Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Language Instinct

Friday, March 23rd, 2018 | Books

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language is a book by Steven Pinker.

I have raved about Steven Pinker before. How the Mind Works is a fascinating read and The Blank Slate has changed my worldview more than almost any other book. Along with two or three others, it is probably the more important book I have ever read.

Sadly, I could not get on with the The Language Instinct in the same was as Pinker’s other books. It was too technical for me, even as someone currently studying childhood language development (the book is about language more broadly, but can’t help but stray into development).

I found Pinker’s other books highly accessible, but, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get into this one. Ultimately, I had to give up.

I have no doubt that the many positive reviews about this book are accurate. If you understand the material, or just stick with it, perhaps you get a lot out of it. It just wasn’t the case for me.

Exercise Physiology

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 | Books

Exercise Physiology is a textbook by William D. McArdle, Frank L. Katch and Victor L. Katch. I read the eighth edition, which was also an international edition.

I wasn’t a big fan of the book. It’s dense: while there are lots of sections and graphics, it felt like a lot of heavy text and I struggled to focus on taking so much in. A lot of it got very technical, which may or may not be a good thing depending on what your current knowledge of the subject is.

As a minor point, they re-use the same full-page photos for the chapter title pages, which is disappointing.

It’s a comprehensive textbook, but a bit too heavy for me. Literally: it’s 2.9kg.

Physiology of Sport and Exercise

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 | Books

Physiology of Sport and Exercise is a textbook by W. Larry Kenney, Jack H. Wilmore and David L. Costill. I read the fifth edition.

I got on well with this book. I was able to read in detail the sections I was interested in and skip straight to the “in review” summaries of the sections I wasn’t. There are case studies which help add a bit of colour to the otherwise dry science.

It starts with a description of what happens to the body when you exercise, before moving to talk about the theory behind training. It has sections for environmental factors and individual differences such as age and sex.

There is a lengthy discussion of nutrition and doping, too. Though, unfortunately, I haven’t found any safe and easy ways to dope. I don’t fancy withdrawing a load of blood and re-injecting it six weeks later, so it looks like I’ll just have to keep puffing away on the old salbutamol.

Keep on Running

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 | Books

Keep on Running: Science of Training and Performance is a book by Eric Newsholme, Anthony Leech and Glenda Duester.

It’s a popular title for books: a search on Good Reads turned up over a dozen books with the same title. This one is to do with what it says on the tin. That is, it is about how to run faster and longer.

The key takeaway message is that you are slowed down by your weakest system. So, you have a great vo2 max, but if your lactate threshold is terrible, you’re not going to be setting any records. Similarly, you can have all the slow twitch fibres in the world, but you need a decent running economy to run a marathon fast.

This means working on all of the bodies systems. It’s not enough to just do the same thing over and over again. You need variety in your training routine to work on each part of the body.

Of course, vary your training system is nothing new or surprising. But the book breaks down the details in a clear and easy-to-follow manner.

Sport Psychology

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018 | Books

With a rather long full title of Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science, Sport Psychology (Olympic Handbook Of Sports Medicine), this textbook provides an introduction to the major issue in sport psychology.

It’s a really well put together book. It covers each area in short and to-the-point chapters. The whole thing is just over 100 pages and gives you a brief but comprehensive introduction to the areas.

What it’s missing are the details on some of the interventions. It talks about confidence, mental preparation and focus. And explains what these areas are. But then it goes on to say “imagery is useful for this” without going into any detail about what exactly imagery is.

Overall, though, this is a great introduction to the subject.

Our Korean Kitchen

Sunday, December 31st, 2017 | Books, Food

Our Korean Kitchen is a cookbook by Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo.

It sounds exciting, but honestly, it’s not. I just can’t make much from this book. Everything is too difficult.

There is always a question of authenticity vs practicality. Some people may have preferences either way. Mine is probably towards the latter. I want to make stuff from a cookbook. If that means dumping it down for British people, I’m for that.

The recipes I did manage were total winners. The bulgogi is delicious. Elina loves the warming chicken and potato stew. But I’m not sure where to go after that. Have you tried making your own kimchi? It’s not straightforward.

I thought I had really put the effort in after I spent an hour in the international supermarket chasing down gochugaru paste, kimchi sauce, muli and half a dozen other ingredients. But it wasn’t enough.

If you are someone with a lot of determination, you can probably get a lot out of this book. But if, like me, you are time limited and not entirely sure how to use doen-jang soybean paste, you might struggle with this book.

Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Perfectionism

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017 | Books

Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Perfectionism is a book by Sarah J. Egan, Tracey D. Wade, Roz Shafran, and Martin M. Antony.

It’s written for therapists but is also useful for academics. And, as it turns out, for some introspection, too.

What exactly is perfectionism? There is no universal definition of clinical perfectionism but typically involves in a process of people setting unachievable standards for themselves and then feeling bad when they miss them. Treating it can have transdiagnostic benefits for a person’s mental health.

A key part is an over-reliance of self-feedback. It’s not enough that other people tell you that you are doing a good job: you need to meet your own high standards, not theirs.

How do you assess it? There is no single way, though a few inventories are emerging. And by “a few”, I mean loads:

  • Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R)
  • Behaviour Domains Questionaire (BDQ)
  • Burns Perfectionism Scale (BPS)
  • Clinical Perfectionism Questionaire (CPQ)
  • Consequences of Perfectionism Scale (COPS)
  • Frost et al. Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (FMPS)
  • Hewitt and Flett Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (HMPS)
  • Neurotic Perfectionism Qustionaire (NPQ)
  • Perfectionism Inventory (PI)
  • Perfectionistic Self-Presentation Scale (PSPS)
  • Positive and Negative Perfectionim Scale (PANPS)

The model

The standard model for perfectionism is that you set a standard and try to achieve it. These standards are typically inflexible, over-general (one mistake wipes off the entire report as failure) and filled with double-standards (it is okay for someone else to do that, but not me).

