Home All Read this book! Review of “Creating Your Best Life”

Read this book! Review of “Creating Your Best Life”

written by Emiliya Zhivotovskaya 10 December 2008

Emiliya Zhivotovskaya, MAPP '07, is the founder of Flourish, an organization dedicated to using research based tools to enable individuals and organizations to flourish. Emiliya fuses the best of Eastern philosophy with Western science to provide people with holistic tools to increase their happiness, well-being, and sense of flourishing. Full bio.

Emiliya's articles are here.

CAM Cover BOOK REVIEW: Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide by Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP and Dr. Michael B. Frisch (Sterling Publishing Company, 2009). Available now.

Why do so many people fail at New Year’s Resolutions? What separates athletes that achieve lofty goals from people who procrastinate in accomplishing even simple things?

These are central questions for me as a life coach since my work revolves around helping people discover and achieve what they want out of life.  Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide, is the best and most comprehensive resource I have come across on this topic.

Caroline MillerThe lead author, Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP, is a coach and a graduate of the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania.  Much of her research for the book was started during her masters’ thesis.  Additionally, she has written many articles for PPND (Caroline Adams Miller’s articles).

Starting with a concise review of literature in the fields of positive psychology and goal setting theory, the book describes “research-tested happiness boosters” and techniques for building self-efficacy.  Instead of searching in psychology, economics, and social science, the reader can enjoy various research assembled together into one comprehensive place. This book seamlessly weaves in research on grit, relationships, passion, savoring, self-regulation, positive emotions, strengths, flow, exercise, and values, as they relate to creating an ideal life.

Creative Use of People’s Existing Resources
A major strength of this book is the unique and creative way of applying research and theory. There are over 30 pages of exercises and forms, ranging from Miller’s “100 Things to do Before I Die” list to the “All But Dissertation Goals” form, which helps people address those unfinished goals that are weighing them down, similar to a doctoral student that completes all their requirements except the dissertation.


Following an idea Miller has frequently spoken about and writes about in the book, I changed the passwords I use daily to reflect my life mission statement. The beautiful thing about the plethora of ideas that the book proposes is that most of them make creative use of people’s existing resources. Another idea she proposes is to set your computer screen saver to scroll your goals, instead of free advertising for Windows.

Let’s Talk about Goals

Most coaches and practitioners use the acronym SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) as the pinnacle of proper goal setting. Miller’s compilation of goal setting research transcends this approach, showing that effective goals need to be more than SMART. Here are a few of the book’s proven criteria for effective goals:

  • Challenging and Specific: research shows that settling for mediocrity lowers performance. They key to building self-efficacy is to stretch yourself and utilize your potential.
  • Measurable: there is a yardstick by which to measure where a person begins, where they want to be, and progress along the way.
  • Foster Independence and Competence: people feel empowered by their own ability and are capable of connecting to others.
  • Value Driven: goals aligned with one’s values are more likely to be pursued and adopted.
  • Approach: goals that make you feel excited and zestful are approach goals, compared to avoidance goals, which are about avoiding a negative outcome.
  • Intrinsic: the motivation comes inherently from the task, rather than extrinsic goals where the motivation and reinforcement comes from other people, accumulation of wealth, or notoriety.
  • Flow: goals that induce optimal experiences, a state in which a person is fully engaged in the task-at-hand.

From thought provoking quotes to rich stories of people applying these principles, this book is a captivating and enjoyable read. It helped me reach my goal of slimming down for the holiday season since I’d take the book to the gym, get on an elliptical, and then catch myself saying, “I’ll keep going for another section…okay, just one more.” A few pounds and chapters later… : – )

Also, I keep a database of research articles that fascinate me.  The research referenced in Creating Your Best Life has vastly expanded my list, as the book eloquently describes numerous studies. I consider this work the most thorough overview of what researchers know as the “how” of creating a flourishing life and practical applications of theory.  The book received a red star in The Publisher’s Weekly.

I highly recommend Creating Your Best Life this holiday season for you, your clients, family and friends, as a literal gift that keeps giving. After all, as the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish, he eats for the day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for the rest of his life.” This book is equivalent to a crash course in choosing the right hook, building your pool, and casting like a pro.


Miller, C. A. & Frisch, M. B. (2009), Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide. New York: Sterling.

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KevinT 10 December 2008 - 10:04 am

Thanks for this heads up. I’m going to order it today!!!
Happy Holidays!!!

Emiliya Zhivotovskaya 10 December 2008 - 1:24 pm

Awesome Kevin, I’ve ordered copies for people as gifts. Enjoy it!

waynej 10 December 2008 - 2:08 pm

Emiliya, I have a shelf full of positive psychology books. I gave up buying new ones about a year ago because they seem to all cover the same old ground. Can you tell me three new things that you discovered by reading the book?

