More from the mindfulness movement, but with a fun Holmesian twist. You don't have to know much about Sherlock Holmes to enjoy the book. Plus, if youMore from the mindfulness movement, but with a fun Holmesian twist. You don't have to know much about Sherlock Holmes to enjoy the book. Plus, if you are interested in the Psychology of Perception, this book's end notes lists key reading for you. I gave it 3 stars and not 4 (I only reserve 5 stars for books that change my life) because I found myself highly distractable at times while reading it. i.e., I wasn't engrossed. The prose can tend to wander just a bit at times. But Konnikova's writing in this book and in traditional and online media is delightful. She's definitely an author to watch. ...more
“Positive thinking is so firmly enshrined in our culture that knocking it is a little like attacking motherhood or apple pie.” -Srikumar Rao, Ph.D., author of Happiness at Work.
Thinking about what can go wrong with a business plan is a secret task, lest anyone in the board room sniff out treachery. Planning for the worst possible scenario in life is chastised as a Fates-tempting practice, as if the idea itself could manifest doom. Positive thinking has taken over the culture. Any attempt to examine its logic, as Dr. Rao implies above, is met with disdain and even fear.
But we must examine the tenants of positive thinking. Visualizing a positive outcome, eradicating negative thoughts, setting meaningful goals, and being optimistic in all endeavors can actually lead us down paths to failure and sadness. Research shows that these practices can be dangerous pursuits that evoke the opposite of their intentions. Some studies discovered that visualizing yourself as having accomplished a goal actually decreases your likelihood of actually achieving that goal. In educational studies, the almost-holy positive-thinking concept of telling children they are smart harms their ability to do well on increasingly hard tasks. All of this “glass half full” stuff has a dark downside.
What if, instead of bubbly (but ignorant) bliss was replaced by sensible realism? Would we descend into the dark depths of cynicism if we examined the cracks in the positive thinking armor?
In his book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman shares his own journey across the underbelly of the optimism movement in America. In the spirit of Barbara Ehrenreich and Julie Norem, Burkeman sets out to test some of the more damaging principles of positive thinking and battles with the assumptions surrounding them. Burkeman educates us about the Stoics and their hard-won and precious reality focus. He also visits an extreme Buddhist meditation retreat to become hyper-aware of the “bad thoughts are our enemy” myth. His meeting with an Oprah guru teaches him that silence gets a bad rep. Other adventures and more lessons continue toward the end of the book, where Burkeman realizes we all may be asking ourselves the wrong question. It isn’t about “how to be happy” as much as it’s about “defining happiness” that fits into our human existence.
Combining Stoic and Buddhist teachings, Burkeman gives us this alternative perspective on how people and companies can release their fears by “leaning into the discomfort” (as therapists say) as opposed to turning our backs to it. We need not stare at the sun to see the light, nor must we always be thinking “positive” thoughts in order to succeed. As humans, we can’t keep tensing that positivity muscle and expect it to hold out. Instead, Burkeman suggests, perhaps we should wonder why we insist on positivity in the first place.
I like this book. It’s a fun read and the storytelling makes difficult concepts easy to understand. I’ve already put some things I’ve learned from the book into practice. For example, I now know that my anxious thoughts are not me, no more than my internal organs are “me”. I can step back from my thoughts and observe them like I can observe my breath, or the weather, and realize I have little to do with them, and they have little to do with me. When I feel anxiety creeping up, I go into this “movie mode” and let it play out. At the end, I see what’s left. What issues really need addressing? What are my resources? What do I need? I can disown the anxiety and take responsibility for solving the problem instead. Circumstances are weather. They are neither good nor bad. They just need to be dealt with.
The “negative” path to happiness, Burkeman poses, will render a more solid and realistic pursuit and destination than constantly fighting against our own nature to spot the inconsistencies and dangers that await us. This path to a happy realism may be just what we need to get out of the positive thinking hangover we’ve all been nursing for the past 30 years.
Check out my interview with Oliver Burkeman, the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, at PurpleCarPark or on iTunes at PurpleCar Park. (transcript available)....more
I found this book to be entertaining and informative. It's halfway in between anything Malcolm Gladwell writes and Dan Ariely's Predictably IrrationalI found this book to be entertaining and informative. It's halfway in between anything Malcolm Gladwell writes and Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational book: a fun read with just the right combination of real science so as not to make your head spin. This book is for a wide audience, but mostly is for those who are interested in workplace behaviors, behaviorist psychology and motivation theory.
