Saturday, June 10, 2017

Get Smart! by Brian Tracy

Results matter. According to Brian Tracy, results batter most; if you’re getting bad results it doesn’t matter much what your intentions were. If you want to change your results, you need to change your behavior. Changes in behavior start with changes in thinking. In Get Smart!, Tracy outlines the thinking habits and practices of successful people.

In general successful people have these thinking habits:
-they take a long-term view,
-they make time to think without distractions,
-they gather information and learn constantly,
-they have written goals,
-they focus on results,
-they stay positive,
-they are flexible and willing to stop activities that are no longer working,
-they are creative,
-the focus on what their customers really want, and
-they emulate the habits of other successful people.
Of course, Tracy elaborates on each of these items with additional details and suggestions.

Successful people also have habits that cut across many thinking practices. For instance, they take action; a great thought deserves to be put to use. The put most of their time and effort into the most valuable things they can do and try to eliminate activities that have low value. They take responsibility for themselves. They practice thinking and acting in ways that contribute to their success until it becomes a habit.

You can find these ideas in other places. However, Get Smart! has an advantage in that it is short an written in a style that is very easy to read. If you want thicker tomes to read, Tracy mentions several in the chapters of his book. If you want something you can read, digest, and put to use quickly, this is a good place to start.

Brian Tracy also wrote No Excuses.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Tracy, Brian. Get Smart! How to Think and Act Like the Most Successful and Highest-Paid People in Every Field. New York: Tarcher, 2016.

New & Interesting Stuff June 10, 2017

You are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero

Making money starts in your mind according to Jen Sincero, author of You are a Badass at Making Money. Your wealth, or lack of it, has a lot to do with your mindset.

The things we think and say, even and maybe especially in your subconscious mind, affect our behavior related to money. If you’re making less than you want, you probably have beliefs and thoughts that are holding you back.

Fortunately, you can change your mind. Much of Sincero’s book is focused on ways you can get a new perspective on money and change your habits of thought. New behaviors and more money should follow.

Of course, changing deeply ingrained beliefs and habits that you’ve practice for years can be difficult. It requires persistence and determination.

It also requires action. At first, you’re unlikely to know how you’re going to make more money. You’ll have some ideas, and you should act on them. You’ll have questions and you should seek out answers.

Sincero suggests you’ll have help along the way. This is where things get a little far out. She says there is a universal intelligence trying to give you what you want. Our consistent thoughts tell the universe what we want and how much we want it. If we want positive things, like being rich enough to do a lot of cool stuff, we should have strong positive emotions as much as we can right now.

This notion of universal intelligence is common to self-help literature, especially related to wealth. Sometimes the power is ascribed to the subconscious mind, as in the case of Maxwell Maltz, but often this power is seen to rest in some outside or all permeating force, which is some people’s conception of God.

Actually, a lot of the ideas you’ll find in Sincero’s book are common to the genre. The humorous and entertaining way she presents the material is unique. Books like this are sometimes dense, brow-beating or far out there, but Sincero’s humorous, easy-going tone and straightforward style makes for easy reading.

Jen Sincero also wrote You are a Badass.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Sincero, Jen. You are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth. New York: Viking, 2017.

Minor Prophets

The minor prophets are the final books that appear in the Old Testament. They are minor in the sense of being small books in comparison to the longer works of a few of the other prophets; the longer books are referred to as major prophets.

Collectively, these books cover a long period of time. The earliest of these prophets preached during the reigns of the latter kings of Israel and Judah. Some of them preached during the period of captivity and occupation that followed the fall of the Jewish kingdoms. Finally, a few of these prophets were active after the Jewish people were released form captivity and allowed to return to Israel.

Several themes run through all of these books. Sadly, a major them that occurs both before and after the period of captivity is the people’s indifference toward God. In the period before the captivity, idolatry was rampant and the people sought alliances with foreign powers rather than protection from God. Foreign alliances were an issue after the captivity, too, and religious practice for many was perfunctory, devoid of devotion to God, righteousness or justice.

