Tag Archives: advice

The Confidence Code

Confidence Code Cover

Book type: Psychology/Self-Help/Business

Summary: Kay and Shipman’s book is all about confidence–what it is, how we get it, what we do with it, and what we can do to improve it. And while the byline is The Science and Art of Self-Assurance–What Women Should Know, it’s not a book solely about or for women. For our purposes here, we’ll cover the following four topics: What is confidence? What about the correlation between competence and confidence? What are useful tips for us adults? What are some good ideas for raising girls to be confident women?

What Is Confidence?

Confidence is specific in its scope. It is not about being extroverted or always feeling sure of yourself in all circumstances; it’s tied closely to particular tasks. Here are a couple quick summaries of confidence according to the authors or the experts they consulted for the book:

  • “Confidence is the purity of action produced by a mind free of doubt” (16)
  • It is “‘how sure you are that you have the skills that you need to succeed in doing a particular thing'” (44, Brenda Major of UC Santa Barbara)
  • “‘It’s a belief that you can accomplish the task you want to accomplish…It’s specific to a domain. I could be a confident public speaker, but not a confident writer, for example'” (44, Christy Glass of Utah State University)
  • “It’s a willingness to go out of your comfort zone and do hard things” (52)

It’s also partly genetic, though the estimates of how much confidence is pre-determined vary depending on the source. Some estimates are as high as fifty percent, like general personality traits that we learned about so long ago in A First-Rate Madness , including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. (Optimism and confidence, specifically, could be around twenty-five percent genetic.) Somewhat surprisingly, the connection between genes and confidence could actually be higher than that between genes and IQ (61). The good news, as we’ll discuss below, is that confidence is also malleable. We can make ourselves more confident with practice.

Competence vs. Confidence

Now this is where the book gets juicy. (As much as a book of this kind can.) The ultimate lesson from the book on this topic can be reduced to one statement: “It’s confidence that sways people” (32). The authors reference various studies, including one that found that women only apply for positions when they feel they are 100% qualified, whereas men apply when they feel they meet 60% of the requirements (30).

In one study, a university professor named Cameron Anderson from UC Berkeley gave hundreds of students a list of historical names and events and instructed them to mark which ones they were familiar with. (Several of the people or events listed were also fakes–non-existent.) “Anderson found a link between the number of fakes a student picked and how excessively confident the student was” (131). This was partly evidenced by the fact that the student chose to check a fake event, rather than leave it blank and admit–if it were real–that they didn’t know anything about it (31). At the end of the semester he did a survey of the students and found that the most incompetent, over-confident students “ended up being the most respected and had the most influence with their peers” (32).

But another study was even more sobering. In a study by Yale School of Management, chaired by Victoria Brescoll, “…[B]oth male and female participants rated a hypothetical woman CEO who talked more than other people” (wouldn’t that make sense for a CEO?) and the result was that, “Both sexes viewed this made-up woman as significantly less competent and less suited to leadership than a male CEO who talked for the same amount of time. When the fictitious female CEO was described as talking less than others, her perceived competency shot up” Essentially what they’ve found is that men are assumed to be competent until they prove otherwise, whereas the opposite is true in the case of women; people tend to question their competency until they prove they’re there for a reason.

Moral of the story: confidence beats competence much of the time.

Tips for Adults

The Confidence Code has tons of useful suggestions for boosting confidence and being successful. The authors argue that some of them tend to apply more to women than others, but of course anyone can use the advice.

  1. Have self-compassion. One way of summarizing self-compassion according to the authors is to treat yourself the way you’d treat a good friend (48). You aren’t critical of every thing your closest friends do; you appreciate them, and when you face challenges, your goal is to reconcile and be happy with one another. Why not try giving yourself a little slack, the way you would for a friend?
  2. Meditate. Just do it. It seems like every other study I’ve seen lately is about the benefits of meditation. Kay and Shipman discuss studies of stress hormones after periods of meditation. It’s pretty much amazing for you.
  3. Don’t overthink and don’t pursue perfection (94 & 96). These traits are very common to women. Women often ruminate on [perceived] failures and struggle to let go of personal setbacks, whereas many men can encounter adversity like criticism and move along without having it bother them long-term. The authors even note that while there are several characteristics that can hold women back, “…[O]f all the warped things that women do to themselves to undermine their confidence, we found the pursuit of perfection to be the most crippling” (96). One example they give is of technology; if you refuse to share an idea until you have it completely perfected, someone else may have presented dozens of ideas and gotten to your version first. This ties into the next point.
  4. “Fail fast” (124). The authors found that failure is one of the greatest confidence builders–especially if you start young–which may seem counterintuitive. “By failing a lot, and when we’re young, we inoculate ourselves against it [failure] and are better equipped to think about the big bold risks later” (110-111). The authors also point out that “We would do well to remember that it’s not the strongest species that survives in the long run–it’s the one that is the most adaptable” (124). But how much can we really adapt?
  5. It turns out we can adapt quite a bit, especially since confidence is only, at max, fifty percent in our DNA. “We don’t need to be stuck in that pattern of self-doubt. It’s a matter of pushing yourself to action over inaction…” (122). Sometimes this comes in the form of small steps, which “prepare you for taking more meaningful risks. It’s called the exposure technique” (125). Another good way to rewire your brain for confidence is thought exercises: “You must start by becoming a keen observer of the relationship between your thoughts, your emotions, and your behaviors, and how one can affect the others” and this is because “What we think directly affects how we feel” (129).
  6. “When in doubt, act” (125). Too many of us hesitate. We don’t want to be wrong, we don’t want to have to admit mistakes later so we do all that we can to avoid making any in the first place. But inaction ends up being our enemy. “Action separates the timid from the bold” (125) and confidence depends on boldness. “The ability to make decisions big and small, in a timely fashion, and take responsibility for them, is a critical expression of confidence and also leadership, according to all of our most confident women” (126). So get on with it, already.
  7. Accept compliments. This one is often specific to women. We fear being criticized as haughty or “full of ourselves” if we too readily accept a compliment, so we’re often self-deprecating instead. “We have to find ways to take in compliments and own our accomplishments rather than relying on dismissals and assertions of self-deprecation. Keep it simple if you must. When praised, reply ‘Thank you. I appreciate that.’ Use it. It’s surprising how odd, and how powerful, saying those five words will feel” (136).
  8. Say ‘thank you’ for criticism. You don’t have to agree with the criticism, necessarily, but if you have a planned response for criticism you can distance yourself from negative feelings that might otherwise bubble up at that moment, and you save yourself from having to find an “appropriate” response. Try just saying “Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate that thought” (135). The next time a coworker or boss criticizes something you’ve done or suggests a different way of doing a task, say that simple sentence. No one likes it when people make excuses, so don’t. Just say thanks, then move on and do even better.

