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Paul Stevens (Southampton, UK)

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Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential
Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential
by Carol Dweck
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Another of my favourite self help/psychology books, 18 Aug 2014
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As usual I'll start my review by mentioning that as a standard rule I don't review these types of books without first reading through them fully and attempting to apply the advice that they propose. By doing so I can't therefore be accused of reviewing a book I haven't actually read.

I won't write an unnecessarily long review for this book since I don't think it really needs it but I will make a few points which I think need addressing for anyone interested in this book.

The gist of Dr Dweck's message is that there are two different types of mindset and that people more or less fit into one or the other. The `fixed mindset' which is a defeatist, `know your place', `genes determine everything', `I'll never amount to much' mentality. She also presents what she calls a `growth mindset' in which learning, challenge and development become the key mentalities. For example instead of using failure as proof of incompetence you learn to treat it as a challenge to do better.

One could of course debate the validity of her message; it's not academic and doesn't amount to proven science. It is however a remarkably useful way of looking at things and one that has been very beneficial for me personally.
It isn't as easy to implement as she alludes to and the vast majority of people will note elements of their own character in both mindsets, no one will fit 100% into either category. Regardless I think everyone could benefit from adopting a growth mindset and would happily encourage potential readers to try.

Also in response to comments from a few negative reviews criticising the large number of examples she's added for growth mindsets in everyday life.
Actually I think they are necessary since the more examples we have the easier it'll be to apply a growth mindset to our everyday lives and it demonstrates the large spectrum that growth mindsets can apply to. I don't think a shorter book would have driven the message home.

In a nutshell I highly recommend this book to anyone looking at personal development.

Psychobabble: Exploding the Myths of the Self-Help Generation
Psychobabble: Exploding the Myths of the Self-Help Generation
by Dr Stephen Briers
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.44

4.0 out of 5 stars A flawed but long overdue criticism of the self help industry., 11 Aug 2014
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I'll start this review with a confession.

I am a fan of self help material. I think the self help industry has the potential to be very useful and help a great many people.
However despite my apparent bias I am not blind to the fact that the self help world has more than its share of faults and that actually I'm not as bias as you might expect.

Some self help products have unrealistic and excessively idealistic approaches to their methodology. They draw their clients in with promises of quick fixes and easy step solutions that are often based on dodgy theories or wishful thinking. Some self help "gurus" even amass an almost cult like following from their fan base where criticism and disagreement are aggressively rebuked. The PUA/Seduction community and some elements of the NLP community are two brilliant examples of that. Other flaws of self help material is that all too often the advice or methodology is short lived or requires the self motivation of the participant to be of a high level in order for it to be of use.

Despite its flaws it does have some pluses. Many of the material out there offer excellent, down to earth advice. It has to be noted that even medical professionals will suggest various material to patients and that some self help books are actually available on prescription, suggesting that not all of these products are bad. Speaking from my own personal experience I have found multiple books to be of great help in my own fight with mental illness and personal development, including (believe it or not) some bits of NLP. Equally speaking from my own personal experience some of the material I've encounter has actually been more helpful to me than the mental health treatment I've received from various services.
It would be narrow minded and stupid to pooh-pooh the entire genre for the flaws of some.

In this book Dr Briers makes a nice attempt at pin pointing some of these flaws, even though I disagree with some of his views. I won't go through everything since that'll bore everyone but I will highlight a few things.

I think he's absolutely spot on when he highlights the excessive reliance of therapists on CBT. CBT has done wonders for me in tackling my social anxiety but it isn't the miracle cure that some seem to think and didn't prove very useful in fighting my depression. I also know many other people for whom CBT did very little.
I also agree with him that low self esteem isn't always the root of all problems, men and women certainly aren't from different planets (and aren't nearly as different as some closet sexists seem to think) and that carelessly letting your feelings out isn't always a good idea.
I also take my hat off to him for his criticism of `The Secret'. A cult like delusion fest that claims to cure cancer with thought alone and projects itself as the secret to the successes of history's greatest men.

