The unnamed journalist narrator may be just scraping by, but when his editor offers him an unpaid assignment on Roatan—an island off Honduras famous for its diving but not yet overdeveloped as a tourist trap—this scuba enthusiast can’t say no. The assignment is to interview a self-help philosopher named Paul. A few pages in, readers meet Paul, and while the narrator occasionally dives or sees parts of Roatan (black-and-white pictures included), the bulk of the book is given over to Paul’s explaining his self-help techniques. As Paul notes, these techniques and philosophy are not original to him; they’re a grab bag, from the Buddhist concept of right action to recent studies in neuroscience. As the narrator discovers, though these meditative and psychological techniques may be difficult, they are also effective—more effective than any of the self-help books that get brought up in this work (e.g., The Secret). For instance, when an embarrassing social faux pas continues to haunt the narrator, Paul teaches him, through a visualization exercise, to learn the lesson offered by that emotional cue but not to be caught up in it. In another example of Paul’s helpful techniques, he breaks down the process of habit formation—repetition, trigger, action, reward—to teach the narrator how to form or substitute better habits. Readers interested primarily in breaking habits may want to go on to a more in-depth specialist work on the subject; but in clear language, Paul gives an overview of this and other topics related to being mindful. And as much as Paul may be taken as a helpful guide in these areas, as he winningly notes, he has no spiritual insights to offer; many of these techniques require the user to work for his or her own goals rather than to some guru-given end. There isn’t much to Paul or the narrator as characters and not much plot beyond these dialogues, though it works well as a primer to these techniques and philosophies.
Clear and compelling language help unify this guide to living well.