Bringing a Little Science to Self-Development – ’59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot’ – Prof. Richard Wiseman (Author) – Short Review


For a couple of years, I read pretty much nothing else apart from business-related or so-called self-development books. Then I started my own company a couple of years back and stopped reading. Fortunately, I rediscovered my passion for this kind of reading recently and bought ’59 Seconds’ from Borders at Fort Kinnaird. Total impulse buy, but I’m really glad I did.

The more that you read popular business books (the likes of Rich Dad, Poor Dad or Built for Success) and pop-psychology/self-development (Tony Robbins, Og Mandino, Deepak Chopra etc) the more you realise that a lot of them are very similar: they label techniques with different names, but ultimately base most of their techniques and ‘interventions’ on the same ideas such as affirmations, popularised Christianity, popularised eastern spiritualism etc.

One of the other things that becomes apparent, particularly in books/DVDs like ‘The Secret’, is that, were you to be a little cynical, their appeal may be attributed in part to a lot of emphasis being put on thinking about stuff and not a lot of emphasis actually being on getting off your backside and doing anything to achieve what you want.  I’m not saying that this is the wrong approach. Yet for some people these approaches can probably come across as a bit ‘airy fairy’, touchy-feely and not really based on anything terribly scientific.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and if after reading any of these books you are happier/richer/more relaxed/more successful then quite frankly the science behind it is largely irrelevant – it’s all about the end results. However, when chatting to friends/work colleagues/coaching clients about some of these approaches, sometimes a little science can go a long way to breaking down their initial barriers of cynicism.

In reading ’59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot’ by Professor Richard Wiseman I was reminded that he had done a TV series a few years back that I absolutely loved: scientific psychology experiments on TV including getting people ‘drunk’ on placebo, alcohol-free beer. He was an engaging presenter and the show was fantastic. I can’t remember what it was called, but it was in the days before multi-channel TV so probably was on BBC 2 or Channel 4. Anyway, it had nothing to do with me buying the book but does explain in a way why it is such a good read. In terms of its approach, in this book Professor Wiseman speaks to the slightly cynical friend/colleague/coaching client who demands a little bit more back-up of some interesting theories that are put forward in coaching/self-development books and actually does allow a little bit of fact to get in the way of a good story.

Some of the material debunks a few of the popular approaches that you find in so much of the self-help/self-development genre. However, some of it actually supports it. At no time does it seem to have an agenda to attack one particular type of self-help/self-development or any particular author or ‘guru’.

The more modern coaching/self-development techniques tend to centre more around the idea of having written goals, breaking things down into manageable chunks, taking action, remaining ‘present’ and enjoying the journey as much as the destination. A lot of slightly older coaching/self-development (particularly from the 80s) is a bit more pain-oriented, focusing on what is wrong and needs to be fixed, daily affirmations, asking the abundant universe to provide for you and believing wholeheartedly that it will. As such, although there appears to be no agenda behind this book, ’59 Seconds’ does actually seem to provide more evidence in support of the more modern approach to coaching/self-development and less for the ‘older school’.

In fact, the most striking thing for me was the research into the negative effects of focusing too much on what we don’t already have and wish to have. This is the approach most popularly seen in DVDs like ‘The Secret’ and books like ‘The Key’ (both hugely popular), all of which major in asking/believing that an abundant universe will channel its resources towards you, and the whilst I have no beef with that approach if it makes you happy, the research in Professor Wiseman’s book does make me question the effect that such hugely popular self-help resources have on the general happiness of the nation.

In short (since the purpose behind his book is to get to the point: to provide the scientific basis for Professor Wiseman’s suggestions but then sum them up in 59 seconds or less so that they are memorable and useful lessons), if you have read quite a lot of material from this genre, 59 Seconds is great reading. It helps you to refocus and to remember a lot of the simplest, yet most salient points and techniques in these books. It also helps you to remember that many of them are very, very similar in the techniques they employ, irrespective of the way that these techniques are dressed-up.  And (from my point of view) it provides a little pinch of salt with which to take many of the unsubstantiated claims in some of these books and DVDs.

Ultimately, I’m not knocking unsubstantiated ‘techniques’: if it works for you, your colleagues or your clients then, frankly, it works! However, for people who have perhaps immersed themselves in certain techniques for fulfilling their dreams and who are wondering why these wonderful techniques aren’t really providing them, or their colleagues or clients, with the results that they are looking for, it might just give these people the question marks or the healthy dose of perspective, and perhaps that little bit of concrete evidence, that they need to move on and try a different approach.  Ultimately, they say that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result…

In short, a must buy that might therefore just preserve your sanity!

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