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Book Yourself Solid: A Book on How Integrity and Passion Make for Successful Marketing


Michael Port’s bestselling marketing book for service professionals, Book Yourself Solid, doesn’t really break new ground, but it’s a profoundly useful book if you are a service professional trying to get more business and are willing and able to love what you do. The most powerful thing about the book is that it asks extremely productive, basic questions that we often don’t consider when trying to market ourselves, questions that put a high value on integrity and connection not just for their own sake, but as basic forces to find and book new clients. I learned a lot from Port.

With that said, there are also some serious problems with Book Yourself Solid. The most obvious is that it’s relentlessly self-promoting. Port uses “Book Yourself Solid” as a brand identity that he then plasters over page after page, referring to Book Yourself Solid Certified Professionals and the Book Yourself Solid Writing Strategy and whatnot. He even refers to fairly common marketing strategies with the BYS brand. Honestly, I don’t know if this is a shortcoming of Port’s marketing understanding or if I’m just outside his target market. Actually, he speaks repeatedly and meaningfully about the importance of knowing who is and is not a good client for you, emphasizing that every service professional has personal strengths and a personal style that will be great for some clients and not a good fit for others, but for himself, he seems to throw the net very wide. He doesn’t filter his readers: he tries to convince them they’re his kind of people. Actually, maybe that does filter his readers, because perhaps the people who believe in the hard sell and money for its own sake quickly get tired of his assumptions and give up on the book.

Regardless, although I was willing to sample Port’s e-mail newsletter and so on, I quickly unsubscribed once I realized how energetically he was spamming himself, and I expect to stay away from most of his other materials, too. In my particular case, he has managed to sell one book and get me to advocate for it, but he’s probably ruined his chances of selling me anything else. Not that he needs my money!

As for me, I’m entirely behind the idea that our work should be driven by our passions and by wanting to bring some meaningful value to those we serve. I just have trouble being bombarded over and over with blatant marketing messages. I was going to say I “can’t stand” that bombardment, but the fact of the matter is that I can and did stand it in order to get all of the good information out of that book.

And there is a lot of good information, especially the broad strokes and deep questions. Port offers a way to rethink a business from the ground up that takes the stress, distastefulness, and self-centeredness out of self-promotion while bringing in new clients. In some of the details, the book isn’t as strong, though here too there’s a lot of good material. I was impressed, for example, at how on the mark the social media section was, considering how changeable that world is.

The writing section, on the other hand, has some bad gaps and even some misinformation. For instance, there’s no mention of the fact that electronic querying for magazines is very common now; the SASE method is still described, and while that still applies for some markets, it seems a bit out of date.

Considering how strongly I would recommend this book to any service professional who wants to build up business through integrity and offering great value, I seem to have a lot of complaints about it, but let me mention one more: Port’s special article of faith. He states repeatedly that he believes that if you feel called to offer your services to the world, then there are people out there who need them. I have to say that I think this is dangerous bunk. Why dangerous? Because it suggests that you need to just do what you want to do, and the market for it will magically appear. I feel strongly that creating useful and valuable things in the world is accomplished by starting with the need itself, not with what you want to supply.

Fiction writing is a great example: for instance, just because I write and love a story doesn’t mean that there’s anyone else out there who wants or needs to read that story. Just because I love to write a particular kind of fiction doesn’t mean that there’s a market for that kind of fiction. Port seems to be promising unlimited success for everyone regardless of what they want to do, and some people who dive in regardless of whether there’s anyone who needs them will be sadly disappointed, because people don’t spend their money on just anything.

If you want to follow your passion without regard to what other people are wanting and needing, that’s fine–just don’t expect anyone to pay you for it.

With that said, I don’t think Port’s creed ruins the book, because it seems to me very close to the truth, which I’d say goes something like “Work hard at what you love and pay attention to what others need, and sooner or later you’re likely to find a place where the two meet.”

Overall, Port’s book was tremendously useful to me, even when it was being mildly annoying. If you’re working on building a business, I hope you’ll give it a shot, spend some real time thinking about the questions he raises, and see if it doesn’t help take you to the next level.

A side note: A lot of photos of business gurus are laughable in terms of body language, and this book cover is no exception. Michael, get your hands out of your pockets and uncross your ankles! If you don’t know why I’d say that, check out this book.

