Book Review: The Holy Sh!t Moment

Readers of my work often assume that I mostly read the same kinds of books I write, but this isn’t the case. Of the 40 to 50 books I devour each year, about 90 percent are novels. I can’t help it—my father is a novelist and I was a diehard fiction junkie by the third or fourth grade. Lately I’ve been on a Paul Auster kick; you should check him out.

When I do read nonfiction, it’s almost always in the name of research for a book of my own. (You might wonder why I don’t write novels since I like reading them so much. The answer is that I have no imagination and am only capable of telling true stories.) Over the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the areas of decision theory and behavioral psychology, and that’s because I’m in the very early stages of working on a sort of follow-up to How Bad Do You Want It? Most recently, I read my Facebook friend James Fell’s new release, The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant, and I think you should consider reading it too (either before or after you give Paul Auster a try).

The book grew out of an observation Fell made as a weight-loss coach, which was that people who succeeded in making a healthy lifestyle change were often inspired to do so by a sudden epiphany—i.e., a holy shit moment. I’ve observed the same thing as an endurance coach and nutritionist. Whereas those who coach healthy lifestyle changes often act as if success depends on going about the process correctly, the real-world fact of the matter is that lasting change usually occurs only when an individual is properly sparked. It’s not that how you go about developing healthier habits is unimportant but that the process part has a way of working itself out when a person is hypermotivated.

Fell’s curiosity about this phenomenon led him to dig into the relevant psychology research, examples of which his book is chock full. Among these is the work of psychologist William Miller, father of the motivational interviewing technique. Miller conducted dozens of interviews with men and women whose lives changed radically for the better after they experienced some kind of epiphany or sudden insight and found a number of consistent patterns that helped define this type of event as a real and indeed rather common thing.

One of these patterns is the bolt-from-the-blue nature of such events. In most instances, epiphanies come out of nowhere. This presents a difficulty for those who might like to experience a holy shit moment of their own to stimulate positive change. The bulk of Fell’s book is devoted to addressing this challenge, using a combination of science and anecdote to show readers how to meet their epiphany halfway, as he puts it.

Among the handful of specific measures Fell discusses is that of shifting one’s environment. He notes that, although readiness for change comes from within, operating in a familiar and unchanging environment can retard this process, whereas forcing yourself to adapt to something new—by traveling, changing jobs, pursuing or terminating a relationship, or developing a creative passion—can hurry it along. This advice, like much of the other guidance in the book, resonates with my experience. Although I’ve never experienced a life-altering epiphany and I can’t say I’m really looking for one, I do want to keep moving forward as a writer, as a coach, as an athlete, and as a person, and I have found that trying new things and challenging myself in different ways keeps me from standing still in any of these roles.

The fundamental agenda of The Holy Sh!t Moment is to explain and show change-seekers how change really happens. What makes the book so potentially helpful is that much of what is now known about this is not known to most laypeople, beginning the fact that healthy change very often begins with a sudden epiphany.