What You Can Change and What You Can’t by Martin E.P. Seligman

Learning to accept who you are. The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement

Martin Seligman is one of my favourite personal development authors. Not only are his books easy to read, but as the founder of the Positive Psychology movement he's got the academic credentials and professional experience to know what the research says, and what he's talking about.

I was drawn to this book while contemplating the question: “Just how much can a person change?”. I was particularly interested in whether it's possible to make major changes in how we relate to other people, and whether introversion vs extroversion is changable. I've done the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator a couple of times, and I've never really been certain whether I'm a shy extrovert, or a lonely introvert. I love hanging around people; but it doesn't always go as well as I'd like. It turns out that this book doesn't … Continue reading…

By Graham, ago

And When Did You Last See Your Father? by Blake Morrison

I first encountered Blake Morrison when I heard him speak at the Sydney Writer's Festival last year on the rarely-deeply-discussed topic of the relationship between fathers and sons. I knew immediately that I was going to relate to his book And When Did You Last See Your Father.

The book is an autobiographical series of vignettes spanning Blake's life, each of which add a piece to the puzzle depicting his larger-than-life father as seen through the son's eyes. Interspersed between these snapshots is the background scene of Blake's aging father's gradual death due to cancer. But rather than just talk about the book itself, I also want to tell you what it reminded me of in my relationship with my own father.

Blake Morrison's father and mine share only superficial similarities: They are both in their early seventies. Both have a pacemaker; although my own father acquired his only mid … Continue reading…

By Graham, ago

Whose Life Is It Anyway? by Nina Brown

When to stop Taking Care of Their Feelings & Start Taking Care of Your Own.

This is a great little book aimed at those of us who tend to take on other people's emotions a little more readily than we would like. It's a relatively short and easy read, covering topics relating to emotional boundaries, and how to avoid becoming enmeshed in or manipulated by other people and their emotional states.

The early chapters deal with emotional susceptibility, avoiding taking responsibility for other people's feelings, and allowing other people to experience their own emotional states without negatively impacting on us. Later chapters deal with psychological and emotional strength, creativity, spirituality and improving relationships.

There are lots of exercises in the book similar to those I was doing with my life coach at the time that I read it, so I skimmed over them... but they sounded pretty good and surely … Continue reading…

By Graham, ago

The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris

My Life Coach recommended I read this book recently, at a time when I was struggling with some unpleasant feelings which seemed to be getting in the way of me achieving consistent lasting happiness. The book is practical guide to ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) with a subtitle that rang a chord with me: Stop struggling, start living.

The basic premise of The Happiness Trap is summed up when Dr Harris writes: "The more we try to avoid the basic reality that all human life involves pain, the more we are likely to struggle with that pain when it arises, thereby creating even more suffering." We spend a great deal of our lives seeking pleasant feelings and avoiding unpleasant ones, because we think that this is what will make us happy. But herein lies the trap: the techniques we use to avoid unpleasant feelings actually tend to reinforce them, … Continue reading…

By Graham, ago
Life Coaching

What is a Life Coach?

The goal of a life coach is to help you to have a great life. This involves a sense of meaning, purpose and fulfilment, along with liberal doses of happiness and the ability to deal powerfully with things when they go wrong. As humans we get bored if we feel like we're not moving forward, but the big question often is which direction to move in. To establish this we need to understand our core values, and set a continual stream of achievable goals based on those values. Setting goals gives us something to focus our efforts on, and achieving goals builds our sense of life satisfaction and self-esteem, and inspires us and the people around us on to further goals. It's important that the goals we set are achievable, consistent with our values, and allow us to use and develop our personal strengths.

The coaches I know … Continue reading…

By Graham, ago

Wife Swap

I love the TV show Wife Swap. If you haven't seen it, the premise is that they get two families from middle America who volunteer to have their wives swap places for two weeks. During the first week, both families run by the usual rules so the "new wife" can learn how they normally operate; but in the second week, the new wife gets to make whatever rule changes they want. Each family volunteers on the basis that they agree to abide by whatever rules the new wife chooses to set.

Invariably the producers choose two families at the opposite ends of some spectrum, be it religious, political, economic, traditional/progressive, or whatever. Today's episode featured a real estate executive who was always on the phone and had no time for her kids, swapping places with a suffocating obsessive-compulsive stay-at-home Mom who home-schooled and controlled her whole family.

I always … Continue reading…

By Graham, ago

Dr Phil

Dr Phil is on TV again, using big words like "maturity" and "responsibility", and talking about relationships. I like Dr Phil; he's charismatic, compassionate and assertive with the people who come on his show. He doesn't take crap from them, and calls them on their blind spots when they try to spin some story on him. But I can't help wondering about the people who agree to go on the program. There is something voyeuristic about watching another person's personal problems being aired before a mass audience, and surely something exhibitionist about wanting to go on the program.

Some of the people are clearly at their wit's end and don't know what else to do; perhaps they think that going on Dr Phil and exposing the lies and the secrecy that keeps them bound will release them from whatever is keeping them trapped. And maybe it does; but not everyone … Continue reading…

By Graham, ago
Self Esteem

My Life So Far by Jane Fonda

I am a generation too late to really know much about Jane Fonda, and started reading her autobiography when a friend recommended it. There is lots of name dropping; clearly Ms Fonda was well-connected in her prime, but I don't recognise most of the names since they were just before my time. Nevertheless, it's a compelling story.

I was fascinated to read how such a successful woman could be haunted all her life by feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Despite her feminist leaning and her courage (or was it foolishness?), there's a strong theme that without the support and approval of men, she felt worthless.

I found her description of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnamese war a disturbing indictment on the power wielded by the American military and the way in which the U.S. President of the time used it to play out his power games in a foreign … Continue reading…

By Graham, ago

I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just A Little Unwell by Leigh Hatcher

Leigh Hatcher's autobiographical book focuses heavily on his experience of the much-maligned Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Hatcher's account of the physical pain, exhaustion and suffering involved left me with little doubt that this mystery illness simply hasn't been linked to its physical cause yet by medical science.

Hatcher speaks forcefully about the damage done by well meaning people who thought what he was going through was "all in the mind". In doing so, he does much to raise awareness of the physical nature of CFS; but unfortunately rebuttal will do little to de-stigmatise mental illness, which is every bit as real to those who suffer from it. To Hatcher, the suggestion that his illness could be psychological in nature was hugely destructive and stigmatising. We are still far from fully understanding the inner workings of the human mind, and I found it interesting that Hatcher had such a strongly reaction … Continue reading…

By Graham, ago