Through LibraryThing I have received an Early Reviewer copy of Living SMART: Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever. As an early reviewer, I get a free advance copy of a soon-to-be-published book, and if I write a review of it, I have a better chance of getting ER books in the future. So here's my review:
Week One: I read the preface and the introduction, and form my first impression of the book: bleah. The writing and the concepts are like Gerber Rice Cereal for babies: pre-chewed, broken down to the tiniest bits so the lowest common denominator reader doesn’t choke on it. I don’t see anything truly new or creative about the approach. The five eponymous SMART skills are not so much skills as they are obvious tasks that I don’t really need two PhDs and some lame clip-art to help me figure out.
Week Two: I lose motivation and don’t even pick up the book.
Week Three: I feel obligated to read and review the book for LibraryThing, especially since I do want to be considered for future early review titles. So I pick up the book and try to have a good attitude.
Chapter 1--Let's Get Started. My bad attitude returns wearing leather and chains when I read that the three principles and steps to change involve the What, the Want, and the How. So far this book reminds me of a not-very-interesting article in a women’s magazine, one that might be titled, “Five Simple Steps to a New, Slimmer You!”
But even though I feel patronized, I plug on and read Chapter 2—The What: Know Exactly What Needs to Change. This chapter is even more obvious than the last. It lists places where you can get information about the behavior you need to change—as though you’ve been living in the jungles of Bolivia for the last 40 years and you’ve never seen another person, or a newspaper, or one of those new-fangled computer-thingies.
As a special bonus, the chapter ends with an action tip: If you want to get skinny, don’t buy cookies. That strikes me as just plain mean. The authors probably have hyper-thyroid disease and never have to watch what they eat in order to keep their girlish figures.
Week Four: I grit my teeth and promise myself I will get through two more nauseating chapters this week. I suggest to myself that, in the interest of fairness, perhaps I should try to have an open mind since I’ve only read slightly more than 1/10 of the book. Myself agrees, ditches the attitude, and plunges into chapter 3—The Want: Decide Whether You Want to Change.
Ah, feel the irony. I learn that motivation is the great stumbling block to change. (I’m still thinking about those cookies, and—call me Blobbo—I’m not really motivated to buy non-fat rice cakes instead.)
I do actually read an idea in this chapter that I have never considered before: that optimism is a behavior that can be learned. I do some research and find that these authors are not alone in this theory; and I make a note to blog about it in the future.
Chapter Four—The How promises me that if I know what needs to change, and I’m motivated, then the SMART skill set will ensure my success. The SMART skill set consists of Setting a goal, Monitoring your progress, Arrange your world for success, Recruit a support team, and Treat yourself.
The authors illustrate the concept of Arranging Your World for Success with a story about a dinner party at which one guest said she wanted to cut down on her salt intake. The good doctors moved the salt shaker out of her reach to the other end of the table, and “proclaimed with great satisfaction that this gesture had significantly reduced her chance of using excess salt during the meal.”
I know. I want to smack them, too.
Later in the same chapter, the Captains Obvious advise us to “maximize the positive influence of others by setting up a team of supporters.” They recommend that we recruit these team members from among friends and family, as well as from internet chat rooms, magazine pen pal clubs, and prisons.
Oh, they do not—but if they had included those last three, it would have made the chapter more interesting.
Week Five—I read chapters 5-13, having completely given up on even the semblance of neutrality and optimism about this waste of perfectly good paper and ink. I just shake my head when I read chapter six, in which the authors provide a detailed monitoring chart that they have cleverly dubbed “The Chart.”
One Action Tip recommends rewarding yourself often with small, frequent treats such as “a brief chat with a friend on the phone or taking the time to watch a sunset.” Really? Do these people really only allow themselves to chat on the phone or watch a sunset as a reward for behavior change? That’s just sad.
Part II: Your Game Plan applies the SMART skills to four specific issues: diet, exercise, getting better sleep, and remembering to take medication. There’s plenty of stuff to be bored and annoyed about in these chapters, too, like the recommendations to put gold stars on your monitoring chart to reward yourself and the one "for mothers only" to ask your spouse to watch the kids while you exercise.
This book reminds me of a class I took in graduate school. The professor, a tenured PhD, had authored our textbook on multi-cultural counseling. It was my first exposure to the notion that having letters after your name does not directly correlate with intellectual brilliance. To this day, 25 years later, I remember that textbook and that class—not because of what I learned, but because of what I didn’t. The book was padded with patently obvious and too-general-to-be-useful observations along the lines of “The counselor must be sensitive to the cultural background of the client.” The class was one "duh" after another.
That’s what’s going on with Living SMART. The authors have padded a magazine article based on a marginally clever acronym into 184 pages of obvious and redundant pop psychology. Save your $15. Put it in the bank, and in five years you’ll have around $18. That’s better than the return you’ll get from investing in this book.