Saturday, October 24, 2009

Richard Wiseman - 59 Seconds

Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds, Macmillan, 2009.

[The US version will be published in January 2010].

This book aims to examine some common self-help myths from a scientific point of view, and find out which methods are proven to work.

The self-help industry is growing in popularity, and some of its advice is ineffective, or even harmful. Wiseman, a psychologist, decided to research scientific studies and find some self-help methods that are proven to work. The aim was to provide quick and easy methods people could apply in less than a minute.

The book covers several important areas, including happiness, motivation, stress, decision making and parenting. Each section examines the prevalent methods and suggests effective, proven self-help methods.

It is worth reading the whole book, and then later dipping into it to find ideas relevant to your current situation. For example, the chapter on motivation is useful for people trying to change their habits.

One of the interesting tips I learned from this book is to visualize myself doing the steps required to reach my goals, rather than just imagine myself having achieved these goals. It seems to be important to break goals down into steps, and then get used to the idea of taking these practical steps, rather than just think about the objective you are trying to reach, which may be quite remote and abstract.

Another important conclusion was that parents would do better to praise children for the effort they put into a task, rather than for the outcome of that task. This ensures the children will continue to strive to succeed, no matter what the result, instead of assuming that since they have already been successful, they no longer need to try so hard.

The book is written in a chatty style, and is aimed for the general public, including readers who wouldn't normally read psychological research. It contains a lot of positive advice, with explanations of why this advice works.

One small thing: I wonder why the author (or maybe the publisher) chose to have his name on the cover as "Professor Richard Wiseman". This is quite rare, and most academics I know don't feel the need to stress their titles. Perhaps this emphasizes his professional expertise, as opposed to the authors of some self-help books. However, being a professor is no guarantee of scientific excellence, and I found it a bit strange.

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