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Get Your Sh!t Together - Sarah KnightAs part of a girl’s holiday “ensemble” of books, I purchased ‘Get Your Sh!t Together’ at Gatwick airport.  It was bought somewhat in jest but ultimately proved to be incredibly helpful.  I’ve already reviewed one of my very favourite books The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck also by Sarah Knight, so her follow-up ‘Get Your Sh!t Together’ is perfect to put insight into action.

I started the book on the holiday and got about halfway through – and being embarrassingly honest – I have to confess that I didn’t finish it until six months later when I was on my Christmas break.  I know, I’m rather red-faced thinking about it given the title and intent of the book.  So no judgement, please.

It does serve to prove the much-needed point of the book, making time and space to do the things you WANT to do rather than spending all your time worrying about what you SHOULD be doing.  Sarah’s author’s note at the start of the book sums what to expect up beautifully:

“Think of it as a delightfully profane one-stop-shop for tidying your mind – and making your life easier and better.”

Say no, so that you can say yes

Interestingly, since launching Behind The Hashtag, the most asked question I’ve received is – how have you found the time?   Well first of all – if I didn’t have a design and technical guru providing the “place” I would never have got this off the ground (thank you FOREVER, Ben).  Secondly – I’ve made time by choosing what to give a f*ck about.  Right now, I could be bleaching a toilet or even my moustache, but instead, I’m sat in the garden indulging in writing book reviews and new articles for my website, because that’s what gives me joy.

If you’re looking for a different angle on prioritising your time or help in reflecting on what matters to you, Get Your Sh!t Together is the ideal start.  Though maybe don’t take six months to read it, as I did!

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Thrive by Arianna Huffington

This was probably the first book which sparked the real beginning of a serious focus on my well-being.  One of the cover reviews reads: “If you’re feeling tired and fed up and wondering if there is more to life, now’s the time to read Thrive”.  I stumbled across it during a very intense experience on International Women’s Day in Saudi Arabia with two dear friends and colleagues from Cisco.  One of the very powerful speakers we saw on the day accredited this book with providing a life-changing awakening, her story was so compelling it got all of us very interested.  So, when my friend gifted us all a copy, I got reading!

Thrive drew attention to my long-standing issue of sleep – or lack of it.  So, I’m particularly tickled that I’m writing this review after an absolutely splendid 8 hours sleep following a week of insomnia and exhaustion! Reading this book was the first time I had been able to learn about well-being from an “inner” perspective and with a significant amount of research and science to help back it up.  I’m not saying the book alone shifted my view, but it was a considerable nudge in that direction.

What also really helped me in this book was the idea that looking after yourself wasn’t selfish.  In essence, I think for so many of us we’re hard-wired to believe that if we’re not putting others before ourselves, then we’re really knocking on the door of becoming the twisted, wicked stepmother from Cinderella.  It seems to me though that the truth is very different, by not looking after ourselves we’re allowing others to turn us into the rag-wearing, ash-covered Cinderella from the story – and the gift is entirely with us to not let that to happen.

Arianna completes her book with a chapter about ‘giving’, this was the ‘aha moment’ of the read for me.  Similarly, the self-care elements resonated the idea of ensuring that “If well-being, wisdom and wonder are our response to a personal wake-up call, service naturally follows as the response to the wake-up call for humanity”.  This notion was not about ‘running around after everyone else until you keeled over’, this was about giving, in a very thoughtful and deliberate way, which in turn contributes to your own well-being.

It would be some years later before I was able to create the appropriate boundaries in my life to truly live out the learning from Thrive, but the sleep and well-being part of the insight was an early gamechanger.

Today there is a brilliant resource online built on the back of the Thrive movement, and hardly a day passes that I don’t get some kind of tip, background or thought-provoker from it.  Maybe start with the book to go deep (I’ve since discovered Audible and would recommend perhaps trying the audiobook while you’re out for a walk) and then keep the focus alive daily with the online resources.

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The Gift of Imperfection - Brené Brown“Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”

For me, this book was ‘The One’, the book which genuinely felt as though it has been written specifically for me, the dog ears and coffee rings are testimony to that. I was a massive Brené Brown fan from the get-go – you’ll see a review of her TED Talk – and her blend of knowledge and just being human and funny knocks my socks off every time!

It’s actually quite emotional going back to review this book after really embracing the ideas and working very, very hard for over four years now to make them real in my life. When I picked up the book, I was at the very beginning of a ‘well-being and life transformation’, which became somewhat of a rollercoaster over time. In the months ahead I will most definitely explore many elements from this book as I share my learning and experience, for the book review today I want to focus on my ‘aha moment’ from the first read.

What ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ opened up for me – well more like ‘cracked wide open’ – was the idea of ‘Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness’. This was ‘Guidepost #3’ in the book, ‘Cultivating a Resilient Spirit’, and it transformed the way I saw resilience and myself.     At the heart of this chapter was the “not enough” voice in our heads which gets in the way of us being truly resilient. It’s the inner voice which just makes what’s difficult so much harder and over time leaves us feeling very alone, reading this chapter normalised so many things I’d been experiencing, and I honestly did start to cry with relief at one point.  That’s never happened to me with a non-fiction book before, unlike fiction – where I cried buckets when Dobbie the house-elf died in Harry Potter.

So what was I crying about? This particular part of the book looked at how we numb ourselves ‘to take the edge of’ – sadness, or grief, or fear or despair. I’d always thought that only referred to drinking yourself into oblivion or doing drugs (I do neither), but for me, it can be food, TV, work, staying busy, planning, caretaking etc.  Oh dear god, I realised that I had taken numbing to an Olympic level and I was doing my very best to outrun vulnerability and uncertainty. That was an enlightening and challenging aha moment.

Of course, I didn’t resolve those issues overnight, but I know for a fact that this was the breakthrough book for me in making sense of what was going on. I’m delighted that my 16-year-old daughter Iona loves Brené’s work too, and it’s also helped her navigate some difficult things in life.  What’s lovely is, after you read the book there are excellent resources available from Brené Brown.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k

One of my absolute favourite self-help books ever!  The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k is a blend of really useful and extremely funny all at the same time.  A book that Vogue magazine describes as “Self-help with an edge”.

What makes me love this book more than anything though is that I read it in a bit of a “book club” setting with a difference. I bought this book at the airport as I was heading to my first EVER girls’ holiday in Spain.   As part of some joint 50th birthday celebrations, five of us, who have known and adored each other since we were 16, were heading-off for the first time as a “wee gang”.

As is typical for any group of humans – we’d all had a fair amount of “life” going on for us in recent years.  Although it was a bit of a laugh to all buy  Sarah Knight’s book, they ended up being incredibly helpful to all of us in different ways.  To have those type of conversations with people you trust literally 100% is honestly quite amazing.

In a nutshell, this is a book which will help with some mental de-cluttering and give space for what you really do give a f**k about, not just what you feel you SHOULD.  It’s a fun and light read to get you through some heavy topics, and it was fascinating how a group of five us with really different personalities, outlooks and lives could ALL got something beneficial from it.

For me, it was a shift away from doing things out of guilt or obligation and really paying attention to your energy, or as Sarah puts it, “notice the annoy -v- joy”.  I mentioned elsewhere on the Behind the Hashtag website that I’m “a recovering people pleaser” and letting go of caring what others think is a big part of this book.

How do you let go of caring what people think and avoid being an assh*le, though?

That was probably my biggest worry – do you have to be unkind to others to be kind to yourself?

Absolutely not was the message from this book.  You can empower yourself to put boundaries in place, create a more carefree life for yourself without causing any harm to other people or being rude about it.

This book is a brilliant start to paying attention to yourself and how much of your time is spent doing things you really would rather not do, with practical advice on how to make more space for what you love and what energises you.

My friends all wrote messages in the book as a gift from my daughter’s “aunties”, and she found the message of the book ‘around caring too much what others thought’ as very liberating!

A fun read if you’re not offended by the odd F-bomb.

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Wherever You Go, There You Are - Jon Kabat-Zinn

As I hold my copy of Wherever You Go, There You Are in my hand to write this review, it literally makes me smile. I can feel the crease lines along the spine from the book being opened, re-opened and re-read, it immediately reminds me of how very, very powerful it’s been in helping me stay calm in very stormy times.

What I love most about this book is that it was a gift from my friend Ginny, who I’ve had a chance work with for years and who has always had a bit of the Jedi Master about her when it comes to mindfulness, she hasn’t just studied it and practised it for years, she LIVES it.  The gifting of this book was a very powerful ‘pay it forward’ which shifted my view significantly on what mindfulness is and how it can play a part in everyday life.

I will confess, I started the book as a total amateur and had never even heard of Jon Kabat-Zin, though to be fair he doesn’t set out to be ‘heard of’, so I’ll cut myself some slack on that one.  But in the world of mindfulness-based stress reduction, he’s the professor who studied both science and Buddhism, bringing the two worlds together in an incredibly pioneering way.

For me, this book served as my primary entry point to mindfulness.  My central ‘aha moment’ was letting go of the idea “that I’m not very good at mindfulness”; or the story I tell myself “that I’ve got too busy a mind, can’t sit still…” or whatever that story is on any given day.  My key takeaway was very much about ‘what mindfulness helped me to notice’, and there was no ‘right way’, but more about finding ‘the way that works for you’.