I do disagree with his comments about learning from failure and actually think he's missed the point a little. It isn't about pretending failure doesn't exist or not wanting to face it but about developing the attitude to not allow failure to stop us dead in our efforts and attempt to learn from that failure (where lessons can be learned of course).
I also disagree with some of his points about research based evidence since actually quite a lot of research based advice has not proven very helpful to me and that actually the self help equivalent has done a better job. That's not to say of course that research should be ignored but I do think that research shouldn't be taken as gospel truth since even scientists can get it wrong sometimes.
Another point I disagree with is his comparison of positive thinking to that of criminal mentality which to me is ludicrous. The two are nothing alike and although I agree that positive thinking is often over-rated it's silly to suggest that it's along the same lines as the selfishness and self obsessive nature of career criminals.
I'll also add that although I agree that the `you can do anything' mantra is a little over done I do think there's equally a danger of promoting under achievement by dismissing it entirely. We must be careful to not confine people to a scrap heap by claiming that our genes are all we're good for and that we'll simply be happier if we just knew our places in life.
Another nit-bit I'd like to add is that there is a slight sense of bitterness from the author on this subject, the book itself is very subjective and does slightly over play to the anti self help movement, many of whom are remarkably hostile to the self help genre and the merest suggestion that anyone should dare to try and better themselves.

Anyway despite my criticism I do think this is a book well worth reading and one that's long overdue. The self help industry desperately needs a good kick in the bum and it's a shame that there aren't more books of this type to give it that. I've been umming and ahhing about whether to give this a 3 or 4 stars as I disagree with various bits but have settled on 4 since for the most part he does make some excellent points and at least has highlighted his position in a sensible and mature way.

As a final note I'd just like to add that I would not have made the progress I have if I relied on mental health treatment alone. Equally I wouldn't have made this progress if I relied on self help alone. In the mental health and psychology world what works for one will not work for another, we are all unique human beings and cannot rely on `one solution for all' mentalities and for some of us life isn't 'okay'.
If this subject interests you in any way I'd strongly recommend this book, if only to help stir up debate.

*Edit to add* It would have been useful if Dr Briers had included a recommended reading list of those self help books that he personally thinks are worth reading or that he would be happy to recommend.

Switch: How to change things when change is hard
Switch: How to change things when change is hard
by Chip Heath
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Among the best self-help/psychology books I’ve come across, to date, 19 May 2014
Before I start my review I think it best to mention that as a standard rule I don’t review these types of books without first reading through them fully and attempting to apply the advice that they propose. By doing so I can’t therefore be accused of reviewing a book I haven’t actually read (as some online idiots have a tendency to do).

I am a big fan of self-help material and have a keen amateur interest in psychology and related social sciences. I am also a strong advocate of the idea of self development and that one can always learn to better ones self through many different means. Saying that I am equally not naive as to the fact that the self-help industry does have its flaws and that not all self-help material is as impressive as it might advertise. Equally it’s important to remember that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.
One flaw, I think, with the self-help ideal is that it often relies on the drive and motivation of the practitioner. Something that is surprisingly lacking among a great many people, and one that often causes much of the criticism from the industries many sceptics. That criticism is actually well deserved and is one that has long needed addressing.

In this book I think Dan and Chip Health have done a superb job in addressing and attempting to solve this problem. This is a well researched and theoretically sound book which does a wonderful job in highlighting and presenting solutions, and does so in an easy and user friendly manner. In particular I like the fact that they promote the idea of an elephant and rider side of our mentality. The elephant being our emotional side, and the rider being our rational and logical thinking side. It’s our emotional side that undoubtedly causes so many problems in enacting change and the need for sustained motivation.

I also like the fact they strongly endorse the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. Another of my all time favourite self-help/psychology books.

In all I am a very big fan of this book and am happy to rate it highly. If I had to include a criticism it would simply be that the “Find the Feeling” chapter could have used some tips for the finding the feeling rather than simply using examples. Since that’s the problem I often have and could use the most help.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone struggling with change and who has a burning desire to better themselves but are crippled by motivation and procrastination problems.

No More Worrying
No More Worrying
by Allen Carr
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars No miracle cure but it did help, 6 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: No More Worrying (Paperback)
I won’t bother typing up a long, drawn out review for this book since given its short size (at only 128 pages) it doesn’t need a long review.