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Useful Book: The 9 Truths About Weight Loss


The 9 Truths About Weight LossThe 9 Truths About Weight Loss
by Daniel S. Kirschenbaum, PhD

For anyone interested in weight loss, certain essential questions tend to come up again and again: Are there any shortcuts? What exactly do I need to eat? Do I have to exercise? If so, how much, how often, and in what way? Is it even possible for me to lose weight? What if I lose weight but then gain it right back? Does the process have to be painful? Will it make me happy? Why haven’t I been able to lose this weight and keep it off?

In The 9 Truths About Weight Loss, Professor of Psychiatry Daniel Kirschenbaum tackles–and in my opinion, largely answers–these questions and many others. Kirschenbaum is the director of the Center for Behavioral Medicine and has consulted for Weight Watchers and the U.S. Olympic Team, among other organizations, in addition to coaching literally thousands of clients successfully through the weight loss process. He really, really knows what he’s talking about, and unlike many diet “experts” generally doesn’t have a system to sell. His 9 Truths boil down to something like this: yes it’s hard, but it’s possible if you can find a way to commit to working hard at weight loss consistently and permanently.

In a little bit more detail, here are his 9 Truths, paraphrased:
1. Our bodies are designed to resist losing fat
2. However, the right behavior can overcome this biological tendency so that we can lose weight
3. Weight control is as feasible as any other athletic challenge
4. The three stages of weight control are Honeymoon, Frustration, and Acceptance
5. It’s possible to eat a very low-fat diet and still not feel overly hungry
6. Tracking your eating and exercise habits is key to weight loss
7. Exercising every day (or close to it) is a very effective route to weight loss
8. Eating reasonably can fit comfortably with managing stress
9. It’s easier to maintain weight loss you’ve already achieved than to lose weight in the first place

While I think Kirschenbaum’s book is excellent, I do feel it has some problems, most of them having to do with Kirschenbaum confusing some reasonable but not necessarily essential behaviors he has counseled his successful clients to take with required behaviors for weight loss. Many of Kirschenbaum’s conclusions about weight loss–for instance, that everything you eat “counts,” that the human body resists losing fat once it has acquired it, etc.–seem to be spot on. Others seem to be just his preferred way of advising people to lose weight.

As one example out of many, Kirschenbaum states “Almost all of the thousands of weight controllers with whom I have worked over the last twenty-five years, and who have succeeded at this difficult enterprise, have exercised primarily in the morning,” implying that this timing is important to successful weight loss. Speaking as someone who started losing weight four years ago, who has so far lost well over 50 pounds, and who has never gained back any significant amount of weight in those four years, I feel I should mention that I exercise almost exclusively at night, as do the lion’s share of other succcessful exercisers I know. I won’t debate the relative merits of morning vs. evening, and in fact it may be better to exercise in the morning if you can manage it, but the fact is that exercising very regularly seems to be much, much more important than exactly when you do it.

Kirschenbaum offers a variety of these recommendations that, based on my own experience and/or research I’ve come across, seem to be unnecessary, but the recommendations generally don’t seem to be problematic and are minor in scope. Reading the book with a little skepticism for very specific recommendations but profound respect for Kirschenbaum’s key points will improve almost anyone’s understanding of weight loss.

Kirschenbaum repeatedly talks about weight loss as an athletic goal, which is one of the most positive and useful ways of looking at it I’ve heard. Like a professional athlete, someone who wants to lose weight needs to become profoundly proactive about diet, exercise regime, and motivation. More than that, the goal isn’t to achieve some imagined ideal point and then stop doing anything, but rather to get to one’s highest level of performance and stay there.

Another area where Kirschenbaum shines is in providing solid information on motivating ourselves to lose weight, although he covers only certain facets of this very big subject. This leads into the only other major reservation I have about the book, which is that Kirschenbaum always talks about weight loss as a strenuous and often unpleasant thing to do. He’s certainly right that it takes a lot of effort and goes against the grain for most of our typical behavior, but the image he conveys of successful weight-controllers struggling grimly against an unforgiving biology fails to fully take into account the incredible array of ways we can motivate ourselves, change our thinking, and even take on new beliefs. My own weight loss efforts, which have become better-focused and more effective thanks to Kirschenbaum’s book, are definitely effortful–but they’re anything but unpleasant. For every ten or fifteen minutes of mild suffering at having to wait because it’s not time to eat yet, I get hours of pleasure at having a more energetic, leaner, and more capable body. Kirschenbaum does a great job of showing how and why weight loss is possible; any of us who work at weight loss will have to work on our own (or use resources like The Willpower Engine) to learn how and why weight loss can be enjoyable and fulfilling.