Please check out my podcast where Daniel Pink and I talk about why businesses are "stuck in the 50's" and can't see how their antiquated reward-and-punishment system of motivation is sinking them.
**spoiler alert** NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman 2009
New York Magazine journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Me**spoiler alert** NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman 2009
New York Magazine journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman team up to add commentary and more information to their articles in this new book published by Twelve, a division of the Hachette Book Group.
The last page of the book has this blurb about Twelve:
“TWELVE was established in August 2005 with the objective of publishing no more than one book per month. We strive to publish the singular book, by authors who have a unique perspective and compelling authority.”
They lost me at “compelling authority.”
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman are journalists, not scientists. This book isn’t a synthesis of research; it’s an opinion piece with a conservative bent (indeed, Ashley Merryman’s back-flap bio boasts that she “lives in Los Angeles, where she runs a church-based tutoring program for inner-city children.”)
I’m not advocating gatekeeping; there is definitely a place for independent research and grass-roots efforts. Child Psychology isn’t one of those places. NutureShock is just another parenting book in a long line of book written by reporters for profit. The authors have a reputation for reporting on overlooked studies with rare results, and they boast in their chapter notes that their New York Magazine articles were popular. Compiling and expounding on past work seems to be the best way to write a book these days; this doesn’t mean that the articles, as a book, make a cohesive or worthy statement.
Basically, I found the book to be the amateur, armchair science that is fun to read in small bites while on the train. Read it for entertainment purposes, but don’t implement the few approaches outlined at home; they aren’t tested enough, and the results have yet to be repeated to gain respect in academia.
The book does, unwittingly, bring up some good points about statistics, studies, and systemic judgments based on those studies. Statistics and study results are nothing to respect when presented alone. The best way to make decisions about anything is to weigh multiple instances of evidence, to never rely on one event. The authors do their best to rip up school district decisions on testing, anti-obesity and anti-bullying programs, by claiming these decisions were not based on scientific results but just made using traditional thought and instinct. While some programs in districts may be made more based on hope than science, the majority of IQ testing and other educational programs are based on years of study and a large meta-analysis of results of hundreds of studies. To suggest otherwise, as the authors do, is hasty, irresponsible, and insulting to educational scholars, teachers, and parents.
The authors proceed to cite a study here, a successful preschool program there, to illustrate their point that decisions about children should be based on evidence. I agree. But A LOT of evidence. Not an anecdotal story or two (which the authors provide), nor 1 or 2 labs that keep getting the same results for their handful of articles. The authors bemoan the lack of long-term studies in almost every chapter, yet fail to mention the very sophisticated and accurate methods of behavioral statistics answers this issue. They sing praises of a preschool program called Tools of the Mind, but conveniently forget to list the challenges associated with the program. This book is a thinly disguised attempt to steer the conversation toward a conservative agenda in education.
The writing is ok. Their lack of academic tone in parts is jarring. For example, on page 190, the authors use colloquial language where they shouldn’t have: “… a separate word to distinguish the kind of popular teen who diminishes others –in Dutch, for instance, the idiomatic expression popie-jopie refers to teens who are bitchy, slutty, cocky, loud and arrogant.”
An academic article would have used words like “promiscuous,” “disagreeable,” and “condescending,” especially since the Dutch don’t use the English colloquial words that are listed. I also question the choice of listing the derogatory words for females first, or at all.
At times the authors conduct their own “studies,” but we should disregard these results. We have no idea what the sampling was, what the control group was given (if there even was a control group), or how the study was designed at all. Until their results can be repeated many times, then one-off studies should merely bring up ideas for further study.