Here’s a quick summary from Kay and Shipman: “Think Less. Take Action. Be Authentic” (171).

Tips for Raising Girls

Again some of the following advice can apply equally to young boys, however many of these suggestions mirror what many boys are already encouraged–or at least allowed–to do. One of the major themes of this portion of the book is how girls are conditioned to be well-behaved and keep their heads down, then all of a sudden (when they enter the workforce) they find that the behaviors they’ve learned help them, now hurt them. The authors point out that “It’s actually easier for young girls than young boys to behave well, because our brains pick up on emotional cues from an earlier age,” the result of which is that “…[M]aking mistakes, and taking risks, behavior critical for confidence building, is also behavior girls try to avoid, to their detriment” (81).

Lesson 1: Let Girls Take Risks

One thing that young boys are typically allowed to do much more than their young female counterparts is to engage in risky behavior, something that, according to psychologist Nainsook Park from the University of Michigan, is critical for healthy development. Park says that “…[I]n general, the proper way to build confidence in children is to offer them graduated exposure to risk. Trauma is not the goal” (110). That means pushing children, within their limits, to take action themselves without the constant intervention of an adult. For myself, having a parent with a physical disability meant that at a young age I was expected to do many things that adults might otherwise do for their children. My brother and I got our own breakfast ready, we went into stores and made purchases, and we were also responsible for calling stores ourselves if we wanted to see if a particular toy was in stock, for example. There were definitely some adults that were frustrated by having to deal with a 7-year-old picking up dry-cleaning or buying groceries–and I was always mortified I wouldn’t have enough money to pay for everything–but I got through it and the world didn’t end. “Teaching a child to accept and even embrace struggle, rather than shy away from it, is a critical step along the path toward instilling confidence. You are showing the child that it’s possible to make progress without being perfect” (145).

Lesson 2: Help Girls Be Assertive

If there’s one trait aside from perfectionism that many women struggle with, it’s assertiveness. Sometimes we’re able to be assertive in one realm (at home, perhaps) but not in another, all because we’re nervous about how we’ll be perceived. Women, much more than men, are concerned about being well-liked more than being respected. And, not wanting to ruffle feathers, rock the boat, or be considered ungrateful, we often remain silent when we really want to speak up. A study from Rutgers University found that the average pay gap between young men and young women in the first five years after graduating college is $5,000 and the gap “increases over the years because women don’t ask for more money” (93-94). This is why assertiveness is crucial. The young female graduate thinks it’s rude to ask for more money: she should just be grateful she has a job at all, whereas the young male graduate thinks ‘it can’t hurt to ask’ because the worst that can happen is that his request will be denied. “When it comes to instilling confidence, raising girls to be more assertive and more independent takes conscious effort, and it goes hand in hand with encouraging them to be less good” (149).

Lesson 3: Let Girls Be Bad

Girls very quickly learn that good behavior is the “fast track” to praise: “Soon, it’s a reward cycle that’s hard to break, and the result is that we subconsciously train our daughters not to speak up and demand to be heard, or demand almost anything. By the time our focus shifts to that, habits are hard to break” (149). Of course this sounds pretty crazy. ‘Let my daughter misbehave? That sounds terrible.’ But boys are often allowed to be independent and rebellious–it’s almost expected–but not so for girls. It’s important, however, because “The impulse that lets many boys shrug off nagging parents, break curfews, and refuse to take showers is the same impulse in adulthood that inures them to the fear of annoying their bosses by asking for pay increases and promotions. They worry less about upsetting their superiors because, unlike their sisters they haven’t been trained to fall into line, and their brains aren’t wired to be as sensitive to criticism” (149). Even boys’ roughhousing and teasing helps build resilience, allowing them to be unfazed by criticism, where girls are crushed by others’ disappointment in them, no matter how temporary (84).

The authors outline a two-step process for promoting assertiveness, notably by tolerating imperfect behavior.

First, don’t overly criticize the bad behavior. When your precious girl does interrupt, shriek, throw a tantrum, or tear her new dress, check your instinct to reprimand her. And especially check your instinct to tell her she’s acting out of character, as if somehow being the golden girl was what she’s supposed to be. Phrases such as “Mary, I’m so disappointed, it’s not like you to cause a fuss/not to help/be naughty” need to go (149).

Step 1: don’t attach undesired behavior to personal character. Check.

Second, don’t overpraise the good behavior. This seems counterintuitive, almost wrong, but it’s just the flip side of trying to get our girls out of the habit of feeling they always have to be ideal. Because if you constantly reward your daughter for helping out, keeping quiet, or being tidy, you’re instilling a psychological addiction to goodness and to the praise that follows it (150).

While my mother did not allow bad behavior without consequences, often my consequences were things that might seem like no fun, but I actually didn’t mind. She would send me to my room for an hour, but then I would color or read or play by myself, which helped me build patience and independence in keeping myself occupied.

Lesson 4: Praise Effort Over Ability

This one goes for boys and girls alike. In the United States there is a strong tendency to favor intelligence or natural ability over effort. We praise children for getting the correct answer, not necessarily for explaining how many times it took them to figure it out. Remember how we need to teach children to embrace struggle? A big part of that is encouraging what’s called a “growth mind-set.” And in order to do this, the key is to “…start small. Think about what you praise in yourself or your kids. If you praise ability by saying ‘You’re so smart,’ or ‘You’re so good at tennis; you’re a natural athlete,’ you are instilling a fixed mind-set. If, however, you say ‘You’ve worked so hard at tennis, especially your backhand,’ you are encouraging a growth mind-set” (115).

You may wonder why it makes much of a difference if you praise intelligence. Kay and Shipman argue that by focusing on intelligence or talents, we cultivate the understanding that our worth is tied to something we just have or we don’t.

If we believe that somehow we’re given talents at birth that we can’t control, then we’re unlikely to believe we can really improve on areas in which we’re weak. But when success is measured by effort and improvement, then it becomes something we can control, something we can choose to improve upon. It encourages mastery (115).

And encouraging continuous effort is crucial. Even naturally talented musicians or artists may pale in comparison to the abilities of individuals who constantly practice.

A final review/recommendation:

I know this entry has been much longer than my usual posts (it took more time to prepare as well). There’s so much information in the book that everyone should know that it was hard to leave major topics out of discussion. And there’s still more in the book worth reading. I hope that even if you’re not able to get around to reading the book, you’ll be able to take something away from this summary. Maybe you’ll put yourself out there when you normally wouldn’t; maybe you’ll let your daughter mess up, or tell your son that he’s been working really hard on a subject in school.

