“He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both.” – Francis Bacon

Book Review: How to Elevate Your Life by Robert Glazer 

I swear – almost everything I read these days in the self-improvement genre seems to be a knock off of advice I was giving 20 years ago.

Self-improvement is one of the first ideas I promoted in Early to Rise. And like just about everything I’ve ever written, it was based on what I’d learned from my own experience. My advice was to focus your efforts on four areas of your life: your health, your wealth, your intellectual development, and your social relationships.

In How to Elevate Your Life, Robert Glazer covers the same general territory in a slightly different way.

The secret to “elevating” your life, Glazer says, is not to do more things but to “build capacity.”And he breaks that down into these four categories: 

  1. Your Spiritual capacity– understanding your desires and values
  2. Your Intellectual capacity – thinking, planning, and solving problems efficiently
  3. Your Physical capacity – improving your health and fitness
  4. Your Emotional capacity – dealing with challenging situations and getting the most out of your relationships

The Spiritual You 

You can begin to develop your spiritual capacity, Glazer says, by thinking about the things that energize and depress you, and the values you cherish. (Independence? Achievement? Passion? Connection? Money? Status?). From that, you develop a core purpose.

If you’re struggling to come up with your core purpose, he suggests an exercise I wrote about way back when: writing your own obituary – what you would want people to say about you after you die.


The Intellectual You 

The key to building intellectual capacity, Glazer says, is a “growth mindset – i.e., “embracing the factthat it’s never too late to learn new skills and that mistakes and failures are simply part of the process.” He points out that “The growth mindset is vital to your efforts to expand your intellectual capacity, but it’s not something you can cultivate on your own.” So he recommends finding mentors and coaches to help you develop the skills you are seeking.

I wrote about this many times, arguing that it takes 1,000 hours to become competent at a complex skill and 5,000 hours to master it. (I did this years before Anders Ericsson and Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea.) My thought was – and is – that you can reduce those hours by as much as half by having an experienced teacher, trainer, or mentor.

As I’ve done in countless essays, Glazer also recommends routines: “Routines are important because they help you make a habit of being productive,” he says. “That’s crucial when it comes to achieving long-term goals like learning a language or writing a book.”

And his final recommendation is actually the first bit of advice I gave in Early to Rise (hence the name): “The best time [to work on your long-term goals] is in the morning. It’s as simple as waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual and using this extra time for quiet, focused work. Once this habit has been consolidated, you can start adding extra minutes to your routine. What, for example, would happen if you got up a full hour before your family and used the time to meditate, work out, and jot down ideas for your book?”


Build Your Physical Capacity

“Physical capacity,” Glazer says, “is about more than just being able to run a marathon. When your body is in poor shape, your brain also suffers: You’re more easily distracted, less resilient, and more likely to be knocked back by stress and setbacks. That means it’s time to start looking after your health.”

His formula for improving your physical health includes eating well, sleeping well, and managing stress.

* Eating: “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t have recognized as food.”

* Sleeping: 6 to 8 hours

* Managing stress: Take short breaks throughout the day.

I agree with (and have written about) all three of the above. But Glazer’s formula also includes…

* Embracing competition: “Competition shouldn’t be about crushing your opponents and winning at all costs,” he says. “What it really means is going the extra mile and challenging yourself to become better. Whether it’s intellectual or physical competition, it will push you to build your capacity.”

My view is that embracing competition isn’t right for everyone. It’s good for people that shy away from competing. But for those that enjoy it, I advise them to embrace cooperation instead.


Build Your Emotional Capacity

 Relationships matter, Glazer says. And he’s right. Countless studies say so. Relationships are one of the main factors that affect mental health, physical health, and even longevity.

He recommends creating two lists: a list of five of your “good” relationships, and a list of five of your “bad” relationships. “Make sure to include close friends and family,” he says. “No one gets a free pass.”

Glazer correctly defines good relationships as those that add value to your life. But he defines bad relationships as those that are “problematic or drain your energy” – and that’s not always true. My relationship with my trainer, for example, can be problematic at times, and it certainly drains my energy. But it unquestionably adds value to my life.

That objection notwithstanding, I like what he says here:

“Reach out and connect with or make plans this week with everyone on the first list and take a small step back from the other five. There is no need to actively ‘break up’ with these people; you need to just remove some of your limited but valuable energy from these relationships. Push back returning a call or email by a few days, and don’t ask someone to make plans you don’t really want to make. Stop saying, ‘We should catch up,’ if you don’t mean it!”

Bottom line: How to Elevate Your Life is a good and helpful book. But if you’ve been a long-time reader of what I’ve been writing for the past 20 years, you already know a lot more about self-improvement than what you’ll learn from Robert Glazer.

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problematic (adjective) 

Something that’s problematic (prah-bluh-MAT-ik) is doubtful, uncertain, questionable. As I used it today: “My relationship with my trainer, for example, can be problematic at times, and it certainly drains my energy. But it unquestionably adds value to my life.”

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