The only good that comes out NutureShock is the reminder to hold studies, especially those recounted by non-scientist media, in suspicion. If you are planning to pick up this book, read it for entertainment purposes only. It may make you think a bit differently in some aspects of child-rearing, like how your teen may see arguing as the opposite of lying, or how we whites actively avoid talking about race. The authors should have stayed with reflecting trends in traditional parenting, and avoided passing themselves off as authorities. ...more
Hear ye, you wordsmiths of the web, you purveyors of pages, you iterators of information: Welcome to Elsewhere, U.S.A., a state of mind in which you aHear ye, you wordsmiths of the web, you purveyors of pages, you iterators of information: Welcome to Elsewhere, U.S.A., a state of mind in which you are constantly moving; You are slinging nothing but ideas and giving up your leisure time to do it; You are working from home but are always available to the company via your Blackberry (which you are using to schedule your babysitters and manage your children); You hold the fear of the layoff or of lost earnings if you dare close your laptop long enough to have a McMeal with your family; You love your loft space or your recently-converted suburban bedroom/home office, until, of course, you get a look at your neighbors’, after which you shall work more feverishly than ever to stave off the envy and hopefully get that promotion or new account that will allow you, too, to put in the latest in soundproofing technology and remote-control window shades. Your very personality is being pulled apart by millions of messages. Welcome to Elsewhere, that constant state of motion and distraction that takes you anywhere and everywhere but here.
Dalton Conley, NYU sociologist, sounds the welcoming bell to you and me, the Weberati. We can do our jobs from anywhere with a decent internet connection. We work in information and produce ideas for a living. If we work for a manufacturer of actual physical products, we work far from the production line, most likely never experiencing a factory even on a training tour. We are today’s middle-class, white-collar worker. We work from home, we take our laptop on vacation, and we answer emails on our iPhones during the time-outs of our kid’s basketball game. We have this idea that if we just “get one more thing done” before bed, that our hours are well-spent, that our everlasting souls will be cleaned by hard work and that God will shower us with prosperity.
This latest book from prolific writer and academic researcher Conley traces the history behind the combination of work and leisure (“weisure”). Conley starts out the book unflinchingly nostalgic for the good ol’ days, when loyal IBM-ers were admired for their willingness to sing company songs and wear ties, as long as they had their nights and weekends free to play bridge and golf. Conley waxes on a bit about how leisure time was actually once meant for relaxation, instead of the multi-tasking work space it is today (I personally found this nostalgia to be a bit contrite, as Conley and I are both members of Generation X and only experienced those so-called halcyon days via our parents’ memories.)
Leisure and work are becoming mixed, says Conley, as companies like Google increasingly become one-stop shops for their employees. There is on-site laundry, showers, meals (which are free at Google, something Conley was amazed by), doctors, nurses, tax accountants and sometimes daycare. Practically any service the company can help you outsource will be available to you so you can spend more time working. You can “work from home” to spend more time with your kids, but your kids say you won’t look up from the laptop, and your co-workers can hear Rock Band II in the background of your conference call. Meanwhile, you notice your neighbor that holds the same job you do but for another company, has a new Mercedes in her driveway and you wonder how she earns twice your salary. You work harder and longer, ticking away any hours you aren’t working as lost income. You get so used to this state of always looking at the next thing you must do/have/say/be, you never look inward. You get splintered into many different roles, shattering your one individual into what Conley calls an “intravidual.” Nostalgia aside, Dalton has a point.
Still, even though I know Conley was addressing me and my fellow techie folk, I couldn’t help but be a bit offended by the characterization. The term “Blackberry Mom,” [cover/title, pg 1:] is as offensive and marginalizing as “Soccer Mom,” and it should’ve tipped me off on the tone of the book. If you are in my Weberati crowd, you will probably be offended on page 56 when Conley calls open-source software “communism” without noting how open-source actually spurred innovation in the private sector. You’ll also probably (well, hopefully) be offended on page 73 when he treats the modern norm of working women and their influence on the workplace with this line: “You can take the woman out of the kitchen but you can’t take the kitchen out of the woman.” That’s really the only media bait in the book, though.
The book reads like a textbook, but the it deserves the effort just on the amount of information it contains. The Appendix alone, with its collection of intriguingly titled articles, is a fair exchange for the purchase price. Unfortunately, Dalton takes a while to get to his main point. The long introduction lays down loads of social history to set up the story. The first 62 pages lay thick groundwork for his theory of what is happening with the state of the working person today. He goes through American social history, namely the social changes brought on by the industrial revolution, and emphasizes the occasional example to demonstrate how our work/life balance and our politics have changed, like the dwindling participation in unions over the last 50 years.
