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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Smarts and Stamina – A Book Review

Shaar, M. J. & Britton, K. H. (2011).
Positive Psychology Press.
ISBN 0615529682. ISBN-13: 978-0615529684.
Genre: Healthy Living.
Key words: Health habits, Habit formation, Healthy eating, Exercise, Mood, Productivity, Sleep
Author's Web site:
Reviewed by Louisa Jewell originally for Positive Psychology News Daily
I have been anticipating Marie-Josée Shaar and Kathryn Britton’s new book: Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance for several months now and it is better than even I had anticipated.
According to Dr. Liana Lianov of Harvard Medical School, virtually all of the top 10 leading causes of death among American adults are related to lifestyle patterns. Taking this to heart, the authors do not preach about what you ‘should’ be doing to be healthy, or promise if you follow their advice that you will look like Jennifer Aniston in 6 weeks. Their focus is on guiding the reader to improve personal everyday habits to be healthy, and they do this by helping you build your health skills. Their approach is realistic and simple: make small incremental changes to your habits.

The Smarts and Stamina (SaS) Compass Model
The book is based on research on the interaction among the various aspects of good health and intelligently weaves in the research in positive psychology on self-regulation, goal pursuit, and successful change to help people make sustainable change to their behavior. Their approach is guided by the Smarts and Stamina (SaS) Compass which has four points:
  1. Sleep
  2. Food
  3. Mood
  4. Exercise
The authors begin with a discussion of four biochemicals; serotonin, dopamine, leptin, and cortisol and how they affect how you feel and subsequently behave. Some biochemicals boost our ability to self-regulate while others can detract. While these biochemicals affect behavior, our habits in the four SaS Compass areas also affect our biochemical levels in our body. Thus all four compass points are mutually reinforcing. For example, physical activity increases serotonin levels and acts as a stress-reliever which contributes to good sleep. Sleep balances all four biochemicals which can curb food cravings and maintain positive emotions. Stronger emotional health contributes to better sleep and so on. Jogging with a dog

50 Avenues to Good Health
The book is written in a workbook format that offers 50 different avenues to good health with excellent reflective questions, assessments, exercises, and suggestions for changing habits in all four SaS Compass point areas. The intention is not to overwhelm people with 50 avenues. Instead the authors suggest starting with one area and exploring the avenue(s) that works for you. The book is also written so well it is a pleasure to pick up anytime and use it as a reference for years to come.
For each of these 50 avenues, the authors have provided a comprehensive guide for putting it into action, including:
  1. Science Says: This section describes the research that supports this avenue.
  2. Story: The authors share stories of people they have worked with who had problems in this area and then successfully implemented the avenue for good results.
  3. Build the Skills: The authors then describe how to build skills in this area.
  • Mindfulness: The authors ask powerful questions here to get people to reflect on what is already working for you in this area. This was one of my favorite parts of the workbook. When I was able to contemplate on what I was already doing well, I actually felt better about myself and it made me think about how I could do more of what I was already doing. This is the first book I have ever read that offers a strengths-based approach to good health. I believe this is what sets this workbook apart from others in a powerful way.
  • Plan & Execute: Activities that cause you to take action.
  • Onward & Upward: A final reflection about what can be gained from this avenue that might carry over into other avenues or other aspects of your life.
One of the things I found very helpful was how the authors adapted Carol Dweck’s learning theory of Mindset to how our mindset can affect behavioral change in the health arena. After taking this assessment, I discovered that while I had a growth mindset as far as food went, I had some work to do in the exercise arena.
An Intelligent Resource for Positive Psychology Practitioners As a positive psychology practitioner working with organizations to improve well-being, I am already using the book as an intelligent resource for new ideas to immediately implement with my organizational clients. For example, one of my favorite avenues is ‘Do a Mini.’ This avenue gives several activities people can do at their desk or while at work that gives them an opportunity to have a 10-minute meditation session that can instantly relieve stress and energize them for continued work.

While I love the countless suggestions for my organizational clients, I started to get really excited about using the workbook to improve my own health. Vegetables at the Farmer's Market

This workbook is a great resource for positive psychology coaches and practitioners who want to help clients achieve optimum health, but it is also a great resource for anyone wanting to be healthier. And now I am off to find a good recipe for oyster and shiitake mushrooms . . . Anyone have a good recipe to share?

Shaar, M. J. & Britton, K. H. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Positive Psychology Press. Available from Amazon and from an eStore (may be easier for international orders).

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