Kristen's Reviews > Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change

Redirect by Timothy D. Wilson
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Sep 28, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: firstreads, nonfiction, science, sociology
Read from September 15 to 28, 2011

One of the many unwelcome bits of advice my husband had for me in the early years of our marriage was that it's not a good idea to give loved ones self-help books. Especially for Christmas.

So true.

I'm kind of a self-help book addict, though—although you don't see too many self-help books on my "read" list. That's because I don't actually read them. Or at least, I don't finish them. Of all the self-help books I've ever started, I think 7 Habits is the only one I've ever finished. I had to—I was in a workshop at work. Great book, too.

Redirect is not a self-help book. It is rather a look at what works both in the self-help industry and outside it. Like self-help books, however, I think it's for people like me—people who understand that we've sabotaged ourselves far too many times, and are tired of it, and tired too of watching our loved ones sabotage themselves. It's for people who never thought much of The Secret and are happy to read some sense about that scheme. And it's about the science of happiness.

We all want to be more effective in our many roles—as creators, mates, parents, friends, leaders, and followers. This book helps us discern between good advice and bad, and it does so in a friendly, non-academic and easy-going style (despite the fact that the author is a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.

Some of the best news in this book is that small changes help. You don't need to reinvent yourself. Instead, you need to work on what you're telling yourself and your children about the world. Redirect is especially good for parents and teachers, by the way, since so much of our self-narratives are learned when we're young. Helping our children shape functional narratives is a key component of helping them be self-fulfilled, productive adults.

I have a couple questions for the author. I think Timothy Wilson draws perhaps too fine a line between unhelpful affirmations and helpful self-narratives. Different affirmations work for different people—most people can find some positive mantra to help themselves. And Wilson gives a great explanation early on about how psychological studies (which are checking what works and what doesn't) must be carefully set up. You can't allow people to self-select, you have to have truly random groups, you have to have big enough groups, etc.

In the next chapter, however, Wilson cited a study in which people at risk for Huntington's disease either took the test and learned they had the disease; took the test and learned they didn't have the disease; or chose not to take the test. Immediately after learning they had an incurable disease, the people in that group were less happy than the people who took the test and learned they did not have the disease. After a year, however, the happiness quotients of those two groups was the same. The least happy group, after a year, was the group of people who had chosen not to find out. Wilson and the study's researchers theorized that uncertainty isn't good for happiness. WAIT! Wasn't this a self-selected group of people, who obviously didn't trust their own resilience in the face of bad news?

Still, the test's results were fascinating—as is just about everything in these pages.

In fact, I want to give this book to everyone I love. But I won't. Since I've actually read it, I can instead drop tidbits into letters and conversation—no doubt a better technique anyway. This is a good quote, for instance, that Wilson uses: "As Kurt Vonnegut said in Mother Night, 'We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.'"

Disclaimer - I received Redirect through the Goodreads Firstreads program.
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