The author’s purpose of the book isn’t found until page 63:
“WHERE WE ARE AT
So, we have gone from a country with high ceilings and fans to low ceilings and air-conditioning; we have gone from an economy where many workers serviced one machine to one in which each American has dozens of machines working for them over the course of a given day; we have gone from being a nation of wandering renters to ever more tooted homeowners; we have gone from a country that experienced race riots in the 1960s–during a period of economic growth spread relatively equally across income deciles–to a country of almost Third World levels of economic inequality, where solid majorities vote to repeal the estate tax. We used to enjoy our free time and left the Europeans to work more than us; now we have more kids to take care of than they do, even as we work significantly more hours.*
No one single factor–not air-conditioning or computers; not female labor force participation; not tax policy alone or immigration–has caused these dramatic shifts. In fact, it is probably a futile exercise to ask how much tax policy drove the development of computers, how much computers drive income inequality, and how much income inequality drives commuting distances. Better to take a deep breath and unfocus the eyes to try to take in the entire mosaic that makes up the social landscape of today. *Americans work an average of 25.1 hours per week (averaged across all working-age persons) in contrast to Germans, for instance, who average 18.6 hours, We work over 6 more weeks than the French per year. See Alberto ALessina, Edward L. Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote, ‘Work and Leisure in the U.S. And Europe: Why So Different?’ Working Paper no 11278, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass., 2005.”
I wish those two paragraphs and the citation were on page 1; they would’ve helped me parse out Conley’s academic prose. Although I appreciate the book being chock-full of information, as I read I kept wondering when he’d reveal his point.
Conley does get to his point, eventually, but at times his logic seemed a bit dubious. I was taken aback on page 56 when Conley cited a 2005 study, using the results as a base for his claim that most people still work for the same company for over 20 years. This may be true for the Baby Boomers, but not for any of us under 40 right now. I’m in my 30’s and I don’t know anyone who has worked for any 1 company in their careers, not even my friends who are medical doctors. We are consistently told by career advisors that after 5 years we should be looking for another opportunity, lest we appear habitual, lazy, and unwilling to learn. We believe that the retirement age will be raised to 75, there will be no social security pensions, and we will have worked at so many different companies and had so many varied careers that we will have lost count. Looking at Conley’s one-company-for-20-years claim in detail, the facts become clear. The study, cited from Working Paper #11878 from the National Bureau of Economic Research (where Conley holds a Research Associate position), looked at retirement age workers (ages 58-62) in 1969, and found that they had worked, on average, for one company for 21.9 years. The study then compared their 58-62 years old counterparts in 2002, and found that they had worked, on average, for one company for 21.4 years. Conley claims that despite our hectic schedules and our 24/7 mobile offices, we’re still all working for the same company, just like the IBM Man in 1950. When we, the GenXers, get to be 58-62, my guess is that number will drop from 21.4 to about 10.6. I’d like to see a similar study of people who are 42 years of age right now and see how many different places they’ve worked. Then I’d like to see the same data on people aged 32 today. 21.4 years at one company is a pipe dream for the average Generation Xer. Conley’s choice to cite this study to support his everything-old-is-new-again-but-we-work-more-than-the-IBMer-of-1950 was misleading at best. This slight massaging of statistics is common practice for academics, economists and media members alike, so it’s difficult to make a case against Conley for doing it. There are infinite ways of massaging statistics and relegating the details of data to footnotes in order to support your point, so when numbers are involved, caveat emptor.
Despite the nostalgia and the numbers games, Elsewhere U.S.A. and Professor Conley earn respect. Conley’s points about materialism and the ever-increasing gap between the classes are a sharp slap upside our credit-busting heads. Conley is, plain and simple, one of us, and he keeps us well informed of the changes in our lives that we are too busy to notice. Although Conley avoids Twitter, he knows the scene. He references some books that are well-known in the social media circles I run in (e.g., Anderson’s The Long Tail) and knows the pressures we face in an outsourcing, all-consuming workplace. He’s just as guilty as the rest of us, but he’s a sane voice in the fog of our all-too-modern, fast-motion lives.
Please listen to my interview with Dalton Conley about Elsewhere, U.S.A., where we discuss what he discovered about himself on his solo trip in Europe as a young man, how we are all becoming splintered into a thousand tiny pieces, and what these changing norms mean for all of us. Podcast can be found at: http://www.purplecar.net/2009/07/19/e... ...more