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Expanded Book Recommendations on The Willpower Engine

About the site

I’ve been looking forward to organizing the information on some of the really good books I’ve been reading in recent years that touch on or inform the subject of self-motivation. To that end, I’ve made pages for my capsule Goodreads reviews of a variety of recommended books, and compiled those together with my review posts from the site. Down the road I should have a chance to expand on some of those capsule reviews as well as adding links to details about many of the other books I’ve mentioned here. The full listing of books is on the left-hand side of the page, or click on the Resources tab at the top of the page and scroll down to “Books.”

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Book Review: Jenefer Robinson’s Deeper Than Reason


DeeperThanReasonJenefer Robinson’s Deeper Than Reason: Emotion and its Role in Literature, Music, and Art is one of the most insightful and useful books I’ve ever read about emotions, writing, and music–but it’s also sometimes dry and argumentative, and deals with examples mostly 100 years old or older despite having been written in the past decade.

In the book, Robinson puts forward an idea of how emotions work that is based on detailed and conscientious delving into the philosophy and especially the psychology of emotions. Her conclusions are consistent with all the psychological research I’ve come across and more that she cites, and they go a long way toward describing how emotions develop, arise, change, are understood, and affect our lives. As though that weren’t enough, she then goes into the pivotal role emotion plays in how we react to stories (she deals with novels specifically) and music of all kinds. She describes emotion convincingly as a process and makes intelligent and (for writers and musicians) practical observations on how the arts can engage us through emotional development.

The book is written in an academic style, and as a philosopher, it’s apparently Robinson’s job to describe in detail and then argue apart other people’s theories about the subjects she’s examining. These argumentative sections (and they make up a good chunk of the book) were not helpful to me: I’m not very interested in hearing a theory that I don’t agree with and then hearing it dismantled with great care and thoroughness. Other readers may be; as for me, there were some parts of the book I skipped once I realized what she was doing. Fortunately, she lays out carefully what she’s going to discuss in each section, so I was able to fairly easily figure out what to read and what not to.

Dry arguments or not, on the whole I would say the book is one of the most useful possible things you can read if you are a serious writer or musician, if you’re seeking a deeper understanding of emotions, or if you want to better understand why we connect so deeply with some novels, films, stories, and music (and to some extent other arts).

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Book Review: Brain Rules


BrainRulesI’m working on expanding my list of books on the left to include some of the resources I haven’t yet reviewed on the site, and going forward I’ll be posting reviews of books I’ve read recently or some time ago, eventually linking to the reviews from the book list on the left. (The book reviews are in addition to my regular Monday, Wednesday, and Friday articles.)

John Medina’s book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School is a fascinating read both for its content and because it is written about how we think and learn, so that it uses some of its own strategies to become more effective. For instance, Medina talks about how much more powerfully highly emotional situations imprint on our memories, and he uses several emotionally-charged situations in the book to illustrate his principles, helping make them more likely to sink in. As another example, he talks about the profound improvement we experience in learning when visuals are added to spoken or written words, and he helpfully supplies a very visual Web site,, to help underscore the points in his book.

Medina is a developmental molecular biologist who knows his stuff in great detail and isn’t shy about bringing in practical research from all quarters, which makes a much stronger case for the information he presents.

Several of his brain rules are extremely meaningful to our daily lives: the sections on exercise, short-term memory, sleep, and vision struck me particularly. Some of his other brain rules seem to be less profound and less useful, although there is some useful material in each of the twelve chapters.

Toward the end of each chapter, Medina offers ideas on how the information could be put into use. Unfortunately, he offers this information as a scientist does, coming up with hypotheses about what might work in classrooms or workplaces and suggesting that people try these things on a large scale to see how they work. That’s great, but it’s not much use to us in the trenches who are trying to find better ways to teach children or accomplish work or cooperate. I would rather he had focused on things that had already been tried and documented and pointed out where there were practices that could be adopted for definite gains. At least, though, there’s a chance that his suggestions for experiments will inspire other scientists to tackle those experiments, and if we’re lucky, Medina will follow up with another book.

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