This book is a practical guide on personal development or growth, subtitled -˜A Practical Guide to Thinking on Purpose'. It is set in the theoretical background of humanistic psychology, brain science, NFL, and the human potential movement.
The author says in the introduction that as a teacher, trainer, writer, mother and wife she has been on the lifelong journey of self-discovery to see how to make life work well so that she can be both happy and successful. She claims to have a lifelong action research project to find out how to survive and how to thrive. The book shares her thinking and learning with the reader on how the key to successful living and happy relationships depends on the way we think when we react to events. The book shares observations, stories and practical tools to help the reader to grow and become more resilient and adaptable.
There are nine chapters, and three appendices. The first argues why we need to grow, then the second chapter -˜The Human Condition' describes how the way we see the world can affect how we experience self-confidence in life, and can predict success or failure, happiness or discontent. The writer claims that metacognition helps us think on purpose to grow rather than be overrun by emotions. The third chapter encourages readers to analyse themselves to understand more about their own beliefs and values and mindset. It has practical exercises to help this process and to take more control. Each chapter has a helpful section to review the content and reinforce learning.
Chapter four -˜The Fragile Powerhouse' draws on research into the way the brain works developing an argument that we can grow and change the brain like a muscle, and that understanding the brain can help control our thinking and emotions, and increase the neural pathways.
Chapter five has the arresting title: -˜If you believe you can, or believe you can't, you're right.' It explains how our beliefs can be limiting and can reduce our happiness and success. We are urged to reframe beliefs and push ourselves outside our comfort zone to develop growth mindsets.
I came to the heart of the author's message in the next chapter: -˜How to think on purpose. How to deliberately change your mind.' We are urged to check out our fast instinctive thinking by developing an inner dialogue to visualise success, recognise limiting thinking, and reframe our thoughts.
Chapter seven focuses on how to grow others we care about by employing coaching skills. There is helpful advice about active listening, and the words and questions we use.
The next chapter, -˜Helping our Children Choose to Grow', enables readers to relate the arguments of the book so far to work with children. Teachers might turn to this chapter to practise some of the exercises to develop growth mindsets in pupils.
In the final chapter the author generously makes available practical tools to improve metacognition and self-regulation: a mood monitor; reframing thinking cards; the comfort zone challenge; visualisation and mindfulness exercises; and a happiness manifesto.
The language of the text should be accessible to general readers as well as to a range of professional settings. There are clear expositions of key ideas, illustrations, and case studies to help the reader's application of unfamiliar ideas. Even though the author draws support for her arguments or assertions on a wide range of references to experts in the field (such as Daniel Goldman, Bandler and Grinder's NLP, and Dweck's work on mindsets), readers should not be put off by the esoteric or jargonistic language found in some books. There are helpful bullet point summaries at the end of each chapter, reviewing key ideas and designed to reinforce learning. There are plenty of practical illustrations, and illuminating diagrams. In compiling this text Jackie Beere has drawn on her years of extensive experience of running practical experiential training workshops about human potential and allied subjects.
This is not light reading nor to be read at one sitting; but rather needs to be studied thoughtfully, reflectively, analytically and critically. I read sections over several weeks, pondering the ideas, engaging critically, and took time to relate the content to my previous learning and experience. It is essentially a workbook: a practical guide to becoming more successful, resilient, and content with life by choosing to think in a different way. It could become required reading for courses or workshops in a range of professional settings.
The reader can see how I enjoyed this book and learned a lot from the author's learning and wisdom. We are privileged to have this experience made available to us. It might seem a little ungracious to engage critically with the text, but I am sure Jackie Beere would wish us to do this.
So what reservations or critique do I have?
1. The author makes little mention or reference to other perspectives on human development, the growth of virtues or of character that the Judaeo-Christian tradition or other great world religions can contribute, nor to the work of the Jubilee Centre Birmingham University on character development and Aristotelian tradition.
2. Readers will need to test the claims of the author about recipes for happiness or indeed whether the pursuit of happiness is the goal of life.
3. The author tends to make assertive claims (e.g. on p.122-3 and elsewhere) that would be more acceptable to a critical audience if they were couched in terms of a hypothesis that readers could evaluate.
4. Sometimes the author is so convinced by her own beliefs and values about human growth that she slips from argument supported by evidence into assertion (like 'you will find') based on an unchallenged mindset or cherished ideology. In several places I wrote question marks in the margin and comments like 'who says so?' and 'what evidence?'
I spent several weeks reflecting on the ideas in this book, learning much along the way from the engaging style and invitational exercises in the chapters. I strongly commend Jackie Beere's book to students of human growth, and to practitioners in a variety of professional fields as well as to the general reader. The book deserves to be widely circulated and referenced in other publications.