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Think a Little, Change a Lot

Written by Richard WisemanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Richard Wiseman



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On Sale: December 29, 2009
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-307-59326-9
Published by : Anchor Knopf

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Read by Jonathan Cowley
On Sale: December 29, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-70754-3
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On Sale: December 29, 2009
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Synopsis|Excerpt|Table of Contents

Synopsis

A psychologist and best-selling author gives us a myth-busting response to the self-help movement, with tips and tricks to improve your life that come straight from the scientific community.

Richard Wiseman has been troubled by the realization that the self-help industry often promotes exercises that destroy motivation, damage relationships, and reduce creativity: the opposite of everything it promises. Now, in 59 Seconds, he fights back, bringing together the diverse scientific advice that can help you change your life in under a minute, and guides you toward becoming more decisive, more imaginative, more engaged, and altogether more happy.

From mood to memory, persuasion to procrastination, resilience to relationships, Wiseman outlines the research supporting the new science of “rapid change” and, with clarity and infectious enthusiasm, describes how these quirky, sometimes counterintuitive techniques can be effortlessly incorporated into your everyday life. Or, as he likes to say: “Think a little, change a lot.”

Excerpt

Self-help exposed,

Sophie’s question, and the

potential for rapid change


DO YOU WANT TO IMPROVE an important aspect of your life? Perhaps lose weight, find your perfect partner, obtain your dream job, or simply be happier? Try this simple exercise. . . .

Close your eyes and imagine the new you. Think how great you would look in those close-fitting designer jeans, dating Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, sitting in a luxurious leather chair at the top of the corporate ladder, or sipping a piña colada as the warm waves of the Caribbean gently lap at your feet.

The good news is that this type of exercise has been recommended by some in the self-help industry for years. The bad news is that a large body of research now suggests that such exercises are, at best, ineffective and, at worst, harmful. Although imagining your perfect self may make you feel better, engaging in such mental escapism can also have the unfortunate side effect of leaving you unprepared for the difficulties that crop up on the rocky road to success, thus increasing the chances of your faltering at the first hurdle rather than persisting in the face of failure. Fantasizing about heaven on earth may put a smile on your face, but it is unlikely to help transform your dreams into reality.

Other research suggests that the same goes for many popular techniques that claim to improve your life. Attempting to “think yourself happy” by suppressing negative thoughts can make you obsess on the very thing that makes you unhappy. Group brainstorming can produce fewer and less original ideas than individuals working alone. Punching a pillow and screaming out loud can increase, rather than decrease, your anger and stress levels.

Then there is the infamous “Yale Goal Study.” According to some writers, in 1953 a team of researchers interviewed Yale’s graduating seniors, asking them whether they had written down the specific goals that they wanted to achieve in life. Twenty years later the researchers tracked down the same cohort and found that the 3 percent of people who had specific goals all those years before had accumulated more personal wealth than the other 97 percent of their classmates combined.

It is a great story, frequently cited in self-help books and seminars to illustrate the power of goal setting. There is just one small problem—as far as anyone can tell, the experiment never actually took place. In 2007 writer Lawrence Tabak, from the magazine Fast Company, attempted to track down the study, contacting several writers who had cited it, the secretary of the Yale Class of 1953, and other researchers who had tried to discover whether the study had actually happened. No one could produce any evidence that it had ever been conducted, causing Tabak to conclude that it was almost certainly nothing more than an urban myth. For years, selfhelp gurus had been happy to describe a study without checking their facts.

Both the public and the business world have bought into modern-day mind myths for years and, in so doing, may have significantly decreased the likelihood of achieving their aims and ambitions. Worse still, such failure often encourages people to believe that they cannot control their lives. This is especially unfortunate, as even the smallest loss of perceived control can have a dramatic effect on people’s confidence, happiness, and life span. In one classic study conducted by Ellen Langer at Harvard University, half of the residents in a nursing home were given a houseplant and asked to look after it, while the other residents were given an identical plant but told that the staff would take responsibility for it. Six months later, the residents who had been robbed of even this small amount of control over their lives were significantly less happy, healthy, and active than the others. Even more distressing, 30 percent of the residents who had not looked after their plant had died, compared to 15 percent of those who had been allowed to exercise such control. Similar results have been found in many areas, including education, career, health, relationships, and dieting. The message is clear—those who do not feel in control of their lives are less successful, and less psychologically and physically healthy, than those who do feel in control.

A few years ago I was having lunch with a friend named Sophie. Sophie is a bright, successful thirtysomething who holds a senior position in a firm of management consultants. Over lunch Sophie explained that she had recently bought a well-known book on increasing happiness, and she asked me what I thought of the industry. I explained that I had serious reservations about the scientific backing for some of the techniques being promoted, and described how any failure to change could do considerable psychological harm. Sophie looked concerned and then asked whether academic psychology had produced more scientifically supported ways of improving people’s lives. I started to describe some of the quite complex academic work in happiness, and after about fifteen minutes or so Sophie stopped me. She politely explained that interesting though it was, she was a busy person, and she asked whether I could come up with some effective advice that didn’t take quite so much time to implement. I asked how long I had. Sophie glanced at her watch, smiled, and replied, “About a minute?”