Many of these prophets also foresaw the coming of Jesus Christ. Some foresaw his first coming in the incarnation with a mission of salvation. Others saw further into the time of His eternal reign. The problem of sin, the call for redemption and our hope for salvation (in Christ) are still with us today.

Though the Jewish people of the time were the immediate audience for most of the prophets, some bore messages to foreign neighbors. These books have value to Christians even today.

The minor prophets are

I Can Make You Happy by Paul McKenna

The notion that we can intentionally make ourselves happier by the behavior we choose is not new to psychology. It has been around since at least William James. Paul McKenna picks up the theme in I Can Make You Happy.

McKenna’s focus is extremely practical. Much of the book is a description of specific exercises or behaviors that are aimed at improving mood, changing habits of thought and reducing the intensity of negative emotions attached to memories.

Many of these exercises involve visualizations. Some involve physical actions or stances (even something as simple as standing up straight can improve your mood). In each case, McKenna provides detailed step-by-step instructions.

Because of the practical focus of the book, there is limited explanation of how these actions work. McKenna mentions the sources of the exercises and many have roots in scientific studies. He assumes, no doubt rightly, that his readers are most interested in what they can do.

The book includes a hypnosis CD that McKenna recommends using along with the other exercises. It is intended to reinforce habits that create and support happiness.

McKenna does not guarantee constant happiness. He suggests it wouldn’t be a good thing. He describes our emotions—all of them—as “part of our intelligence.” They are there to tell us something  important. We should not avoid our painful or uncomfortable emotions. It is appropriate to feel pain in response to losses and hurts.

Much of what you’ll find in this book is something you can find elsewhere. However, I Can Make You Happy is compact, practical and easy to read. It gets right to showing readers they can do something, often simple things, to be happier now. Making them habits could lead to generally higher levels of happiness.

Paul McKenna also wrote I Can Make You Thin.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

McKenna, Paul. I Can Make You Happy. New York: Sterling, 2011.

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

The prevailing myth of invention is that it is the product of a solitary genius. Steven Johnson takes on this myth in How We Got to Now.

Johnson’s book is a history of invention with a focus on six particular innovations. He demonstrates that simultaneous invention is common, suggesting that societal knowledge, norms and expectations play a part in invention—at least in providing an environment in which certain types of inventions can be created and flourish.

Thomas Edison and the light bulb is the classic myth challenged by simultaneous invention. Humphrey Davy demonstrated an incandescent electric light in 1802 and Frederick de Moleyns received the first patent for a light bulb in 1841. By the time Edison got involve, people had been working on light bulbs for 30 years, and the potential for electric light had been now for 70 years. Edison and his team of collaborators deserve a lot of credit for creating a commercially successful electric lighting system, inventing solutions to many problems along the way, but is a story of systematic hard work.

Edison’s electric lighting system depended on a lot of prior technology, which relates to another of Johnson’s points: clusters of inventions. An invention can illuminate a previously unnoticed problem (or create a new one). For instance, the availability of affordable books that follow Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press revealed that many people were farsighted. This sparked a demand for reading glasses. The tinkering with lenses led to the invention of telescopes and microscopes. Galileo took up the telescope and made discoveries in astronomy that reshaped how people saw the world. Robert Hooke used the microscope to explore a seemingly alien world of the very tiny thing all around us, though the revolution he inspired took longer to bloom.

Johnson explores other aspects of invention and society. I think it is fair to say that his view of how invention works is a lot messier than the myth. Inventors are at the right place at the right time, with open minds that are prepared (likely by accident) to make a connection and a willingness to do the work of thinking, testing and making something new. They probe the boundaries of their fields, tinker and throw themselves into hobbies that bring them, often with companions, to crossroads that challenge their notions of where they can go and how they can get there.

On the whole, Johnson presents a vision of hope in our history. We are not dependent on genius or serendipity; human creativity is both a social and an individual process in which the collision of ideas leads to new ideas. We live in an era where the collision of ideas may be more possible than ever.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Steven Johnson also wrote

Johnson, Steven. How We Got To Now: Six Innovations that Make the Modern World. New York: Riverhead, 2014.

