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Book Review: Into The Magic Shop by James Doty

Book Cover for Into the Magic Shop by James Doty, MD

“Into The Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart” by James R. Doty (MD) has a bit of magic that everyone should know. 

Magic – What more could a young boy, on the cusp of adolescence, want?

Magic is something that Doty has chosen to share with the world and I am ever so thankful that he did. Doty has a sincere, and yet objective, tone throughout “Into The Magic Shop”, even as he recounts his past. A past that is no doubt painful and difficult. Yet, his retelling of his childhood family experiences are portrayed with the child-like lens that he experiences them through.

“My family had little money, and I was often hungry. I didn’t like being hungry. I didn’t like being poor.” (pg 13)

As he paints a picture of his nowhere town, it is clear that Doty was quite aware as a young child – although this could be contributed to his abusive and neglected upbringing, as a hyper-awareness can develop in the name of safety. Doty recounts the negative and positive about his childhood and the full perspective truly helps to bring the story to life.

I found early on that we had something in common: we each had a wooden box where we would keep prized possessions. For Doty, his items were: a notebook of doodles, poetry and random facts, along with a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People. I found it fascinating that someone so young had a copy of a book that most adults won’t even bother to read today. Knowing he cares enough to study himself at a young age, I am more than happy to join him on his adventure to the magic shop.

Enter Ruth (or rather, enter Jim).

Before he enters the magic shop in town to find another thumb (if you do magic tricks, you’ll understand why losing your thumb can be a bummer), Doty has only been known by Bobby. When he enters the shop though, he tells the older lady behind the counter that his name is Jim. Instead of a thumb, he finds Ruth casually sitting behind the counter of the store, admitting to hold a seat until her son returns. Ruth is quite the intuitive and Jim is inherently drawn to her. They converse about how often Jim practices magic and as they continue to discuss magic’s inner workings, with Jim’s aware nature at the fore, Ruth’s first bits of mind blowing wisdom bubble up:

” “I think the magic trick works because people see only what they think is there rather than what’s actually there. This thumb tip trick works because the mind is a funny thing. It sees what it expects to see. It expects to see a real thumb, so that’s what it sees. The brain, as busy as it can be, is actually very lazy. And yes, it also works because people are, as you said, so easily distracted.” ” (pg 21)

Quote - Everyone should have their minds blown once a day Neil deGrasse

Ruth’s insight into the mind is a tell for the wisdom she passes on to Doty. Once he agrees to her teaching him the ultimate trick, he anticipates learning but… not exactly the lessons that Ruth has in mind.

Ruth’s Tricks

Ruth teaches Doty daily for the duration of his summer and passes on to him the following four tricks:

Trick #1 – Relax the body

For anyone who practices meditation, this is the first step. Using breathing techniques paired with muscle relaxation, Doty learns to relax from toes to head (yes, in that order).

Trick #2 – Tame the mind

Thoughts are traffic in the mind. There are ones that we are very aware of (“I need to get out of bed”) and some that are automatic or learned (“Breathe in, breathe out” or “I’m just like my mother”). This step is difficult to get your head around, especially if you are someone who wants to action/fix/tend to each thought. Taming the mind is not about clearing it but watching it. Your mind will think regardless of whether you attend to it or not. Let it go. This is where Doty learns about mantras.

Trick #3 – Opening the heart

Ruth’s lesson here is succinct but this lesson is the hardest for Doty (and arguably anyone) to grasp: “But here’s the trick about the things that hurt us and cause us pain – they also serve an amazing purpose. When our hearts are wounded, that’s when they open. We grow through pain. We grow through difficult situations. That’s why you have to embrace each and every difficult thing in your life.” (pg 90). Something that we need to do may be simple but it may not be easy. It could be leaving a non-fulfilling but comfortable friendship. It could be forgiving someone. This trick is all about unconditional love, giving and receiving it. “What matters is that you have an open heart. An open heart connects with others, and that changes everything.” (pg 105).

Trick #4 – Clarifying your intent

Today this would be called manifestation or visualization. I love this title for the exercise, as it gets to the human side. It’s about the feeling that is achieved when the goal or mission is carried out. Digging deep into belief, this exercise shows the practitioner that they are capable of achievement and, most importantly, they are capable. Taking the time to add details to the vision every time creates a compounding effect that helps the vision to become a reality.

Mariner's Compass - Pointing South EastNow that he knows what to do, what does Doty do with his lessons from Ruth?

Doty’s Journey

Ruth’s lessons and her time with Doty is only the first half of the book.  Doty’s continues on his journey into the medical profession. He creates a Goliath set of mistakes for himself. Then he returns to the employ of each of Ruth’s tricks. This makes up the second half. The latter part of the book is as important and impactful as the first. I am thankful for his work with the practitioners that he is fortunate enough to partner with. The second part is where Doty truly finds meaning in opening his heart and clarifying intent.  Don’t miss out on that – it’s a beautiful journey. If you want to go on your own journey, there is a plethora of extra information: exercises, podcasts, and a reader’s guide.

