59 Seconds - Critical summary review - Richard J. Wiseman

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59 Seconds - critical summary review

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Self Help & Motivation

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: 59 Seconds - Change Your Life in Under a Minute

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 0307474860; 978-0307474865

Publisher: Pan

Critical summary review

Allow us to hazard a guess: by now, you’ve probably read more than a dozen books that have promised in their subtitles or in their blurbs, to change your life. And how many of them have actually succeeded in doing that? Yeah, we know: not one.

Of course, some of the books might have been shoddy in their own right, but let’s face it, the real reason why you’ve remained dissatisfied with your life is not them, but you. Since if you are like most people, you’ve probably merely read these books, sticking to exactly zero percent of their advice and recommendations. And the reason for that? Well, that should be fairly obvious: you just didn’t have the time!

Fortunately, Richard J. Wiseman – Britain’s first professor in the Public Understanding of Psychology and the creator of YouTube’s hugely popular Quirkology channel – was more than aware of the reality of this problem, so he decided to write a book which takes upon itself the impossible task of changing your life in just under a minute.

True, this sounds like something only the worst kinds of authors would dare promising, but, the commercially appealing (and poorly chosen) title aside, “59 Seconds” is anything but your regular “don’t worry, be happy” self-help book. The difference: there’s not one single technique or suggestion in it that isn’t backed by evidence and serious, peer-reviewed studies.

Since there are so many of these packed between the covers of Wiseman’s book, we decided to explore in detail two of them, and reserve our last section for a list of 59-second bits of miscellaneous advice you can start following today! But, step by step!

Happiness is all about choosing a hobby (and making an effort)

Everybody knows that happiness doesn’t come easily. However, very few people would admit that it doesn’t come at all

No, we’re not talking about the slight chances one has of winning the lottery or meeting their “one and only” just around the corner; we’re talking about something far more profound and fixed: human nature. 

To find out more about its relationship to happiness, about a decade ago, researchers Kenneth Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky did what people of their kind do best: an experiment. The main part of the experiment consisted of recruiting the right participants, all of whom had recently experienced a change in their lives. 

Now, some of these participants were chosen because they underwent something Lyubomirsky and Sheldon dub a “circumstantial change,” a relatively important alteration to one’s overall circumstances in this case. In practice, this translates into events such as moving to a better house, buying a new car or getting a promotion. 

As for the rest, they were selected for the experiment because they introduced an “intentional change” to their lives purposefully, that is to say, they actively made an effort to alter their way of life. For example, some of these people had started out a new hobby, others had joined a new club, and yet a third group had embarked on a different career.

The results of the experiments were what Lyubomirsky and Sheldon had precisely hypothesized they would be. Namely, even though people in both groups experienced an immediate increase in happiness, those who had made an intentional change remained happier for a much longer period, as opposed to those who had experienced a circumstantial change that quickly reverted to their initial levels.

But why should something so attainable, such as guitar lessons, make a person happier than something so rare and desired, such as getting a raise? Two words: hedonistic habituation.

That is to say that  our bodies are programmed to always crave for new forms of positive experience. The opposite, unfortunately, is also true: after being exposed to the same wonderful experience for some time, we cease to derive any pleasure from it.

That’s why circumstantial change never works, even if it comes in the form of a million dollars: in a very short time, we get used to the initial excitement and the feeling of happiness fades away. Believe it or not, after some time, lottery winners tend to be no happier than recent victims of catastrophic accidents!

Intentional change is how you can trick your survival-based, joy-killing biological programs. It avoids hedonistic habituation because, by its very nature, it creates “a constantly changing psychological landscape.” In other words, whether a new melody or a new language lesson, you tend to experience something new every day.

So, there you have it – one of the most important life hacks you’ll ever learn: as far as your happiness is concerned, choosing a hobby is far more important than winning the lottery. And you can start the former today.

Watching your words (and making your marriage work)

The Romans had a great saying: “praise your friend in public, criticize him in private.” To translate that into a more modern equivalent: don’t gossip. Science has proven over and over again that even though people really like to gossip, surprisingly, nobody seems to like gossipers. So, if you like to be accepted in a group, say only positive things about other people and keep the negative ones to a minimum. 

However, if that other person is your lover or a spouse – this is merely the beginning! And we know this due to a lengthy and elaborate study psychologist and world-renowned expert on marital stability that John Gottman conducted in the 1990s. Nothing short of groundbreaking, the experiment lasted for six years and followed the lives of more than a hundred newlywed couples. What Gottman eventually discovered was rather striking. 

It turned out that it was possible to predict whether a couple would remain together or get a divorce on the grounds of no more than two variables: the extent to which the partners knew the minutiae of each other’s lives and the ratio of positive to negative remarks exchanged between them.

In other words, couples who remained together tended to know trivial things about each other such as favorite movies or shirt-collar/dress size. Besides, they tended to praise each other much more often than they criticized each other. 

Believe it or not, Gottman was even able to figure out the ratio of positive to negative comments that predicted the downfall of a partnership: five to one! If you want to make things work with your spouse, never forget that, scientifically, it takes five instances of agreement and support to undo the harm caused by a single criticism.