The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida

I first glanced through David Deida’s The Way of the Superior Man several years ago. I seemed far out to me. When I saw it recommended in another book (You are a Badass by Jen Sincero), I decided to read it. It’s still far out there.

Deida’s premise is that sexual passion has its source in the attraction of opposite poles, masculine and feminine energies. The book is written as if to a men with strong masculine sexual energy who are attracted to women with strong feminine energy, but he believes that the underlying concept applies to any sex or sexual orientation. The essential polarity is masculine and feminine, not male and female.

Masculine energy is purposeful and giving. Men have gifts for the world and they are only fulfilled when they are giving their gifts wholeheartedly.

Problems arise when men shirk their purpose and put aside sacrifice for the sake of comfort and distraction. If a man allows himself to be diverted, he will have problems in sexual relationships as well as other aspects of life.

Women represent a paradox for men. Feminine energy is focused on relationship, no purpose. However, a woman with strong feminine energy is attracted to a man with strong masculine energy. She wants him to be committed to his purpose as his first priority, but she also wants his devotion and security in the relationship. She will test him in both areas and tempt him to see if he is weak in either.

This may make it seem like women have conflicting desires and spend their days dreaming up ways to drive men crazy. Deida disagrees. What women want is for their men to be all they can be, to be their best selves. A woman can relax with such a man, trust him and allow her own feminine energy to flow.

Deida puts the relationship for successful relationships and satisfying sex on the shoulders of men. If you want it, you have to step up and be the kind of man who can be true to his highest calling and best self even in the face of fear and pain.

Sex is more than an act we perform. It is bound up in who we are, our passion for life and our capacity for  intimacy.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Deida, David. The Way of the Superior Man: A Spiritual Guide to Mastering Women, Work, and Sexual Desire. 1997. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2004.

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

In The Language of God, physician and chemist Francis S. Collins considers the compatibility of science and religion. At the time this book was published (2006), Collins was head of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Since 2009, he has served as director of the National Institutes of Health.

Collins is a Christian, but he did not come to the faith until after starting his career in medicine and science. His interactions with patients drew him to consider the spiritual aspects of life. Through this God eventually drew Collins to Christ.

Collins is very much a supporter of science. He readily calls people of faith to task for damaging their own cause through ignorance of science or abandonment of reason. A true god won’t be damaged if we come to a better knowledge of his creation.

Science, however, is hardly able to answer all of humanity’s important questions. It isn’t designed to do that, and sometimes it simply cannot do it.

In exploring the issue, Collins considers several potential stands on religion. He finds atheism impossible to defend. His own former agnosticism was something he could hold to so long as he did not seriously delve into the questions of existence, human life and ethics. He argues that theism is the most reasonable belief, though it may take a few more steps to get from theism to Christianity.

He also gives some attention to the idea of how we can live peaceably with science and religion. He has plenty to find in history. The seeming antagonism between science and religion, which he attributes mostly to proponents of extreme views on both sides, is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically (and currently) many scientists were people of faith and the church was a supporter of scientific discovery. He finds model of harmony between science and religion going back to St. Augustine.

Collins addresses this book to both believers and nonbelievers. To both he argues that belief in God is rational, and that faith is complementary to science.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Collins, Francis S. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. New York: Free Press, 2006.

As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

As a Man Thinketh, a short book written by James Allen, has become a staple of self-help literature. Many stripes of self-help teachers have referred to it since, from the mystical to the practical-minded.

As the title suggests, Allen teaches that a person’s life and achievements are results of his thoughts. Thoughts are the seeds. These seeds grow into actions. The fruit of actions are wealth or want, health or illness, joy or despair. It simply depends on the kinds of seeds you plant.

If you’re not intentionally planting seeds, preferably thoughts will produce salutary and beautiful results, your mind will be seeded with whatever falls there. Your life will be weedy, having mixed and low-value results.