Jeremy McCarthy 10 December 2008 - 9:35 pm

Hi Emilya, Great article, and although I haven’t read her book yet myself, it sounds like a great gift suggestion. Caroline just met with some of the current MAPP students and I am impressed with her for “walking her talk” since she is accomplishing great things using the techniques she teaches, and for giving back, since she was so generous with her time and forthcoming with her wisdom to help us “freshmen.” I’m guessing to Wayne’s point that this book links together a lot of the material that he already has in his PP books. But tying it all together in a manual clearly focused on goal-setting and creating change will be helpful to many people.

Emiliya Zhivotovskaya 10 December 2008 - 11:20 pm

Absolutely Wayne. I have a shelf full of self help and positive psychology. Caroline’s weaved together so many studies that I had not heard of it. That within itself was worth the read. As a coach, it’s been so helpful to understand how and why my clients were not meeting their goals. Why it was so hard to get them from where they were at to where they want to be. Now, I know how to tackle those obstacles.

I look at the way people talk about what they want to accomplish with much greater clarity. I am able to hone in on what they are missing and I have concrete tools to help them achieve their goals.

I heard Sonya Lyubomirsky on a call today showing new research again validating how people who valued the positive intervention experienced much larger benefits. I approach life looking for the value and found this book to be ripe with tons of valuable information I had not seen anywhere else.

I run my own business as a teacher, speaker and coach. Time is always of the essense and there’s always more to be done. I listen to books while I drive and check my e-mail while I work on the treadmill. When I devote time to read I choose my books wisely. Reading this was time well spent.

No pressure to read it, but if you do and don’t feel the same way I did, e-mail me (mail@emiliya.com). I’d love to discuss it with you and know what your book preferences are for the future. We may value different things.

Emiliya Zhivotovskaya 10 December 2008 - 11:26 pm

oops, sorry. I just read that you asked for things. I learned (1) about studies that I’d never heard of before, (2) how to overcome procrastinate and what stops people from showing up in the world the way they want to (3) the power and multiple uses of primers to effectively meet goals.

Margaret 11 December 2008 - 9:16 am

Clear, concise article Emiliya and CONGRATULATIONS Caroline!!! Can’t wait to read it and share it with my coaching clients. Happy Holidays to you both!

Senia Maymin 11 December 2008 - 1:08 pm


Much kudos and congrats for getting the book out! I’ve heard you give a talk about the book, and am super-excited for you that it’s all going in the right direction. Hearing Caroline speak about the book is great if anybody else gets to do that at a book signing or on a call.

Thanks for the article, Emiliya. Kudos, Caroline!


David J. Pollay 11 December 2008 - 3:17 pm

Nice review Emiliya!

And congrats to Caroline! We’re all very excited for you! And no one works harder than you do. Way to go!


Caroline Miller 11 December 2008 - 3:59 pm

Hey guys — thanks! I don’t think I’m the hardest worker out there, as you guys and many others work unbelievably hard in the application of PP to your worlds, too. I’m honored to be included here, and thank all of you for your nice words.

As for Wayne’s question, there is a ton that is new about this book, which is why it’s getting the attention it’s getting.

For one, I wrote a huge number of worksheets for the book on topics like implementation intentions, risks, resilience, savoring, “Lost Possible Selves,” and grit. These are some of the research-supported topics connected to goal accomplishment that have never been seen in a mass market book on goal accomplishment before, or even connected in any way before I did so.

Gary Latham, the co founder of goal setting theory, also recognized the uniqueness of the book, which is why he agreed to write the foreword. A stunning number of self-help and goal accomplishment books don’t have a whiff of research in them, and don’t have anywhere near the footnotes I’ve included, along with the most cutting-edge work on self-regulation, self-efficacy, priming and much more that are in the book.

Truly, I’m proud of what “Creating Your Best Life” has brought to the world and I know from being a connoisseur of what’s out there that this book is completely and totally new work, tied together in a way that has never been seen before.

I’m a grateful graduate of the first MAPP class, and I remember discussing my thoughts on how to do this work in 2005 with Marty, who agreed that it would be the first of its kind if I could pull it off. Three years later, I feel like I’ve just given birth to my biggest baby yet.

Holiday blessings to all,

Hans Rippel 11 December 2008 - 10:58 pm

Thank you Emiliya for sharing your brief review of Caroline’s book. It will be on my shopping list for my next bookstore visit.

In response to Wayne’s concern: My sense is that many of the first wave of self-help style positive psychology books cover similar ground from different angles. They did a good job at making academic research findings from the field available in more accessible ways to the broader public. Now, I think, the second challenge is to not only keep the information current but also put it all into a larger framework.
By the sound of your article (Emiliya) and the comments (especially by Caroline herself), this book seems to have a new take on addressing this second challenge successfully. I’ll read the book first before I say any more 🙂

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Jill Ackiron-Moses 14 December 2008 - 9:40 pm

Excellent review Emiliya, I am looking forward to reading this book.

Jeff 26 December 2008 - 6:18 pm


You explored my favorite topic: motivation.

I looked through your book and I think its information will help the unmotivated. High achievers probably already use your advice. My favorite chapters revolved around the Locke and Latham research. Approach goals seem very effective.

Did you include advice on goal prioritizing in your book? I didn’t get a chance to read that much of it yet.

You have done well.


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