Speaker and brand adviser Terri Trespicio doesn’t mince words when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. “I hate them,” she says. “They’re a champagne-soaked promise you feel you should make because it sounds like something you wish you would do.”
In Unfollow Your Passion (Atria, Dec.), Trespicio aims to “flip the bird at all the advice that we’ve heard,” such as the idea that evolving means getting out of one’s comfort zone. “That makes discomfort the goal,” she says. “Life is uncomfortable enough.” Rather, she encourages readers to “get into a place where you’re not complacent, not lazy, but comfortable. That’s where you’re most productive, when you’re at ease.”
Trespicio’s book is among several forthcoming titles that see self-improvement as secondary to, and stemming from, self-care.
The Great Reframing
Comedian Caroline Dooner embraced a forgiving approach in her 2019 debut, The F*ck It Diet, which PW called “unorthodox and sincerely delivered.” In her follow-up, Tired as F*ck (Harper Wave, Feb. 2022), she chronicles her experience with what she calls “self-help gone wrong.” Attempts at dieting—“chasing beauty, thinness, and perfect health”—left her exhausted, she says. “We’re told to work harder, upgrade ourselves like we’re some kind of machine, but none of that will help us if we’re exhausted and feel guilty for resting.” PW said it’s “a brave and bracing manifesto that will be welcomed by any reader living in the aftermath of burnout—or trying to avoid it.”
Rehabilitating overachievers can find further justification in Wendy Syfret’s The Sunny Nihilist (Chronicle Prism, Jan. 2022). Expanding on a 2019 piece she wrote for the Guardian, “Since Discovering I’m Worthless, My Life Has Felt Precious,” Syfret proposes that happiness stems from seemingly trivial pursuits. “Meaning has become this cheap and easy currency that everyone from marketing managers to our bosses can graft onto every part of our lives,” she says. Nihilism—which posits that meaning and purpose are social constructs—“has the ability to make things feel really big and really small. When I find myself overwhelmed, I ask, Does this actually matter? In a year, a century, a millennium, will anyone remember or care about this moment?”
Probably not, according to blogger and podcaster Madeleine Dore, who in I Didn’t Do the Thing Today (Avery, Jan. 2022) details strategies for separating self-worth from productivity. Dore encourages readers to be flexible with their routines, allowing more space for what she calls “formative surprises.” Choosing what feels best for the present rather than trying to anticipate the unknowable future, she says, will help reduce decision fatigue. To combat the “destructive indulgence” of comparing one’s accomplishments (or lack thereof) to others, she suggests approaching feelings of competitiveness or inadequacy with curiosity.
In teaching these tactics, Dore aims to provide “a balm to help us find the unexpected joy in aiming low, accepting the limitations of what can be done in a day, and becoming more patient with the timing of our lives.”
Change Your Mind
As the evidence in favor of dismantling previously high-stakes priorities mounts, readers may ask themselves a question articulated by the title of clinical psychologist Julie Smith’s January debut from HarperOne, Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? She encourages readers to learn to tolerate what she describes in the book as “the discomfort of being vulnerable,” and to be willing to make mistakes and take leaps of faith. “The only way confidence can grow is when we are willing to be without it,” she writes.
Smith also counsels patience in working toward a goal. Rather than plunge into a new exercise regimen, for instance, she encourages baby steps: abandon thoughts of aesthetic results or marathon training and instead take a walk, stay in the moment, and appreciate being outdoors.
Anna Paustenbach, senior editor at HarperOne, explains, “This book is a toolkit for readers as they navigate life. If we’ve learned anything in the last couple of years, even before the pandemic, it’s that the conversation about mental health is not a January fad. It’s important to overall well-being year-round.”
