Languishing in a cynical "poor me" mode and unable to move forward after a painful relationship meltdown, I was looking forward to my latest book review assignment: self-help books for the new year. When a package from BookPage arrived on my doorstep, I had to laugh when I pulled the first book out of the box and read its title: If the Horse Is Dead, Get Off! This just might be the jump-start I needed. I soon discovered that Judith Sills' new book, If the Horse is Dead, Get Off!: Creating Change When You're Stuck in Your Comfort Zone is a must-have motivational tool for anyone striving for personal change. As Sills points out, your comfort zone may be anything but comfortable, but because it is so familiar, even if it contains negative or destructive elements, it feels safe and secure and is therefore difficult to move beyond. Sills identifies seven steps that are necessary to "stretch across your fear" and "reach your desire": Face What Hurts, Create a Vision, Make a Decision, Identify Your Pattern, Let Go, Face Your Fear and Take Action.

Chapters detail how to take these important steps, and there is plenty of additional sage advice on topics like ambivalence and eliminating blame. I devoured every word and eagerly reached for the next book, Naomi's Breakthrough Guide: 20 Choices to Transform Your Life. Like its author, country music star Naomi Judd, this book is an upbeat powerhouse. No tears in the beer here just solid lemonade-out-of-lemons wit and wisdom from a woman whose life and career is testimony to the power of her approach. A struggling single mother with two young daughters, she arrived in Nashville in 1979. "At age thirty-seven," she recounts, "I turned Wy's and my preposterous fantasy of becoming recording artists into reality. In my forties and fifties, I've proven medical authorities wrong after they coldly handed me a death sentence because of hepatitis C. Today I'm radiantly happier and healthier than ever." Judd shares the lessons she has learned, the sources of her strength and the attitude adjustments necessary to achieve what she considers the ultimate goal not fame or fortune, but peace of mind.

Naomi Judd is definitely what Paul Pearsall would term a "thriver." In his book, The Beethoven Factor: The New Psychology of Hardiness, Happiness, Healing and Hope, Pearsall defines thriving as "not only rising to the occasion but being raised by it." Pearsall, himself a cancer survivor, coined the phrase "the Beethoven Factor" to describe the concept. Anguished over the loss of his hearing, Beethoven nevertheless went on to compose some of the world's most joyful and beautiful music. Like Beethoven, many thrivers continue to have dark days a happy-go-lucky attitude is not a prerequisite. In fact, Pearsall makes the following observations: "Thrivers aren't always energetically outgoing," "Thrivers can get very down on their way up," and "Thrivers can seem pretty weird." (I took heart from this!) Pearsall relays the stories of numerous thrivers for inspiration and provides "A Thriver's Manual" for help in moving beyond recovering or surviving to fully re-embracing and re-engaging life.

Finally, The Mind of the Soul: Responsible Choice, by Gary Zukav and Linda Francis, examines the importance of taking personal responsibility for the choices you make. "You can visualize, meditate and pray," Zukav and Francis caution, "but until you are willing to assume responsibility for what you create, you cannot grow spiritually." The authors contend that your choices can foster alignment between your personality and soul, creating positive consequences and ultimately, helping to make the world a better place. Constructed like a workbook, The Mind of the Soul contains numerous thought-provoking, soul-searching exercises.

You may not need all four of these books to get yourself off a dead horse, thrive to new heights or grow spiritually, but I know it helped me to hear some of the same messages, in different ways, from different voices. I may be thick, but I'm also on my feet, optimistic and moving forward!

Linda Stankard writes from Nanuet, New York.

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