'59 Seconds' Is a Good Self-help Book.

59 Seconds is full of evidence-based self-help advice. I recommend it (on the basis of the first 3 chapters - I haven’t finished). In some cases there may be a danger that findings of correlation lead to cargo-cult recommendations, but generally the causation of happiness and motivation is bidirectional (things that happen as a result of them also reinforce them).

Some amusing studies cited in the book:
The day before the 2004 American presidential election, more than a hundred voters were asked to imagine themselves going to the polling booth the following day. One group was told to carry out the visualization exercise from a first-person perspective (seeing the world through their own eyes), while another group was instructed to carry out the same task from a third-person perspective (seeing themselves as someone else would see them). Remarkably, 90 percent of those who imagined themselves from a third-person perspective went on to vote, compared with just more than 70 percent of those who employed first-person visualization. Although the explanation for the effect is uncertain, it could be that adopting a third-person perspective requires more mental effort than a first-person one and so results in more significant behavioral changes.

A more powerful explanation: imagining people seeing you makes activates the idea that people will see you, which makes you behave more like you want to be seen - a ‘good citizen’. Just like making the lights less bright (via sunglasses, even) increases your cheating, because you’ll imagine that people can’t see you.

People were taken to the bottom of a hill and asked to estimate how steep it was and therefore how difficult it would be to climb. When they were accompanied by a friend, their estimates were about 15 percent lower than when they were on their own, and even just thinking about a friend when looking at the hill made it seem far more surmountable.

Obviously, people don’t want to act weak in front of others. But I’ll definitely try thinking of my friends when I’m alone and facing a challenge.

They were asked to form a clear image in their mind’s eye and imagine how great it would feel to make a high grade. … Even though the daydreaming exercise lasted only a few minutes, it had a significant impact on the students’ behavior, causing them to study less and make lower grades on the exam.

I’m now going to paraphrase most of the points in the first 3 chapters that I agree with. When I say ‘but …’, I mean that it’s something I ‘know’ (have thought of, or read about elsewhere) that the book doesn’t mention.

Positive thinking can lead to poor performance. Expecting a reward may also mean we’re less interested in the actual reward (we use up some of the juice in advance, and are less motivated by it).

What’s recommended instead of pure daydreaming: imagine all the nice things that go with success, and all the problems likely to block you. Then, alternate through those lists (fantasizing about enjoying a benefit after reaching the goal, contemplating what response could be employed against the obstacle). The alternation sounds like a decent idea. In any case, the procedure helped on the whole. It can be helpful to actually form concepts for each thing, which is easier if you can assign a short label. Generally, writing seems to help with this. There’s a tendency for ideas mentally rehearsed to either get stuck or fade, which is avoided with diagrams or notes.

Diet tips

  • start eating at normal speed, then slow down+savor for the remainder
  • use tall glasses and small dishes/utensils
  • store snacks out of sight (where you’re not likely to remember them)
  • just eat. combining food with another engaging activity leads to a ‘popcorn movie’ effect
  • keep track of what you eat (mental or brief written notes)
  • eat near a mirror. don’t exercise near one.
  • fidget more. move more vigorously in everyday life
  • don’t think eating ‘diet’ foods will result in less caloric intake, or excuse you from activity

Mood-boosting writing exercises

You can send these to a friend you’re able to be honest with, or just write to yourself. I’m sure there’s diminishing returns on effort, length, and comprehensiveness. These worked for me (I did one a day). The effects lingered.

  • things you’re currently grateful for
  • an emotional high point from your past
  • write about a fantasized-for future where you’re completely happy with what you’ve become and achieved
  • tell someone that they’re valuable to you (that you love them), and why.
  • some things that went better than expected for you in the last week (trivial things are fine), and why you think they happened

Charitable giving makes people happy (or maybe the other way around?). The thrill is greatest if you get to see up close people’s lives improved by your giving (this is why professionals work in soup kitchens instead of more rationally working for extra money and paying others to work in the soup kitchen; this is also why charities that send you photos of the child you ‘sponsored’ do repeat business). But I imagine you could derive a more abstract thrill from being the kind of person who maximizes the leverage of their charitable dollar in *really* helping people, not just in seeing grateful faces up close, knowing you’ve helped them.

Also, it seems you should binge on ‘being a good person’ satisfaction. Spreading out small kindnesses one a day for a week gave less joy to people than lumping them all into a single-day extravaganza (small things like writing thank-you notes, giving blood, etc.). I guess it has to be sufficient so you’re really convinced that you are a good person.

Doing fun things with your money (vacation, food, shows, etc.) apparently makes you happier than buying super-expensive goods. (But I read elsewhere that people surveyed during a vacation are on average pretty stressed and unhappy; but it’s often a net gain because a few nice moments, blown up in stories/memories , that provide pleasant recollections and things to brag about over the coming years.)

If you starve someone for validation, then it’s likely that they’ll spend more money on the strategy of happiness by consumption.

