Self Managment Book Reviews

Permission to Feel

Dr Marc Brackett PhD, Celadon Books, 2019

Emotions are taking centre stage as a focus in research and application. Brackett is Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a professor at the Yale Child Study Center. His book, Permission to Feel, walks us through the current knowledge on emotions, their importance in our lives and how to we can become more emotionally aware and effective. In Part One of the book, he explains aspects of emotion and encourages us to become emotional scientists in our own lives. Brackett offers us the acronym RULER which stands for:

Recognize emotions in self and others,

Understand the source and influence of the emotions,

Learn a nuanced vocabulary to talk about emotions,

Express emotions with appropriate cultural norms to inform others of your feelings and invite empathy,

Regulate the emotions.  

In Part Two Brackett breaks the RULER acronym down and provides practical ways to develop and apply each of these skills. For example, there are numerous ways to regulate emotions such as shifting your attention, reframing the situation or mindful breathing. This section gives the reader a practical and varied toolkit.

In Part three the author offers ways to apply these emotional skills in three different life areas. The chapter on emotions at home has great tips for parents who want to help their children become more emotionally adept. Teachers and school administrators will find the chapter on emotions in schools helpful. Brackett also gives some ideas about handling emotions at work. These different interactions all take place in relationships and relationships are grounded in emotion.

If you’d like to explore the role emotions play in your life and ways you can increase your emotional adeptness Permission to Feel is a great place to start. I have added it to the resource list for my workshops and seminars on emotional intelligence.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom

Jonathan Haidt, Basic Books, 2006

I have seen The Happiness Hypothesis referenced widely so I thought it was time to check it out myself. Author Johnathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University, takes us on a journey through human nature using the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The elephant represents gut feelings and reactions as well as emotion, and intuition and the rider is the control systems of our brain.

Haidt explains how the mind operates and the challenges inherent in the elephant and rider working together. Aspects of human behaviour Haidt covers include the challenge of changing our minds, the role reciprocity plays in relationships and our hypocritical way of finding fault with others while not looking at our own motives. The author also explores how the elephant and the rider impact our happiness and love attachments and help us use adversity for growth. Virtue, moral beauty and life purpose all come under the lens of our rider and elephant.

I found The Happiness Hypothesis to be a clear and compelling discussion of our mental workings and the impact these have on everyday behaviour. Along the way Haidt offers ways we can encourage the rider and elephant to work together more effectively.

Some other books I have reviewed on positive psychology include: Before Happiness, The Upside of Your Dark Side, The Myths of Happiness, Love 2.0 and The Happiness Advantage.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


The Science Behind Tapping: A proven stress management technique for the mind & body

Peta Stapleton PhD., Hay House Inc, 2019

I’m always on the lookout for information on stress and stress management both for my seminars and workshops and for personal use. Those interests lead me to pick up a copy of The Science Behind Tapping from my local library. Tapping or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is controversial and presently outside the scientific mainstream. It is an experimental technique rooted in eastern philosophy, especially acupuncture. It combines the stimulation of selected points in the upper body and face combined with a specific mental process of self-reflection. The author Peta Stapleton is registered clinical and health psychologist and associate professor at Bond University in Australia. In her book she sets out to share the current academic research into tapping.

Chapters include: the background of the technique, history, research and uses of EFT in areas such as trauma, PTSD, stress and anxiety, depression, food craving and weight issues among many others. She highlights the use of EFT with young people and students, suggests other potential uses and includes a number of other tapping techniques.

I found the EFT concept interesting. Because it is a controversial technique I also read a number of articles that refute some of the studies undertaken. Ultimately I look forward to reading more about tapping for stress reduction as the research continues.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


The Social Animal: The hidden sources of love, character and achievement

David Brooks, Random House, 2011

Are you looking for a book that can provide a deeper understanding of human nature and what makes us tick? The Social Animal could be the book for you. Author David Brooks, a Canadian-born, American political and cultural commentator for The New York Times, takes an overarching look at the social animal- us.

In the introduction Brooks describes the book’s content as about both our unconscious and our emotions. As a way to synthesize the current findings of science he creates the story of two people and their life from birth onward.

The book explores issues of childhood development such as infant/mother bonds and attachment theory. As his characters age, he discusses human learning, intelligence and the development of self-control.

