Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

There’s nothing like a nonfiction book to bring you back to reality after having read fantasy. I’ve just finished Smarter Faster Better, and I found it just alright. A little background here: Duhigg’s previous book, The Power of Habit, was the book that got me interested in nonfiction, so I was a little disappointed in how Smarter Faster Better turned out.

Since I’ve been reading psychology books here and there, I found the first two chapters a little lackluster. I thought to myself: I’ve read this somewhere before… I hope the rest of the book isn’t like this. Well, I’m glad that it takes a lot for me to decide not to finish a book because the middle chapters of Smarter Faster Better had some interesting concepts on using mental images and stretch and SMART goals. I even enjoyed reading some of the stories that gave context to Duhigg’s overarching ideas. (I particularly enjoyed the backstory to Frozen and the corporate culture of General Motors.)

Overall, there were maybe only two or three chapters that I liked. Most of the book fell flat to me. I found that the ideas did not flow well from chapter to chapter—each chapter could stand independently; I didn’t see the point of the book since none of the chapters built upon each other. I really wanted to like the book because I still think The Power of Habit is a good book to learn about habits, but Smarter Better Faster simply isn’t for me.

The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2) by Philip Pullman

As I’d mentioned in my review of La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), I decided to (finally) read the series when I saw paperback copies of The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2) in bookstores. What? There were already paperbacks of book 2 out, and I still hadn’t read book 1?! OK, time to read. And then after reading book 1, I tried to hunt down hardbacks of book 2, but couldn’t find one. Thankfully, my friend introduced me to Book Depository, from where I ordered this specific edition. (Having consistent editions sparks joy in my life.)

The events in The Secret Commonwealth occur twenty years after La Belle Sauvage and eight after His Dark Materials. I admit that I could benefit from rereading His Dark Materials (I read it more than ten years ago…), but Philip Pullman tied all of the characters and events so well in The Book of Dust #1 and #2 that I was able to recall the backstories as I read on.

The Secret Commonwealth was almost perfect, except that it felt too much like a lead in to a third book. But I appreciate. I’m going to rave about certain events in the book, so I will tell you now that this post has spoilers.

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Developing Routines

A few weeks ago, an Instagram tag for “Daily Non-Negotiables” was going around. At that time, I couldn’t think of a response. Prior to ECQ, I did not quite have a set routine—in fact, I was still considering developing one but then ECQ came, and my plans fell through.

One thing that I noticed from the start of ECQ was that on weekdays I would consistently be up by 8am. Well, great. At least I was waking up at a reasonable time (considering there was no longer commute time to factor in to my day). With ECQ, my job had become fully remote, and I needed to make sure I was in the zone during work hours. A fix: I set up a work spot which I associated with productivity. Working at my work spot was a habit I consciously built. It’s been working out. But more interesting to me were the habits I unintentionally formed around my work schedule.

Morning

Bring Plants Outside

First thing in the morning, I bring my small indoor plants to the balcony to get their daily dose of sunlight. I like to look for new leaves and show them off on my stories. I also take this time to water my plants if needed.

Drink a Morning Beverage

Some people can’t start their day without coffee. Since I originally associated routine with a specific drink, e.g. daily coffee or daily tea, I did not think I had a habit around this. It turns out I’d unintentionally formed one.

Each morning I make myself a drink to start off the day. Some days I drink coffee, others warm lemonade. Recently I’d been making myself iced matcha and hojicha drinks. My routine isn’t based on a specific drink, rather, the act of drinking something that I brewed.

Write in my Journal

Since I started my bullet journal, I started tracking my daily activities. Initially I tried journaling midday, but it wasn’t working out for me since I could only write about part of my day. Eventually I grew into the habit of journaling the next day about the activities done the prior day. I journal in the morning because I tend to forget things as the day goes by.

Evening

Wash Dishes

We cook brunch and dinner every day, so every night we accumulate a fair amount of dishes to wash. My unofficial shift is to wash after lunch or during the day, but to help out, I wash the dishes that were not involved with dinner, such as mugs and water bottles, before heading back to my room.

Turn off the Lights

Since I am usually the last one to return to my room at night, I make sure all the lights in the common areas are turned off. No point keeping the on if no one else is in the room anyway.

Read a Chapter

I made a rule for myself to read at least one chapter of a book a day, even if I wasn’t in love with the book. (It will take a lot for me to purposely not finish a book.) I found that the best time for me to read books was right before sleeping, and this little rule actually helped me get through books that had been sitting in my to-be-read pile for so long.

There are some days when I have an addition to my routine: working out. It started off with my resolution to not become unhealthy during ECQ. I told myself to work out for at least 15 minutes thrice a week just to build the habit. Now I work out for 30-40 minutes four times a week. Not bad!

Completing my routines gives me a sense of accomplishment each day. It makes me think that ok, things are going smoothly, this is just another day, and it’s going to be a good day, and helps me manage the uncertainty during ECQ.

Now that I’m conscious of my habits, I’m considering doing some micro-optimizations, so that by the time ECQ lifts, I can seamlessly continue my positive habits. (If you’re interested in this idea, I suggest reading Atomic Habits.)