What I love most about this book is how it integrates so closely with what I’ve learned in The Happiness Advantage, Emotional Overeating, and The Thank You Economy. Learning about different ways to work with my mind and enhance my experience of life exhilarates me and encourages me to keep going.

Certainly a must read for anyone who is interested in: meditation, creating life goals or purpose, exploring how their mind works, and/or is curious about whether or not the tricks work.

 

Book Review: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

The Happiness AdvantageThe Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

I am a self-admitted self-help junkie and The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor is like those first few drops of rain after a hot week – refreshing and welcomed. Personally, I have found that work places are perceived as places to escape from and we seem to think that we’re clever in how we do that. Vacation, sick days, personal days, quitting.

Try taking a different approach to work – My mindset is that I’m there for a third of my day anyway, might as well make it great. That mindset has paid off. I love going to work. I love my job (and no, not just the people). Yes, I admittedly get frustrated, annoyed, and flabbergasted sometimes. It’s about 5% of the time. As with Shawn’s research, it has taken me years (not decades, I’m not old enough for that yet) to figure out happiness at work. I’m excited to share this book with you because it is based in science.

Bill Nye It's Science

Why is this book great?

  1. Accessibility – the language is plain, the actions are clear and manageable.
  2. Stories – there is a healthy smattering of relevant tales throughout.
  3. Actionable! – Bring each of the principles to life in a series of small actions.
  4. Acknowledges the human factor – written by a human, for humans. Not just those with big brains.

“Person-activity fit” is often just as important as the activity itself…Find a personally tailored substitute instead. (pg 51)

Achor expands on seven principles as methods for gaining the Happiness Advantage for yourself, if they work for you. However, if you try them and they don’t jive with your mojo, it’s okay. It’s a starting point. For me, yoga rocks my socks and my hubby thinks it’s awkward and breathing in a specific way is weird. Instead, he prefers to play strategy games. Find your thang.

The Seven Principles and My Findings

Dicing up the big idea of happiness into seven principles makes the idea of achievement much more real:

  1. The Happiness Advantage

    The Zorro Circle

    The Zorro Circle

  2. The Fulcrum and Lever
  3. The Tetris Effect
  4. Falling Up
  5. The Zorro Circle
  6. The 20-Second Rule
  7. Social Investment

First, readers can consume this book in bits. Achor writes for the average person and encourages taking a break from section to section allows for digestion of the material. I find that I get the most from self-help books when I take the time to read, relax, perceive and action.

Second, readers are encouraged to experiment, which I love to do. I personally tried The Tetris Effect and The 20 Second Rule. I’m still using them a month after reading this book and am seeing results. That is exciting for me. Here’s what I did:

The Tetris Effect:

One great way to train your brain to look for the positives is to practice reciting or recording gratitude’s. The best practice is to ritualize the task, choosing a daily time to stop and record or recite the things you’re grateful for. (p.102)

I started a ritual of taking two minutes during my morning routine to write down what I am thankful for in four areas of my life:

  1. Life – the grand, overarching narrative that I walk through every day.
  2. Career – the recording of my contribution to others. I include my writing career and my personal endeavours to help in here.
  3. Job – the tasks I do at work, the people I work with, the relationships I have in the workplace, the initiatives I’m involved in.
  4. Relationship – the intimate relationship I share with my hubby.

T

Personally, the afterimage is real. I discover more positive experiences throughout my day, I am more patient and calm with others and I smile each time I think then write what I am thankful for.

The 20 Second Rule:

If we can lower barriers to activation for positive activities, we can begin to form habits. Likewise, if we raise barriers to activation for negative activities, we can break those habits. (p.154)

Essentially, “make it easy to go right and hard to go wrong” (Gretchen Rubin). After clearing this experiment with the hubby, I moved our PS4 controllers across the house, about 15 seconds away from the living room, in an effort to curb my Netflix/Anime/TV habit. I placed books in the living room instead and within a few days, I was reading more. The controllers haven’t made it back into the living room and I’m more productive for it.

This principle is fun to try in other areas too! I aim to be focused in whatever work I am doing and my phone is a major distraction to that. So, I turned off all notifications except for phone calls, installed an app called BreakFree. The app tracks your unlocks, blocks notifications and alerts you after you’ve been using your phone for a preset amount of time. After tracking for two weeks, I have noticed habits of mine. For example, I will check my phone a LOT if I’m bored. I also don’t miss those Facebook, Instagram, email and other notifications. Nothing has been so pressing that it can’t be attended to in 20 minutes or more.

At the end of the day…

I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for ways to better themselves. It is so important to find useful information and methods that answer why and whether it will work. I would find something within the book that speaks to me, try it out and see if it works. I sincerely believe that what you get out of this book is truly going to be the effort that you put into finding with works for you.