Brooks looks at how culture, norms, decision making and heuristics (mental shortcuts) impact our lives as we learn to negotiate the world. He explores issues of freedom and commitment, our desire for harmony and our maps of reality.

As his characters approach the end of life the author delves into aging, mortality, life’s meaning and the development of emotional balance.

I found this an intriguing way to explore the impact of the unconscious and emotions. The content is rooted in science and explained through a relatable narrative. You will recognize aspects of yourself and your own life in these pages.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty- How we lie to everyone- especially ourselves

Dan Ariely, Harper Perennial Edition, 2013

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty is a delightful and insightful book from Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University. Ariely is well known for his work on decision making and workplace motivation. I love his writing style. He takes his research and turns it into easily understood prose and then throws in a dollop of humour.

In this book he tackles why human beings have a love affair with dishonesty.  In the first chapters he outlines how we rationalize cheating. We struggle with cognitive dissonance as we see ourselves as honest and yet do things that are dishonest. Our solution is to cheat up to a level that still lets us see ourselves as reasonably honest people.  It’s interesting that dishonesty increases when we are one or more steps away from money. He found that, if in a challenging situation, we remember our moral standards it will increase moral behaviour and decreases dishonesty.

Further chapters address the challenges to honesty that are presented by conflicts of interest, physical and mental exhaustion and even wearing designer knock-offs.

Other complicating factors include self-deception and our exceptional ability as story tellers. Deception is a dark side of this storytelling ability. Ariely helps us understand the impact of social groups on honesty. Cheaters in our social group, especially leaders, will more likely cause others to cheat. Teamwork can also increase the potential for dishonest behaviour especially if the team benefits.

Along the way Ariely offers us ways to reduce the impact of challenges to honesty both for yourself and for those with whom you work. I’ve already found some great points to include in my training workshops on decision making and creativity.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


The Power of Meaning- Crafting a life that matters

Emily Esfahani Smith, Viking, 2017

In The Power of Meaning author Emily Esfahani Smith unpacks the role of meaning in our lives.

People develop a sense of accomplishment and contentment by devoting themselves to difficult and worthwhile tasks. We all need “a thing.” When we put effort into building something we value it more. Esfahani Smith describes four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence. I’m going to focus on her thoughts about purpose and storytelling.

We find purpose in stable and long term life goals. These goals become organizing principles in our life and contribute to something bigger than us. To find your purpose requires self-reflection and self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is one of the most important predictors of finding meaning in life. Some questions to reflect on include:

Who are you? This helps you understand your core beliefs, values and life goals.

Where have you come from?  This lets you see how groups and communities have shaped you.

How do you fit in the world and society?

We are all works in progress. Identity isn’t static therefore our self-knowledge needs to be revisited throughout each life stage.

Human beings are storytellers. Stories help us understand and make meaning of our life experiences. We make narrative choices around significant experiences, both good and bad, as we strive to make sense of them. As we tell our stories they become our reality. However it is important to know that stories are a narrative choice and reflect our perspective, not reality. For example, “redemptive” stories find good in difficult situations which can give meaning to suffering. “Contamination” stories find bad in the good and are less likely to motivate us. The good news is that we can recreate our stories if we choose to edit, revise and reinterpret them.

In addition to describing the four pillars of meaning the author includes chapters on growth and post traumatic growth (a positive change that results from a highly challenging struggle) as well creating a culture of meaning for different groups.

Meaning matters in our lives. Finding meaning takes time and effort. Greater life satisfaction is the pay-off of our effort. The Power of Meaning is a book that can add to your self-understanding. I happily recommend it as a resource in my training seminars and workshops on change, happiness and goal setting.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


Creating Your Best Life: the ultimate life list guide

Carolyn Adams Miller & Dr. Michael B. Frisch

Sterling Publishing Company Inc. 2009

Recently I took part in a webinar with Carolyn Adams Miller which prompted me to delve into some of her written work. I started with her first book, Creating Your Best Life, co-authored by Dr. Michael Frisch. In this book the authors explore the link between happiness and life goals.

This research-based book provides insights into how the current knowledge of human behaviour can impact and improve goal setting, goal commitment and happiness. The authors also discuss how willpower, risk taking, priming and grit can impact our success. They offer advice on how to personalize goals as well as ways to savour our success and cope with setbacks. Each chapter offers a variety of exercises to help the reader apply the concepts to their own life.

