The good thing about getting to read a lot of books for work is that I’m constantly challenged to rethink my conceptions of happiness, productivity, and success.
The bad thing is that one time a stack of said books collapsed on my desk neighbour.
Without a doubt, the books that moved me most this year focused on psychology and behavioural science — and as 2016 draws to a close, I’m reflecting on everything I learned.
Below, I’ve rounded up the most meaningful insights from all that reading.
Money isn't enough to motivate us to do good work
In 'Payoff,' Duke University behavioural economist Dan Ariely argues that human motivation is a lot more complex than we might be inclined to believe. Case in point: Pizza motivates employees to perform better in the long term than money.
Managers especially should look to harness the power of intrinsic motivation -- or the desire to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job.
Emotions always matter
Harvard psychologist Susan David wrote 'Emotional Agility' to help people reckon with -- not suppress or pass judgment on -- their most difficult emotions.
Instead of looking askance at feelings as fluffy, David says it's important to recognise that our feelings hold important information about our values and our potential. We can draw on that information to make important decisions related to our career and relationships.
Plain old practice doesn't make perfect
The concept of deliberate practice -- working with a teacher on specific goals and constantly pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone -- has sparked a ton of controversy within the scientific community.
In 'Peak,' Florida State University psychologist Anders Ericsson and journalist Robert Pool argue that this process is the only sure path to expertise, whether in chess, ice skating, or anything else. (Some psychologists disagree.)
To be sure, Ericsson says, deliberate practice involves mistakes and failure and pain, but if you truly want to be the best in your field, it's worth it.
Tricking yourself into doing something isn't much different than tricking someone else
'Pre-Suasion' is a follow-up to psychologist and 'Influence at Work' president Robert Cialdini's 2006 book 'Influence,' often considered a must-read for business students and for anyone interested in the psychology of persuasion.
In his latest book, Cialdini shows readers how to set the stage for getting what they want -- from themselves and others. For example, if you want to stop eating dessert, you can make an 'if/when/then' plan: If/when the waiter asks if I'd like dessert, then I will order mint tea.'
'We become prepared, first, to notice the favourable time or circumstance and, second, to associate it automatically and directly with desired conduct,' Cialdini writes.
A loving relationship takes work -- a lot of work
Journalist Jonah Lehrer took a scientific look at the development of romantic love and concluded that it's less about fireworks and more about day-to-day maintenance. Love can grow and change -- it's not something we can sit back and let happen to us. And that may be the most exciting thing about it.
'A Book About Love' also includes beautifully written accounts of other kinds of love, like that between a parent and child, which can influence the development of other loving relationships in a person's life.
Your worst traits are still waiting to sabotage you
'What Got You Here Won't Get You There' is geared toward people hoping to progress to the next stage in their career. Psychologist and executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, along with co-author Mark Reiter, argues that the negative behaviours you've displayed up until now probably didn't help you succeed -- and they might hurt you as you ascend the corporate ladder.
That's why Goldsmith says it's beneficial to gather feedback from coworkers (and non-coworkers) about your daily behaviour, identify what you want to fix, and fix it. No dilly-dallying and no excuses.
Empathy is the key to effective leadership and meaningful relationships
Power trips don't last long, University of California, Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner argues in 'The Power Paradox.' Keltner has spent years studying power dynamics in different relationship contexts, and he says the key to lasting influence is showing empathy for other people -- listening to their ideas and incorporating those ideas into your plan.
And that's as true in business as it is in middle school.
Positive thinking isn't enough to reach your goals
In 'Rethinking Positive Thinking,' New York University and University of Hamburg psychologist Gabriele Oettingen shares with readers a framework she and her colleagues developed, called 'WOOP.' That's Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.
Oettingen draws on a growing body of scientific research to make the case that simply dreaming and hoping is pretty useless. Instead, you'll want to follow the four-step procedure so that you have concrete goals, you're aware of any potential roadblocks, and you have a plan for overcoming them.
Her findings suggest WOOP works just as well if you want to score a date or ace an exam.
Compromise isn't all that great
Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss will help you get what you want -- not half of what you want. That won't leave anyone satisfied.
Based on years of working with terrorists and criminals, Voss and co-author Tahl Raz outline the surprising psychology behind negotiations in 'Never Split the Difference.' For example, he tells readers they should want someone to tell them 'no' in a negotiation.
So if you ask to change the terms of a job offer and the hiring manager says 'no,' you can ask them: 'Do you want me to fail?' The answer to that is, obviously, 'no.'
There's such thing as being too rational
Being intelligent can sometimes undermine your ability to be happy. That's according to University of Texas professor Raj Raghunathan, author of 'If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Happy?'
Consider what Raghunathan calls 'mind addiction': When you're choosing between two job offers, you might choose the one that makes the most logical sense in terms of finances and career advancement, even if you think the other one would afford you greater pleasure.
To be sure, there are times when it's a good idea to make rational decisions, but pushing your emotions under the rug is never a good idea.
Talent and IQ aren't sure paths to success -- you need 'grit'
The idea that 'grit' can lead to success is another controversial one among scientists.
In ''Grit,' University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth argues that a combination of passion for what you're doing and dogged persistence even in the face of obstacles are even more important than raw talent and intelligence. (Some critics say Duckworth isn't offering anything new or labelling anything other than conscientiousness.)
The most compelling example of the power of grit involves West Point cadets: The 'grittiest' cadets were most likely to make it through a gruelling training called Beast Barracks, regardless of their other attributes.
We're prone to making the same mistakes until we acknowledge them
Dan Shapiro, founder and director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program, has led conflict negotiation among leaders in the Middle East and high-powered business executives. In 'Negotiating the Nonnegotiable,' he shares everything he's learned thus far and distills them into practical tips.
One example: Everyone has what Sigmund Freud called a 'repetition compulsion,' or a pattern they display in every conflict interaction. Shapiro says his personal repetition compulsion is being sheepish about asking for money, so he has to actively work to identify, understand, and counter that tendency.
We're making to-do lists all wrong
According to New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg, author of 'Smarter Faster Better,' productivity and creativity are the result of systematic thinking and behaviour.
Take to-do lists, for example. Writing down a few random items and hoping they will get done probably won't work. Instead you'll want to pair 'stretch goals' -- ambitious aims -- and 'SMART goals' -- objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and have a timeline (a.k.a. a concrete plan).
Duhigg bases his recommendations off research into Disney executives, aeroplane pilots, and teams at Google -- so there's a really good chance they will work for you, too.
Success means doing the best you can
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy is best known as the creator of the 'power pose,' which she popularised in a 2012 TED Talk. (Recently, one of Cuddy's co-authors on the power-posing paper, Dana Carney, said she doesn't believe that the 'power pose' effects are real.)
'Presence,' which was published before Carney released her report, expands on the the notion that you can trick yourself into feeling confident, when you'd otherwise feel nervous and scared. The word 'presence' refers to bringing your full potential to a challenging situation -- for example, walking into a job interview and performing at your peak, even if you don't ultimately get the job.
When you're happy and healthy, you're more likely to succeed at work
Here's another psychologist who doesn't think feelings are fluffy: Emma Seppala, who is the science director of Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
In 'The Happiness Track,' Seppala notes that too many people believe happiness and well-being are at odds with professional success. They end up workaholics, thinking that the next achievement will finally make them happy.
Seppala draws on a growing body of research to make the case that less stress, greater happiness, and more self-compassion, in fact yield professional success in any field.
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