Each chapters of the book is an essay on some aspect of Allen’s theme. They deal with character, life conditions, health, purposefulness, achievement, vision and peace. I each case, Allen suggests the life you have is the life you choose through your habits of thought.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Allen, James. As a Man Thinketh. White Plains, NY: Peter Pauper Press.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

How to Improve Your Memory by James D. Weinland

James D. Weinland’s How to Improve Your Memory is, in my mind, primarily a book on study skills. Weinland’s interest is learning, and memory is an important part of that.

As I read the book, it seemed to me that learning successfully is built on four areas: intention, attention, repetition and organization. Weinland has tips related to all of these.

Intention to learn is easy to come by when you have an interest in a subject. If you’re not interested, you’ll need to find some other motivation. Think about why you’re studying a subject and the benefits you hope to achieve. Even if you’re a student and you “have to” take a class, think of the opportunities that might open up to you if you get a good grade.

Attention is very important to memory and learning. If you forget something, it is very likely you weren’t paying attention to begin with. Remove distractions from your environment and mind (this wasn’t an issue when this book was published in 1957, but put away your cell phone and put it out of your mind). Engage as many senses as you can.

Remember that attention isn’t an infinitely available commodity. Get the rest you need. Don’t burn yourself out by focusing too long on one subject or closely related subjects. Give your mind, especially the executive functions a break, by alternating unrelated subjects, switching back and forth from mental to physical activities and making a little time for rest and recreation.

Repetition is important to memory, but it doesn’t need to be boring. Allowing time between practice sessions can actually improve performance.

Organization can go a long way to making learning easier. Some of the most successful mnemonic techniques involve arranging and associating things we want to remember with things we already remember well, especially locations. For instance, pigeonholing involves creating a spacial arrangement, such as a grid, with things to be remembered in each space. Mind maps do something similar with a more free-form arrangement that also takes advantage of our ability to remember images and colors. Memory castles are sophisticated applications of this strategy. Understanding how things are divided into wholes and parts or groups can help you break down subjects into smaller, easier to remember, parts that are connected so that remembering on item helps you remember the others.

I tend to connect the use of meaningful association to the idea of organization. Meaningful association builds on what you already know. This could be building on or filling in your background on a subject, finding analogies to familiar or using acronyms and rhymes. A related practice is it to come up with an outrageous image that represents what you want to remember. We find it easy to remember images—the more unusual the image the easier it is to recall—so we can take advantage of that by associating what we want remember with a crazy image that reminds of it.

The book is dated, but I think the advice is applicable even if the science of memory has advance. In addition, the book has the advantage of being short.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Weinland, James D. How to Improve Your Memory. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1957.

New & Interesting Stuff April 29, 2017

Suggestible You by Erik Vance

Journalist Erik Vance grew up in a Christian Science home. Though he no longer adheres to the religion, he believed that he experienced and heard many true stories of seemingly miraculous healing. The not miraculous, but still amazing source of these improvements in health may be in the brain. Vance recounts his search for answers in Suggestible You.

Our brains are hard at work predicting what will happen next; we are constantly expecting. What we perceive, and how our brain reacts is powerfully affected by expectation. Our expectations are shaped by suggestion. Though suggestion has many forms, at the heart of each is a story. It doesn’t have to be an actually true story; it just needs to be plausible and resonant.

One area where the power of suggestion is apparent is the placebo effect. Our bodies produce chemicals that can make us feel better, and sometimes it just takes a good suggestion to get it to do so. A placebo is such a suggestion. Placeboes contain no drugs that should be effective and can take many forms such as a pill, a shot, a fake surgery or even the presence of a professional who seems competent and caring. Placeboes work so well that on certain type of diseases that they are better that many treatments.

The effectiveness of placeboes presents a problem for medical researchers. How do you sort out the effect of a treatment from the placebo effect? Modern medical research requires testing to show that a treatment is more effective that a placebo. In the United States, the law requiring such studies was introduced by Senator Estes Kefauver, who readers of this blog may know from his anti-comic book hearings.