The authors describe the best goals as being specific and challenging, approach-focused and values driven. Goals that are important to us create feelings of independence, connection and competence Great goals are measurable and produce feedback on our progress. They are in harmony with our other life goals so we can leverage our success. There is value in goals that are written, pre-committed to and for which we are accountable in some way.  A great goal stimulates a state of flow.

I liked the positive focus of the book, the examples and exercises. The authors embrace the flexibility inherent in setting life goals. There is no right way and the exercises offer a variety of suggestions to help you find a process that works for you.

A couple of ideas to get your goal setting juices flowing include:

Other related book reviews on this topic are Succeed, The Willpower Instinct, Deep Work and The Time Paradox. You may also want to check out Miller’s website at

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become

Barbara L. Fredrickson Ph.D.

Hudson Street Press, 2013

I read Love 2.0 several years ago when I first began to explore the field of positive psychology. I found the book fascinating and can’t believe I’ve taken this long to write a review.

Fredrickson describes love as the supreme emotion and her work shows that love alters our body chemistry and may even affect us at the cellular level. She challenges us and asks if we prioritize positivity in lives. Do we seek out micro-moments of warmth and connection or brush them off as unimportant?

The love Fredrickson refers to is not the western concept of romantic love. It is more inclusive than just family and friends. Love occurs whenever two or more people connect over a shared positive emotion. Two strangers smiling at each other on the street can create a micro-moment of love that expands our awareness and relaxes our boundaries. We see fewer distinctions between others at this time.

Love is the only emotion that creates what Fredrickson calls positivity resonance.  This occurs between people when three events interconnect:

Throughout the book Fredrickson shares many practical ways to develop micro-moments of positivity, love and compassion in daily life. Here is one of my favourites:

Micro moment practice to create three loving connections

Each day seek out three opportunities to connect with others with warmth, respect, and goodwill.

Afterwards reflect on whether the exchange led to positivity resonance to even a small degree. Develop a daily intention to seek out and create these micro-moments of connection with others for health and well-being.

I have applied many of Fredrickson’s ideas in my life over the last few years. I especially appreciate the loving-kindness guided meditations available on her website which were instrumental in helping me develop my own meditative practice. Check them out here:

Other positive psychology book reviews on my website you might want to explore include: The Happiness Advantage, Before Happiness, The Myths of Happiness, Self-Compassion, The Upside of Your Dark Side, and Positivity.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts

Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Harcourt Books, 2007

This book’s title, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), was too intriguing to pass up. In this book the authors, both social psychologists, explore the concept of self-justification. Today we talk about communicating in an echo chamber and I found this book speaks clearly to that issue. The book explores why we self-justify and offers practical ideas on how to step out of the echo chamber phenomenon.

There are several challenges presented merely by being human. One issue explored is cognitive dissonance. This is the state of discomfort that happens when we hold two ideas that are psychologically inconsistent. We work to resolve this discomfort and can be self-delusional in our justification.

Another major issue is the result of blind spots. We all have them, we just don’t recognize them.  These blind spots take the form of prejudice. Prejudice creates a sense of “us and them” and is impervious to reason, contrary examples and experience.

The authors describe memory as our personal self-justifying historian. Memory is a form of mental story-telling which changes with each telling. Even a seemingly detailed and accurate memory can be misremembered. Stories change to fit our memories and memories change to fit our stories.

Self-justification plays an important role in truth and reconciliation initiatives. Successful truth and reconciliation means both parties must go beyond self-justification. Perpetrators need to honestly acknowledge and atone for the harm they caused. Victims need to let go of a desire for revenge while still feeling they are validated for the harm suffered.

Self-justification can make us feel better about ourselves but it does little to help us grow and broaden our connections with others. As Tarvis and Aronson explore self-justification they offer helpful strategies to move us beyond a limited stance. If you want to explore and expand your thought processes I would encourage you to read this book.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Art of Choosing

Sheena Iyengar

Hachette Book Group Inc., 2010

Have you ever wondered why you make the choices you do and, could you improve the decisions you make?  The Art of Choosing has insights and answers to these questions. Author Sheena Iyengar,  a professor at the Columbia Business School is a world expert on choosing.

