πάνω σου σαν μελάνια κάτω από παγωμένο νερό. Το δύσκολο είναι να κάνεις όσα διαβάζεις μέρος σου σε ένα βαθύτερο επίπεδο, και για αυτό δεν φτάνει ένα βιβλίο. Είναι χρήσιμο το δίχως άλλο αλλά απαιτεί μια προσπάθεια σε πολλούς τομείς της ζωής.

Σχετικά με το ίδιο το βιβλίο, βρήκα το πρώτο κεφάλαιο που ανάλυε το τι είναι και από τι προκύπτει η αυτοεκτίμηση και τα τελευταία δύο-τρία κεφάλαια τα πιο ενδιαφέροντα. Γενικά θα το ξαναδιάβαζα.

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REVIEW: THE MINIMALISTS: LIVE A MEANINGFUL LIFE

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful LifeMinimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my Audible registration freeby. Because of the service’s horrible DRM I had to go through a multi-step procedure to get the files in MP3 on my mobile phone to listen to while walking around. Many thumbs down for counterintuitive marketing and copyright infringement boogeymen.

I first got to know about The Minimalists through their blog, their essays and their links to and from other awesome people with awesome blogs like Julien Smith or Leo Babauta. I thought they had some advanced ideas and wanted to get more in-depth. I thought, (mis)guided by the way they advertise the book, that by reading it I would be getting to enjoy content they don’t have on their blog. That is true to a certain extent: the complete backstory of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus isn’t presented very clearly on the blog but the book features a whole chapter on the way the minimalists quit their six-figure salary jobs and set out on their quest for happiness and meaning. This chapter was the only one that contained information that was unknown to me. If one has already read their blog, their disection of the meaning of life into five pillars and related material won’t be very enlightening. It has some solid advice inspired by their lives and experiences as well as exercises anyone can do to find out how they can contribute more, be healthier, have more meaningful relationships etc. — all on the basis of minimalism. This information is geared, I felt, toward people that have never looked into minimalism before and works as a self-help, change-your-life guide, just like what the subtitle so magnanimously promises. If again one has read and enjoyed their essays, they might be disappointed by the lack of focus and depth. That is why I’d much sooner recommend their blog than this book.

Nevertheless, there is some value to this “finest, most important creation to date”: having a concise, basic yet radical handbook on the steps one must take to cut off the excess (the “excrement”, as Shevek would have it) is always useful if only for the connection the reader can have to the book, the physical presence which can work as a reminder for one to act on what they’ve learned. I might not own the printed book to look at and remember what I’ve learned, going through the notes the authors had asked me to make if I wanted to see progress and inspire change. I can appreciate, however, the fact that there is significant value in this kind of connection, a relationship which is much more difficult to cultivate on the web due to its apparent weaknessses: distractability, pluralism and low retention among them.

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