Posts tagged ‘books’

Habits > Willpower

In the book The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal explains how your willpower is just like any other muscle. It gets tired. If you’re relying on your willpower to make the changes you want in your life, you’re likely going to fail. In the book Foodist, Darya Rose talks about the secret to eating better and the answer is not to go on another diet. It’s to build positive eating habits into your life. Positive habits beat willpower every time.

They say it takes 21 days to build a new habit.

It’s never to late to start building new habits into your life. I’m ashamed to say this, but it wasn’t until last year that I started flossing daily. Now it’s a daily routine for me. This month, I started doing the 7-min workout every morning. Now I roll out of bed and start doing jumping jacks. 7 minutes isn’t much, but that’s kinda the point. Overcoming inertia is the hard part. If you can’t find 7 minutes a day, it’s time you loosen up your schedule.

And there are plenty of tricks to help you get started. I found I was happiest when I biked to work instead of sitting in traffic and dealing with parking tickets. So I sold my car and treated my bike to a tune-up from the Bike Doctor (highly recommended service by the way).

I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. For me the secret has been as simple as being intentional about finding what makes me happy and then turning those things into daily habits.

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I’m a published author!

One of my life goals is to write a book. I recently came one step closer to that goal with a contribution to the new Web Performance Daybook Volume 2 from O’Reilly.

The project started out of Stoyan Stefanov‘s Performance Calendar which was a series of articles from a bunch of us in the performance industry. The articles are now published in one handy collection containing lots of insights from some of the smartest people I know. I was honored to participate in this project and wrote Chapter 7 titled “Automating Website Performance”.

The authors’ royalties will be donated to a Web Performance charity so grab a copy for everyone in your organization (Paperback, Kindle). You’ll be benefiting a good cause and learning at the same time!

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Book review: Moonwalking with Einstein

I just finished reading Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. I first heard about the book on the Colbert Report and it turned out to be a fascinating read. The book is a autobiography about a journalist who covers a memory competition. He is intrigued by the memory athletes in the competition and decides to learn more. Foer ends up embarking on a year-long study of memory techniques before competing himself and landing the title of US Memory Champion.

The memory athletes perform seemingly incredible feats like memorizing an entire deck of cards in 30 seconds or reciting back thousands of random digits in under an hour. The amazing thing is that these memory athletes are just ordinary people with average memories. They’ve just learned how to train their minds and have learned old tricks for effectively remembering things.

The basic premise of most of the memory techniques is that our memories are incredible visual and spacial. For example, picture the home you grew up in. You may not have seen it in years, but I bet you can still walk around that building in your mind and recall the layout with incredible detail. Our minds are also really good at remembering things that are out of the ordinary, sexual or absurd. By drawing connections in your mind and laying scenes around “memory palaces” you can transform the kinds of things you usually forget into the kind your brain is naturally good at remembering.

Foer also talks a lot about the history of memorization. Memory skills used to be considered a lot more important than they are today. He talks with natural savants and the worlds smartest trained minds. He discusses the process of becoming an expert and how to stop yourself from plateauing in your quest for mastery. I was fascinated by the techniques he used and challenged to simply pay more attention and be more intentional about the things that I want to remember.

One of the key take-aways for me is that anyone could become an expert, but it takes time and commitment. Foer had to do a massive amount of brute force memorization to build up a dictionary of shortcuts in his mind before he could memorize anything fast. He points out that invention and inventory come from the same root word. Invention can’t come without having an inventory of experiences and knowledge to build on. It’s all very recursive.

No matter how good your memory is now, I think you’ll enjoy Moonwalking with Einstein. If you’re looking for a good book, check it out. It’s an interesting look into the internal workings of our minds.

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My 3 rules about reading

I read a fair amount of books. The time commitment is hard for me as I’m not the fastest reader in the world, but I have an insatiable desire to learn new things and there’s nothing like a good book to exercise your mind and expose you to new ideas. Here are a few of the rules I’ve developed to help me figure out what to read and make the most of my time.

1) I don’t read anything that isn’t recommended to me

Amazon has literally millions of books available. I figured out a long time ago that I needed some filter to decide what to read. For me, that filter is my friends and their recommendations. I’m lucky to have a large group of smart people around me whose opinions I trust. There are one or two authors who I will read everything they write regardless, but other than that, I make few exceptions to this rule and so far it has worked out well for me. I always have a steady backlog of books to read. If you have any recommendations, let me know!

2) It’s okay to leave a book unfinished

If a book doesn’t capture my attention within the first chapter or two, I have no problem dropping it. I view my time as my most valuable asset. I’m not going to keep reading something just to say I finished it. I’ve also found that a lot of authors say everything they have to say in the first half of the book and then spend the second half rehashing all the same points as they strive to hit a certain word count. The minute I recognize this is happening, I set the book down and move on to the next one. I don’t leave books unfinished very often, but having a rule around this helps me not feel guilty about it when it does happen.

3) I give away every book I read

Moving sucks. Moving with massive stacks of books sucks worse. I’ve made it a habit to give away every book that I read once I’m done with it. Not only does it make moving easier, it gives me a fun way to share what I’m learning with my friends. I give away about half my books on twitter and the other half I give to specific people that come to mind as I’m reading through them. That said, I’m starting to read more on my iPad so that might put a dent in my book give-aways.

I’m currently reading Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Dan Heath and I’m enjoying it a lot. This one was recommended to me by Rob Lafave and a lot of the ideas in the book have really resonated with me. While the book is about understanding the mechanics of change, I’ve found a lot of the concepts apply to software design as well. For example, Heath talks a lot about decision paralysis and how we tend to freeze up when we’re given too many choices. One of the tactics we can use to overcome this is to make the decision before we have to make the decision by setting up overarching principles that guide our decision making. It’s fascinating stuff. If you’re looking for a good book, check it out.