There is also a nocebo effect, essentially the brains response to a suggestion that makes us sick. Noceboes are connected to fear, so they are in a sense supercharged in comparison to placeboes.

Vance looks into other ways suggestions can affection or brains, particularly hypnosis and false memories. Science provides some answers for how these things work. Placeboes seem to be tied to chemicals released by the brain, though there seem to be several at work and they may represent only a few of the ways placeboes my work in our incredibly complex brains. Hypnosis is not the same as placebo and its workings remain mysterious.

Suggesting affects us in ways outside of health. Marketers are particularly interested in our suggestibility. Our expectations can influence the way food tastes and our perceptions of value.

Vance finds hope in the still incomplete science of how expectation affects our health. Those who are susceptible to placebo or hypnosis (not necessarily the same people) may have a host of options for coaxing out the healing powers of their own bodies. Better understanding of how these things work may help us make better treatments for those who are less susceptible. He envisions a day when placeboes and hypnotism may be treatments medical professionals apply in much the way the use drugs or surgeries.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Vance, Erik. Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2016.


Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai and preached during the rebuilding of the temple. His message is one of encouragement. The nations that once oppressed Israel were broken, and though they were still under foreign rule, the king, Darius, was favorably disposed towards the Jewish people and supported the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Though they had the protection of Darius, God asserted that He was their true protector and He would overcome their enemies.

His visions predicted the coming of Christ. The Branch of David would remove the sins of the people (though Zechariah also warns of judgment for the unrepentant). The governor, and grandson of the Israelite king Jehoiachin who was carried off in the captivity, Zerubabbel was rebuilding the temple, but his descendant would rebuild a more excellent temple (the church). In addition to taking the role of a king, this descendant would become the high priest. Some of his visions of Christ were very specific: he would be killed, his hands would be pierced and he would be betrayed.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Malachi. The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.


Malachi appears last in the Old Testament and is chronologically toward the end of the period, the prophet possibly being a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah. By this time, the Jewish people had been back in Israel for some time and they were losing their zeal for God.

Malachi called out the people on many of the ways they neglected God and their calling to be His people. They offered substandard sacrifices. They married foreigners who worshipped false gods. They refused to tithe. They were envious of other nations. Even the priests were complicit in the sins of the people.

He warned of a judgment coming. There was hope for the faithful; their always is for those who trust God.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Malachi. The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo

Psychologist John Izzo interviewed seniors who had a reputation for wisdom to find out what they knew about happiness. He describes the ideas he gleaned from these interviews in his book The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die (also a five-part television series that aired on PBS).

As the title suggests, Izzo doesn’t shy away from discussing death. He suggests it is important to remember that live is short and our choices define our lives. We all want joy, contentment, connection and purpose. We can learn from the example of people who have achieved such lives and have a more satisfying life as well.

First, follow your heart. You will not be happy if you try to be someone else. You can be more authentically yourself by living intentionally and examining your life to see if you are doing what matters to you.

Live without regrets. You can forgive yourself for the mistakes you make (if you try), but you’ll likely regret the important things you left undone. Encourage yourself to take worthy risks in life. If you love someone, put the work into fixing a broken relationship.

Love is incredibly important to a happy life. Make room for people in your life and practice loving them. Love is more than a feeling toward others; it is kindness and generosity.

Almost everywhere I look, I see books, articles and television segments on mindfulness. Izzo suggest that a kind of mindfulness—living in the moment—is practiced by happy people. Recognize that every day of life is a gift and we should enjoy it while it is here.

Finally, give. Giving is a way to connect to something larger than ourselves. It is a path to purpose, love, and joy.

Izzo isn’t simply concerned with giving advice; he wants to equip people to apply that advice. One of the ways he suggests this can be done is by paying attention to the way we want to live. Each chapter ends with a short list of questions that are collected in one of the later chapters. Izzo suggest reading and answering these questions in a weekly time of reflection. Often all we need to do to make the changes we want is to intend to do it and remind ourselves of that intention.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Izzo, John. The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008.