In The Art of Choosing Iyengar describes the importance of choice in our lives. She discusses the role of culture and compares aspects of individualist cultures (e.g. Canada) and collectivist cultures (e.g. Japan). Cultural differences affect the way people choose.  This can create challenges in a multiculturally diverse workplace.  The author notes how self-image can also impact the choices we make.  Differences aside, it seems people are more alike than they think. Paradoxically, every person is convinced that they are unique.

Iyengar looks at the decision making process and how we can effectively align our choices and expectations for higher satisfaction. She highlights Daniel Khaneman’s work on common decision making biases in human nature. These include: the impact of memory, how our minds seek patterns, the desire for loss avoidance and confirmation bias.

The Art of Choosing discusses how our senses impact decision making. The more we are exposed to an idea or object the more we grow to like it. Our choices are affected by many things including the package, price, logo and colours. When we see an item in a catalogue and imagine wearing or using it we are more inclined to purchase it.

We believe we want greater choice. Ironically, too much choice makes it harder to decide. Iyengar wants us to understand that greater choice doesn’t generally work in our favour. Individuals should develop expertise in areas that are important to them and give them the greatest satisfaction. We can tap into the expertise of others to help us make a decision where we lack knowledge. This strategy helps us focus on the things that matter most and reduces the amount of choice to a manageable amount.

If you want to better understand your decisions or the decisions of others I would recommend The Art of Choosing. There are helpful ideas on how to improve individual and group decisions as well as how to make decision that are pleasant or difficult.  I have added Iyengar’s book as a resource for my critical thinking workshops.

Check out other book reviews on decision making: How We Decide, The 7 Laws of Magical Thinkingand Thinking Fast and Slow.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Succeed: How we can reach our goals

Heidi Grant Halvorson Ph.D.

Hudson Street Press, 2011

Succeed is based on the research of Heidi Grant Halvorson, a psychologist who studies the science of motivation and communication. The book is a comprehensive look at the importance of goals and how to leverage them for success.

The ability to succeed at your goals is underpinned by your self-control. Self-control guides your actions in pursuit of a goal, helps you persevere, and allows you to stay on track despite temptations, distractions and the demands of competing goals.

Chapter One asks if you know where you are going. We need to be specific about our goals and know what success will look like in concrete terms. Goals should help us stretch and yet be grounded in reality. We need to know what we are doing (the task at hand) and why we are doing it (a future benefit). Will the value gained be worth the effort expended? It is important to be both positive and realistic about our goals. The author suggests the use of mental contrasting. Write down a goal you are considering. What would a positive result be? What is a potential obstacle? Continue to alternate positives and obstacles then consider if this is a goal worth pursuing.

Chapter Two explores where goals come from. It’s helpful to know what influences you and what you believe about your abilities. The author shares ways to build a supportive environment and how to use mental triggers to tap into our unconscious to help us succeed.

Motivation underlies Chapter Three. Goals that help us improve and get better have advantages over goals that aim to be the best. These benefits include: deeper learning, higher achievement and performance. We are more likely to ask for help with an improvement goal. Additionally, if the goal isn’t attained, we bounce back more quickly because our self-worth isn’t on the line.

People tend to gravitate to one of two kinds of goals as outlined in Chapter Four. Promotion focused goals maximize gains and Grant Halvorson describes them as riskier. They provide a bit of a rush. Prevention focused goals minimize loss, are grounded in caution and provide us with relief. Both are necessary in life.

In Chapter Five the author links goals and happiness.

I think Succeed is well worth the read. There are many practical ideas that can be applied immediately to goal setting. I often share the author’s “nine tips successful people do differently” in my time management workshops and seminars.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Willpower Instinct: How self-control works, why it matters, and what you can do to get more of it

Kelly McGonigal  Ph.D

Penguin, 2012

Willpower, persistence, perseverance, grit are words I often see in my reading. In The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and educator at the Harvard School of Medicine, gives a well-considered overview of willpower gleaned from psychological and social influences to neuroscience.

There are two sides to self-control. One is called “I won’t power.” This is our ability to say no to something. The other side is “I will power.” This is the ability to do what needs to be done, even when you don’t want to do it. Self-control combines both physiological and psychological aspects.

Personal willpower is highest in the morning and declines throughout the day. That’s one reason why after an intense day you find yourself on the couch with a bag of chips instead of at the gym.