As for a review of the book, I obviously enjoyed it enough to take several pieces of advice from it for myself and for you. It is repetitive, especially in its emphasis on action over inaction; however, it’s not a lengthy book and it does contain a lot of valuable information for all of us, especially in understanding the difficulties many women face in the workplace. And it’s a great starting point for making some personal behavior changes, no matter your gender.

Photo credit: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71DMnBgMoXL.jpg

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An Irish Country Doctor

Irish Country Doctor Cover

Book type: FIction

Summary: Dr. Barry Laverty, fresh out of medical school, finds himself in the countryside of Northern Ireland as an apprentice to Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, General Practitioner to the villagers of fictional Ballybucklebo. And as it generally goes in life, what he learned in school isn’t quite how the real world works. He’s frequently disappointed or upset by the methods used by Dr. O’Reilly, but he also learns a lot in his first few months as the senior doctor’s sidekick. He even comes to appreciate the small world of Ballybucklebo, with its eccentric residents–both humans and animals, like O’Reilly’s dog that humps his leg every time he ventures into the backyard. Life in provincial Ulster has its lessons for Barry and has some for us too.


  1. Don’t worry about the consideration of others. Early on in Barry’s introduction to Ballybucklebo, he discovers the dynamic between the country doctor and country villagers isn’t what he expected. One of the first lessons O’Reilly gives him is to never let the patients get the upper hand. At first this seems antithetical to the point of practicing medicine in Barry’s mind, however O’Reilly then tells him that if he didn’t operate the way he does, they would walk all over him, saying: “‘Didn’t take me long to find out that consideration for other people can be one of the lesser attributes of some members of the species Homo sapiens‘” (80). This lesson has an actual application that hits close to home for me, or at least for my brother. Recently my brother told me a story of how our grandmother, when she was still living, had given him some sound advice. He was concerned about how other people would think of him for something seemingly trivial. She stopped him and said, “If you knew how little other people think of you it would hurt your feelings.” Zinger! But really, stop being worried about whether other people consider you or whether they’re considerate to you. As the popular wisdom goes: go ‘head girl, you do you. That’s an Emerson quote, if I’m not mistaken.
    Emerson Quote - Be Yourself
  2. Sometimes life makes you shovel shit. Barry has a friend in the novel, Jack, who is a surgeon at the nearest hospital and he sometimes meets him for dinner or drinks. During one such visit they reminisce about life during medical school and how boring so many things were that they had to do as students, and how boring things continued even after they finished school. Jack reminds Barry of the words of an English registrar from their time there (after he complained to her about his boredom): “‘Old boy, in this life there will always be a certain amount of shit to be shovelled. I really would urge you to buy a long-handled spade and simply get on with it'” (99). This is a valuable lesson for all of us. Some people hate household chores, others hate workplace politics, still others hate family or social obligations. The fact is that either you can refuse to participate in any of those things and have a) no clean underwear, b) no possibility of being promoted, and c) no family/friends, or you can man/woman up and start shoveling that shit.
    Dog Lesson - Kick Grass Shit
  3. Advice doesn’t always have to be true to be helpful. Not long after Barry starts his work with Dr. O’Reilly, he has a day off and takes the train into Belfast and happens to meet a woman named Patricia who utterly captivates him. Unfortunately, she’s also a very serious student of engineering and doesn’t think she has the time or energy to spend cultivating a relationship with Barry, so their courtship ends. Barry, being the hopeless romantic that he is–and I do mean hopeless–is having a hard time getting over the loss of his soulmate. Compounding his sorrow is the fact that he made a misdiagnosis of a local resident, Major Fotheringham’s symptoms, resulting in his hospitalization and a difficult recovery. O’Reilly gives him some advice: “‘So finish your whiskey. […] Forget about Fotheringham. Forget about your heart. Girls are like buses. There’s always another one along soon.'” Barry then asks O’Reilly if he really believes what he’s just said: “‘No,’ said O’Reilly, ‘but there’s no reason you shouldn’t'” (238). Even though O’Reilly doesn’t believe it and even though it may be trite, his advice isn’t necessarily unsound. There’s a reason clichés become just that: sometimes the advice is good, but it’s cited so frequently that it loses its power. Sometimes those sentiments just need to be rephrased to be useful (i.e. instead of “plenty of fish in the sea,” comparing love interests to buses) and sometimes advice doesn’t have to hold true to help someone through a difficult moment.

A final review/recommendation:

Taylor, an established doctor himself, does a great job of creating a backdrop for the education of Barry Laverty. In some ways An Irish Country Doctor is almost a Bildungsroman, except instead of being the coming of age of an adolescent boy, it’s of a nascent doctor. The book is very simple, much like many of Ballybucklebo’s residents, but like them it’s simple in the best of ways: unpretentious, relatable, and entertaining. The first book in a series of many, An Irish Country Doctor is a quick read and makes for great spring reading, so next time March comes around and you’re considering an Irish book for St. Paddy’s day, pick up Taylor’s novel and be entertained by witticisms like this one about a “change of heart” that’s happened to a character named Councillor Bishop: “‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. That bugger Bertie Bishop? That man has a heart that would make Pharaoh’s hard one look like a marshmallow, so he has'” (302). And if you’re a reader you’ll appreciate the two doctors’ constant quoting of literature. And if you’re like me, you’ll smile ear to ear for the fact that Dr. O’Reilly is named after the fabulous and somewhat supercilious Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde–the greatest of the great.

Photo credits:

Book cover: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-P-4GrrorB-4/Uxe1N1vaEAI/AAAAAAAAS5A/MRaOfdl-rUo/s1600/IrishCtryDr.jpg
Sassy Emerson: http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0273/4903/products/ralph-waldo-emerson-fridge-magnet-1_large.jpg?v=1380467104
Kick That Shit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/474x/a3/26/91/a326913fd2e35c68d5d8b9016acafe95.jpg

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Middle Passage

Middle Passage Book Cover

Book type: Fiction

Summary: Rutherford Calhoun is the narrator from Illinois who recounts the final voyage of the New Orleans slave ship the Republic in Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage. Calhoun is a scoundrel who stows away onboard the ship in order to escape a marriage he’s been forced into by a seedy creditor, Papa Zeringue, and the woman he spends time with (when he’s not whoring around), Isadora. The ship is captained by a man named Ebenezer Falcon who is a captivating but despotic ruler, and it’s manned by his crew, including First Mate Peter Cringle and cook Josiah Squibb. After completing the first portion of their journey, namely picking up slaves from the Allmuseri tribe, they make their way back through the Middle Passage, except things don’t go the way Captain Falcon planned. Mysterious and possibly supernatural forces result in severe storms, insurrection, murder, and even cannibalism and force everyone onboard to rethink their choices and morality.


