Five of the best psychology books you are likely to read

As I have already mentioned one of my great joys in life is reading, especially since I learned how to read faster. Despite my love of books I am embarrassed to admit I rarely big up the books I have read and almost never leave reviews on them. As an author myself and somebody who is working on a book as we speak, this is a pretty inexcusable example for me to set. Especially because having studied our book sales metrics quite meticulously, word of mouth seems to trump every other form of book marketing there is.

So I might do a few of these posts.

I used to read a lot of self-help books and that is fine for a while, but reading self-help on its own is quite an insular experience, because it causes you to think about yourself only. Since I stopped reading exclusively self-help books a few years ago I discovered that some of the most beneficial life lessons you can learn, and apply to your own life, come from reading broader books about other people. Today I wanted to share five books which are truly fascinating in and of themselves, but I would argue also teach you more about psychology and how to live a good life than 99% of self-help ever could.Continue Reading

The dangers of groupthink

life-of-brian-all-individualsBelonging to groups and communities is a wonderful part of human life. In fact, we cannot live without it. Isolation is one of the most harmful things a person can go through. Over 70% of prison suicides are done in solitary confinement, you are more likely to overcome PTSD if you are in a likeminded group and most ‘lone wolf’ school shooters showed signs of being very isolated before they did the horrific things they did. Senator John McCain, who famously withstood years of torture in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp, once commented that the interrogation techniques he endured were nothing compared to the soul crushing despair caused by solitary confinement.

Being part of a group also gives your life meaning. In Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death, he argues that human civilisation is a defence mechanism against our own mortality. He suggests that when we realise our death is inevitable we join groups that are bigger than us as a last ditch attempt at immortality. It’s a little bit ‘woowoo’ but I like it. I personally became much more interested in science, religion and politics after my own Father’s death. I’m an atheist so one might expect that I would become less interested in those things when he passed away, but perhaps a sense of the shortness of life made me more interested in getting greater meaning from my own. In that respect, I can completely understand why this same need can be fulfilled by becoming a member of a group with shared interests, goals and tribulations.

While being part of a group is vital to balanced and full life, we need to be aware of the biases that cloud the group’s judgement. Groupthink is a phenomenon where in order to keep harmony within a group, we sometimes will ignore or shut out debate that is actually in the group’s best interest. Continue Reading

How I doubled my reading speed

giphyBefore I was 30 I could count the number of books I had read cover-to-cover on one hand. Six years on and I count reading as one of my great joys in life. My only problem is that I have always been a slow reader. On a good month I’d be able to read three books, but often I’d just get through one. In the last year I have managed to increase my reading output to at least three a month, and in the last six weeks I have more than doubled it to around seven or eight a month.

My desire to read more came as I began to realise what a great investment it was on your time. Ramit Sethi has a book buying rule of ‘if you are thinking about buying a book, just do it’. His reasoning is that for the price of a couple of beers, a book is often the sum of one, two or ten years of the author’s wisdom. If you can come away from the book with just one lesson you can apply to the rest of your life, it’s been well worth the investment of money and time. Also if someone has gone to the effort to spend a year or more of their life writing a book, it likely is about a subject worth reading about.

We all read, a lot. Most of the time we are not reading books, we are reading Facebook, Buzzfeed, CNN.com and so on. There is a difference between reading books and reading everything else available to us. My other reason to want to read more books is because I have become increasingly aware of how useless most of the clickbait type content is. One of the biggest industries in the world today is distraction. We read not to learn or relax, but to satisfy a very real addiction to novelty and arousal. Author Danah Boyd thinks we are heading towards a potential epidemic of psychological obesity if we continue to consume content in this way, and I agree with her. If short and shallow content is causing this mental obesity, then reading long and deep books is surely like a workout and a healthy diet.Continue Reading

Why reading challenging material might be healthy

Taking an interest in politics is simultaneously one of the most empowering and disempowering things you can do in the information age.

The more knowledgeable you are about political issues, the easier it is to circumvent media and government spin. For example, at the end of last year I learned that the Government in the UK has a tendency to release a backlog of bad news on the last day of Parliament before Christmas, because with the distraction of a public holiday, the media, opposition parties and the public will simply not be in a position to retain all, or perhaps any, of it. Fascinating to know and useful to pay attention to every year during the Holiday season.

It’s very liberating to be aware of this game being played in Westminster, but it also very depressing. The more you know about the machiavellian side of politics and the severity of some of the issues we face as a society, the more powerless it makes you feel. Right now the subject of terrorism is the great political issue of our generation, one with so many nuances and disparate voices that the light at the end of the tunnel seems very far away. I’ve took a personal interest in this topic in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I have a huge thirst for knowledge to try and understand why it is happening, and what can be done about it. This desire for knowledge is matched only by how depressing I find it the more knowledge I get (and also the realisation of how little I still know). In many ways it’s like a bad addiction, I crave something that I know is probably going to make me feel worse.Continue Reading