For those who have read a few positive psychology and self-help books, there will be few surprises in Caroline Webb’s book. Having said that, I found Webb’s presentation of the information very helpful. Each chapter has a short summary of its most important insights. The book has a glossary, appendices, and a further reading section. These are all signs of a book that I like.
Crucially, though I’ve heard this information once before, I still appreciated being reminded of it. I deeply regretted that I wasn’t taking proper notes as I was reading this book (as it is a library copy and it needs to be returned soon). So now, I compiled a short summary of the insights from each section of the book.
- Ask yourself what your aim is and what the best way to achieve it is. What really deserves your attention in the context of what you want the result to be,
- If you have any negative expectations, try to find some arguments against them. Remember, your mood affects your judgment.
- Last but not least, have you heard of the WOOP (Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan) technique? Webb doesn’t explicitly name it in her book, but she definitely uses its insights. This technique makes you first visualize your success, and then imagine a situation in which you have to overcome an obstacle. Then you plan your solution to your obstacle.
Wish: Losing weight
Outcome: Fitting into one of my nice dresses. I should imagine how nice it would be to see myself in the mirror, to hear people’s compliments.
Obstacle: whenever I feel sad or rejected, I tend to binge eat on chocolate
Plan: (it works best, as an if/then plan): If I feel sad or rejected, I shall make myself a nice cup of tea instead.
- Webb focuses especially on the importance of single-tasking, which is something I always struggle with. She advises hiding your phone from your line of sight and switching off all notifications. I think she wouldn’t approve of my habit of doing something else while watching crappy TV…
- The book also suggests writing things down – I whole-heartedly approve. Writing things down helps a lot.
- Webb advises that if you have to refuse someone’s request due to prior commitments, you should NOT start with ”I’m sorry but I can’t”, as this creates a sense in which you ought to have complied with their request. Instead, start by acknowledging how good the other person’s idea is and then highlight your own priorities. [“To do a good job though, I’m having to let go of a lot of things”]
- Webb’s top tip to beat procrastination is to amplify the cost of inaction—can you make a pre-commitment, ideally involving other people who will hold you accountable? Then you will find it especially difficult (and guilt-inducing) to procrastinate.
- If you want other people to open up to you, you need to open up to them first
- Assume “good person, bad circumstances”. We tend to assume that when we fail it’s just a one-off, whereas when a stranger fails it’s a sign of corrupt character. That’s not fair.
- Say “yes and” rather than ”yes but” – try to find common ground if you can.
- Ask yourself “what would a different approach to solving this problem be?” Try to explain the problem to someone unfamiliar with it. Or write about it for ten minutes.
- Ask, “what could I do?” rather than “what should I do?”—it really takes the pressure off your own decision making.
- Another useful question is “in a year’s time, why will this decision have gone horribly wrong?” This often allows you to spot potential failings that you would not otherwise have noticed.
- To persuade others, focus on the human, emotional aspect of a problem.
- Try to provide a surprise or a source of anticipation for your audience.
- Avoid “the curse of knowledge”: don’t assume the audience knows what you know.
- Reframe nerves as excitement
- Try diaphragmatic breathing
- Label your feelings and what caused them
- Try to look at the situation from a third point of view.
- Keep a gratitude journal, and try to end each day on a high note, if you can
- A random act of kindness is the best way to improve your mood—and it will probably improve the mood of the person you’re being kind to!
As you can see, the book covers quite a wide range of problems and approaches, and it even has a section on how to make the advice “stick” (which acknowledges that although many of us know what we should do in theory, we struggle with the practice). It also includes a section on how to get the most out of meetings.
Overall, I highly recommend this book as a synthesis of the most important positive psychology insights out there. It’s an excellent companion to Laurie Santos’s Yale Online course “The Science of Well-Being”.
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