The lovely message from Ginny

The book was a turning point in my understanding of mindfulness, and I now practice it pretty much daily (even if it’s in a small way).  However, what I did also find very difficult was that once things were ‘noticed’, they really can’t be ‘unnoticed’ and at times that was very painful and difficult – but also necessary.  I think the hardest ‘aha moment’ for me was noticing how much avoidance and running away from vulnerability, fear and pain I had done.  Most painfully, that I’d “taught” that behaviour,  without realising, to my daughter – that broke my heart.

When I was supporting my daughter through her scariest and most challenging times and her learned behaviour of ‘avoiding’ kicked in – I leaned on the mantra ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are‘ many, many times.  I’m sure her temptation to throw the book at me was real, but pulling her into that truth again and again did help.

This book is a wonderful way to enter the understanding and practice of mindfulness.  I personally found it very practical and even had a joy of seeing him ‘live’ at the 2018 Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco (a 50th birthday gift to myself).

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The Self-Care Project

The Self-Care Project

I got my copy of The Self-Care Project – Jayne Hardy back as part of a “Buddy Box” – an idea of the Blurt Foundation which was founded by Jayne Hardy herself, to promote a more positive conversation and support for mental health issues.  I set up a subscription to get a delivery each month, my daughter and I then shared the contents of as a wee treat.  This was my first month’s treat.

What I really liked straight away was the refreshing way Jayne tackled the “trend” towards self-care which was popping up everywhere.  What really got my attention with this book was the relaxed style in which it was written, and it’s basically a workbook.

When you’re finding your way back onto your feet after a physical burnout, and in the midst of massive personal change, this book seemed a perfect starting point.  As with some other books I’ve recommended here, I will highlight that I’d already been doing a great deal of work using the Pavelka Way which includes a focus on connecting to yourself and really noticing what’s going on.

Even though I had been paying attention to what was going on with me there were definitely some alarm bells I had ignored – I mean you don’t get to the burnout stage unless you’re ignoring something!  What the book did really well for me was breaking down energy into pecking orders, which was a very different way of looking it.

Before I read this book I thought I had a strategy for self-care.  By chapter two, it was pretty clear that a once a year trip to a spa was not going to cut it.  Rather than try to recover from exhaustion, being overwhelmed and generally feeling sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, the focus is on prevention.

When you start looking at your barriers through the “homework” sections at the end of each chapter, you’ll almost certainly find some root cause answers for yourself.  For me, it was about overcommitting myself to too much – especially when many of those commitments were things I didn’t actually want to do!  Most importantly, I never asked for help.  That sounds so simple doesn’t it – but I think I had been waiting for people to notice I needed help and step in.  Unlikely that’s ever going to happen – and I certainly did not happen for me.

Through a wee bit of reflection and some elementary exercises, some answers did start to emerge and what I really love is the focus on micro-actions.  This book is not about redesigning your whole life and approach in a week.  With one small action at a time, you can start to build up a self-care approach which will make a huge difference.

A lovely way to take care of yourself and avoid the bigger challenge I had of dealing with burnout.  Enjoy.

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Mindfulness for busy people

I was immediately attracted to Mindfulness for Busy People for the title and of course, thought it would be a “fast track” approach to that inner peace that I’d been looking for.  At the time of reading this book, my awareness had been heightened and knew that I ‘needed to do something’, but my knowledge of exactly ‘what’ was pretty sparse.

This is quite a detailed book, and I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the fast track I hoped for.  It does, however, replace the need to go and sit in silence at the top of a mountain for a month.  If you want to invest some time in yourself, Mindfulness for Busy People actually gives a lot of really flexible options, but you do need to do the work.

I really liked the no-nonsense approach of this book, and it was whilst reading I first realised the difference between self-compassion and self-care, which I hadn’t realised were two separate things.  After working through some of the exercises in this book, I started dipping my toes in the water of emotion – something I’d been quite smashing at avoiding up until this point.

One comment from the book really stood out for me “emotions are a condition of life, not a problem to solve” and what’s really powerful about the book is the search for what’s behind the busyness.  Rather than give an easy answer for us avoiders – it really forces you to put the brakes on and consider taking a different road.

There’s definitely work to be done to get the most out of this book.  The design is very accessible, particularly for a newcomer to mindfulness, and the exercises are very doable no matter what busyness excuses you can come up with!

Definitely worth a read if you want to get practising and exploring.  It’s almost certainly an ideal “companion” to any other self-discovery work you may be doing.  If this was your starting point, however, I might point you to an app like Headspace instead of the book, this would guide you more to getting stuck in straight away and maybe return to the book once you’ve done a bit of work.