  1. Always choose quality over quantity. Early on in the novel, Calhoun is faced with the ultimatum of marrying Isadora or facing punishment at the hands of Papa Zeringue, so the night before his forced wedding, he drowns his sorrows at a local bar and meets Josiah Squibb. Calhoun has spent his life as a pretty unsavory character; he’s a thief, a womanizer, and a gambler. Squibb gives him some personal advice that applies to so many of us, telling the protagonist, “‘I’ve seen some things, laddie. Reason I look so bad is ’cause I’ve been livin'” (38), and he also cautions the young man that it “‘Ain’t the quantity of experiences that count […] but the quality'” (39). The point is: don’t just do things to do them, spend time with people you will have quality experiences with and doing things that are worth doing. And remember that sometimes the living you’re doing may have lasting affects. I don’t think that Squibb would’ve had crystal meth, but I’m sure his hard living over a lifetime was comparable to the time lapse of seven years for this lady.
    Addiction - Hard Living
  2. Poverty involves moral decisions the rest of us never think about. Calhoun recounts scenes from his childhood in slavery several times throughout the novel, and at one point he describes the effect that hunger has on those who grapple with it: “If you have never been hungry, you cannot know the either/or agony created by a single sorghum biscuit–either your brother gets it or you do. And if you do eat it, you know in your bones you have stolen the food straight from his mouth, there being so little for either of you. This was the daily, debilitating side of poverty that makes the simplest act a moral dilemma” (47). The moral dilemma for the rest of us is whether we will contribute to lessen these difficulties for people in poverty; what kinds of morals can we claim for ourselves?
  3. Know when to shut up. This is one of the most important skills we all can learn. We’ve all made the mistake of taking something too far, and most of us can probably think of a couple people who do this on a frequent basis. Knowing when to STFU is a vital skill. In Middle Passage, the cook Squibb is the one who possesses this quality, as Calhoun observes: “One thing I liked about the cook was that he knew when to shut up even when he was mubblefubbled and dying to talk” (92). Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our need to share our great idea, or give someone a piece of our mind, that we fail to weigh the benefits versus consequences of opening our mouths. A big part of being good at this skill is being able to read people’s reactions to you. If you want some tips, check out these 18 things you can do to get better, according to Business Insider.
  4. “Love is infallible; it has no errors, for all errors are the want of love.” -William Law (111).
  5. “‘Wealth, you know, isn’t about what a man has, but what he is…'” (118). In a bit of irony, these are the words the slave master of Rutherford Calhoun and his brother Jackson speaks on his deathbed after telling Jackson he will give him his entire estate and Jackson responds that he wishes it to be split equally among all the slaves past and present that he has owned. Rutherford, being the selfish young man he was, interrupted to object to this request, but Chandler cuts him off with a few words of wisdom he should have understood earlier in his own life.
  6. Anger is a dangerous resource. During the mayhem on the voyage back from Africa, Calhoun talks to Ngonyama, one of the Allmuseri onboard, about what his people would do if they took over the ship. Ngonyama responds that they would sail back to Africa and then let the ship’s crew go, because, “‘Anger…is like the blade of a sword. Very difficult to hold for long without harming oneself'” (119). This is similar to advice Wynton Marsalis gives in his book Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life. He explains that anger is fuel, but it’s costly fuel, and it burns quickly, and can harm the person who’s using it. Never let anger consume you, and never let it linger within you.
  7. Somebody is [almost] always worse off than you. After experiencing traumatic chaos and loss on the Republic, Calhoun talks about how his physical appearance has altered: “Where once I had a thick, bushy helmet that only a dogbrush could unkink, I was now almost as bald as Martin Van Buren, though a damned sight less tubby…” (190). It may not always be the nicest thing to do, but sometimes remembering that someone else has it worse than you can be a good reminder to buck up and go on.

    Martin Van Buren Hair

    I wonder if the photographer offered him one of those small black combs from school picture day and he just turned it down with that glance of his that says,”B*&$% this who I am!”

  8. Still water runs deep. At the end of the book something happens to Calhoun that demonstrates that people who are quiet on the surface aren’t always the same way on the inside. Or, as my brother has always told me, “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” Be wary of people who are too quiet; everything may be still and calm on the surface, but rough seas may lie below.

A final review/recommendation:

Middle Passage is a short and interesting novel with good action and compelling characters. It’s a good book for anyone interested in slave narratives or the complexity of crafting a narrative, something the main character Rutherford Calhoun experiences in recounting the voyage in the Republic’s manifest. We all tell stories, we all try to influence others to see us according to the narrative we prefer. We try to make people laugh or cry, empathize with us, identify with us. In terms of the novel, who hasn’t made mistakes like Calhoun, the Republic’s captain and crew, and others? For many of us, we are fortunate to not have to pay for our mistakes as severely as the characters within Johnson’s story. If you want to find out what happens to each of them, be sure to pick up a copy.

Photo Credits:
Book Cover: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Rzmo1973L.jpg
Meth Effects: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01834/drugs-woman-2_1834000i.jpg
MVB (Most Valuable Baldie, or, Martin Van Buren): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2a/08_Martin_Van_Buren_3x4.jpg

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The Five Love Languages


Book type: Counseling/Self-Help

Summary: Many of us spent this Valentine’s Day weekend thinking about love–love that we have or love that we hope awaits us. But many of us also spent the weekend feeling unloved, wishing that we had someone who would appreciate us and who would make us feel loved. Whether you fall into the group of people who are happy and feel loved, or the group that wishes someone aside from your cat would notice you when you come home every day, The Five Love Languages is a book that might interest you. It was primarily written for couples with the goal of helping partners to speak the “love language” of their significant others; in essence, that means to communicate with a loved one in the way that fulfills that person the most. Author Gary Chapman provides the metaphor of love tanks to describe how relationships either flourish or falter. He explains that each of us has a personal love tank and that when our love tanks are full (through the words or actions of those we love), then we feel appreciated, fulfilled, and empowered. If, however, our love tanks are empty because our loved one doesn’t know how to speak our love language (or isn’t willing), then we often feel unloved, unsupported, and stifled in several aspects of our lives. So what are these five love languages that Chapman argues we speak? Pictured on the book cover above, they are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Let’s learn about the languages and how to start speaking the language of those we love.