Our brains have many interesting ways to justify lapses in will power. For example, we give ourselves credit for what we could have done but didn’t. “I just ate 3 pieces of cheesecake but not all of it.” Common strategies to deal with stress and negative moods activate the reward systems in the brain- back we go to the couch and our chips. The goal of feeling better in the moment overwhelms our goal of longer term self-control.

We are influenced by those around us. Their willpower, or lack thereof, can affect our willpower for “good or evil.” When we see others ignoring the rules and following their impulse we are more likely to give in to our own impulses. Thinking about someone with strong willpower can help increase own.

McGonigal notes that people with better control over their attentions, emotions and actions are generally better off on a variety of measures; however excessive self-control can be a bad thing. People with the most effective self-control have learned to accept and integrate their competing selves. When developing and enhancing your willpower be self-aware, practice self-care and remember what matters most to you.

I found The Willpower Instinct to be an accessible look at the complex issues surrounding willpower and self-control. McGonigal shares both the challenges of self-control and strategies to overcome these challenges. If you want to develop or increase your willpower this book is an excellent place to start. So, what are you waiting for…

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world

Cal Newport, Grand Central Publishing, 2016

Recently I heard a CBC interview with Cal Newport about his book Deep Work. Newport is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Georgetown University.  He’s a busy guy and a prolific author so it seems he might have words of wisdom about effective work habits- and he does.

He describes work as a blend of deep and shallow work. Deep work is performed with distraction-free concentration. The output it creates adds new value and improves your skills. Shallow work doesn’t require much mental effort and is often logistical in nature. Shallow work rarely adds value. Newport makes a case that the ability to do deep work is becoming a rarity while at the same time it is increasingly valuable in our lives. Those who cultivate and apply deep work skills will be in demand in the future.

In part one of Deep Work, Newport lays out the case that: deep work is a valuable skill; it is rare in today’s workplace; and it is key to finding meaning in your work. He makes a compelling argument drawn from both research and his own experience.

Newport shares his rules of deep work in part two. These four rules include: work deeply, embrace boredom, quit social media and drain the shallows. He provides practical strategies and ideas to support these rules. If your hackles rise at the ”quit social media” rule, be assured that Newport suggests a balanced view and encourages us to be thoughtful in the media we choose. Look for media that offers enough benefit to you that makes it worth the investment of your time and life. The chapter on drain the shallows offers ideas on analysis of what you’re doing and how some changes may help you find time for deep work in your day. Shallow work can absorb all your time and leave room for nothing else.

I enjoyed reading Deep Work. I felt it built on fundamental aspects of effective time management.  Newport provides many practical ideas on how to achieve more time for deep work in our lives without being formulaic or preachy. I found a number of ideas to share in my workshops and seminars on time management. For those who want to build a successful career and minimize life in the shallows Deep Work is a great place to start. For more information check out Newport’s blog

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of being kind to yourself

Kristin Neff, PhD

Harper Collins Publishers, 2011

Kirstin Neff, Associate Professor in Human Development at the University of Texas- Austin studies self-compassion. It’s an interesting field of study in Western culture where self-kindness is not particularly valued.  We often frame things in terms of success or failure. When we fail, you and I can be harder on ourselves than we are with others.

In part one of Self-Compassion, Neff walks us through the concept and sets the stage. Part two devotes a chapter to each component of self-compassion: self-kindness, recognition of a common humanity and the role of mindfulness.  The benefits of self-compassion are highlighted in part three and include emotional resilience, opting out of the self-esteem trap and increased motivation and personal growth. The focus of part four describes the impact this self-practice has on our relationships with others. Part five discusses how self-compassion enhances our life overall and increases self-appreciation.  I would recommend this book especially if you recognize the “little voice inside your head” tends to be self-critical.

Self- Compassion is written in a relatable style and Neff has included many practical exercises to help us develop a perspective of self-compassion. One of my favorites, that I include in my stress management workshops, is called hugging practice. It is an easy way to comfort yourself when you are feeling badly. The body responds to a self-hug in the same way as a baby responds to being held in its mother’s arms. Research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin, provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions, and calms cardiovascular stress. Even in a stressful work situation you can adapt this technique to calm yourself by gently stroking your arm or hand. Easy, effective and subtle.

