Book Review: Organize your mind, organize your life by Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore

Book Review: Organize your mind, organize your life by Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore

When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves” 

~ Anthony J. D’Angelo

So, how is your desk at this very moment? What about your wardrobe? Do you know where you kept your car keys? Are you able to manage the tight timelines on your project? If these are a cakewalk for you already, you may not need this book.

But if you do feel the need to be more organized in the hope of leading a more disciplined, productive and stress-free life or develop the ability to make space and find the slivers of time then you may be on the lookout for a “magical” solution to all of your issues. However, have you ever considered a logical one?

Digging deep, rather deep, If you care to explore alternatives, are drawn to a scientific perspective, love research, delve into the working of the brain and deeper psychological aspects, then “Organize your mind, Organize your life” holds the promise of looking into all these facets.

At the very first look, this comes across as a workbook of sorts to deal with everyday and seemingly unrelated issues ranging from those faced by a harried parent to a time-crunched business executive.

This work is based on the premise that the technique and strategies that help a person identified with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be applied to most people who have OBLT (Overwhelmed By Life Today) or those dealing with the off-shoots of a stressful and disorganized life as well.

Explaining the what’s and why’s is…

A Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, and specialist in ADHD at that, Dr. Paul Hammerness calls on his expertise and experiences through this collaborative work. He engages the reader with many real life scenarios through case studies. These involve people from various backgrounds (chances are you may find your alter ego here!)

Dr. Hammerness aims to paint a clearer picture for the reader to link and understand the information. The problems detailed, come with an account of solutions that worked. Along with these, he goes on to impart facts about the awesomeness built into us that is – the brain.

So, you are armed with knowledge, but what do you do with it?

Enter Coach Meg. Helping you with the “how-to’s” is…

Co-author Margaret Moore is the coordinator of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital and Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Spaulding Hospital, also known as Coach Meg, she steps in to inspire and facilitate the reader through the journey of change.

With an emphasis on developing the longer sustaining self-motivation, she acts as a constant companion who is there to help people reclaim their lives by bringing in positive focus on the issues at hand, gain clarity, chose focus areas, work on a plan, start off and she is there to see you through it right up to the finish line and until you actually make the change.

The authors understand that it can prove to be a long and arduous trudge to take on all by oneself and you can count on Coach Meg to be there every step of the way-as your mentor, as your personal coach.

The human brain, its prowess…and some limits

Researchers have their reasons when they say that the complex root of problems: the mind is also a beautiful resource, which comes with exhaustive functional and adaptive capabilities.

Wanting only for us to tap into its innate potentials, this book strives to turn to our brain todeal with disorganization and distractions in life, a superhero of sorts it is one that can also turn into our ally, our savior.

And Dr. Hammerness utilizes this. Banking on anecdotes, data and findings from long years of research powered by neuroscience, Hammerness attempts to familiarize the reader with different portions of the brain, its circuitry, what they do and how they work by drawing parallels.

The prefrontal cortex region of the brain, for example, is introduced as the one of the “thinking” – brain regions involved in regulating emotions and likening it to an effective thinking “CEO.”

While the focus is on utilizing the powers of our brain, they add that it is important to realize its limits too. It says, attention, for example, is one such finite resource. Fostering focus through goal-directed attention and learning to make smart use of this through discrimination lies in the power of choosing how to respond. This brings rather obvious but much-neglected fact into light.

Their approach, your well-being

The reader is advised earlier on to check for signs of ADHD and consult a health professional if need be, it also assumes that if you don’t respond in the affirmative you are one of the many people who have issues in one or more areas. To translate the science into solutions, the authors have collectively come up with the “Rules of Order” that involves a fair amount of learning or unlearning as may be the case with you.

Here are the rules at a glance and what they deal with:

  • Tame the frenzy: managing one’s emotions and the physical aspects of the brain
  • Sustain Attention: maintaining continued focus and ignoring distractions
  • Apply the Brakes: reading signals, being judicious and consciously inhibiting actions or thoughts if need be
  • Mold Information: looking at the mind as a mental workspace and capitalizing on its ability to hold, analyze, process information and using it as a guide for future behavior
  • Shift Sets: developing the ability to weigh competing stimuli, gain flexibility in terms of moving from one task or thought to another harnessing the power of cognitive adaptability
  • Connect the Dots: working on the picture, one bit at a time and implementing the learning thus far – mindfully when the opportunity to do so arises.

Every rule comes with a two-pronged approach via the science by Dr. Hammerness and reflections and helpful exercises with Coach Meg. There were times when I found messages were repetitive; the bottom-line seemed to be the learning what works for you and what does not, the importance of practicing these good habits, bringing a focus on your strengths and thus “training” your brain to accomplish way more than when you started off.

Did it help me?

I did enjoy reading about the science behind a healthy, well-functioning and organized brain and found it enlightening. The interspersed checklists and questions helped me to stay on track. I particularly liked Coach Meg’s practical approach and application of the threads introduced by Dr. Hammerness.

While I thought it was structured and well-compiled, I couldn’t help but wonder, would people actually identified with ADD or ADHD be able to keep up and stay focused with the references and long-winded explanations?

If you are looking to skim through the book, without wanting to go into the “macro” aspect, the reader can refer to the concise rules, and bird’s eye view of actions given in Appendices would probably be information enough for people who regularly go through organizational guides. In all, I believe as with any other self-help book, it is by no means a quick trick solution box. But it does give many interesting and remarkable tidbits, add perspective and nudges readers to develop helpful habits, and change ineffective behavior, one step at a time.

Your life, your design

While continually drawing contrasts between an organized one and one that is not, the authors also highlights how one can start tapping into the innate potential of our brains with scientific insights, training and cognitive restructuring. Try to work it inside out, not just outside in like cleaning up your desk, or working up a temporary fix for your problems – dig at the roots.

They seem to say “Train your mind, just as you would do to your body. It is a powerful tool. Go ahead and use it. You’ll be rewarded with results.”

Did I just hear you say “So, it isn’t magic, it is only science and logic?”

Well, why don’t you find out for yourself?

Hammerness, Paul MD and Moore, Margaret with Hanc, John “Organize your mind, Organize your life,” London, Great Britain: Harvard University, 2012

Further reading

Book Review: Focus – A simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction.

Book Review: How to thrive in a world of too much?



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