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Smarts and Stamina – A Book Review

written by Louisa Jewell 24 September 2011

Louisa Jewell, MAPP '09, is president of Positive Matters and a consultant, facilitator and speaker who works with organizations around the world to develop positive leaders and nurture productive teams. Listen to Louisa's podcasts on positive matters, collected from a radio show she hosted. Full bio.

Louisa's PositivePsychologyNews.com articles are here.

I have been anticipating Marie-Josée Shaar and Kathryn Britton’s new book: Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance for several months now and it is better than even I had anticipated.

According to Dr. Liana Lianov of Harvard Medical School, virtually all of the top 10 leading causes of death among American adults are related to lifestyle patterns. Taking this to heart, the authors do not preach about what you ‘should’ be doing to be healthy, or promise if you follow their advice that you will look like Jennifer Aniston in 6 weeks. Their focus is on guiding the reader to improve personal everyday habits to be healthy, and they do this by helping you build your health skills. Their approach is realistic and simple: make small incremental changes to your habits.

BOOK REVIEW: Shaar, M. J. & Britton, K. H. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Positive Psychology Press.

The Smarts and Stamina (SaS) Compass Model

The book is based on research on the interaction among the various aspects of good health and intelligently weaves in the research in positive psychology on self-regulation, goal pursuit, and successful change to help people make sustainable change to their behavior. Their approach is guided by the Smarts and Stamina (SaS) Compass which has four points:

  1. Sleep
  2. Food
  3. Mood
  4. Exercise

The authors begin with a discussion of four biochemicals; serotonin, dopamine, leptin, and cortisol and how they affect how you feel and subsequently behave. Some biochemicals boost our ability to self-regulate while others can detract. While these biochemicals affect behavior, our habits in the four SaS Compass areas also affect our biochemical levels in our body. Thus all four compass points are mutually reinforcing. For example, physical activity increases serotonin levels and acts as a stress-reliever which contributes to good sleep. Sleep balances all four biochemicals which can curb food cravings and maintain positive emotions. Stronger emotional health contributes to better sleep and so on.

Jogging with a dog

Jogging with a dog

50 Avenues to Good Health

The book is written in a workbook format that offers 50 different avenues to good health with excellent reflective questions, assessments, exercises, and suggestions for changing habits in all four SaS Compass point areas. The intention is not to overwhelm people with 50 avenues. Instead the authors suggest starting with one area and exploring the avenue(s) that works for you. The book is also written so well it is a pleasure to pick up anytime and use it as a reference for years to come.

For each of these 50 avenues, the authors have provided a comprehensive guide for putting it into action, including:

  1. Science Says: This section describes the research that supports this avenue.
  2. Story: The authors share stories of people they have worked with who had problems in this area and then successfully implemented the avenue for good results.
  3. Build the Skills: The authors then describe how to build skills in this area.

    • Mindfulness: The authors ask powerful questions here to get people to reflect on what is already working for you in this area. This was one of my favorite parts of the workbook. When I was able to contemplate on what I was already doing well, I actually felt better about myself and it made me think about how I could do more of what I was already doing. This is the first book I have ever read that offers a strengths-based approach to good health. I believe this is what sets this workbook apart from others in a powerful way.
    • Plan & Execute: Activities that cause you to take action.
    • Onward & Upward: A final reflection about what can be gained from this avenue that might carry over into other avenues or other aspects of your life.

One of the things I found very helpful was how the authors adapted Carol Dweck’s learning theory of Mindset to how our mindset can affect behavioral change in the health arena. After taking this assessment, I discovered that while I had a growth mindset as far as food went, I had some work to do in the exercise arena.

Good listener

An Intelligent Resource for Positive Psychology Practitioners

As a positive psychology practitioner working with organizations to improve well-being, I am already using the book as an intelligent resource for new ideas to immediately implement with my organizational clients. For example, one of my favorite avenues is ‘Do a Mini.’ This avenue gives several activities people can do at their desk or while at work that gives them an opportunity to have a 10-minute meditation session that can instantly relieve stress and energize them for continued work.

