Non-Fiction

Book Review of Angela Duckworth’s Grit

gritThose of you who know me, know that I generally prefer fiction to non-fiction when it comes to my reading.  Although there is plenty of great non-fiction out there, and I have certainly been enjoying the books on Positive Psychology I have been picking up lately.

But when it comes to Grit by Angela Duckworth, I have no hesitation in saying that this is a book everyone should read.

Duckworth’s work was of interest to me as the longer I teach, the more aware I become that talent isn’t enough.  Time and time again, especially in my Year 12 classes, the most ‘talented’ student – the one with the greatest natural affinity for language – is trumped by one who works hard and works SMART.  The question I had was – how can I help each of my students to become that smart worker?  The one who succeeds in a way that surpasses their expectations?

Duckworth’s key mission here is to break down for us how some people achieve high levels of success – much higher than the average person.  She is particularly interested in understanding how they were able to do this, and how we can actually teach this to young people.  So it’s a great book for teachers and parents.

The bottom line is – Grit.  Those with Grit go further and do better than those that don’t.

But Grit does not just mean perseverance.  To truly have Grit – Grit that will lead us to success – she concretely discusses four things we need. The first is interest – high levels of interest.  We can only be truly gritty about things that deeply matter to us. But she tells us we can stimulate and develop interest, giving terrific advice for how to do this with children and even as adults.

After interest, we need to practice.  But we need to practice purposefully and strategically.  It’s not enough to work hard – we have to really consider what strategies will actually lead to improvement.  As a teacher we often see students working hard, but completing tasks that do not develop the needed skills.  Instead, Duckworth talks honestly about how painful practice can be and how to do it well – how to embrace negative feedback and seek coaching and set powerful goals.

After practice, she suggests that purpose helps separate high achievers as well.  If you have both passion and a sense of purpose about your work – if you love your chosen field and thin that you are making a difference – you are almost unstoppable.  Your motivation levels cannot be higher.  Sometimes even a few tweaks in thinking can assist us to re-evaluate and find the purpose in our work.

The final quality is hope.  This links in pretty strongly to Carol Dweck’s work about the Growth Mindset. We have to have hope – the belief that we can improve through the strategies that we have put in place.

Each of us will find some of these things difficult.  For example, having hope at times is hard.  Overcoming failure with a positive attitude sometimes relies on self-talk rather than a natural response.  I like how Duckworth acknowledges this – it’s all part of the process.  You don’t just HAVE Grit, you can learn to be grittier.  And that’s the message for us all.  We can all be better at those things we care about.  And what is more empowering than that?

 

Book Review of The Bonsai Child

finalcover7-31-15Clinical psychologist Judith Locke is visiting my school next term, so I figured it would be a good idea to read her book.

After doing so, I’d have to suggest it is very good reading for anyone who has, or who works with children.

The Bonsai Child of the title is a child whose growth is hampered by over-parenting – or in the case of teachers, over-reliance on others instead of themselves.

Locke gives really sensible advice on how much help to give in order to raise – or help foster the talents of – young people, in a way that helps them to be self-sufficient and empowered young adults.

It gives concrete strategies to accomplish this, and clear discussions of the ramifications of what happens if you do not take her advice.

Easy to follow and something parents and teachers can easily look back on.

Book Review of Carol Dweck’s Mindset

You’ve no doubt heard about this book, that promises that sudweckmindsetccess is all about our Mindset.

Dweck’s research looks at parenting, coaching, teaching, the workplace and interpersonal relationships and how a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset, can lead to a range of improved outcomes.

This is interesting reading – forcing you to observe and perhaps recognise some of the less helpful patterns of thought in yourself and those around you.

The fixed mindset does a couple of things – it makes excuses for why things are not your fault.  It promises you nothing will ever change.  It laments a lack of perfection and will never encourage you to try harder or at least, try things differently. It’s an easy way to move through life – but not one hat promotes growth.

The growth mindset is all about learning.  It values challenge and looks at errors as an opportunity to do better. Sometimes that ‘better’ is ‘even better’ – even champions need a growth mindset to really reach their potential.

As  teacher, it has made me rethink how I frame learning and feedback to my students.  On a personal level, it promotes a much more positive approach to all areas of my life, which will no doubt be useful with the areas that I feel need a bit of work.

Definitely worth a read, for whatever reason it inspires you.

 

Book Review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

life-changing-tidying-upIt’s hard to not be curious about Marie Kondo’s now famous book about how to tidy and what the benefits of tidying are.

Again, I suppose this was a bit of a speed read – the type of book where you can really enjoy some sections that are of relevance to you, and others that are not.

I like the idea of being less cluttered and less attached to unnecessary material items.  Kondo asks us to completely de-clutter, keeping only those things necessary to life and that “spark joy”.  She also talks a lot about how this can improve our lives – making us less stressed and more at peace. There is a lot to be said for that.  And as I look around my decidedly un-Kondoed lounge room writing this, I could certainly imagine how that would be true.