Book Review: Emotional Overeating by Marcia Sirota, M.D.

Never dieting again? I need to know the secret!

A transforming and impactful read, Emotional Overeating: Know the Triggers, Heal Your Mind and Never Diet Again by Marcia Sirota, MD, is for anyone who is changing their life. She is upfront and honest about what is causing the pounds to pack on, why we feel the need to stuff our emotions down with food and, most importantly, how to change it.

The sheer amount of tidbits that I want to share with you would require me to send out the book to everyone that is sincere about working through their thought processes around overeating. This book is a key tool to changing your mind, which will change your body.

“The more we try to fill the spiritual void within ourselves with materialistic solutions, the more empty and unhappy we are, and the more hopeless and enraged we’ll become.” (pg 17)

Empty? Enraged? Not understanding? Unhappy? Hopeless? It’s likely that you could be feeling these things as you try yet another diet, another shake, another way. Identifying my emotions first was a starting point. I felt attached to the scale, a prisoner of the pounds and I obsessed over what to eat. I was at a point of weighing myself multiple times a day. Not great.

“People who have the power to improve their own lives and the lives of others are a lot happier than people who try to have power over others.” (pg 20)

 

Reading non-fiction helps me to pick up ideas on how to improve my life in ways that work for me.

I focus on constantly improving my methods and habits because I’m not perfect either and I love to hear what others are doing and to help others when they’re ready for it.

This book is chock full of empowering methods to improve yourself. Sirota explores the true root of overeating issues, mainly to do with childhoods, parental impacts and unresolved issues. There are visioning exercises that I tried and they were extremely helpful to breaking through my barriers with weight loss.

“If you’re berating yourself for old mistakes or carrying a grudge against someone who hurt you, you can’t be happy now…If things aren’t the way you want them to be today, it’s your responsibility to change them for the better.” (pg 23)

This passage may not be new news and you are likely nodding at the truth of your responsibility. However, Sirota doesn’t put it all on you:

“It’s your parents’ responsibility, whatever they experienced in their own childhoods, to discover and resolve their own emotional issues prior to starting a family.” (pg 30)

Yep. Your parents have something to do with it too (surprise, surprise).

This is how cycles continue and why some find themselves listening to their parents’ instructions on what they should or shouldn’t do even decades later. Along with pieces of wisdom like this, Sirota works the reader through the roles and relationships of the Inner Child (ID), the Healthy Adult (Ego), and the Criticizing Parent (Super Ego). It is the first time that I have done significant work to meet and work with my Inner Child to understand what she needs. The result for me was a better understanding of my base needs to feel love, have someone listen to me and understand me. The cavaet? I’m that someone. I need to love, listen to and understand myself more. An unexpected result was that cravings have very little power over my actions now. When I have a craving, it is much easier to ask “what do I really need?” and, most of the time, it is reassurance and the craving passes.

Another reason that I read non-fiction books is to learn. Sometimes it all doesn’t speak to who I am but it may help someone else.

“The victim feels like she’s been hurt, wrong and hard done by. She’s the “adult child” of an alcoholic; the “survivor” of abuse or trauma. This is her primary identity, more than any other role she inhabits in her adult life. She’s overly invested in seeing herself as wounded and in need of compensation for her wounds.” (Pg 72)

Sirota explains the victim role and behaviour beautifully and objectively. I know individuals who fall into this category and have this as their primary identity. In trying to understand these people in my life, it was clarified:

“By identifying herself as a victim, a woman can never escape this role and she’ll live her adult life being the wounded child, pursuing child-like solutions to her wounds.” (PG 72)

The word never in this passage struck me. Hard. This was a moment of clarity for me. I cannot help others who identify primarily as a victim and it is likely that I am dealing with their wounded child in many of our interactions. Since reading this book, seeing the inner child within my interactions has guided my actions towards others and has helped in some cases. In others, the child has won out over the Healthy Adult.

Overall, my experience with this book was downright HARD!

In many of my reviews, I write how the pace of the book was for me.  I would like to mention that this book was insanely difficult for me to digest (pun intended). My usual reading pace can range from 40-100+ pages a day, depending on the topic. I could barely read 15 pages of this book because of the impact to my thought processes and realizations. I would read, reflect, talk over and come to terms with the immense amount of discovery in this book. “It’s simple, but it’s not easy” and that’s how I feel about my process in reading Emotional Overeating.

“Real love isn’t given in the hope of receiving something in return but from the experience of emotional fullness.” (pg 152)

“Self love is the experience of being full and fulfilled, with love to share.” (pg 152)

Emotional Overeating is an act of love. From Sirota to readers, from readers to themselves and from readers to others. I feel absolutely blessed to have come across this work and to have received the gifts of discovery. I highly recommend it to anyone who struggles with weight loss, addiction, and would like to discover something about themselves.