Neff shares a number of quotes throughout the book that exemplify the wisdom of self-compassion. One that caught my attention is from Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn. It’s a great reminder that each of us is worthy of self-compassion.

You are a wonderful manifestation. The whole universe has come together to make your existence possible.

Visit Neff’s website  for practical exercises, mindfulness meditations and more.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Inefficiency Assassin

Helene Segura

New World Library, 2016

I always have an eye out for new information on time management and effective organization. I like to share new ideas in my time management training seminars and workshops and often get a fresh perspective on my own work processes.  The Inefficiency Assassin by Helene Segura is worth a read especially if you are self-employed or an entrepreneur.  The book is written in short punchy segments which include a goal suggestion and practical tactics to help you implement the ideas.

Part one is designed to get you on track with an overview including how to:

Segura promotes what she calls 3+3. Determine your top three work priorities and build your day around them. The +3 are secondary priorities that need to be accomplished. If you can’t focus on the top three priorities you have three more important items on which to spend your time.

Part two is on how to achieve your important priorities through:

Segura walks you through how to rethink your workspace and get better organized to increase your efficiency. She has some suggestions for setting boundaries around the barrage of interruptions from phones and technology. It takes the brain an average of 60 seconds to refocus when task switching. We are interrupted 11 times an hour on average.  If you lose 11 minutes an hour to these distractions, in an eight hour day that’s 88 minutes per day of unfocused time. She suggests the following ideas:

The Inefficiency Assassin also covers specific challenges people experience such as multi-tasking, perfectionism, procrastination and the unexpected. Practical strategies are offered for each challenge.

If you want to improve your productivity and efficiency check out The Inefficiency Assassin.  You are sure to find some food for thought.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Upside of Your Dark Side

Todd B Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener

Hudson Street Press, 2014

I’m a big fan of the research in positive psychology aka happiness research and I’ve been around long enough to believe that a balanced perspective is important to understanding any issue. I was pleased to pick up The Upside of Your Dark Side by Todd B Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. The authors are well known in the positive psychology field. I found this book a refreshing reminder that the ultimate goal in life is not to try and achieve happiness one hundred percent of the time. Negative evaluations and emotions are essential for our survival.

We prefer to avoid negative emotions because:

It is important to remember all emotions are valid and provide us with useful information- even the negative ones.

The authors walk us through the “big three” negative emotions- anger, guilt and shame and anxiety. We learn the benefits these emotions provide and when to access them for our well-being. Kashdan and Biswas-Diener discuss the value of mindlessness especially when alternated with mindfulness practice.  I enjoyed the chapter on what they term “the dark triad”- Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy- and how these can help us succeed in complex dealings with others and when used in the right context.

I found The Upside of Your Dark Side was helpful in understanding the importance of both positive and negative emotions. As the book points out, emotions aren’t really negative or positive but rather healthy or unhealthy in a given situation. Being whole is being open and understanding of our entire personality, including the light and dark, our strengths and weaknesses and successes and failures. As the authors note, to be human is a contradiction to be embraced. I find this a helpful idea to share in training seminars and workshops on emotional intelligence and positive psychology.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Before Happiness: the five hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness, and sustaining positive change

Shawn Achor
Crown Business, 2013

Positive psychologist and researcher Shawn Achor’s book, Before Happiness, is a definite addition to your reading list. The book offers five practical, easy to apply skills that will positively enhance the way you perceive the world.

The human brain receives eleven million pieces of information every second of which it can only process forty bits per second. It chooses a fraction of the input available to process and dismisses or ignores everything else. Therefore your reality is a choice based on how you perceive and interpret the world. Why not choose to focus on the positive?

Skill one is choose the most valuable reality of all the possibilities present. Which reality will help you harness your full potential? Look for vantage points that can increase your ability to see new valuable details to broaden your perspective and then choose the best vantage point.

Mapping your success route is skill two. You need to be aware of your mental map of the world as it guides your actions. Additionally, you need to know what your meaning markers are, those things in your life that matter most to you.

Skill three helps you target the things that will accelerate your success. When we get close to the finish line our brain sees the coming reward and releases energy, speed, mental clarity and toughness. The closer you perceive success to be, the faster you move towards it. By changing our perception of the distance to the finish line we can prime our brains to accelerate success.

