My top-performing students always ask me about the best book to read on a given topic. They often reward me by sending me books too.
My father always had three jobs and worked hard to provide for his family. Saturday morning was the time for the three youngest ones to spend with our father. As the head of a large Catholic family in which there were a lot of mouths to feed, my father would take my two little sisters and me grocery shopping on that day. Then, after we loaded the car with the groceries, it was time for my favorite part of the day: bookstore shopping. We each would get a book. Friday was allowance day, Saturday was book day. I loved Saturdays.
As you can imagine, I now have a very extensive library. This is in spite of the fact that I give away a lot of books, as I am a firm believer in spreading wealth through information. I regularly buy 50 copies of a book I like and give them away to my most eager students when they visit the Poliquin Strength Institute. Recently, for example, I purchased a case of Carl Miller’s 2011 book, The Sport of Olympic-Style Weightlifting: Training for the Connoisseur.
And of course I get asked, “What is the best self-help book?” To me, the best one so far is 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute by Richard Wiseman, PhD (paperback, Vintage, 2010; also available under the title 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, both as a 2009 hardbound book by Borzoi and a Random House audio edition). It’s a fascinating look into the science of self-help. Before explaining why this is the best self-help book to buy, let me tell you why Richard Wiseman is uniquely qualified to discuss this subject.
Wiseman has done extensive research into fields not usually investigated in standard psychology. He has published popular books on the paranormal (Paranormality), luck (The Luck Factor), and laughter, lying and love (Quirkology). He is a popular speaker who has presented at Microsoft, CalTech, Google, and the Royal Society. He has appeared on primetime television shows such as Dateline (NBC) and 20/20 (ABC). He has appeared on the Emmy award-winning television series Horizon (BBC), and one poll found that he was the most frequently quoted psychologist in the British media.
Getting back to 59 Seconds, I’ll give you five good reasons to purchase this book.
1. It is research based. Many self-help books have no basis in research, but make it to market based upon the celebrity status of the author. Case in point: Jillian Michaels’ recently published self-help book Unlimited: How to Build an Exceptional Life. In an interview held in response to a controversial Los Angeles Times article questioning her qualifications to be a trainer, Michaels replied, “I currently own two certifications, one of which doesn’t expire. I developed my own continuing education program for trainers, with sports medicine doctors.” In contrast, Wiseman received a doctorate in psychology from the University of Edinburgh, and he has published more than 60 papers in refereed academic journals.
2. The author is funny and entertaining. Why does being funny make a difference? Funny is likeable, and you learn faster. Wiseman has an edge as a presenter because he was a professional magician, belonging to the Magic Circle, a prestigious organization founded in 1905 in London. As such, Wiseman often illustrates his principles with card tricks, such as one that deals with deception and observation that has become a viral hit on a YouTube video entitled “Colour Changing Card Trick.”
3. It dispels a lot of myths. I consider books such as Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, which discusses the power of visualization, to be a bunch of bullshit. Visualization is just one of the myths Wiseman discusses in 59 Seconds. Wiseman says that visualization is basically a form of escapism; for example, simply visualizing wealth and thinness doesn’t do anything to change the fact that someone is still poor and fat. (Another good book, from 1977, on this subject is How to Cure Yourself of Positive Thinking by Donald G. Smith). In contrast, Wiseman says that successful individuals use a technique called doublethink, which refers to the ability to hold two completely contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously. I can attest that every Olympic medalist I’ve ever coached has figured out through experience how to use “doublethink,” whether or not they’ve ever heard of the term.
4. He gets right to the point. After explaining what research says about a topic, whether it’s about motivation, persuasion or better relationships, he gives an “under a minute” (hence the title 59 Seconds) approach to put the best method into practice. His approach of “Think a little, change a lot,” means that the return on investment is huge. In the conclusion of this book, Wiseman provides several useful techniques, such as “Develop the Gratitude Attitude.” As with my articles on sleep that discuss the importance of a maintaining a grateful log, Wiseman offers the following advice: “Having people list three things that they are grateful for in life or three events that have gone especially well over the past week can significantly increase their level of happiness for about a month. This, in turn, can cause them to be more optimistic about the future and can improve their physical health.”
5. It is broad-based. The self-help market is a money-making monster, worth an estimated $11 billion (Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich has sold an estimated 70 million copies – more than twice as many as The Diary of Anne Frank). Wiseman’s book is pretty much a one-stop shop, as it covers a slew of self-help topics. The following are the chapter titles in 59 Seconds:
• Decision Making
Most self-help books are lame and repeat the same inaccurate, useless advice, such as “Post a picture of what you want to look like,” which research and my own experience has taught me is a technique of the wannabes, not the doers. Richard Wiseman’s book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute is a book for doers. Since the chances of me giving you a free copy are pretty slim, despite how much you visualize this scenario, I suggest you download a copy onto your Kindle or rush to the local bookstore and buy your own. Do it now!