  1. The feeling of falling in love isn’t love at all. In the opening segment of the book, before Chapman enumerates the love languages and their features, he discusses the phenomenon we call “falling in love.” He cites psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck and his explanation that falling in love is not real love for three reasons:

    First, falling in love is not an act of the will or a conscious choice. No matter how much we may want to fall in love, we cannot make it happen. […] Second, falling in love is not real because it is effortless. Whatever we do in the in-love state requires little discipline or conscious effort on our part. The long, expensive phone calls we make to each other, the gifts we give, the work projects we do are as nothing to us. […] Third, one who is “in love” is not genuinely interested in fostering the personal growth of the other person (33).

    On this last point he provides more detail, namely that when we’re in love we’re unconcerned with growth and development, either for ourselves or the object of our affection; we experience such euphoria that we feel we have already arrived, “that we do not need further growth” (33). All three of these points relate back to a simple understanding of what it means to love in a real way. Chapman points out that “Love is a choice” and that it is “something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself” (136). This hearkens back to a post I did a while ago on The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, the basic point of which was that love is an action, not an emotion. It is something we exercise, like a muscle, so that our capacity for loving grows. The feeling of falling in love is just that, a feeling, it is not an act of love. Deliberately loving, and doing so by communicating effectively, should be our goal.


    Falling in love is just like this. Your euphoria elevates you until you feel like you’re floating. To many others, you appear to be an idiot. And you don’t realize that ahead of you, as far as the eye can see, is desert. But damn it feels good while you’re in the air.

  2. Words of Affirmation. This is the first of the five love languages, and it, like the others, is pretty simple. People with this love language feel most loved when they are told great things about themselves. This could be anything from a quick “Wow, you look gorgeous/handsome today” to, as the author suggests, “You’re the best potato cook in the world,” which is awkwardly specific (40). Even if Words of Affirmation is not your primary love language, it’s always nice to receive a compliment. But if it is the way to fill your tank, then verbal criticisms or lack of receiving compliments can cut right to the bone and leave you feeling hurt or ignored.
  3. Quality Time. Chapman makes a declarative statement in this segment: quality time is NOT watching TV together, since “When you spend time that way, ABC or NBC has your attention–not your spouse” (55). Instead, quality time is about actively sharing time with the purpose of cultivating “Togetherness [which] has to do with focused attention” (59). Quality time does not necessarily have to be staring into each other’s eyes while talking about your childhood dreams and aspirations. It could be traveling, playing games or sports, or even gardening. It’s any activity that you and the one(s) you love do together in order to create memories or to know each other better. It’s not that you happen to be in the same space at the same time.
  4. Receiving Gifts. This one might seem like less of a “real” language than the others because it appears to be materialistic. But really “Gifts are visual symbols of love” (75) and they don’t necessarily have to be expensive. People whose love language is receiving gifts feel appreciated when their significant other picks something up for them at the grocery store, like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or a bottle of wine, or when the other person picks flowers for them, or sends them a card in the mail. One of Chapman’s main points on the topic of gift giving is that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone (most people aren’t fluent in love languages other than their own anyway), but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

    If you are a spender, you will have little difficulty purchasing gifts for your spouse. But if you are a saver, you will experience emotional resistance to the idea of spending money as an expression of love. You don’t purchase things for yourself. Why should you purchase things for your spouse? But that attitude fails to recognize that you are purchasing things for yourself. By saving and investing money you are purchasing self-worth and emotional security. You are caring for your own emotional needs in the way you handle money. What you are not doing is meeting the emotional needs of your spouse (77-78).

  5. Acts of Service. These are physical actions we do for our loved ones. People with this love language appreciate nothing more than their loved one mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, or making dinner. These and other actions have the effect of telling the person, “Look how much I love you; I do all of these things just because I care about you and want to make you happy.”
  6. Physical Touch. Now, if you skipped over all the other love languages just to get to “the good stuff,” go back and read from the beginning. Physical touch, while it can be on a scale of Marvin Gaye, doesn’t always have to mean “Let’s Get It On.”
    Step Brothers Let's Get It OnThe idea that physical touch automatically means going to Bonesville is a misconception that many people have. While it can be that, it is more likely to be your love language if you long for a kiss goodbye, a back rub when you get home, or fingers through your hair when you’re lying on the couch.

    For these two, it's definitely a sensual trip to Bangtown, USA.

    For these two, it’s definitely a sensual trip to Bangtown, USA.

  7. The law of opposites. If you’re not sure what your primary love language is after reading through the descriptions, try thinking about the opposite of each of them and how you feel in those situations. Do you feel hurt if your loved one doesn’t praise or compliment you or tell others how great you are? What about if you feel like you’re always stuck doing things by yourself or like you never really talk to each other beyond pleasantries? Maybe you feel like your loved one doesn’t care about you if he or she leaves shoes out or never vacuums or dusts. Or is the “Love you, bye honey” with no accompanying hug or kiss like a dagger through your heart? If any of these stand out for you, that might be your language.
  8. The law of projection. Chapman notes that often we don’t realize we’re not speaking the love language of the other person because we’re too busy projecting our own love language onto others. For example, if you find yourself thinking “I always do ____ and (s)he never/rarely does it back” you may be acting out your love language needs and not those of the other person. There’s one couple in the book that illustrates this perfectly. The husband is constantly mowing the lawn, cooking dinner, and washing the dishes, but his wife complains that they never spend time together. The husband doesn’t understand why all the things he does aren’t good enough or why they go unnoticed and unreciprocated. It’s because his wife wants Quality Time from him, like fifteen minutes when she gets home to spend together talking about their day, whereas he wants her to lift a finger and help out more around the house.
  9. Be specific. If you want your loved one to spend more time with you, be specific about when, where, and what you’d be doing. Instead of saying “It’d be nice if we could go out once in a while,” make a specific request, like going to see a movie on Friday night. The more specific you make your requests (never demands), the easier it will be for your loved one to show you love in the way you need it.
  10. Love languages aren’t just for lovers. While most of the book focuses on recognizing and acting out love languages for our significant others, the same rules apply for our friends and family, and especially for children. Chapman makes a connection between children’s love tanks and the repercussions for not filling them correctly:

    I believe that most parents sincerely love their children. I also believe that thousands of parents have failed to communicate love in the proper language and thousands of children in this country are living with an empty emotional tank. I believe that most misbehavior in children and teenagers can be traced to empty love tanks (169).

