Friday, 8 April 2011
The world of self-help is thick with urban myths and intuitively reasonable claims, and it's easy to find yourself nodding along to something that, under less emotive inspection, is fatuous.
Wiseman clearly loves that sort of inspection. In :59 Seconds he takes us on a guided tour through all the big names in folk psychology; happiness, persuasion, motivation, creativity, attraction, stress, relationships, decision making, parenting, and personality. And as he guides, he rigorously evaluates, with a big grin on his face.
Through a mixture of wide research and his own often unusual experiments, he comes up with a few surprises.
Positive thinking is a mixed bag; rewards make people work less hard; two minds are not better than one; playing hard to get is counterproductive; taking out anger on a punch-bag (for example) makes you angrier; and many more. Wiseman unmasks these fallacies with infectious zeal and smirky humour (and he is very funny: I first knew of Wiseman by seeing him perform magic/psychology/stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe.)
It's not all debunking, though. The book came about when Wiseman was asked by a friend about happiness; when Wiseman launched into an essay-length answer, his friend interrupted him. I'm busy -- are there any tips that take less than a minute to tell me about?
These tips range from the practical (put a picture of a baby in your wallet, and it is much more likely to be returned if you lose it) to the common sense (stop procrastinating by starting the task you want to finish) to the stupid (grip a pencil between you teeth without touching it with your lips, so you smile, so you feel better) to the creepy (touch someone on the upper arm and they are more likely to say yes to whatever you ask).
There are dozen more tips in :59 Seconds to statistically improve your chances of success in various fields. There are even one or two I might use. Wiseman writes smartly enough to hide the fact that many of his offerings are a little underseasoned, though, and require at least a pinch of salt to be palatable.