This is a book review of the book The anxiety toolkit by Alice Boyes. I read it in the context of a personal literature review project on the topic of productivity and well being. If you are more interested by advice on productivity and wellbeing than by this specific book I advise you to read the project report first, which condenses the advice from multiple sources (including this book).

How I read

If we are to count words, I probably read around half this book. By which I do not mean that I stopped halfway but rather that I skimmed large portions when I thought the advice didn't apply to me. I do no think that invalidates my review of the book too much as I have an overall good idea of what this book says and how it is written.

Description and opinion

I had a bad first contact with this book as it lacked some form of attention to details and care for truth and precision that I value in many things. Nevertheless, I think this book has a lot to offer, including to rationalists and mathematicians.

Mostly, this is a book about how to deal with anxiety issues and be productive

I did not read other similar books I could compare it to. But I can say that many of its points resonated with my perception of my own issues regarding anxiety and many of its advice seemed good; or at least close enough to good ideas that I could easily come up with seemingly useful techniques, using the book as a source of inspiration.

Many points and ideas rang true to my own issues with anxiety. But I am a soon-to-be-ex student with background-anxiety issues and perfectionist tendencies, which I think is a profile this book is suited for. Your mileage may vary. Note that the techniques presented are based on cognitive behavioral therapy. I have been told that CBT has mostly impressive but short term effects. For me this is not much of an issue as my satisfaction with the book wasn't about following the advice to the letter.

Main takes

  • A pattern to follow : when hesitating on a decision, ask yourself "are you optimizing a decision or are you deliberately wasting time"?
  • Practice hesitating less. This is not because hesitation is a bad thing but as a way to correct your emotional tendencies. Feel free to hesitate a lot when the stakes are high. Of course, this applies only if you have a base tendency to hesitate a lot and suffer from it.
  • Try to plan the next action of a given project as soon as possible. Have a good idea of when to do what (including for general concepts like "next time I will work").
  • Make a list of failure modes, bad patterns, and good replacement patters that you should be aware of. It can be useful to read the list again when you feel stuck or fear you might screw up.
  • Hold regular reviews of your life, endeavors, and mental state.
  • Manage your willpower as a resource whenever you feel you might reach its limits (potentially often).

Recommendation

A book with a lot of small bits of insight and potentially good ideas, any of which might be the one you needed to reap strong improvements. If you think you have issues with anxiety or better yet with the behaviors you exhibit in reaction to anxiety then I advise to read this book. Each chapter begins with a quiz. You can read it to understand what the chapter is about but I see little point in actually tallying your answers.

5

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