    For my own life situation, I believe this applies to pets as well, especially dogs. Many people buy or adopt dogs expecting them to fulfill an emotional need but in return to need only food, water, shelter, and a pat on the head. For many dogs, their primary love language is quality time, and specifically, exercise. If you’re having behavior issues with your dog, most likely it’s because your dog is bored out of its mind. Imagine if you were expected to be quiet at all times and chill around the house all day with nothing to do except stare out the window or chew on a toy by yourself. You’d probably turn into a psycho. And yet we expect our dogs and our children to do as they’re told and accept whatever it is we feel like giving them, regardless of whether it’s what they really need or not. Words of Affirmation like “You’re such a nice girl” mean nothing to the child who wants a hug or the dog who’s holding a frisbee in its mouth, ready to play. We need to step up our game.

A final review/recommendation:

I know a lot of people would never want to read this book. For those people, I hope this entry suffices to explain Chapman’s main points and also provides you some ideas for bettering the relationships with those you love. For the people who are more interested, having read the lessons above, go ahead and check the book out. It’s relatively short and has a lot of useful information in it. The only negatives about the book are a) Many examples are outdated for our time, like the number of men in the book that expect their wives to do all of the household tasks, and b) It contains various references to New Testament writings, so if Christianity specifically, or religion generally irks you, you may find those references tedious or annoying. But let’s face it, you’re not going to like every single part of everything that you read, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something. If there’s one overall recommendation I’d like to make to you, it is to remind yourself frequently that love is a choice and an action, it is something you do, something you must practice and exercise. If you want better relationships, begin with yourself and see what happens.

Photo Credits:
Book cover: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/df/The_Five_Love_Languages.jpg
Jump For My Love: http://kokofeed.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/falling-inlove.jpg
Let’s Get It On: http://imoviequotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/9-Step-Brothers-quotes.gif
Love In the HuhTub: http://i.imgur.com/wmEYBk9.gif

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The Name of the Rose

Name of the Rose

Book type: Mystery/Fiction

Summary: Umberto Eco’s famous novel The Name of the Rose follows a young Benedictine novice Adso (from a German monastery) and his mentor, the English Franciscan William of Baskerville, as they investigate mysterious deaths at an Italian abbey while they are there for a meeting of papal and Franciscan legations to debate how poor Jesus really was (and how poor the Church should be). It’s a book full of odd characters, questions about how to approach our mortal lives, and of course, the nature of good and evil. And, as we always find, there are some good lessons to be learned…


  1. Don’t be normal. William of Baskerville is the main character, with Adso–his shadow and our narrator–along for the ride. At one point, in explaining the eccentricities of another Franciscan monk, Ubertino, William notes that “‘It is only petty men who seem normal'” (65). So be better than normal, be different, be eccentric, and stand out by standing up.
  2. Push yourself to learn new things. The primary feature of William of Baskerville (a former inquisitor for the Holy Inquisition) is his unfailing pursuit of knowledge, at almost any cost. While this sometimes does get him into trouble, he makes a good point to Adso when the young man asks him why he wants to know something even if it’s against the monastic rule’s orders: “‘Because learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do'” (97). Naturally, each of us has different boundaries. Learning something new for one person might be trying bath salts and ripping someone’s face off, for others–like myself–trying a bite of fish for the first time since childhood is enough of a foray into the unknown. Whatever your level is, push your boundaries of knowledge and experience, just consider the effect it may have on you and others.
  3. Even the pros slip up sometimes, so don’t expect perfection. We all mess up, even Umberto Eco. Technically, he didn’t make an error, but the phrasing of the following sentence is not his shining moment: “Symbol sometimes of the Devil, sometimes of the Risen Christ, no animal is more untrustworthy than the cock” (101). You got that right, Berto. The point is, everybody says or does something awkward or unbecoming at some point, so when it happens to you, be humble, acknowledge it, pick yourself back up, and laugh it off. I hope that’s what this guy did.
    Pitcher Fall Fail
    And while we’re on the topic of linguistic fails, do a quick Google search of “headline fails” and get your chuckle on. Seriously, do it. It’s wonderful.
  4. Be careful with your daytime naps. We’ve all been there, not enough sleep the night before, chilling on the couch in the afternoon watching TV or reading, you start to doze and think ‘NBD, I’ll just rest my eyes for a bit,’ except you wake up 3 hours later wondering whether it’s still the same day and if this is the time you’d normally be going to bed. That’s because, as Adso finds out himself after a long night’s investigating, “…[D]aytime sleep is like the sin of the flesh: the more you have the more you want, and yet you feel unhappy, sated and unsated at the same time” (156).
  5. Beware of misdirection. Of course in murder mysteries, misdirection is a common theme. The bad guy always tries to throw the good guy off the trail by misdirecting him to follow other leads. But misdirection happens in our everyday lives all the time. It happens at work when someone doesn’t pull their weight (they got stuck working on something else), with friends (something else came up), and with family (‘Well would’ve let you go, but your father said no’). But we really need to be worried about the bigger misdirections, especially those that direct our attention–and blame–to people and things with little power or agency. Beware of anyone with power blaming someone without it. In the book, Adso asks one of the monks at the abbey why Jews had been attacked by hordes of shepherds, and this was the explanation he received.

    He explained to me that all his life preachers had told him the Jews were the enemies of Christianity and accumulated possessions that had been denied the Christian poor. I asked him, however, whether it was not also true that lords and bishops accumulated possessions through tithes, so that the Shepherds were not fighting their true enemies. He replied that when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies. […] The lords did not want the Shepherds to jeopardize their possessions, and it was a great good fortune for them that the Shepherds’ leaders spread the notion that the greatest wealth belonged to the Jews (192).

  6. Sometimes you just need a wash. I learned this sound advice from my mother, but Adso speaks of it as well in The Name of the Rose. If you’re feeling down, if you’re anxious, exasperated, confused, or exhausted, cleaning up can do a world of good, “…[B]ecause nothing can restore body and mind better than a bath” (256).
    Zach Galifinakis Bathtub
  7. Google your medical symptoms with a grain of salt. This is another situation I’m sure we’ve all been in: something feels wrong and we take to our keyboards to find out just WTF is wrong with us. It turns out this problem may have affected 14th-century monks too, albeit not with keyboards. At one point, after fornicating with a peasant girl (yes, this book has it’s juicy moments–and you thought Zach Galifinakis in a bathtub was enough for one day), Adso takes to the library collection and starts reading about ailments and then wants the reader to know that he “learned later that, reading books of medicine, you are always convinced you feel the pains of which they speak” (322). While it’s very possible that he had crabs, most of us only make ourselves worse by our WebMD findings. One time I was feeling terrible over the course of a couple weeks. At first I was convinced that it was cancer or diabetes (I drank way too much Mountain Dew back then), then I checked my symptoms against the those of panic attacks and nearly caused myself to have an actual panic attack. It turned out my thyroid wasn’t getting the right messages and I just needed some simple medicine to set me straight. If you know you have a tendency toward being a cyberchondriac, as they are called, next time you feel ill, exit out of your browser and call a doctor if it’s that bad. Otherwise, take a chill pill and wait to see if your symptoms subside in a day or two.