And even that one negative remark should be modified a bit with a little – but essential – “but.” Because this “but” is an unambiguous symbol of one’s willingness to rise above another person’s flaws, which is what relationships are, more or less, based upon. 

So, the next time you say that your boyfriend is not exactly the smart type, add something along the lines of “but, boy, he makes me laugh!” Also, a sentence that starts with “my girlfriend is sometimes too tidy” must end with “but that takes a lot of the burden off my shoulders.” Otherwise, you’ll need five positive remarks to break things even!

A wealth of great 59-second advice (on everything from interviews to wallets)

A 12-minute summary is too short to explain Wiseman’s numerous advice in as many details as we did in the case of the two above, but it is long enough to give you a brief overview of a few others that are guaranteed to make you rethink your behavior.

No. 1. Giving the flawless interview is all about admitting to your flaws

If you want to nail your interview – and who doesn’t? – rather than talking about the breadth of your skills or the depth of your competence, you should simply direct your energy toward acting more likable. Three simple behavior adjustments may be enough to get you the job you want: 

  • Talkabout an interesting topic, unrelated to the interview and the job.
  • Confess your weakness the minute the interview starts.
  • Don’t freak out if you make a mistake: people often identify better with those who are not afraid to be something less than perfect.

No. 2. Creativity is “green”

If you want to inspire creative thoughts, you should place plants and flowers in your working room and, if possible, ensure that the room’s windows look out on trees and grass, not concrete and steel. Trying to fake your way through this – by, say, placing HD screens showing live camera feeds from natural scenes – won’t work: studies have repeatedly demonstrated that this doesn’t aid innovation, nor does it make people feel more relaxed. 

Of course, there’s an even better, more natural way to get those creative juices flowing: just head out the door and find the nearest green spot near you!

No. 3. Tricking someone into helping (and even – dating) you

There is substantial evidence that humans perceive gentle touches as signs of high status. The toucher is, as a rule, rated as far more dominant than the “touchee” by people looking at photographs of one person touching another. And this is especially true in the case of one very specific type of touch: the “all-important male-to-female touch on the upper arm.” Apparently, even when women do not register this touch consciously, unconsciously, it makes them think more highly of the person they are talking to.

So, if you want to get someone – especially a girl – to help you out with something, try the briefest and kindest of touches on her upper arm. Add in a compliment or two while doing this, and you’re significantly increasing the likelihood of this girl finding you attractive.

Be careful, though. As Wiseman warns, “touching is a strong social signal, and even a few inches can make all the difference between the recipient inviting you in for coffee or calling the police.”

No. 4. Reduce your stress levels in seconds

For all intents and purposes, stress is a relic of bygone times, a sort of symbolic rendering of the ancient (much more literal) “fight-or-flight” reflex. And although mild amounts of stress may help some people focus on the task at hand, constant problems cause increased blood pressure, weight gain, and a weakening of the immune system. 

Fortunately, there are a few quick-fix ways to reduce your stress level in seconds! For example, either one of these four things should contribute to bringing your blood pressure down to earth:

  • Instead of thinking about your problems, start praying for others’ well-being.
  • Instead of recuperating in silence or listening to Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” recover from stressful events by listening to Pachelbel’s “Canon” (it is scientifically proven that classical music is more relaxing).
  • Spend more time in the sun: 30 minutes are enough to make you feel better.
  • Use humor to cope with stress: people who do this are 40% less likely to suffer a heart attack and live four and a half years longer than average.

Even better than all of the above – buy a dog, preferably a Labrador. Owning a dog reduces stress substantively, in part because it promotes social contact. And if you can’t, watch YouTube videos of koalas hugging humans – that helps as well!

No. 5. How to never lose your wallet again

According to a study done by scientists at Oxford University, people may be naturally inclined to feel good about – and, therefore, willing to help – vulnerable and defenseless infants. Consequently, merely seeing a photograph of a smiling baby makes them rapidly become more caring.

To test out this theory, Wiseman intentionally “lost” 240 wallets, inside 40 of which he had slipped a photograph of a smiling baby. The other wallets contained either a different kind of photograph (cute puppy, a happy family, a contented elderly couple), a charity card, or nothing in particular.

Wiseman got about half of these wallets back, and – lo and behold – most of them contained a photograph of a smiling baby! So, if you want your wallet returned, just put a photograph of the cutest, happiest baby inside and wait.

Final Notes

Quirky, engaging and stimulating, “59 Seconds” is almost everything most of the other self-help books want to be, but aren’t: a salvo of scientifically-backed and life-changing tips and tricks that can truly be described as timeless and also shared with other people without blushes or reservations.

Though some of Wiseman’s claims are not really enlightening – and some are downright commonsensical – the book is indeed a gem in a world of mediocre and fairly cheap self-help books. Perfect if you’re smart and hardworking, and even perfecter if you want to get smarter while doing less work.

12min Tip

Do yourself a favor and write your own eulogy. Numerous studies have shown that, almost ironically, knowing how one would like to be remembered after dying is the best motivator they can have in life. If you want to get a little playful, put on a metaphorical mask and start acting as if you’re your own “Ghost of Christmas Future” – as Dickens taught, that brings quite the result in the present.

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Who wrote the book?

Richard Wiseman, Ph.D.(1966), is a professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is world-renowned for his research into unusual areas of psychol... (Read more)

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