59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman

59 Seconds is a self-help book like no other.  It begins by debunking a number of techniques such as writing down your goals or visualizing your success and examines how many such techniques can hinder, rather than help you on your quest to self-improvement.

The author goes on to search for scientifically validated techniques that can be performed and explained in minutes, rather than months.  They span ten different areas and are backed by hard science.  The underlying premise that threads its way through each chapter is that people who feel in control of their lives are healthier, both physically and psychologically, than those who are not.

Some of the highlights are as follows:

Happiness

  • When it comes to an instant fix for everyday happiness, certain types of writing have a surprisingly quick and large impact. Expressing gratitude, thinking about a perfect future, and affectionate writing have been scientifically proven to work.
  • In terms of short- and long-term happiness, buying experiences made people feel better than buying products.
  • If you want to cheer yourself up, behave like a happy person.

Persuasion

  • Almost regardless of the nature of the rewards or tasks, those who are offered a carrot tend not to perform as well as those who don’t expect to receive anything.
  • Try presenting them with the occasional small surprise reward after they have completed the activity or praising the fruits of their labor.
  • Going out of your way to be pleasant is more important than qualifications and past work experience.
  • Presenting weaknesses early is seen as a sign of openness.
  • Modesty, rather than honesty, is critical for positive aspects of your past. By delaying mention of such details, you appear to prefer letting your strengths emerge naturally, while playing your cards early is seen as boastful.
  • The Spotlight Effect: those who feel embarrassed are convinced that their mistakes are far more noticeable than they actually are.
  • The “center stage” effect, concluded that when looking at a group, people use a basic rule of thumb—“Important people sit in the middle.”
  • The Franklin Effect: People like you more when they do a favor for you.
  • The Pratfall Effect: The occasional slipup can enhance your likeability.
  • Gossip: Know that whatever traits you assign to others are likely to come home to roost, being viewed as part of your own personality. This is known as “spontaneous trait transference”.
  • Favors have their strongest effect when they occur between people who don’t know each other very well, and when they are small but thoughtful. If you want to get maximum return for your investment, ask for the return favor quickly.

Motivation

  • Successful participants broke their overall goal into a series of sub-goals and thereby created a step-by-step process. These plans were especially powerful when the sub-goals were concrete, measurable, and time-based.  There was also a reward associated with each.
  • Successful participants were far more likely than others to tell their friends, family, and colleagues about their goals.
  • Finally, successful participants also tended to make their plans, progress, benefits, and rewards as concrete as possible by expressing them in writing.
  • Research shows that the “just a few minutes” rule is a highly effective way of beating procrastination and could help people finish the most arduous of tasks.
  • Starting the meal at a normal rate of eating and then dropping to the slower rate caused both men and women to experience a large reduction in their appetite.
  • If you want to reduce your drinking, stay away from short, wide glasses and stick to tall, narrow ones.
  • People eat significantly more when they are distracted at mealtimes and therefore are not paying attention to their food.

Creativity

  • Prime your mind by working feverishly on a problem, but then give yourself a release of effort by doing something completely different.
  • Changing perspective helps produce novel solutions. Try imagining how a child, idiot, friend, artist, or accountant would approach the problem.
  • When you are being too serious, your brain becomes constrained.
  • One of the most important principles underlying creativity: the realization that an idea or technique from one situation can be applied to another.
  • There is a strong link between anxiety and creativity.

Attraction

  • There is considerable evidence that a gentle touch is perceived as a sign of high status.
  • Those more skilled in seduction encouraged their dates to talk about themselves in a fun and offbeat way, with the top-rated male’s best line being “If you were on a hit show, who would you be?” while the top-rated female asked, “If you were a pizza topping, what would you be?
  • Getting people to open up and talk about themselves in a creative, funny, and unusual way promotes a sense of closeness and attraction.
  • To convince people that the chemistry is right, you should mirror their movements.
  • Women value courage and a willingness to take risks over kindness and altruism.
  • So, when it comes to that all-important first date, go somewhere scary and don’t be afraid of intimate conversation. Common sense says that your date may find you a tad strange. Science suggests that you will be irresistible.
  • Disclosing personal information about yourself and encouraging your date to do the same can significantly speed up those all-important feelings of intimacy.
  • People feel closer to each other when they agree about dislikes rather than likes.
  • Smiles that take longer to spread over a person’s face (more than half a second) are seen as very attractive, especially when accompanied with a slight head tilt toward a partner.