Sophie’s comment made me stop and think. Many people are attracted to self-development and self-improvement because of the lure of quick and easy solutions to various issues in their lives. Unfortunately, most academic psychology either fails to address these issues or presents far more time-consuming and complex answers (thus the scene in Woody Allen’s film Sleeper, in which Allen’s character discovers that he has awakened two hundred years in the future, sighs, and explains that had he been in therapy all this time he would almost be cured). I wondered whether there were tips and techniques hidden away in academic journals that were empirically supported but quick to carry out.

Over the course of a few months I carefully searched through endless journals containing research papers from many different areas of psychology. As I examined the work, a promising pattern emerged, with researchers in quite different fields developing techniques that help people achieve their aims and ambitions in minutes, not months. I collected hundreds of these studies, drawn from many different areas of the behavioral sciences. From mood to memory, persuasion to procrastination, resilience to relationships, together they represent a new science of rapid change.

There is a very old story, often told to fill time during training courses, involving a man trying to fix his broken boiler.
Despite his best efforts over many months, he simply can’t mend it. Eventually, he gives up and decides to call in an expert. The engineer arrives, gives one gentle tap on the side of the boiler, and stands back as it springs to life. The engineer presents the man with a bill, and the man argues that he should pay only a small fee as the job took the engineer only a few moments. The engineer quietly explains that the man is not paying for the time he took to tap the boiler but rather the years of experience involved in knowing exactly where to tap. Just like the expert engineer tapping the boiler, the techniques described in this book demonstrate that effective change does not have to be time-consuming. In fact, it can take less than a minute and is often simply a question of knowing exactly where to tap.


From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Introduction
Self-help exposed, Sophie’s question, and the potential for
rapid change
 
Happiness
Why positive thinking often fails and how the real route to
happiness involves a pencil, keeping the perfect diary, small
acts of kindness, and developing the gratitude attitude
 
Persuasion
Why rewards fail, how to give the flawless interview,
improve your social life by making mistakes, never lose your
wallet again, and convince anyone of anything by using
your pet frog
 
Motivation
The dark side of visualization, how to achieve absolutely
anything by creating the ideal plan, overcoming procrastination,
and employing “doublethink”
 
Creativity
Exploding the myth of brainstorming, how to get in touch
with your inner Leonardo merely by glancing at modern art,
lying down, and putting a plant on your desk
 
Attraction
Why you shouldn’t play hard to get, how the subtle art of
seduction involves the simplest of touches, roller-coaster
rides, and avoiding artificial Christmas trees
 
Relationships
The perils of “active listening,” why Velcro can help couples
stick together, words speak louder than actions, and a
single photograph can make all the difference
 
Stress
Why not to kick and scream, how to reduce resentment
in seconds, harness the power of a four-legged friend, and
think your way to low blood pressure
 
Decision making
Why two heads are no better than one, how never to regret
a decision again, protect yourself against hidden persuaders,
and tell when someone is lying to you
 
Parenting
The Mozart myth, how to choose the best name for a baby,
instantly divine a child’s destiny using just three marshmallows,
and effectively praise young minds
 
Personality
Why not to trust graphology, how to gain an apparently
magical insight into other people’s personality from their
fingers and thumbs, their pets, and the time they go to bed
 
Conclusion
Sophie’s answer: Ten techniques in 59 seconds
 
Acknowledgments
Notes
Richard Wiseman

About Richard Wiseman

Richard Wiseman - 59 Seconds

Photo © Richard Wiseman

RICHARD WISEMAN is based at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK and has gained an international reputation for research into quirky areas of psychology, including deception, humor, luck and the paranormal. He has written

The Luck Factor — a bestselling book exploring the lives and minds of lucky people. His latest book, Quirkology, explores the curious science of everyday life, including the psychology of lying, love, and laughter. A passionate advocate for science, Wiseman is well-known for his media appearances, high-profile talks, live performances, and large-scale studies. He also regularly acts as a creative consultant for print, broadcast and new media.

Richard Wiseman is represented by Random House Speakers Bureau (www.rhspeakers.com)
Praise

Praise

"This is a self-help book, but with a difference: almost everything in it is underpinned by peer-reviewed and often fascinating research."
 — New Scientist

"For all those who are tired of the usual self-help formula--homespun anecdotes, upbeat platitudes, over-the-top promises--Richard Wiseman's 59 Seconds is just what the PhD ordered."
 — The Wall Street Journal

"Seemingly perfect for this age of short attention spans and instant gratification."
 — The Chronicle Herald

"At last, a self-help guide that is based on proper research. Perfect for busy, curious, smart people."
 — Simon Singh, author of Fermat's Enigma

“Wiseman is a brilliant name for a psychologist, and this book proves the professor is not misnamed. . . . [59 Seconds] contains dozens of fascinating and useful nuggets, and they all have science on their side.”
 — The Independent
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