A final review/recommendation:

There is a reason why Eco’s novel has been translated into several languages and read by millions: it’s a great book. That doesn’t mean you’ll like it though (however, it does have over a 4.0 rating on Goodreads.com, with over 150,000 reviews). It’s a long mystery at 500 pages, and it contains extensive passages of theological arguments about whether or not Jesus laughed and how poor he really thought everyone should be. And there’s tons of Latin. Oodles of it. But if you can bear with the religious discourse and are able to let go of the fact that you probably have no idea what the Latin phrases mean, you may really like the book, as I did.

In reading about the book after I finished it today, I discovered some references to it as a specifically postmodern novel, in which not every question has one clear and definite answer. Put in this perspective, the book became more interesting to me than any old murder mystery might be. As the astute William of Baskerville explains to Adso about the books they’ve found in the hidden library, “‘Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means…'” (316). But again, just because a book is a “good book” that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. My best advice is to start reading it and if after the first day’s action–since the book’s chapters are organized by day–you aren’t feeling it, put it down and watch the Sean Connery move version from 1986 on Amazon instead.

Photo credits:
Book cover: http://www.saltmanz.com/pictures/albums/Cover%20Scans/Book%20Covers/Name%20of%20the%20Rose.jpg
Pitcher Fail: http://www.totalprosports.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/pitcher-falling-off-the-mound-baseball-fail-gifs.gif
Rubber Ducky You’re the One: http://cdnimg.visualizeus.com/thumbs/a6/66/bath,bathtub,ducks,funny,man,playing-a6664ffc97b6b6ffa1362428afbe6ab7_h.jpg

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Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass

Book type: Memoir

Summary: At the beginning of Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm, Mardi Jo Link has fallen out with her husband after almost twenty years of marriage. She finds herself running the family’s farm (Big Valley, as she’s named it) while her soon-to-be ex-husband lives just a few hundred yards away. Over the next year, she and her three adolescent sons are forced to make ends meet in creative ways; they scavenge for firewood on the side of the road, enter and win zucchini contests, raise chickens to slaughter, lose some of their land, and gain survival skills–both emotional and physical–and they learn how to live their new lives together.


  1. Sometimes you need a bonfire. One of the first scenes in the book is Mardi Jo out in her yard setting fire to her memories. Her husband has moved out and taken some things with him and while her kids are away for the weekend, she decides to do some cleanup of her own. She finds her wedding photos, takes them outside, and sets them ablaze. Then she takes her wedding dress, drives to Goodwill, and practically shoves the dress into the arms of an inmate who is working there. Getting rid of her wedding artifacts didn’t get rid of her marriage struggles, but it did provide some relief. “Take my word for it,” she says, “burning your wedding pictures in a bonfire in your front yard, then handing over your wedding dress to a snaggle-toothed felon, can take your mind of your man troubles. Oh, it surely can” (14).
  2. Face the truth and tackle it head-on. Several times during the difficult year of 2005-2006, Mardi Jo’s family encounters major setbacks that she’s not equipped to handle: natural gas is too expensive to run heat and hot water, their decades-old sump pump finally fails, she loses her minivan in the divorce settlement, and food they’ve stored in their deep freezer spoils after a power outage. (And more.) But even though she wasn’t always able to right the ship immediately, even though she lacked the resources to make the problems go away, she acknowledged that the problems existed and negotiated ways of resolving them over time.”Knowing how bad things are is better than not knowing…[E]ven when that reality turns out to be a little worse than you’d imagined” (19). Be careful about ignoring setbacks or about putting band-aids on big issues; they can come back to haunt you. And above all, avoid credit card debt and payday loans as much as possible. (And if you haven’t seen it already and have 15 minutes to spare, watch John Oliver explain the dangers of predatory lending.)
  3. Your problems are not everyone else’s, so keep them in check. At one point, Mardi Jo takes her sons to a local fair, spending their last few available dollars so that her kids can have a good time. After one of her sons wins a shooting game, he says he can’t wait to tell his dad about his win. She’s upset for the obvious reason that she was the one who brought him to the fair, but also because she was the one who taught him to shoot, who spent time setting up targets in their back yard for him to practice on. But before she makes the situation about her, she has a realization: “‘Why don’t you call him and tell him about it when we get home?’ I force myself to say. I am the one divorcing their father, they’re not. This seems like an easy concept to grasp until it is you that has to do the grasping” (25).
  4. When times get tough, do a two-step. While dancing may help too, this is really about a two-step solution that Mardi Jo discovers in a Zen book from a library’s used-book sale. The two steps are: 1. Be aware of your surroundings, and 2. Inventory your immediate blessings. “This advice from A Deeper Beauty sounds easy and harmless enough…” but like the previous lesson, things often seem easier than they turn out to be (60).
  5. Be patient and receptive to the world around you. Mardi Jo introduces each chapter with a poem or other brief excerpt that serves to frame the events that follow. This one was my favorite and is, I believe, a good reminder that not everything happens in the time frame we want it to. We must be patient and open to experiencing our world and what it has to offer.

    May we all be fortunate enough to have a path shown us by the universe, and may we all have the courage to follow it. Enlightenment need not arrive all at once straddling a bolt of lightning…It might come in small packages as moonlight reflected in the frost of a cold November morning. -Danny Swicegood, How We Are Called

A final review/recommendation:

Bootstrapper is a quick read and shows some of the difficulties that families experience when going through divorce. Mardi Jo is forthcoming and blunt about her feelings, yet also reflective and deeply concerned about the life she’s molding for her sons. Her story is an American story, one of a rural family trying to put the pieces of their emotional lives back together while also trying to keep their physical lives going. If you are looking for a good weekend (or bathroom) read or just want some insight into a life most of us do not live (on a farm growing our own food, etc.), Bootstrapper provides both heart-wrenching and hilarious scenes that will entertain you until you finish it.

Photo & Video Credits
Book Cover: http://img2.imagesbn.com/p/9780307743589_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG
John Oliver (HBO): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDylgzybWAw

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Blink (Did You Miss It?)