I brought this book recently due to having a great number of things that were worrying me and needing some better insight. I already have a copy of Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ but found it wasn’t quite ‘cutting the mustard’. Although my worries aren’t entirely gone I have found Alan Carr’s book to be very helpful in gaining a more realistic and useful perspective into my problems.

A previous reviewer on here has described it as a book of ‘platitudes’. Although I wouldn’t use the word ‘platitudes’ (since that usually means meaningless or trite) it is a collection of short comments and meaningful remarks from Mr Carr on the subject of worry.
If you’re hoping for a step by step guide on how to overcome worry or an in-depth analysis on the subject you will be sorely disappointed. This is basically a short, little book with pages and pages of brief comments on Alan’s thoughts on worry and how best to look at it. If you’re hoping for the former then don’t waste your money.

Personally I did find this to be most helpful even if it isn’t a worry eraser (which if one is realistic just isn’t possible). However this won’t be for everyone so take note of the ‘Look Inside’ function which Amazon very kindly provides before making up your mind.

Either way don’t worry, you’ll find something that’ll help; even if it isn’t in this book.

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
by Eben Alexander
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.79

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but doesn't prove anything, 16 Jan 2013
I've long been fascinated by the possibility of a "Life after Death", Near Death Experiences (NDE) or anything of that nature, but as a sceptic rather than a hopeful believer. I am an atheist and as an atheist I refuse to believe in anything that isn't backed up by reasonable scientific research or that relies solely on blind faith. I've long argued that if god exists and expects us to believe in him then it's his responsibility to prove it to us. Otherwise he can't be surprised that increasing numbers of people are turning to atheism. Of course being an atheist who knows of no proof whatsoever I find it much more plausible that there simply isn't a god. I am however open to the possibility of some form of "Life after Death".

Let me make it clear now that I am not against religion or religious people. As far as I'm concerned people have a basic human right to believe in what the hell they like and it's our duty as human beings to respect that. You can't claim to be a supporter of free speech or free expression if you think otherwise.

Although this book is an interesting look at Dr Alexander's experiences of NDE, made more interesting by the fact that he's a Neurosurgeon, it isn't actually proof of a heaven. In that respect the title is misleading. Although I don't doubt that Dr Alexander is an experienced Neurosurgeon and I don't doubt he had a wonderful experience which he is obviously keen to share with the world I'm afraid this doesn't count as evidence of anything.
I will admit he does make some interesting points about brain activity during comas and there is an interesting appendix at the end which attempts to counter some of the criticism and covers possible medical explanations for his experiences. Unfortunately it still doesn't actually prove anything. I'd suggest that anyone who's interested in the flaws of these claims do a Google search for criticism of Dr Alexander and "Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife".

My only other real complaint with this book is that at times he can get a little preachy, as if he's been inducted into a cult and wants to "save" other people. This was a little off putting for me and doesn't help his credibility as a scientist or in claiming proof of a heaven. Also the fact that he's a religious man does make one wonder about his level of bias and puts a dampener on his impartiality.

Still if you have any interest at all in NDE I would recommend looking into this book, if only to help expand your knowledge of people experiences and their claims. Just don't be taken in by the "proof" claim.

Human Weapon Season 1 [DVD]
Human Weapon Season 1 [DVD]
Offered by The Canny Store
Price: 12.07

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BE WARNED, 16 Aug 2012
This review is from: Human Weapon Season 1 [DVD] (DVD)
I am very pleased to see they've decided to release "Human Weapon" onto Region 2 DVD. As a martial arts documentary series it was outstanding and it's a great shame that they didn't choose to continue it into a second season.

It is a little Americanised for my usual tastes in documentaries but makes up for that with the content. I was particularly pleased they included an episode on the US Marine Corps MCMAP system and an episode on Sambo. Two martial arts which in my opinion don't get enough exposure and are of particular interest to me.

As a TV series I would give it 5 stars. HOWEVER I've decided to knock off a star in this review due to the fact that the Region 2 DVD set is missing 3 episodes. For some strange reason the episodes "Passport to Pain", Taekwondo and Ninjitsu are not included in this DVD release, despite being included on the Region 1 DVD set (or so I've been told).

