Book Review: Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards

I have an embarrassing habit. I read self improvement books. Vanessa Van Edwards writes self improvement books ; actually she researches human behaviour and is an effective science communicator. She caught my eye when I was looking for short videos on leadership. Somehow I got looking at charisma and if we can learn it. The video below says yes. And a critical step is asking questions. I had to follow that up. So…

I’ve been reading her book, Captivate; The Science of Succeeding with People (2017). It’s like a supersized and updated “How to Win Friends and Influence People” Dale Carnegies classic. I’ve learned many things and have actively worked with the ideas. It’s a great book.

First up readers are encouraged to ask questions. That’s a favourite of mine anyway. As a child I thought it polite, be silent, don’t ask questions, that’s nosy. Now I find, I’m curious and that’s OK. People love to talk about themselves and interested questioning is a key people skill. So ask novel questions. When we leave the common conversation questions behind and use novel thoughtful questions, what Vanessa describes as, “sparky” questions, we jolt our conversations into the new. It’s much more fun, for everyone. Questions like: “What was the highlight of your day?” Or “What is a personal passion project you’re working on?” Or, “Have you anything exciting coming up in your life?” Questions like this excite us. I’ve been doing this; it works, although I have occasionally received odd looks from my question. But it is worth it, for the positive responses.

It’s fascinating to develop an interest in people and you will always have a conversation. What’s more it is fun.
Another fascinating topic your personality and that of your friends. The more we understand our friends the more fun. Vanessa introduces the Big 5 model (OCEAN) a scientifically developed personality model used surprisingly often. Meyers’ Briggs is not used here because that model is not based on sensible science just the ramblings of two amateurs from Jung’s dodgy ideas. The acronym, OCEAN, is for: openness to experience, contentiousness, extraversion, acceptance and neuroticism. Neuroticism is just a fancy word for tendency to worry. Vanessa suggests taking a test for your personality and using that as a starting point. I was fascinated to find that I am much less accepting than I thought I would be… maybe I’m growing into a grumpy old man. She then suggests ways of assessing your friends and workmates (Bosses!), making relationships smoother. Useful material.

That brings me back to my initial comment, I’m into self improvement. One suggested way of identifying high neuroticism people, like me, is to look for positive quotes on their desks or around their homes. That is me. That’s healthy. Michael Shermer of Sceptic fame disagrees. He calls the self-improvement business a scam. Actually, he cites a journalist named Steve Salerano’s book Sham: How the self-Help movement made America Helpless (Crown 2006). Now he has a point there’s money to be made and I find Tom Robbins a bit odd (much of the self-help industry looks pretty dodgy new age religiosity) but positive psychology is evidence based and useful. So I would say use the good and avoid the crazy. And remember this Shermer’s and Salerano’s point is that you read a book, do the exercises and after a week or two start again. They think that’s a scam. I see their point but for worriers to surround themselves with positive and encouraging quotes, to read the books and do the exercises, that’s just sensible self-maintenance. Like exercising, sleeping and eating well. And it’s cheaper and less destructive than booze.

Then Vanessa introduces the idea of becoming story tellers. Now I’m fascinated by this. Stories are in our genes. As social creatures, stories have taught and guided us forever. We remember childhood and we remember campfires from our pasts. Vanessa suggest a systematic approach; remember and practice stories from your life in what she calls a “story stack”. Use those stories when starting a conversation and then throw a boomerang; that is, ask a question to bring your audience into the conversation. That’s a great idea. An example; in this last week, I scared myself badly. The story was, I bike home down a hill on a busy road. Trucks and cars close around me. In New Zealand we don’t have (many) separated bike lanes, so I’m in traffic. Then, I hit a rock, my tire deflated and I scrambled to keep upright in control, with traffic around me. Scary, bloody terrifying! I boomeranged that and heard all sorts of horror stories. No-one was hit but everyone had a story to tell. Vanessa’s point is this can be learned. And we all can learn.

There is much more. Vanessa writes fourteen chapters, each one with what she describes a practical approach to improving a specific social skill. She is an authority on this as she describes herself as a, “recovering awkward person”; actually she comes across in her videos and books as quite the opposite, skilled with people and confident. I recommend her book to you. Buy it, practice the exercises and learn the skills. Grow.

