on 23 November 2012
I had mixed feelings about this book and its borrowings from mainstream psychological research, largely because I feel that psychologists so often suffer from something they themselves call `Confirmation Bias'. I.e. they seem to conduct experiments to prove a `hunch' they have, then they selectively interpret the results to show that their hunch was correct, ignoring any evidence to the contrary. In addition to this they so often research topics where the conclusion is already obvious to any socially functioning human being. A critical thinker could spend a lot of time discussing the validity of many of the conclusions. And then again, in this book we are told that pretending to be a fighter pilot will improve your vision by 40% (p331). Wow. Those who need glasses can throw them away after a visit to an RAF base.
Maybe this is too cynical an appraisal of the profession. A lot of sound material has come out of psychological research and there is a lot of interesting material that is reasonably well accepted as correct and of practical value. Granted, many talented people have offered valuable contributions to the field, too many to name here. But when an experiment takes place there is usually a vested interest in the way the results turn out, and if you google many topics of research you will find a multitude of competing theories, often contradicting each other, each theory being supported by experimental results.
Re horses and carts - the William James quote used here is 'You do not run from a bear because you are afraid of it, but rather become afraid of the bear because you run from it'. This is obviously wrong. We assess the situation, become afraid (if appropriate), our body prepares for flight, and only then do we run. We first have to recognise that the bear is dangerous and poses a threat, and this recognition of danger is the central trigger. When we have assessed that it is not a harmless cuddly animal, a complex set of interactive responses take place to make us run for our lives. The assessment of danger triggers fear, and with it comes the fight-or-flight response of increased heart rate etc. The beating heart comes after the assessment and before the running because this is the body preparing to run. Alternatively, had we recognised Winnie the Pooh we would have invited him for tea, without the beating heart or running behaviour. In fact, apart from certain phobic reactions, we usually have to assess whether or not to be afraid of something and it's a bit silly to suggest otherwise. If I felt afraid of something because I was running away from it I would be afraid of my house when I ran away from it to catch a bus in the morning. I think that William James presented the idea to provoke thought and didn't intend it to be taken literally. Do look at the relevant work by Martin Seligman, Lazarus, and Zajonc.
My 16 month old son has begun to make car noises - since he has begun doing this he has started to run a lot faster. Also, the bigger the engine sound he makes, the faster he runs. Other parents have had similar experiences, and explain how when little boys pretend to be cars they can run faster. Another example: He developed a vomiting bug earlier in the week, and his big sister pretended to have the same bug so she could take a day off school. She has now got the bug for real, and is throwing up several times a day. It's true. William James was right.
William James's big idea was that by concentrating not on what is true, but on what is useful to believe, we might change for the better. This is NLP!
However, in spite of my cynicism I did like this book. Okay, the idea of acting out a role is not new, back in the 50s Erving Goffman had the idea that we act out roles in life. Similarly, the idea that we align our beliefs with our actions is down to Cognitive Dissonance - Festinger 1957 - we cannot hold two conflicting beliefs, so if we are aware that our actions contradict our some part of our personality we will sometimes change our self-image to accommodate the action. Also this aligns with Cialdini's idea of Consistency - if we see ourselves as a certain sort of person, we will behave in line with our beliefs. David Lieberman points out that if you want help with something, the request is more likely to be accepted if framed `Dave, I know you're a helpful person, could you give me a hand with xxxx?' The compliment here is being taken on board to form a positive self-image, and the person will act in line with this self-image of a helpful person, so similarly, if you believe that you are a certain type of person you will tend to behave in line with this belief. Cialdini's principle seemed broad enough to accommodate our tendency to stick with a decision even when confronted with conflicting evidence, an idea Leon Festinger had voiced earlier. This also ties in with fear of loss, and with unwillingness to let go of something when an investment has been made (re the work of Kahneman and Tversky 'sunken cost', also Cialdini 'Scarcity') - there is quite a lot of circularity here, but the emphasis gradually drifts from self-image to stubbornness and becomes less relevant to Wiseman's book. Also check out Daryl Bem's self-perception theory - we observe our own actions and make judgments about ourselves in the same way that we observe other people and make character judgments about them.
The NLP idea of modelling is all about learning how to do something by modelling our behaviour on highly competent people - back to Goffman. The 'model' can be real or fictitious, the behaviour may be an attitude, skill, or state of mind. This idea has increased relevance with the recent discovery of `Mirror Neurons' (when we observe, or even merely imagine an intentional action being performed, our own neural systems will show a trace of copying the observed behaviour), a discovery which would suggest that modelling could indeed be very useful. This NLP idea would appear to be the same as the central theme of this book, pretending facilitates becoming, although I don't recall seeing any reference to it. But didn't Wiseman `debunk self-help myths' like NLP philosophies when he wrote 59 seconds?
So to summarise, although I am a born cynic, I think that the theme is valid, and I think that there is enough good material in here to make the book a valuable addition to any self-help junkie's library. The theme isn't new, and some of the experiments cited will raise your eyebrows, and a few will make you groan, but all of the experiments will add depth to the other books you've read that offer similar advice. I feel that this book has got a place in self-help literature for this reason, and I would highly recommend it.
Carrying the theme a little further:
1, Google 'mirror neurons' and see whether or not you agree that these might assist NLP modelling.
2, Google Elizabeth Loftus. Another interesting line of work is that of Elizabeth Loftus, who found that it is possible to plant false memories -I could ask you 'do you remember that time when you were seven and you got lost in Woolworths?', and you might just find that you could remember that time! She has recently found that by planting memories of feeling sick after eating certain foods, people have developed an aversion to the food in question! Echoes of 'one trial learning'. This line of research might shed new light on the NLP idea of timelines, because we could potentially plant empowering memories. For example, a shy person could plant a memory of being confident and could draw from the confidence within this memory. There are infinite potential applications.
Modelling and timeline techniques are also both based on the 'as if' hypothesis.
I'm rambling, and it's only my view, but yeah, you might just find that 'Rip it up' gives an edge of pragmatism to all the other material.
On the other hand, if you've read any psychology, you won't need it.