A highly recommended series but just be warned that this DVD release is missing 3 episodes.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 19, 2012 6:30 PM GMT

Bullying, What Have I Ever Done to You?
Bullying, What Have I Ever Done to You?
by Robert Higgs
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Among the best bullying advice books around, 21 Feb 2012
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Over the years I've read a LOT of information about bullying, seen and heard a great deal of advice and although I haven't read an awful lot of published books on the subject I certainly consider myself well researched.

My "obsession" with bullying came about because I was bullied throughout my entire school life (13 years including nursery school). I also spent a lot of years of my early adulthood on the receiving end of frequent harassment, intimidation, malicious rumour mongering and even the occasional assault from scummy people in the neighbourhood I grew up in (linked to the bullying from school). The unsurprising result was that I ended up developing post traumatic stress disorder, social phobia and a host of other mental health problems.

I only highlight the above to give you an idea of where I'm coming from in writing this review.

In all I'd say Robert Higgs has written a very good book on dealing with and combating bullying. It's full of some excellent advice on how to develop a bully victim's state of mind, how to move forward from your dilemma and how to perceive bullying situations. The book seems to be written with a target audience of teenagers as well as adults as the general tone has a simplistic edge to it.

I absolutely take my hat off to him for emphasising the responsibility of the victims to help themselves and the need to take immediate action. Unfortunately, as much as many victims would like to believe it, you can't sit back and hope bullying will go away or sit and wait for the situation to solve itself. I've long held the opinion that one of the main solutions to the problem of bullying in society is that we need to make much more effort to identify and help "target harden" victims. Teach them to stick up for themselves, if only for the sake of their self esteem and future mental health.
I also take my hat off to him for not shying away from recommending a physical response. It's been my experience that many anti-bullying advisors are quick to tell victims that you must never respond physically, their logic is that it might escalate the situation or that violence is never the answer. While I can understand why they take that stance I strongly disagree since sadly violence is sometimes the only option and it's little more than wishful thinking to believe you can make it go away in all cases simply by non-violent means.
I'll also add that I think it interesting that he defines bullying as a type of communication. It's not a definition I've ever thought off using before and although I'm not sure I entirely agree with him it is an interesting way of looking at it.

Unfortunately I do have a couple of areas I disagree with Mr Higgs on. Firstly I've never agreed with the idea that bullies are all motivated by low self esteem, that they are hurting themselves or that they are weak. These are opinions I've heard a great deal over the years and although I can understand why people have these opinions I find them to be overgeneralizations. No doubt some bullies fall into the above categories. Unfortunately others have bucket loads of self esteem, show no evidence of hurting themselves and certainly aren't weak at all. For example I think it has to also be remembered that bullying for some is a very pleasurable act; I've come across former bullies over the years who talk about the buzz and sense of power it gave them. The motivations are far more complicated in my opinion.
Another point I disagree with him on is this idea of blaming victims while taking away the blame from the bullies (as insinuated on page 30). Although I can see what Mr Higgs is trying to do there I think this is a flawed position to take and isn't a helpful thing to say to a victim.
The only other thing I disagree with are the visualisation exercises he recommends since in my experience they rarely were much help to me. If others wish to try them and find they help then so much the better.

Despite those issues I still think this is among the best bullying advice resources available. It's certainly a lot better than some other advice I've come across over the years. The interview section at the end also makes for interesting reading and although I don't agree with everything said it is always useful to get different perspectives on these things.
The only other minor irk I have is that there is a slightly patronising edge to the delivery of the advice which begins to grate after awhile, possibly because the book is also aimed at teenagers.

One book I will gladly recommend.

Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust
Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust
by Viktor E Frankl
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and thought provoking, 25 Jan 2012
I've long had an amateur interest in Psychology and other related sciences. I've also had plenty of cause to ponder the meaning of life over the years due to a very unpleasant history of long term childhood bullying, abuse, neighbourhood persecution and mental illness.
I'm not for one minute suggesting that puts me on the same level as a holocaust survivor, not for a second, but this is a subject for which I've thought a lot about over the years as a result of those problems.