Fake it until you make it, physically. Really smile, for a few seconds (at least 10). In order to do really do this, you should think of something that makes you smile. Similarly, sit up straight, don’t slouch. For men (or confident women?), stick your chest out. Take an expansive pose. Move and talk like a happy person - swing your arms more, bounce more when walking, be more expressive in nonverbal communication (nod your head when you follow what someone is saying, smile, etc), all your voice to swing to higher pitch and speak faster (like you’re excited), say emotionally positive things (express liking and approval), and shake hands firmly. Don’t use first person pronouns so much. (I’m not sure if all of these can be abused for reverse-expected causation like smiling can, but for sure they’re correlated with happiness).

Active habits that increase happiness may increase it permanently, as opposed to accidental windfalls (lottery winning) which make you happy only for a little while.


Small and random rewards work better than rewards large enough that people think they’re doing something just because they’re paid for it.

If you want a job, make them like you in the interview. Good eye contact, smile, talk about other things. Act interested in their org and their work, and ask questions. Give a real compliment. Ask what they’re looking for in you. Act excited about the job. Open with confessions of weakness (provided your overall case is strong, people will like you more if you exhibit *some* weakness and are not all perfection; it also signals honesty) and close with your strongest bragging points (of course trying to pretend to modesty). The reverse order is worse. Remember always that there’s a chance others don’t notice your mistake (you certainly feel intensely ashamed of it, but remember that others don’t know and notice everything you do). It’s ok to acknowledge a mistake, and great to continue on as if you’re unperturbed.

Sit toward the middle of a table (at least on ‘The Weakest Link’). Use simpler language (applies to invented product/company names, too - and probably to human names).

Get people to do small favors that you act like you personally will greatly appreciate. This will make them see you as indebted to them, which is nice because they’re likely to keep investing in you.

Familiarity breeds liking.

Anything you can do that increases the tendency of people to like you is valuable.

Carnegie: act interested in people. People love to feel like someone cares about them, and love to talk about themselves. Other tricks: match body language/speech, act modest, help people, give sincere compliments (all of this in a way that doesn’t make them suspicious that you’re trying to play them).

If you gossip about someone’s negative behavior, people will unconsciously associate you with that behavior. (but in general gossip is widely used to enforce social norms; maybe not participating at all marks you as holier-than-thou or free-riding)

If people think highly of you already, a mistake that you’d think would be embarrassing will endear you more to them. If they think you’re a loser, then they’ll really turn away in disgust after that same mistake.

Get people to say something positive at all (“how are you feeling/doing?”), and then ask them to do something for you. This works better than just asking.

People like things more if they’re paired with a (free?) meal or a drink. Caffeine makes you more persuadable (by new arguments, I imagine).

“If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit.” Rhyme is actually persuasive. (In general things that are easier to understand/remember are more persuasive; people distrust the same words said in a thick foreign accent, for that reason among others).

If people think they’re more like you (e.g. same name), they’ll like you or help you more.

Crack a joke that gets them to smile, and they’ll give you a better deal in negotiation.

If you need help, target a specific person and ask them directly; don’t ask the group.

People will reciprocate. Do them small favors (of course, this may make you like them more).

Put a cute smiling baby photo in your wallet. Then it gets returned 1/3 the time instead of 1/8. (because they imagine they like you, and because babies are thrilling in a way other attractive things aren’t).


  1. make a plan (write down or form a mental list of subtasks)
  2. tell people you’re working on the goal (this raises the stakes, at least, and the bigger a show you make, to more (important) people, about your promise to do something, the more worried you’d be at not doing it).
  3. mentally link the steps of your plan with the good things you’ll get when you finish it - be attracted to what you’ll have when you succeed, not repulsed by what will happen if you fail. frequently remind yourself of the attraction
  4. give yourself artificial rewards (as part of your plan or impromptu) for achieving subtasks, if they’re not inherently rewarding
  5. journal or chart plan progress or actions taken
  6. actually get started. once you do this, you’ll be nagging/worrying over it until you finish or give up. you’ll want to work on it more. this is where most procrastination lies: in not starting.

Not very useful: worship and emulate people you admire for having done similar, think about the bad consequences of failure, consciously try to ‘not think of an elephant’ (e.g. sex/drugs/food you want to cut back on), expect to exert willpower (perseverance in the face of high expected chance of unrewarding outcomes), fantasize about your future life after you’ve got what you want (this was actually recommended as a general mood booster, but I think it leeches away some of the inherent reward for achieving steps toward your goal).

For each goal subtask, make yourself believe that you’ll probably succeed (come up with a good reason). Then outline the concrete actions you’ll take, and commit to a deadline and a reward that goes with that deadline (optional). List the benefits of winning the main goal (it’s also motivating to think of how you’ll be helping other people, not only yourself).

I’ll probably continue as in this post later (for the remaining 7 chapters) as I read more.