reading 2017: september

Despite best intentions to read fiction in September, I fell down yet another self-improvement rabbit hole. Despite other best intentions, I failed to record my thoughts while reading or immediately afterward, so unless something was super-memorable, I’ll pretty much have hazy memories weeks afterward. This is definitely something I want to improve!


Carol Dweck: Mindset
I’d seen references to this book in a bunch of other things I’d read. I really enjoyed this and had many “oh wow”, “zomg” and cringe moments. The book can sometimes get a little folksy and some of the examples are a bit laboured, but that doesn’t get in the way of the message.

Dweck argues people have one of 2 mindsets: fixed or growth. The fixed mindset believes intelligence and ability are predetermined and immutable. Growth, the opposite – everything is up for grabs, you can become more intelligent or more skilled if you put in the effort. Fixed mindset spends life trying to prove how intelligent or skilled they are, that any sign of effort is a sign of weakness, that if you’re not immediately good at something you should abandon further pursuit of it. Growth, the reverse.

I thought I’d highlighted a bunch of quotes because there was a lot of good in here, but had not (argh!) – so skimmed back to grab a couple.

+ In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world effort is what *makes* you smart or talented.

+ In the fixed mindset, it’s not enough just to succeed. It’s not enough just to look smart and talented. You pretty much have to be flawless. And you have to be flawless right away.

+ People with the fixed mindset expect ability to show up on its own, before any learning takes place. After all if you have it you have it, and if you don’t you don’t.

+ The scariest thought, which I rarely entertained, was the possibility of being ordinary. This kind of thinking led me to need constant validation. Every comment, every look was meaningful – it registered on my scorecard, my attractiveness scorecard, my likability scorecard.

+ Some of my colleagues were working late. They must not be as smart as I am, I thought to myself. It never occurred to me that they might be just as smart and more hardworking.

+ The fixed mindset creates an internal monologue that is focused on judging: “this means I’m a loser”. “This means I’m a better person than they are”.

The fixed mindset is totally how I lived my early life – hence the many, many (many!) cringe-at-myself moments. I like to think I’ve mostly recovered now!

Definitely worth a read.


Cal Newport: So good they can’t ignore you
I liked this quite a bit. Basic thesis is that “follow your passion” is pretty stupid advice, that there is no magical job or career that is made for you. You need a solid foundation of runs on the board (career capital) to be successful – so don’t go and chuck it all in to be a yoga teacher on the basis of taking two yoga classes, for example. Deliberate practice and hard slog, not magic beans is the key to most “overnight success” or having a long-term satisfying career.


Cal Newport: Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
I’m finding this one a little depressing and am stuck at 49%. Absolutely my issue and not the fault of the book, but reading this leaves me feeling very uneducated and quite the failure – so possibly will abandon this. Clearly I’m not entirely recovered from that fixed mindset!


Adam Alter: Irresistible – Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching
This really made me think about how I’m living my life and how I live with technology – so many “oh god”, face-palm and cringe moments.

This comes on the back of weening myself of self-tracking, obsessive exercise and instagram (I should probably post about that) – and pretty much reinforced that those decisions were the right ones! Also made me wonder about the blogging-every-day thing – something which I think needs further examination.

On with the (oh-god-that-is-totally-me) quotes:

+ There’s good reason to believe we’re living through an unprecedented age of goal culture – a period underscored by addictive perfectionism, self-assessment, more time at work, less time at play.

+ When you approach life as a sequence of milestones to be achieved, you exist in a state of near-continuous failure. Almost all of the time, by definition, you’re not at the place you’ve defined as embodying accomplishment or success. And should you get there, you’ll find you’ve lost the very thing that gave you a sense of purpose – so you’ll formulate a new goal and start again.

+ Goals function as placeholders that propel you forward when the daily systems that run your life are no longer fulfilling.

+ Streaks uncover the major flaw with goal pursuit: you spend far more time pursuing the goal than you do enjoying the fruits of your success.

Would have benefited from tighter editing, but definitely worth checking out.


Now I really think I need fiction.


And in audiobooks:

Finished up Patrick White: Happy Valley. I really can’t convey how wonderful I found this. Sure, the outcomes were fairly obvious (all the tropes! but perhaps they weren’t tropes in 1939?), but the language was just brilliant. I’m generally pretty cynical about the whole “we need Australian stories” mantra**, but I really connected to this in a way I don’t think I would have for a book without such a clearly Australian voice and setting.

** Primarily because it is used as an argument by the local publishing industry to sell vastly (vastly!) over-priced local editions of foreign books – “we need to charge you exhorbitant prices for these books, because we’re totally supporting the works of Australian authors (with our fat profits)”.

Next up is Henning Mankell: Faceless Killers (Wallender #1)

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