This is an excellent book for this subject. I doubt you'll find many better experts on the subject of the human condition then a psychiatrist who survived the holocaust. The first part was particularly interesting since it covers Dr Frankl's personal experiences of the holocaust and the mentality that allowed him to survive it as well as some useful anecdotes about the mentality of the other prisoners and the "tricks" they all used to simply get from one day to the next.

The second part covers the theory around Dr Frankl's Logotherapy, a type of therapy he developed himself as a result of his experiences of surviving the mental strain of the concentration camps. I wasn't as interested in this part as I was the first, although the theory behind Logotherapy does seem to have some potential. Speaking as someone with experience of mental health therapies I can't see Logotherapy being used effectively as a sole method of treatment since many people are badly affected by their pasts and need to put past demons to rest, but as an addition to traditional therapies I think Logotherapy could have a lot of potential. It isn't difficult to argue in favour of the benefits of having a reason to live or a purpose in life and a therapy that focuses on and helps a person to gain that must surely be worth paying some credit too. Obviously a professional in the field would be better able to argue the pros and cons of Logotherapy better then myself. I am aware of the criticisms of Logotherapy and agree with some of them; particularly its religious undercurrent and similarities to religious teachings which could overly biased the credibility of Logotherapy.

The final part briefly covers a lecture which Dr Frankl gave to a conference on Logotherapy promoting the need for purpose and meaning. I will admit to not pay a great deal of attention to this section since it was a little difficult for me to grasp (I suffer from ADHD).

My only minor criticism of this book is the fact that since this is a psychology book you might find it gets a bit heavy to take in unless you have a strong interest in psychology. Despite my interest even I found it a little difficult to follow in places, particularly towards the end.

Otherwise a superb book for the subject and one I'm happy to recommend.

The Somme - From Defeat to Victory [DVD] [2006]
The Somme - From Defeat to Victory [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Ben Goddard (II)
Price: 12.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, informative and beautifully made, 31 Dec 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've long had a minor interest in military history and recently decided to do some more reading up on the First World War. As I result I brought this DVD since the Amazon recommendations alluded that it was worth watching, glad to say I wasn't disappointed.

A well made and very informative documentary that covers the Battle of the Somme superbly. The cast acting, although not award winning, was certainly believable and added greatly to the feeling of drama. I'm not an historian so can't speak for the accuracy but assuming it is accurate it's certainly informative.
My only real complaints are that I felt it could have been longer, at 60 minutes it did feel a bit short and that they only covered a few units (British and German). It would have been nice to have a broader perspective of the whole battle.

All in all an excellent and beautifully made documentary and one worth purchasing if you're looking for information about the First World War.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (DVD + Digital Copy)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (DVD + Digital Copy)
Dvd ~ James Franco
Offered by FLASH
Price: 5.44

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 30 Dec 2011
It's not often I come across a film these days that instantly falls into my category of favourite films, this one certainly fits the bill nicely.

I was never a fan of the original "Planet of the Apes" movies and only bothered watching this in the cinema as the trailer peaked my interest. Fortunately for me it turned out to be a gem. A well crafted revamp full of drama, emotion and meaning but without the annoying actors in ape masks.

The acting is excellent, particularly Andy Serkis who's performance was nothing short of Oscar winning (in my opinion anyway) and portrays the persecuted minority superbly. As a former victim of long term bullying I've always had a weakness for the "bully victim turns avenger" type of plots and the storyline in this film captures that nicely, although in this case you have intelligent apes rising up against their human oppressors. The plot develops in such a way that you can easily sympathise with the position of the apes and the bullying of Caesar while in captivity will likely have you routing for their cause. As an added plus I was also particularly impressed with the soundtrack which I thought complimented the drama nicely.

My only slight complaint was that at times I thought the CGI was overdone, there were a couple of occasions where it felt more like watching an animated film rather than a live action. Obviously the technology still needs work and is hardly perfect but it is a minor annoyance.

All in all a wonderful film that has now entered my personal list of favourite films of all time. I'm very glad to recommend this one.

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