The height of the standard leads to avoidance.

You either then hit the standard, in which case you tell yourself it was too easy.

Or you miss the standard and beat yourself up.

The treatment

The book lays out a full treatment plan based on cognitive behaviourism. However, one thing I will point out for a quick win: merely monitoring your symptoms seems to improve things.

Ethlers and colleagues (2003) had people with PTSD perform daily monitoring of their symptoms. After three weeks, 12% had improved sufficiently to no longer meet the clinical level of PTSD.

Similarly, there is evidence that self-monitoring contributes to improvements in anxiety and depression (Coull & Morris, 2011).

Self-criticism

Perfectionists often see a value in self-criticism because they believe that if they accepted lower standards, they would be lazy and unproductive.

So, rather than eliminating self-criticism, we want to replace it with constructive feedback.

The authors suggest we think of it as the choice between two basketball coaches: do you want one who just calls you “stupid” and “a failure” when you make a mistake? Or do you want one that is encouraging, offers suggestions for improvements and guides you to the next level in performance? That is the difference between a self-critical inner voice and a compassionate but productive one.

This is important because of the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This states that there is an optimal level of arousal. Too little, and you will be lazy. Too much, though, and your performance starts to deteriorate as well. Moderation is the order of the day: gentle pressure produces optimal performance, not viciously beating yourself up.

Procrastination

One of the biggest problems for perfectionists is that they are often not productive because of procrastination. They put off tasks for a number of reasons:

  • The task is large, and therefore the time commitment to completing it perfectly is equally large
  • You feel overwhelmed by the idea of having to do it perfectly
  • Giving yourself too little time is an easy get-out: it’s okay for it to be imperfect because it is not a true reflection of your performance

So, they do nothing. Nothing pleasurable, either. There can be no enjoyable tasks because they “haven’t earned it”. So, the time simply goes to waste.

The motivation trap

A common reason for putting tasks off is “waiting for the motivation” to get it done. But the authors claim that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of causation.

We assume that motivation inspires action. But, in reality, action inspires motivation (Shafan et al 2010). If you want to feel motivated about a task, force yourself to start it and them motivation will follow.

This fits with my blog post on what comes first: thoughts or feelings? It is our behaviour that drives our feelings, not the other way around.

Summary

This is a really interesting read for anyone interested in perfectionism. It is aimed at clinicians, which means you don’t get all of the friendly hand-holding of popular science, and everything comes from a certain angle. However, it is written in a very engaging way, so doesn’t suffer from the stuffiness of academic texts.

The Real Greek

Sunday, December 17th, 2017 | Books, Food

With a name like The Real Greek, you would expect Tonia Buxton’s cookbook to offer authentic recipes. Does it?

Well, that depends on how accurate greek stereotypes are. Everything had feta cheese in it. So, if that is genuinely all Greek people eat, then yes.

It’s a book of simple recipes. If you want to know how to make a beautiful Greek salad or marinate some spicy kebabs, it is full of that stuff. And often, you do just want to make something simple and delicious, so it works well.

The number of actionable recipes was mixed. I’ve made a bunch of skewers and stuffed some burgers with feta cheese. But, despite a range of other dishes, not much else took my fancy. At first, it felt there was very little, although, on going back through them, I have enjoyed several other recipes, too. It doesn’t match up to the likes of Hugh or Mary Berry, but I have added a handful of recipes to my repertoire.

Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017 | Books

Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started with Bitcoin is a book by Christopher Nygaard.

I read the audiobook edition. It’s okay: you get a grounding in Bitcoin in under two and a half hours. There is some details on how to use it and very little technical details. Most of the book looks at the history, how it has evolved and where it is going.

The narration is odd. It’s by Skyler Morgan and he sounds like a robot. He has a website and offers royalty-split book details. I’m not sure whether he actually is a computer-generated voice, or whether he just has a voice that sounds a lot like a robot.

What Every Parent Needs to Know

Saturday, December 9th, 2017 | Books

What Every Parent Needs to Know: The incredible effects of love, nurture and play on your child’s development is a book by Margot Sunderland.

I like it. It’s backed up by science. Most books never reference. Some books make provocative claims about what you should do as a parent in order to provoke a reaction. And still don’t back their claims up.

This book sets a good balance. There is some stuff you “don’t want to hear” in here. But pretty much everything is referenced. With real references. So, at worse, you can say Sutherland is misinterpreting or twisting the research. But she doesn’t seem to be just making it up or being unjustifiably offensive like others (*ahem* Penelope Leach *ahem*).

Most of it is straightforward: give your child lots of love and understanding. Be empathetic. Give them time, attention and cuddles. Don’t leave them to cry because you think it will do them some good and toughen them up. Nothing groundbreaking there.

She won be over by laying into baby DVDs. They’re nonsense. Don’t let your young children watch TV, regardless of what it is or how it markets itself as being good for them.

While it’s all good stuff, it remains to be seen how actionable it is, though. I would love to have initiate patience and give my daughter an endless stream of love. But, on the occasions when I do ignore her whining or become moody, it’s because I’m at the end of the very short string of calmness god gave me.

There are some very actionable things, though. Like long goodbyes, for example. A quick getaway is easier, but a long goodbye is better for your child because you don’t stress them out. I can afford to spend a few minutes getting Venla playing at daycare before dashing out of the door.

All in all, a good read for anyone on their way to becoming a parent, or anyone who as recently become one.