Relationships

  • Even the most successful, long-term, and happy couples rarely engaged in anything that resembled active listening.
  • American humorist Helen Rowland once noted, “A woman’s flattery may inflate a man’s head a little, but her criticism goes straight to his heart, and contracts it so that it can never again hold quite so much love for her.”
  • For a relationship to succeed, the frequency of positive comments has to outweigh negative remarks by about five to one.
  • Relationships thrive and survive on mutual support and agreement, and even the briefest of bitter asides needs to be sweetened with a great deal of love and attention.
  • Long-term couples will feel more attracted to each other when they regularly engage in novel and exciting joint activities that involve working together to achieve a goal.

Stress

  • The venting of anger does not extinguish the flame. In fact, as Brad Bushman remarks in his paper, it is far more likely to pour gasoline onto the fire.
  • Just a few minutes of focusing on the benefits that were derived from the seemingly hurtful experience helped participants deal with the anger and upset caused by the situation. They felt significantly more forgiving toward those who had hurt them and were less likely to seek revenge or avoid them.
  • Owning a dog helps to relieve the stresses and strains of everyday life, in part because it promotes social contact. Second, to maximize the chances of such meetings, choose a Labrador rather than a Rottweiler.

Decision Making

  • People are far more likely to agree to a big request if they have already agreed to a small one.
  • About 75 percent of respondents regret not doing something, with the top three slots taken by not studying hard enough at school, not taking advantage of an important opportunity, and not spending enough time with friends and family.
  • American poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who once noted, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.”
  • Liars tend to do the things that correspond to thinking hard about a problem or issue. They tend not to move their arms and legs so much, cut down on gesturing, repeat the same phrases, give shorter and less detailed answers, take longer before they start to answer, and pause and hesitate more.
  • They distance themselves from the lie, causing their language to become more impersonal. As a result, liars often reduce the number of times that they say words such as “I,” “me,” and “mine,” and use “him” and “her” rather than people’s names.
  • A liar is likely to look as though they are thinking hard for no good reason, conversing in a strangely impersonal tone, and incorporating an evasiveness that would make even a politician or a used-car salesman blush.
  • Before asking questions that are likely to elicit deceptive answers, start with those that are far more likely to make the person respond in an honest way. During these initial answers, develop an understanding of how they behave when they are telling the truth by looking at their body language and listening to the words they say. Then, during the answers to the trickier questions, watch for the behavioral shifts outlined above.
  • Planning Fallacy: Research shows that people have a strong tendency to underestimate how long a project will take and that people working in groups are especially likely to have unrealistic expectations.
  • So to find out how long it really will take you to do something, isolate all of the steps involved and then make your time estimate.

Parenting

  • Telling children that they possess a certain trait, such as being bright or talented, is not good for their psychological health because it encourages them to avoid challenging situations, not to try so hard, and quickly to become demotivated when the going gets tough. In contrast, praising effort encourages people to stretch themselves, work hard, and persist in the face of difficulties.
  • Some research has shown that children who attend music lessons tend to be brighter than their classmates. The results showed clear IQ improvements in children who had been taught keyboard skills and given voice lessons, whereas those given drama lessons were no different than the control group.
  • Threats work well in the short term but can actually prove counterproductive over longer periods of time.
  • By pointing out all of the terrible things that will happen if your child follows a course of action, you may be making that activity more attractive in their minds. Instead, try the “softly, softly” approach used in the toy robot experiment. State that you do not want them to do something and leave it there. If they really do insist on knowing why you are stopping them, try to get them to identify some possible reasons themselves.
  • Because younger children haven’t developed the abilities and skills that their older siblings have, they explore novel ways to get their parents’ love and attention, and this, in turn, causes them to develop into more open, creative, unconventional, adventurous, and rebellious people.

