Thursday 2 August 2012

59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman, reviewed by John Dougherty

In my last Awfully Big Blogpost, I mentioned the truth about ‘visualization’ - the idea, prevalent in so many self-help books, that the first step to success is to imagine it.

Examined under experimental conditions, visualization turns out to be rubbish. It doesn’t only not do what its proponents claim for it; it has the opposite effect. This is just one of the fascinating facts in 59 Seconds.

59 Seconds is a self-help book with a difference. Written by “Britain’s only professor for  the Public Understanding of Psychology”, it challenges some of the prevalent self-help myths, and offers alternatives grounded in proper peer-reviewed scientific research and presented for the reader in an accessible
and entertaining way.

The book is divided into 10 sections - happiness, persuasion, motivation, creativity, attraction, stress, relationships, decision-making, parenting & personality. In each section, you’ll learn of some fascinating studies - did you know, for instance, that it’s possible to fool someone into thinking they’re drunk when they are in fact completely sober? That people are more likely to do you a big favour if they’ve already done you a small one? Or that you can accurately make predictions about a child’s future using only 3 marshmallows and a bell?

I’ve always been fascinated by this sort of thing, and if the book was just a collection of interesting facts gleaned from psychological research it would have kept me entertained. It’s more than that, though - you’re quite likely to find something in here that you want to try. One of my aims for this summer, taken from the chapter on creativity, is to work with my kids to produce a piece of art that will help with my writing. I’ll let you know how that works out.

Actually, the creativity chapter is probably my major reason for reviewing the book here - I know a lot of ABBA readers are creative types, and the chapter contains a number of quick and easy tips for getting that creativity going. I intend to give some of them a go myself, just as soon as I’ve worked through the tips on procrastination in the ‘motivation’ chapter.

Oh, and the title? It comes from a realisation that self-help books attract people because they offer quick & easy solutions to real-life issues, whereas academic psychology is often seen as either avoiding these issues or presenting answers that take years. Some of the ideas in this book, by contrast, can be put into practice in less than a minute.

You’ll find this a fascinating and enjoyable read; and who knows? It may just, dare I say it, change your life.


1 comment:

Penny Dolan said...

Useful review. Sometimes think the attraction of such books comes from a) learning something new, occasionally with gossip added and b) they stop your own inner voices nagging at you for the time it takes you to read them. As for procrastination - isn't reading about that problem one of those two negatives making a positive activities? (ie. It results in words appearing magically on the page?)

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