Smith’s book, Paustenbach says, “meets readers where they are,” and Smith does, too: she’s active on TikTok, where she has 2.9 million followers and is one of many professionals who use the platform to dole out bite-size advice. Another is therapist TJ Hoegh (1.9 million followers), who says his forthcoming debut, Chaotic Happiness (Alpha, Apr. 2022), aims to debunk the notion that contentment comes only once life is in order. He suggests a strategy of “being more present while dealing with change rather than trying to create it,” explaining that “letting go of expectations as things change” ultimately leads to happiness.
Leadership speaker Cy Wakeman takes a similar tack in Life’s Messy, Live Happy (St. Martin’s, Apr. 2022) and cites New Year’s resolutions as an example of the unrealistic expectations people set. “At the beginning of each year we find what’s not yet perfect in our lives and what seems to be keeping us from being happy,” but that’s a backward way of looking at things, she says. Rather than trying to change our circumstances, it’s more helpful to learn how our minds work, “so we quit getting played by our ego. You’re not a self-help project. You have something called the human condition.”
Easing up on expectations may leave more room for—dare we say it?—pleasure. That’s exactly what science journalist Catherine Price makes the case for in The Power of Fun (Dial, Dec.). She distinguishes “fake fun” (think social media) from “true fun,” which “doesn’t rely on the doing of any particular activity,” she says. “We often think of fun as frivolous and it ends up at the bottom of a priority list, but it unlocks our ability to be productive, creative, and happier. It’s like going on a diet where the point is to eat more of the foods you enjoy.”
Burn After Reading
As artist Kyle Scheele closed in on age 30, he decided that rather than host a traditional party, he’d build and burn a 16-foot cardboard Viking ship full of his regrets, in effect throwing a fiery funeral for his 20s. A video of the rite garnered enough positive responses that he planned a second send-off, with a 30-foot vessel carrying the bad choices and disappointments of 20,000 people from around the world. In the February HarperOne release How to Host a Viking Funeral, Scheele, who has amassed 2.1 million TikTok followers, discusses what these and subsequent experiences taught him about regret and letting go.
“Kyle’s book is saying, ‘Try something. Do something,’ ” notes Mickey Maudlin, senior v-p and executive editor at HarperOne. “It doesn’t have to be a means toward an end but rather to be fun, and interesting, and who knows where this will go? That’s the whole Viking funeral idea—you burn your regrets, move on, and embrace the next thing.”
In Already Enough, which Simon & Schuster will publish at the end of January, therapist Lisa Olivera offers another way to move forward: reframing the stories we tell, and tell about, ourselves. (See our q&a with Olivera, “The Neverending Story,” ). Similarly, former TMZ cohost Van Lathan, in Fat, Crazy, and Tired (Legacy Lit, May 2022), writes of how he reassessed his learned stories about food by identifying a moment when he, as a child, began connecting eating with emotions.
“I looked at my history, why I was the way I was, what made me that way, and learned to forgive myself for what I looked in the mirror and saw,” Lathan says. “The first thing is to remove shame from the equation. Abs, pecs, and hips are all the same. You can be at peace at 160 pounds, or 310 pounds.”
In letting go of the idea of perfection, Lathan embraced an ethos of self-acceptance that’s in line with other books discussed here. “Perfect is very small,” he says. “Peace has a ton of variety.”
Liza Monroy’s books include the essay collection Seeing as Your Shoes Are Soon to Be on Fire (Soft Skull).
Read more from our Health & Wellness Books 2022 feature:
12 Ways to Have a Better New Year: Health & Wellness Books 2022
These books offer a wealth of life-enhancing suggestions.
Body and Soul Cycle: Health & Wellness Books 2022
New narrative nonfiction delves into the history and science of well-being.
The Neverending Story: PW talks with Lisa Olivera
In 'Already Enough' (Simon & Schuster, Jan. 2022), Olivera, a therapist, helps readers move from self-judgment to self-curiosity.
The Barre Truth: PW talks with Danielle Friedman
Journalist Friedman tracks the evolution of the women's fitness industry in 'Let's Get Physical' (Putnam, Jan. 2022)