Book type: Psychology / Self-Help

Preface & Summary: Last week I read Frank Partnoy’s book Wait and enumerated some surprising lessons about the benefits of taking time before making decisions and the effect that unconscious stimuli can have on our happiness and our self-confidence. Partnoy’s book is all about going slow and refraining from making decisions without having all the information we possibly can.  Blink, one would think, must be the exact opposite: a book about what happens within milliseconds that we’re all good at judging, not requiring reflection on all possible options and outcomes. But it’s not. It’s actually closer to Wait than one might think, and as you read the following lessons, you’ll see why.


  1. “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding” (265). This is not to say that knowledge is not necessary; we can’t have understanding if we have no knowledge. What Gladwell means here, rather, is that all of the knowledge that we build up over time to become experts in something provides us with the understanding required to make good decisions. This quote comes from a section that discusses how retired Army General Paul Van Riper was able, in a mock war game, to beat his opponents despite having significantly less intelligence about them than they had about his team. Where they had intelligence about his numbers, his weapons, etc. he had understanding of military history and what they wouldn’t expect him to do. Then he did just that. And he decimated them. (In typical American fashion, since he was actually the enemy in this fake war scenario, they re-staged the game and wouldn’t allow him to use any of the tactics he used the first time, so of course he lost. ‘merica!)
  2. Next time you have to take a test, think smart thoughts before you start. You’ve probably heard this–or something like it–before. I remember hearing once in school that if you listen to Mozart before a math test you’ll do better. I personally hated Mozart, so that didn’t work out so well for me. But there have been real studies done on this principle and it holds up. Gladwell relates the findings of a study that had two groups of comparably intelligent students answer questions from the game Trivial Pursuit. Beforehand, one group was told to imagine what it would be like to be a professor, while the other group was told to think about soccer hooligans.

    Henry Lewis Gates makes me feel smart just looking at him. He and his suit are smart in both senses of the word.

    Not the best example of intellectualism.

    The findings? The group that thought about being a professor before answering the questions got 55.6% of the questions right. The hooligan group got 42.6%. That’s a whopping 13% difference! And these students were of comparable intelligence and had an equal knowledge base. As Gladwell notes, “That can be the difference between passing and failing” (56). The results of this study are heartening in that, if you think smart thoughts, you can improve your performance. But another study conducted with students from black colleges who took the GRE found that when a group of these students had to report their race before taking the exam, they fared significantly worse than those students who just took the exam, no race reporting required. And afterward, their confidence was shaken, but they couldn’t explain why. The moral of the story is this: what we think about before undertaking a task, affects our performance, whether we are conscious of it or not, so be careful (if you can).

  3. Branding matters. This applies to products and to us as people. In Blink, Gladwell explains how a brandy manufacturer found their product losing its appeal to a competitor and after numerous tests, including taste tests that showed more people liked the flavor of their brandy over that of their competitor, the marketing research team discovered that it was all in the packaging. Once they changed the packaging, their sales went back up (163). Now, you might be wondering how I mean to compare alcohol branding and people branding. Well, think about it this way: have you ever known someone who has said to you “Whenever people meet me they always assume I’m mean! I don’t get it!”? I’ve known tons of these people. My boss is one of them. One time, when I was brand new to our team, I joked about how she was intimidating (which she is) and she was floored. She had no idea that her personality–at least in a business setting–is sometimes more reminiscent of this guy:
    Than it is of, say, this guy:
    If you frequently get responses from people that are at odds with how you see yourself, it’s not them, it’s you. You need to change your branding. And one thing to commit to memory that might help you change how you come across, is the essence of our next lesson.
  4. “‘The face is like the penis!'” (210). This is what Silvan Tomkins began a lecture with once when he was presenting on his studies of facial expressions. His point was that faces, like other body parts, have a mind of their own. We tend to believe that first we feel something, then we display that feeling on our face, but what some research has shown, “is that the process works in the opposite direction as well. Emotions can also start on the face” and change how we feel as a result (208). Does this sound familiar? One lesson from last week was about how assuming a confident physical pose can in turn make us feel more confident. This is the same principle. So if you’re in a bad mood, start smiling and watch your mood even out. At the very least, maybe it’ll help other people not “mistake” you for being mean or disinterested because that’s what you constantly wear on your face.
  5. In a relationship, the most dangerous emotion is contempt. A big part of the beginning of Gladwell’s book is about John Gottman, a man who can predict, with upwards of 90% accuracy, which couples will be together and which will be divorced in the next fifteen years from the date he observes them. Gottman and his team sit a couple down, attach to them a whole bunch of doodads (what my Grandma once called the monitors at the hospital that the doctors had secured to her head), and then have them talk about some point of contention in their relationship for the next fifteen minutes. Afterward, the team analyzes every second of the video they’ve taken and interpret the facial expressions of the partners. There are lots of emotions that aren’t necessarily helpful for the pair (e.g. defensiveness, criticalness, and so on), but the worst of these, according to Gottman, is contempt: “It’s trying to put that person on a lower plane than you. It’s hierarchical” (33) and it often takes the form of insults like calling someone a bitch, trash, scum, a child, etc. So if you want to have a good relationship, a starting point might be throwing out those good old digs you’ve been using, otherwise you might end up not having a mate to use them against.

A final review/recommendation:

Blink and Wait were actually much more similar than I thought they would be when I started reading Gladwell’s book this week. I thought this entry would be a fight between our instincts/snap judgments and our analytical minds. But basically all the examples of two-second thin slicing judgments that were effective in Blink were ones made by experts and dealing with issues within their frame of expertise, which really isn’t so different than Partnoy’s arguments about tennis, baseball, or a host of other examples. The books share similar studies and are comparably written, so if you don’t want to read both books (which I totally understand), either one would be a good choice. I also recommend checking out implicit.harvard.edu. Gladwell references Implicit Association Tests in Blink and you can take them yourself and learn some fascinating insights into how you view people and the world. Some of the results I got back when I did the tests were definitely unexpected, so if you decide to take them, let’s compare findings.

Photo credits:
Book cover: http://inboundandagile.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Blink-Malcolm-Gladwell.jpg
Prof. Gates: http://cache.boston.com/bonzai-fba/Third_Party_Photo/2009/07/20/gates1__1248117974_8015.jpg
Hooligan: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lvec74FNz41r26wf7.jpg
History Channel guy: http://greenwalledtower.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/drill_sergeant.jpg
Tom Hanks: http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMTQ2MjMwNDA3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTA2NDY3NQ@@._V1._SY314_CR1,0,214,314_.jpg

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