Life is more difficult now than it used to be, and a big part of the reason is that we have too many choices. The Internet offers all sorts of options — from what college to attend to what movie to see.
At the same time, people are pressured by self-help books to be all they can be and to find new and exciting horizons, all while seeming to say there is a quick and easy solution to every problem.
To deal with that overwhelming amount of influence, Amy Wood, a psychologist with an office in Portland and a home in Kennebunk, offers “Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-Paced World.”
The book is well-organized. Each of the first 21 chapters discusses an issue or a problem, and ends with some quick points called “Apply the Wisdom” that offer specific actions people can take.
The final three chapters bring it all together. There is even a chart so you can keep track of how well you do over a week in meeting your guiding principles.
Wood admits her book isn’t a quick fix — self-help requires commitment and practice — but it has been selling well, and has appeared for several weeks on the Maine Sunday Telegram’s list of local best-sellers.
The paperback is published by Modern Sage Press. Wood’s website is amywoodpsyd.com.
Q: One of your premises seems to be that navigating through life is tougher now than it was 30 or more years ago, so people need more guidance. Could you expand on that?
A: I think that 30 years ago in the ’70s, the challenge was finding information. If you wanted to see an alternative movie, you had to find an art house to go see it; if you wanted to see pornography, you had to know where to find it or go to the basement and get National Geographics. What we learned back then was how to find more information.
Now the challenge is to narrow it all down: which information is right for me and which is not. Now we are overwhelmed with information, and we have to decide how much of this information is of value to me.
We are overwhelmed, but we get two basic messages from all the self-help books: that there is a solution out there for every ailment, and if we find the right book and right message, we can fix everything; and that we can have whatever we want whenever we want and do whatever we want.
Q: I identified with Laura in Chapter 7, who through good choices and/or good luck ended up in a place where she was happy but was worrying that she had to do more. So sometimes good enough is good enough, and just change a few little things to make it interesting?
A: Yes. There are certain people who lead perfectly fine lives, but because there is constant pressure to improve yourself and expand your horizons, they begin to wonder if they are happy after all. They think they have to look at their marriage or career.
So part of the challenge is that you have to be able to know yourself and what you need and want. But with all of these magazines flying at you, news, talk shows, email, every hour of the day, and every single aspect of the social media, it is all about moving on to the next thing. You get pulled in 100 different directions. You have to spend some time alone and hear what your intuition is saying to you.
Q: I’m probably guilty of expanding this from life to politics, but in chapter 18, you say that looking back, historical events seemed to happen quickly; but life seems to happen slowly. So, you get a new CEO or political leader and if things don’t get better immediately, the new leader is a failure.
A: Absolutely, like with our president. There is the message that grows and grows that we can make big changes and that it can happen in this quick fix, and people expect that and get impatient and demand answers. In the campaign the president made these promises, but he really kept saying that it is going to involve all of us and take time.
But that is what the media doesn’t tell us; they say over and over again that there is a quick fix. Why can’t he just change this economy instantly, and if he isn’t doing that, then he isn’t doing his job.
Q: How much of your book is crystallizing common sense: Do things you are good at, follow your instincts, celebrate little goals on the way to bigger goals?
A: I would say it is common sense, but more and more, that kind of common sense is increasingly uncommon. If people take these simple steps that really are pretty basic, they will get to a point where they see dramatic results in their lives. That does not mean they aren’t going to have to go through pain, but they can get there.
But they keep being seduced by these books, like “A New You By Friday,” which is an actual book, or “Become Wealthy Fast,” or find eternal bliss, or people who advertise “I am the American inner-peace counselor and can transform your life in a weekend.”
Q: This is simplification, but if you were limited to one sentence of advice to the world at large, what would that sentence be?
A: I would say, look at every day and work toward making this day the best it can be. It may be snowing and you wanted to go out, or you went to Florida on vacation and it rained all week. What can you do? You can complain the whole time or come up with a different plan.
It is really about being an optimist, and that is not denying reality, but it is looking at things, problems, and seeing what to do about it.
Q: Are you planning to write another book?
A: I am thinking about a new book. I am going to write another book, but I don’t know what it is yet.
Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at: