Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

July 2, 2005

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is a riveting look at rapid cognition, or our natural ability to form snap judgments. Gladwell compiles an assortment of compelling examples of how we use our rapid cognition-sometimes for better, sometimes for worse-to make split decisions.

Meet a psychologist who can predict with 95% accuracy whether a couple will still be married 15 years later by observing them for only one hour. Find out how researchers can tell which doctors will get sued and which won’t after only observing 40 seconds of a conversation between doctor and patient. Meet the art historians and scholars who were able to spot an art forgery in seconds after science had “proven” it was authentic.

This ability to discern a great deal from a limited amount of information is known as thin-slicing.

As fascinating as the examples in the book are, what I found most interesting is what it teaches us about our snap judgments. Sometimes they go right (a firefighter who gets his men out of a building seconds before the floor collapses), and sometimes they go wrong (as in the case of the police officers who shot Amadou Diallo, an unarmed man). Why?

More experience, not more information, seems to be the key. Experience educates our snap judgments, and experience helps eliminate the snap judgments that are behind unconscious prejudice, what Gladwell calls “the dark side of rapid cognition.” Through experience we identify signatures that allow us to make accurate evaluations in a short time. Information, especially as we compile more and more of it, tends to obscure these signatures and leads to less accurate evaluations. In many cases, this seems to contradict common sense, but the evidence in Blink is undeniable.

Ultimately, the book’s message is to respect our powers of rapid cognition, to recognize the times thin-slicing serves us and the times it leads us astray. But more than that. Rapid cognition doesn’t need to be a mystery and we victims of it’s whim. We can educate our snap judgments, and thereby learn to control them.

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Until Today! – Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind by Iyanla Vanzant

June 2, 2005

Until Today! is a book of “Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind,” as it’s subtitle reveals.

The book is broken into twelve sections—one for each month of the year—each centered on a different theme. For example, January is life, February is love, and March is awareness. What’s nice about this structure is that the power of the themed devotions builds as the reader proceeds day by day through the month. Like peeling an onion, you’ll find yourself going deeper and deeper in your daily reflections. Of course, that requires you use the book consistently, but even if you don’t, you’ll likely still enjoy it.

The devotions can be used as a personal development tool, too. At the end of each one, Vanzant offers a suggested action for the day. “Just for today…” The action could be a shift in perspective for the day, or a change in attitude, or a new belief. Often it is a suggestion to quiet your mind and experience your inner or outer world in some new way.

I use the book as a source of inspiration for meditations or journaling. It’s a spring board for thinking about my beliefs and attitudes about myself and the world. Some of the daily devotions are more effective than others—you can’t expect all of them to resonate with everyone—but when it works, it works well. I’ve learned quite a bit about myself as a result of reflections that began from one of Vanzant’s devotions.

To anyone who wants to begin or continue a practice of daily meditation or reflection, I recommend Until Today! by Iyanla Vanzant.


The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

May 2, 2005

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has been a bestseller in the field of personal development since its publication in 1989. A new fifteenth anniversary edition was recently published. I bought my copy in 1994 and it’s been one of my most referenced books ever since, second only to my dictionary, I think.

Unlike other self-help books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has a timeless quality to it, as if it is addressing the core of what makes us human beings. It is not a quick-pick-me-up kind of book, and because of that, some may find it dryer and more difficult than the latest pop psychology best-seller. Covey does not speak down to the reader; he expects the reader to pay a reasonable price in time and energy for the knowledge he imparts. But his personality comes through in the sincerity and earnestness of his message, not to mention the numerous examples he uses from his own life (he and his wife have nine children, a sufficiently large enough data sample from which to draw plenty of examples that are both on-point and quite funny).

The individual habits are invaluable. They are explained clearly and compellingly, and by the end of each chapter, the value of each habit seems as fundamental as the value of oxygen. Exercises accompany each chapter so the reader can begin applying the lessons and building the habits.

But my favorite lesson comes from the overall structure of the seven habits. The first three habits are the habits of Private Victory, the habits of independence: Be Proactive; Begin with the End in Mind; Put First Things First. The second three habits are the habits of Public Victory, the habits of interdependence: Think Win/Win; Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood; Synergize. Covey shows us that there is a natural evolution from dependence to independence to interdependence. Independence will serve you up to a point. Then it is necessary to collaborate if you want to continue to grow. An interdependent relationship creates a synergy that is greater than the sum of its parts.

And the final habit is the habit of renewal, which Covey calls Sharpening the Saw, a metaphor so vivid it needs no further explanation.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is featured in the Turn On to Life! home-study course.


The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns

April 2, 2005

Cognitive Therapy is based on the premise that what you think determines how you feel. If you want to change how you feel, then change how you think. My introduction to Cognitive Therapy came from Dr. Burns’ first book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. It offers practical and powerful advice on treating depression without the use of drugs.

Burns’ follow-up, The Feeling Good Handbook, offers a greater emphasis on application, and covers a wider range of problems than Dr. Burns’ first book. He has expanded his treatment of such problems as perfectionism, procrastination, various anxiety disorders, and low self-esteem. There is even a chapter on how to use Cognitive Therapy to give more dynamic interviews!

But the biggest addition is the section on improving relationships through effective communication. Our thoughts can interfere with communication before we even open our mouths. When we feel good, communication tends to be easy. But what about when we are angry, or when we feel blamed or criticized? How well do we communicate then? According to Dr. Burns, “the key to intimacy, friendship, and success in business is the ability to handle conflict successfully.” He explains the characteristics of bad communication and offers several effective techniques for improving communication in conflict situations. One of my favorite chapters is “How to Deal with Difficult People.” I wish I’d learned these techniques twenty years ago!

Whether Cognitive Therapy is new to you or you’ve used it before, I recommend this book because of its emphasis on practical application. What Burns has given us with The Feeling Good Handbook is a comprehensive set of easy-to-understand exercises and tools to feel better about all areas of our lives. By emphasizing the paramount importance of using these tools, he makes it quite easy for the reader to start “feeling good.”

The Feeling Good Handbook is featured in the Turn On to Life! home-study course.


A Short Course in Kindness by Margot Silk Forrest

March 2, 2005

The first thing that struck me when I read this inspirational little book was Forrest’s proactive definition of kindness. Kindness is not an insincere compliment or an empty “call me if you need help.” Kindness requires us to give something of ourselves. It doesn’t have to be a huge sacrifice, either. It is one part empathy, one part compassion, one part charity. Kindness is giving the perfect gift without the holiday.

But more than telling us what kindness is and isn’t, Forrest inspires the reader to be kind. She does so most powerfully by seeding her pages with first-hand accounts of the effects of kindness on every day people like you and me. For this reader, these stories conjured memories of kind acts that were bestowed upon me, reminding me how a smile or a hug at just the right moment got me through some of my most painful experiences. Surely, I thought to myself as I read, these are things I could do for others.

And that is my favorite part about reading A Short Course in Kindness. The feeling I come away with that kindness is inevitable. It is in our nature. Despite the horror that the news media report to us every day, examples of people being kind to each other abound. I wish this book was required reading!

Forrest’s writing style is warm and humorous, and she isn’t afraid to share her own painful experiences. The chapters are short, yet quite moving. I find it makes for great reading whenever I catch myself with a few minutes to spare. I’ll read a few pages at bedtime, click off the light, and slip off to sleep feeling peaceful and optimistic. It’s the kind of book that you will want to read more than once.

A Short Course in Kindness is featured in the Turn On to Life! home-study course.