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"Why Don't I Do the Things I Know are Good for Me?" by BJ Gallagher Book Review

Taking Small Steps Toward Improving the Big Picture

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I have never been a fan of self-help books. They can be problematic for three reasons:
  1. More often 'lecturing' than 'helpful,' they either leave you feeling guilty about what you should be doing, or they're so rah-rah cheerful and chirpy that you want to throw the book at the author's head. Really hard.
  2. Since all of us are different, there's no one-size-fits-all scheme for overcoming bad habits and making lasting changes that lead to self-improvement.
  3. Anyone who claims to have reduced life's complexities to a multi-step sequence that offers a foolproof outcome should -- like authority -- be questioned.

We Know But We're Not Aware

So I began reading BJ Gallagher's book with a healthy dose of skepticism. What was she going to offer me that hadn't already been offered in countless other books?

The title provides a clue. Gallagher grasps that because we already know what we need to be doing but still aren't doing it, our problem lies not in lack of knowledge but lack of awareness. Becoming aware of our own behaviors, thoughts, feelings and actions is an essential part of understanding who we are and accepting who we are right now...especially before we attempt to change.

She opens her book with a section entitled "WHY? Why don't I do what I know is good for me?" and in seven short chapters acknowledges the influences that keep us stuck in the not-so-good behaviors. In the next section "HOW? How do we change our habits of self-care?" she sets the stage with a few simple ideas. Here's one:

It is a truism that people who feel good about themselves take care of themselves. And the reverse is also true. People who take good care of themselves feel good about themselves. Which comes first? The self-care or the self-love? It doesn't matter. You can get there from both sides.

Take as Long as You Need

Helping you 'get there' are 52 short chapters on self-care, which can be read in any order once you complete the first five. Gallagher labels them as Week 1, Week 2, etc., but her only advice is to "work with it for as long as it takes you to get the lesson."

Some chapters offer advice we've all heard before:

  • Let go of perfectionism.
  • Clear away negative emotions.
  • Practice using affirmations to retrain your thinking.
And others are uniquely pertinent to women's lives:
  • Resting is not "doing nothing."
  • Never pass up an opportunity to pee.
  • Give up the need to be liked by everyone.
Gallagher understands that we're just as bogged down by the countless small things as the big picture issues.

How many of us are so proficient at ignoring our own needs and best interests that we keep going even though we are dead tired? in desperate need of a ladies' room? killing ourselves to please others who dismiss or reject us?

By acknowledging that rest can replenish us, that going to the bathroom is the most basic form of self-care, and that 'people pleasing' behavior can deplete us, she shows us that even the smallest actions are 'good for me' steps that will lead to greater large-scale improvements.

"Sure," you may be thinking. "Nice words. Nice thoughts. But does it work?"

Yes it can. It worked for me.

How I Did Something Good for Me

Originally, I intended to read and review Why Don't I Do in one week. But Gallagher stresses again and again that it helps to sit with these ideas for a while and not rush though. After following her advice, I found that three "How" chapters stayed with me:
  1. First, just notice what you do and don't do. Don't change anything -- just notice.
  2. Give up the struggle. Make peace with who you are today.
  3. Don't let what you can't do stop you from what you can do.
I noticed that although I eat healthy, I didn't live healthy since daily exercise was not a top priority. I struggled with mid-life weight gain and was unhappy with my body. Yet there was nothing physically preventing me from making a change.

So I did something I haven't done in 20 years - I started running every morning. "Run" was a relative term as there was initially more walking than running. After four weeks I could comfortably run for half an hour. After five weeks it was closer to 40 minutes. It's been seven weeks now, and my morning run is now a daily routine.

Gallagher helped me to re-envision what was 'good for me.' Instead of focusing on weight loss and relying on a scale to measure my success, I celebrated that I could run farther, longer, faster. My scale hasn't shifted significantly, but I've gone down a dress size. Instead of obsessing about weight, I'm aiming to improve my cardiovascular health and physical endurance.

Changing Your Thinking About Change

Why Don't I Do the Things I Know are Good for Me? isn't about self-help. It's about self-awareness, self-acceptance, and readjusting your thinking. It's about focusing on what you can do instead of dwelling on what you can't. And if you're willing to give it a chance, it can change your thinking about change.

Why Don't I Do the Things I Know are Good for Me? Taking Small Steps Toward Improving the Big Picture
by BJ Gallagher

Paperback, 254pp. ISBN 978-0-425-21965-2
Berkley Books / June 2009

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