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Wild scientists: academics in their natural habitat – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian

I’m jealous, wish I was still a scientist.  Tamara Dean follows researchers at work. It’s great. Scientists are certainly my heroes.

Tamara Dean captures Australian researchers on the ground and in the field (not to mention water, caves and bush) and hopes to show them as ‘heroes’

Source: Wild scientists: academics in their natural habitat – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian

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Writing for Science Workshop 2

We can always improve on something we love.

The second workshop started well, again an early start and into Wellington too soon.

We examined introductions, that is like a speech begin well or your reader is gone.

We practised writing; write like a rock star, quickly let-it-all-hang-out. Time for editing later.

Then we practised editing. I’m old enough that I must print out my writing and edit on paper, millennials din’t need to do this. Growl.

We did not discuss process, I think we should. Post at least each week, write every day. Any progress, even tiny is a step forward. Writing 700 words is a stretch for me but that is a standard minimum for the news.

We did not discuss endings; summary; call to arms; entertainment, or really story telling. But get the words down. Silence is invisible.

Well worthwhile.

As I began this blog: We can always improve on something we love.

Kia Toa, Kia Ngakauni
Have courage, desire greatly.

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How to Hack Willpower

How to Hack Willpower.
I enjoyed a recent piano competition but my daughter was the only European face there. Why is this? Do New, New Zealanders have more willpower than others? Maybe they do.
A recent New Scientist article ‘Yes You Can” describes research that suggests that willpower can be learned, it’s not a limited resource. The old story that willpower is limited and that once used we fall back into slackness and bad habits is wrong. Children who learn; for example, to meditate, do have more willpower. Practice matters as does mental attitude.

The author described eight ways we can improve.

First, “Have some skin in the game”. Reward yourself and then take the reward away for non-performance. We hate losing. Second, program your home with sub-conscience prods: notes on the fridge and mirror, and on your screen saver. Be creative here. Third, Make the abstract visible: use graphs and visuals that chart your progress. I like to physically tick off sub-goals. Forth, Look after yourself, eat moderately and well, exercise and sleep. Fifth: regularly reward yourself. Chocolate works well. Sixth, think well, encouraging yourself. Don’t fight your habits, dance with them. Think positively moving toward your goals. Seventh, create a completion. I’m writing 300 words in half an hour. Find a friend to compete with. Eighth, just laugh. Have fun as your making progress. With all of these take a light touch as your making progress. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself.

Christian describes research that suggests that cultures that encourage and practice self-control encourage will-power. That is the reason my daughter is a minority at piano contests. Of course learning to stick to challenges, like piano; that’s excellent. That’s what the studies of grittiness show us. However, I have discussed this before and care is needed. (Book Review: Grit: the power of passion and perseverance. Angela Duckworth.

I think too much focus on self-improvement and achievement is dangerous. Yes, work hard but burnout and depression are an enormous problem and we are all at risk. In New Zealand and worldwide these are major health problems. New Zealand’s youth suicide rate is one of the highest in the world. For a Father with an adolescent daughter and slightly older son; that’s frightening. Both perform well but that is no comfort. High performance is risky. Depression is a disease of everyone. Yes; those addicts, unemployed and sick become depressed but, as my Doctor explained, high achievers are too. When our best are set an impossible task, a common poor strategy is to work harder and harder (My Master’s thesis required this strategy, which worked). But there reaches a stage when this strategy fails. We burn out. Depression and burnout looms. When this happened to me it helped to know this is a high-achiever disease. The lesson is that balance and thought is needed. We can hack will-power, just be mindful.

So to what to do? By all means hack your willpower. Practice being “gritty” and build your self-awareness, look after yourself! Eat well. Think well of yourself and sleep well. Dance with the challenges and succeed.

From Ruth Hartnup Flickr

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Writing for Science Workshop 1

We can always improve on something we love.

It’s a strange day when I rise at 5 (That’s normal), on the road at 6.15 (That’s strange), on a train at 7.30 (before the estimate) and in Wellington at 8.30 for the 10 o’clock workshop (Bugger). But worth it!