We live in a world filled with many kinds of noise which can distort reality and stop signals that point us toward positive growth. Skill four teaches us how to boost the positive signal by eliminating negative noise.

Skill five is sharing our positive perceptions as we interact with others and how we can help them see a reality where lasting success and happiness is possible.

Achor approaches positive psychology with passion and a sense of humour. Before Happiness is a must read if you are looking for realistic ideas to help you shift your perception in a positive direction. I’ve already incorporated several ideas into my life and also into a number of the training and seminarsI offer. A bit of positive perception can go a long way.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Practical Wisdom: The right way to do the right thing

Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe
Riverhead Books, 2010

Practical Wisdom explores the importance of developing critical thinking skills and wisdom in our lives. The authors, Barry Schwartz, a Professor of Social Theory and Social Action and Kenneth Sharpe, Professor of Political Science are on the faculty of Swarthmore College. Their book shares research on what wisdom is, factors in society that may be preventing us from attaining wisdom and what we can do about these factors.

In the first part of the book they delve into what practical wisdom looks like. Wisdom is a fundamental social practice that requires the ability to make a choice. One must be able to perceive the situation, to have the appropriate feelings or desires about it; to deliberate about is appropriate in those circumstances and to act. Frequently we need to make decisions on more than just facts. We need to be able to deduce the right thing from an abstract principle. Wisdom is a practical, moral skill that requires nuanced thinking. We live in a world where many rules and administrative oversight mechanisms have been created to tell people what to do. Although rules have their place, we regularly face many situations that don’t have a one size fits all rule and we need to do the right thing, not for reward or punishment, but because it is what is right.

Being able to determine the right thing requires good decision making strategies, moral imagination to consider how the different choices will play out and empathy to understand the viewpoint of others involved in the decision.

The authors list the following characteristics of individuals engaged in practical wisdom:

Practical wisdom is something we need in our workplace and our life. It is something we accrue over time as we develop a reflective practice based on our experience. If you have the privilege of coaching or mentoring others consider how you can help them build their practical wisdom. I incorporate reflection, questions and group discussions in the training and seminars I offer for this very reason.. Practical wisdom is a journey, not a destination.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the truth about perfectionism, inadequacy and power

Brene Brown
Gotham Books, 2007

I first heard of Brown and her work on shame and vulnerability through her popular TED Talks. A professor of social work in Texas, Brown’s research is a powerful wake up call to help us understand shame more clearly. Shame is a universal emotion that makes us feel alone, different and unworthy of acceptance and belonging. OUCH!

In I Thought It Was Just Me Brown explains what shame is, where it comes from and how we can explore and manage shame in our own lives. Brown shares four elements in this process.
The first is to recognize shame in our lives and understand our triggers. Next we need to practice critical awareness, to know why shame exists, how it works, how society is impacted by it and who benefits from this emotion so we can better understand both shame triggers and social-community expectations that fuel feelings of shame. The third element is to reach out- not to fix or save others- rather to help others and reinforce connections as we share our stories of shame and create change. The final element is to speak shame: to express how we feel and ask for what we need.

After providing a solid grounding of shame at the personal level further chapters explore how we can practice courage, compassion and connection in a culture that seems rife with fear, blame and disconnection. The final chapter shares how we can create a culture of connection.

Brown writes with an authentic voice and the book is filled with stories and examples pulled from her own life and from her research. I found I Thought It Was Just Me a book of ideas we can apply in our own lives to emerge from the curtain of shame we may be hiding behind. Brown believes human beings can never be shame free but we don’t have to continually bear the painful burden of shame. It is a hopeful message to each of us.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you, and how to get good at it

Kelly McGonigal Ph.D. Avery Books , 2015

We all feel stressed at some point in our lives and The Upside of Stress should be required reading for everyone to help us prepare. McGonigal’s work came to my attention through her 2013 TED Talk. I was delighted to see she has written a book based on her research findings.

What seems to make a difference for individuals dealing with stress is what McGonigal calls the stress mindset. If you perceive stress as being harmful you will try to avoid or escape it and reduce your exposure to stressful situations. If you have a stress mindset that views stress as potentially helpful you will be more likely to cope proactively and benefit from the stressful situation.