Personality

  • Studies from many different countries and cultures confirmed the existence of five fundamental dimensions of personality, known as THE BIG FIVE.
  • The five dimensions have been given different labels over the years, but are commonly referred to as openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (easily remembered by using the acronym OCEAN).
  • The dimensions are determined by a combination of genes and childhood experiences and they tend to remain unchanged.
  • Openness represents the degree to which a person seeks and appreciates new, interesting, and unusual experiences. High scorers are curious and broad-minded. They get bored easily, but are especially good at tolerating ambiguity.  They are creative, original, wise, funny, imaginative, and unconventional. They have a rich inner life, like new ideas, tend to remember their dreams, and make good hypnotic subjects.
  • ow scorers tend to be more conventional, down-to-earth, and better able to focus on the practical side of things. They are more comfortable with familiar places and food, and tend to work through problems on a step-by-step basis.
  • Conscientiousness reflects the degree of organization, persistence, and self-discipline to achieve goals. High scorers are very organized, reliable, hardworking, persevering, and able to forgo short-term rewards for long-term success. They tend to do especially well in the workplace, keep their New Year’s resolutions, and be highly punctual. They also tend to live significantly longer than others because they don’t usually engage in high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, and are far more likely to exercise, eat a balanced diet, and have regular medical checkups.
  • Low scorers tend to be less reliable and more easygoing and hedonistic. They are harder to motivate and more easily distracted, but can show greater flexibility in the face of changing circumstances.
  • Extroversion reflects the need for stimulation from the outside world and other people. High scorers are fun to be with, impulsive, optimistic, happy, enjoy the company of others, and have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. They prefer to lead rather than follow, enjoy aggressive and sexually explicit humor, drink more, are skilled at multitasking, strive for instant gratification, have more sexual partners than others, and are more likely to cheat on their partner.
  • Low scorers tend to be far more considered, controlled, and reserved. Their social life revolves around a relatively small number of very close friends, and they prefer reading a good book to a night out on the town. They are more sensitive to pain, good at focusing on a single task, prefer more intellectual forms of humor, such as puns, and like to work in closed offices with few distractions.
  • Agreeableness is the degree to which a person cares about others. High scorers are trustworthy, altruistic, kind, affectionate, and, perhaps most important of all, likeable. They are less likely to divorce, are perceived much more favorably in job interviews, and are more likely to be promoted at work.
  • Low scorers tend to be far more aggressive, hostile, and uncooperative. They tend to see things from their own point of view, value being right over caring about other people’s thoughts and feelings, perform better in situations that require tough-mindedness, and are less likely to be taken advantage of by others.
  • Neuroticism, reflects the degree to which a person is emotionally stable and able to cope with potentially stressful situations.  High scorers are far more prone to worry, have low self-esteem, set unrealistic aspirations, and frequently experience a range of negative emotions, including distress, hostility, and envy. Their strong need to be loved, coupled with low self-esteem, can lead to forming overly possessive and dependent relationships.
  • Low scorers tend to be calm, relaxed, resilient in the face of failure, and emotionally secure. They are unfazed by negative life events, skilled at using humor to reduce anxiety in themselves and others, able to cope well with misfortune, and sometimes even thrive on stress.
  • Modern-day research suggests that Freud, Galton, and Jung were wrong and that the secret to understanding personality lies in the five fundamental factors that are embedded deep within our language and lives.
  • If you meet someone who has a dog and you want to gain genuine insight into their personality within seconds, ask them to describe the personality of their canine pal.
  • Morning types are attracted to concrete information rather than abstract thinking and like to rely on logic rather than intuition. They tend to be introverted, self-controlled, and eager to make a good impression on others. In contrast, evening types have a far more creative outlook on life, are more prepared to take risks, are more independent and nonconforming, and are a little impulsive.

The Ten Takeaways

  1. Develop the gratitude attitude.
  2. Be a giver.
  3. Hand a mirror in your kitchen.
  4. Buy a potted plant for the office.
  5. Touch people lightly on the upper arm.
  6. Write about your relationship.
  7. Deal with liars by closing your eyes and asking them to send you an email.
  8. Praise children’s efforts over ability.
  9. Visualize yourself doing, not achieving.
  10. Make long term goals with your elegy in mind.

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