While I love the countless suggestions for my organizational clients, I started to get really excited about using the workbook to improve my own health.

Vegetables at the Farmer's Market

This past weekend I tried the avenues ‘Fall in Love with Veggies’ and ‘Jazz Things Up,’ which give you ideas on how to add new veggies to your repertoire or prepare the veggies you love in new ways. So this weekend at the farmer’s market, I bought my favorite locally-grown organic veggies, but this time I asked the farmer how he/she cooked them and I even asked other customers. I got a variety of answers that I had never thought of before. What I love about the book is that it suggests simple changes to your food repertoire as opposed to suggesting that I supplement with foods found in the back jungles of Colombia.

This workbook is a great resource for positive psychology coaches and practitioners who want to help clients achieve optimum health, but it is also a great resource for anyone wanting to be healthier. And now I am off to find a good recipe for oyster and shiitake mushrooms . . . Anyone have a good recipe to share?


Shaar, M. J. & Britton, K. H. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Positive Psychology Press. Available from Amazon and from an eStore (may be easier for international orders).

Jogging with a dog courtesy of ceiling
Good Listener courtesy of David Goehring
Vegetables at the Farmer’s Market courtesy of Marco Bernardini

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Elaine O'Brien 24 September 2011 - 12:32 pm

I love this book! Congratulations Marie-Josee and Kathryn. Louisa, thank you for a terrific review and overview of this great model. It’s great to see empirical science combining exercise, food, positive mood, and sleep written in an inspiring and fun-filled tone.

wayne 24 September 2011 - 12:33 pm

Louisa – have to ask whether HRV was covered – lots of people speculating that this might be a mjor pathway between mind and body. For example omega 3?s, exercise, meditation, sleep all, positive emotions increase HRV. And HRV is a good measure of biological age and a good predictor of recovery form heart disease. Even the dinosaur seligman manages to talk about HRV in flourish.

Either way its great to see PP moving beyond Descarte’s error.

Marie-Josée Shaar 24 September 2011 - 12:34 pm

Louisa! What a flattering review you wrote for our book! I’m very glad you enjoyed it so much, and thank you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive review of it. Kathryn and I are very grateful for the time you spent on it, and uplifted by your conclusions!

Elaine – thanks for your support as well! Your attentive review of our exercise section has been very helpful and certainly contributed to this glowing review we now enjoy!

Thanks so much to both of you!


PS: And let’s also mention Jeremy’s McCarthy’s fantastic foreword, which can be seen here: http://psychologyofwellbeing.com/201109/smarts-and-stamina.html

Marie-Josée Shaar 24 September 2011 - 12:34 pm

Wayne – HRV is a great topic, but we decided to leave it out because we chose to focus on everyday solutions anyone can implement easily, at very low or no cost. HRV necessitates the use of fancy equipment to really understand and practice, and not everyone has access to that. You’ll be happy to know however that we covered SNS and PNS, so that’s definitely in the same line of thought.
Very best,

wayne 24 September 2011 - 3:08 pm

MarieJ, sorry meant vagal tone as a pathway to health – so glad to see you mentioned parasympathetic nervous system.

Still good to see PP moving on from its limited paradigms – well done

Kathryn Britton 24 September 2011 - 3:50 pm


We included several ideas inspired by you – your name is in the acknowledgments. One in particular comes to mind.

You wrote once that associating positive emotions with exercise makes it easier to build exercise habits. You also wrote a comment about different ways people experience positive emotion from exercising. Some experience it directly — they feel good while they exercise. Others experience it after the fact – they feel good when they’ve finished exercising. Others experience positive emotion by associating positive things with exercise — pleasures they only allow themselves while they exercise (in my case, working Jigsaw Sudoku puzzles). And others experience various combinations of the above.

We based one entire avenue (During and After)around becoming more aware of the kinds of positive emotion a person already gets from exercise and exploring ways to find other kinds of positive emotion.

We also included your idea of meditative exercise in one avenue — I think it was Turn Up the Volume. With a reference in the reference list, of course.

Just wanted you to know how much we’ve learned from your participation in these discussions. Many thanks.



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