We were asked to tell one quirky fact about us. I play guitar, Dave makes a living telling science stories (He’s the one leading the workshop), Marina studied spider monkeys, Makita sailed tall ships, Lorraine came from Townsville, Ursula and Perry study earthquakes (Perry is a hobbit name) and Wendy’s a walking breathing yoga study. We all love science stories and want to write them. All unique and all passionate; it’s such a wonderful thing being in a room with sixteen other science enthusiasts.

The process is as a pyramid: Read, read, read; think; write; edit; publish.

Begin with the base; writing is like a pyramid, a broad strong base supports the whole. Your research and knowledge of the subject is the base. Make sure you do this and that is where your time is used. Next is the thinking part, aim to write a short summary of 25 words and a single sentence just seven words long expressing the key idea. Three main ideas and that’s it. Then write and edit. We practised editing, then we finished for the week.

Back next week for the second workshop, I’m looking forward to it.

As I began this blog: We can always improve on something we love.

Kia Toa, Kia Ngakauni
Have courage, desire greatly.

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Curiosity: The Good, the Bad, and the Double-Edged Sword | Psychology Today

This is a great read, thoughtful and complex; and well structured and understandable. Well worth reading in full.

Curiosity is a doubled-edged sword with many benefits, but also a dark side.

Source: Curiosity: The Good, the Bad, and the Double-Edged Sword | Psychology Today

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sagan*sense – Going on a run or a walk in the forest is great…

I think we need to remember this. As much as the outdoors and exercise is wonderful, it is not medicine and depression is all too often a serious disease that needs serious treatment.  Be sure look after yourself, and if your blues persist seek professional help.  I would start with my doctor.

Going on a run or a walk in the forest is great and might help some people feel good about themselves. But it’s not fucking medicine. Depression, Anxiety, ADHD, etc are legitimate medical diagnoses.

You wouldn’t tell someone who broke their leg to “try to imagine it’s not broken” or ask someone with the flu “have you tried not being sick?” That’s exactly how fucking stupid it sounds when you tell someone with Depression to “try to be happy.” It’s not helpful, it doesn’t work, and it’ll only make them feel even worse


I got this from Sagan.sense

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Friday essay: the legend of Ishtar, first goddess of love and war

This is a fascinating account of the earliest goddess of war and love. It is also tells that the first recorded poet was a Enheduanna a priestess of the Moon God thought to have lived in Ur about 2300 BC. Love and war, creation and destruction, that pretty much covers it.

It is a great article, please read.

Love, it is said, is a battlefield, and it was no more so than for the first goddess of love and war, Ishtar. Her legend has influenced cultural archetypes from Aphrodite to Wonder Woman.

Source: Friday essay: the legend of Ishtar, first goddess of love and war

I thought the statue “Fearless Girl” an appropriate visual here. Not yet a goddess although impressive and confronting.

Fearless Girl: Shinya Suzuki/Flickr


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Being Busy Permanently Reduces Your Capacity to Think Deeply and Creatively | Big Think

This article suggests we need to “chill out’ if we value creativity. My view is that that is correct. Too much worry and stress, too much business kills you, as a human, a member of society and as a creative person. This article explores the impact of business on creativity and what to do about it.

This is the authors recipe for change

“1. Make a long walk—without your phone—a part of your daily routine
2. Get out of your comfort zone
3. Make more time for fun and games
4. Alternate between doing focused work and activities that are less intellectually demanding”

Here’s why you should try to fit less—not more—into each day.

Source: Being Busy Permanently Reduces Your Capacity to Think Deeply and Creatively | Big Think

From: Andris on FLICKR

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Lucy Hone: In defence of introverts |

Extroversion isn’t the Holy Grail of functioning.

I found this article positive and encouraging given how much I enjoy my own company. An important message to share. Being an introvert is a good thing. Its great. We need to encourage and support introverts; and tell extroverts to be quiet, and listen.

Source: Lucy Hone: In defence of introverts |

It is interesting to me that I chose this picture rather than a musician practising, or a writer writing. When I walk it is mostly with Helena (my wife) and Bart (our dog).

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