There are many practical tips for the correct way to de-clutter, to pack away items and to resist the urge for expensive storage solutions.  But there is also a lot of discussion about gratitude and showing gratitude for your belongings and how being tidy does this.  As a person who recently began a gratitude journal (New Year’s Resolution and all that), some of this resonated.  It is hard to appreciate things when we have too many.  Or we are too tired, stressed and cluttered to do so.  But Kondo seems to spend a lot of time sorting each day.  She also discussed the energy and purpose of items and how we need to respect them – which may or may not resonate with everyone.

I’d encourage you to pick and choose – but some good food for thought here in an increasingly materialistic world.

Book Review of The Princess Diarist

IMG_9947.JPGPurchased on the day of her passing, Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist did not fulfil on the promise of my expectations.

Marketed as a memoir of making Star Wars, The Princess Diarist is in fact mainly a study of Fisher’s never discussed affair with Harrison Ford (then married) whilst making the original film.  There is some discussion of how she got the role, and the difficulties of dealing with a sudden rise to fame.  But these lack depth.  The relationship with Ford is the centre of the text, and even this lacks real self-awareness.

There are three voices – all Fisher’s – in the memoir.  The first is her telling the story.  Although occasionally witty and always self-deprecating, I can’t say I am a fan of Fisher’s writing style, no matter how big a fan I am of Fisher herself.

Then, we have extracts of the journals that she kept at the time.  These are the most clever writings, experimental and playful, but the voice is very adolescent – the young girl caught up in a desperate affair with an older man who seems to care little for her in reality.  We’ve all been there, but it is painful to read.

The third voice is explanatory – going over the journals and attempting to explain away her descriptions of Ford and their relationship.  This is contradictory – all of a sudden it was a harmless rite of passage and no-one’s feelings were hurt.  I found this confusing – it’s as if Fisher herself has not quite come to terms with the relationship itself.  And while this is often true in life – and we don’t always understand the reasons how and why people come into our lives – it’s difficult to base a memoir on it without having reached some kind of conclusion.

I wanted more from this – perhaps I expected something more in line with Cary Elwes’ highly entertaining memoir of making The Princess Bride which I read last year.  I felt I missed out on the fun here.

Book Review of The Third Space

unknownI’ll admit this was more of a skim read, but this is a worthwhile book to take a look at. Adam Fraser offers us a way to better understand how to perform the various roles we have to play in life – parent, colleague, boss, coach and so on –   more easily and with more aplomb.

He suggests we use this by utilising the Third Space. This is the time in between performing one role and transitioning into another.

The Third Space is a clear space to reflect on one role, and plan for the next, Some people just relax and engage in self-talk. Some do a physical activity or a daily routine. Sometimes it helps to spend time with a particular person.

The initial benefits of this are obvious in terms of work/life balance, and transitioning into home in a more effective way. But it`s also worked for high profile sporting stars – such as tennis players, who need to re-focus in between each point, regardless if the last play was successful or not. It’s the same for high profile CEOs – especially ones that have to give feedback or work with people.

It’s all about considering the intention you have for the new space you are entering, and then being purposeful about your thoughts, emotions and behaviours to get that result.

Fraser touches on a whole lot of other elements of popular psychology too, including learned optimism. Definitely worth a look.

Book Review of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

AsYouWishInconceivableTalesFromTheMakingOfThePrincessBrideFeatured.jpgLike many other people with any kind of sense of humour, I count The Princess Bride amongst my favourite films.  You laugh, you cry, you fall in love with gentle giants and swashbuckling pirates.  Hours and hours and hours of my childhood were devoted to watching and re-watching it, until I could quote all those memorable lines as readily as many of the actors themselves.

For some reason though, I held off reading this book – Cary Elwes’ behind the scenes look at making the film.  Why?  Perhaps because I did not want to be disappointed.  I didn’t want the book to bore me or reveal tension between my most beloved of characters.  But, after a nudge from a friend who is also a fan, I thought maybe it was time.  (And let’s face it – who doesn’t respond to the nudges of tall, dark and handsome men?)

But As You Wish did not disappoint.  Every moment is a delight, reaffirming how special The Princess Bride really is – even to those who starred in it.  Elwes talks about every aspect of making the film – from his initial meeting with the director Rob Reiner to discuss the part, to meeting all the other actors and how he related to each of them.  Robin Wright is apparently every bit as beautiful and charming in person, and much of the book is really a dedication to Andre the Giant – who sadly passed away in his forties.  There is some suggestion of tension – I’m guessing maybe Mandy Patinkin was a little intense to work with. But even this is dealt with respectfully – with full credit to Patinkin’s professionalism as an actor (and perfectionism as a swordsman).

There are stories of takes gone wrong,  injuries, nights out, in jokes – everything you would want to make you feel like you were part of the story.  It seemed to be as magical for them as the film was for us – and this is a great way to feel a part of that.

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