Empowered YOUth- a book review

I was contacted recently by the Youth Wellness Network to review a book written by its founder, Michael Eisen, and his father, Jeffrey Eisen.  While I feel strongly about youth wellness, it's not my normal area of expertise.  After reading about the organization and Michael, I decided it would both be fun and potentially informative (more information about the Youth Wellness Network can be found here: http://youthwellnessnetwork.ca).  I was pleasantly surprised by a book that, while written primarily for young adults and their parents, should be read by anyone wanting to make changes in their lives.

Empowered YOUth tells the story of two very different individuals.  Jeffrey was born in the 1950s and desperately sought his father's approval.  He was driven, closed off emotionally, and goal oriented.  The stress he placed on himself to succeed led to anxiety, GI issues, and pent up emotions.  As he began to achieve major successes in the business world, he focused solely on his next major accomplishment, never appreciating what he had already achieved or being present for his three children.  This lead to physical problems (he continued to suffer from both GI problems as well as Crohn's disease), and a tumultuous relationship with his youngest son, Michael.

Michael, unlike his father, was an extremely sensitive child who was rather uninterested in pleasing the adults in his life.  As a young child, he earned the reputation of being "spirited" and "challenging."  He never really fit in as an adolescent until he discovered his love of basketball could also be a way to be accepted by others.  However, rather than continuing to enjoy the sense of being in the moment basketball originally gave him, he became fixated on earning the most points each game and proving his prowess on the court.  This eventually takes away from the magic the game once held for him and results in the game becoming a goal oriented, rather than process oriented, endeavor.  One of the themes that runs throughout Michael's first 20 years of life is his need to blame others for things that happened to him, instead of focusing on how he chose to respond to difficult situations.

When Jeffrey is in his mid-fifties, he realized his business successes weren't fulfilling him.  He felt something was missing, and stumbled upon life coaching as a way to both give back and improve himself.  During this time, Michael floundered at University, attempting to figure out his path.  Through the suggestion of Allan, Michael's older brother, Michael began to be coached by his dad.  As their previously strained relationship begins to improve, both Michael and Jeffrey experience important changes in their outlooks, goals, and attitudes towards life.

One of the themes that ran continuously throughout the book as a way to become empowered was the concept of mindfulness.  Mindfulness, as defined by www.psychologytoday.com, is "a state of active, open attention on the present.  When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad."  This is an extremely valuable tool and one which can be difficult as a young person to grasp.  When I was an adolescent, one of the adults in my life (I can't remember which one) gave me the copy of a speech entitled "Attitude."  I read it often and while I couldn't always fully grasp the meaning behind the author's words, the last line impacted me greatly.  It stated, "I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.  And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes," (Charles Swindoll).  Though I didn't realize it at the time, this tool of simply recognizing my reactions helped me deal in a much more positive way with difficult issues in my life.  Being a teenager is a very self absorbed time, where everything that happens is viewed from the eyes of "how does this impact me."  That tends to be the place we react from, which leads to much more emotional responses as a young person than is necessary.  Those who learn to internalize their responses often end up sick, as represented by Jeffrey in the book.  Being in the moment and understanding the control we have over how we respond enables us to both deal with the difficult situation at hand and not over react.  One of the things that helps tremendously with this is exercise.  Sports is such a wonderful outlet for emotion and allows us to be calmer in the moment.  Dr. John Ratey's book "Spark" does an excellent job explaining the psychological benefits of exercise, particularly on mood.  One point he makes which is also made by the Eisens, is that exercise should be mindful.  We need to be present while we exercise, aware of what we are doing, focused on how we are feeling in that instant, rather than putting on headphones, watching TV, and going through the motions.  Viewing exercise as a skill is helpful with this, and finding a type of exercise that one actually enjoys is also helpful, rather than perceiving it as a chore, a drudgery that must be done because it is "good for me."  Yoga, martial arts, learning a sport, powerlifting, running, a well designed complex functional training program, all of these are movement skills that can and should be performed with a level of mindfulness and attention that have benefits reaching far beyond just the physical.

I would highly recommend Empowered Youth not just to adolescents and young adults, but to their parents, teachers, and people who want a better understanding of how their actions impact themselves and others.  Empowered Youth can be purchased at Amazon (follow link here).

Yours in health and wellness,