The Upside of Stress explores responses to stress beyond the common view of flight or fight. Stress can give you the energy to rise to an important challenge by centring your attention and increasing your self-confidence; it helps you connect with others and enhances empathy and intuition; and stress can help you learn and grow as you reflect on past experiences and look for lessons learned. Both positive and negative aspects of stress are inherent in every stressful situation and what changes is how you choose to look at it.

Throughout the book McGonigal makes a compelling argument that holding a growth mindset toward many of life’s stressful situations would benefit us in a multitude of ways. The author includes a number of activities the reader can use to explore the concepts outlined in the book. For example, take ten minutes and write about your personal values. Research subjects doing this short activity show positive benefits months and even years later. This activity transforms how you think about stress experiences and your ability to cope with them. Reflecting on your values during moments of stress can also help you cope more effectively.

Ultimately stress is neither wholly bad nor good. The mindset from which we choose to view the situation matters. The next time you are faced with a stressful situation consider how you might tap into the upside of stress. Remember: anxiety can help you rise to a challenge; caring about others can create resilience; adversity can make you stronger.

The Upside of Stress has enhanced my view of stress. My biggest take home idea from the book was that having a meaningful life is stressful. It indicates we care deeply about the situation or the issue. Stress is a sign of engagement in life.

I have incorporated a number of McGonigal`s ideas into my personal life as well as training and seminars including sessions on emotional intelligence and coping with stress.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Time Paradox: the new psychology of time that will change your life

Phillip Zimbardo, John Boyd
Free Press, 2008

If Phillip Zimbardo’s name rings a bell it may be because you have heard of his Stanford Prison Experiment which is widely cited in psychology literature. I was intrigued to find that Zimbardo and his co-author Boyd have turned their attention to time. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up The Time Paradox but it was worth every minute. I have added a section on these findings in my time management training and seminars. So what got me so excited? Here are the basics.

The time paradox is based on a series of paradoxes that affect our lives. For example:

The authors describe six perspectives on time including:

Most of us hold a blend of time attitudes. These attitudes have a significant impact on our lives. For example, individuals who are high in past negative and present fatalistic attitudes may be at greater risk for both physical and mental illness such as anxiety, depression and anger. A strong past positive view grounds you and provides a sense of continuity. In moderation, the hedonistic present brings energy and the joy of being alive. A future perspective helps plan for a future with hope, optimism and power to make a change. Recent studies describe a balanced time perspective as above average on:

And below average on:

People with this balanced perspective rated significantly higher on many measures of well-being, including greater success in work, career and relationships with family and friends.

The Time Paradox doesn’t leave us hanging here. Zimbardo and Boyd share practical ideas to help us create a healthy time perspective. You can take both the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) and Transcendental-future Time Perspective Inventory (TTPI) online to better understand your scores in the different time perspectives. Give yourself the gift of time. A few small changes in attitude toward time can change your entire life for the better.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Dolphin Way: A parent’s guide to raising healthy, happy, and motivated kids without turning into a tiger

Shimi K. Kang MD
Viking, 2014

A review of a parenting book on a business website…what’s going on? When I was a parent of young children I read many parenting books looking for ideas to help me in the no holds barred 24/7 job of parenting. I found that most parenting books were grounded in good communication and conflict resolution skills, for example Parent Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon. Now a grandmother, I didn’t expect to be reading more books in this genre until I heard Dr. Shimi Kang interviewed about her book, The Dolphin Way, on CBC. Kang wrote the book in response to many of her adolescent clients who were dealing with issues from a tiger parenting style. Truthfully, I missed the whole tiger parent phenomenon so my ears really perked up.

Kang’s philosophy has a strong thread of positive psychology at its core. The author discusses skills for the 21st century or what she refers to as the Complete Quotient or CQ. These skills include: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. It struck me that these are the same skills we value in our workplace and try hard to foster with our employees. Kang adds that to guide others we need: authenticity, empathy and kindness.

Some of her suggestions on coaching children are similar approaches used to successfully coach staff. A couple of her ideas include:

“I’ve been involved in this before. Can I tell you what I learned? Let me know if you’d like me to tell you what I’d do in this situation.”

“What are the benefits you see? What are the drawbacks?”

• Use statements and behaviours that emphasize your commitment and support for them.

There is an opportunity to take your excellent communication skills from the work front to home and back again. Good communication is still good communication no matter who your audience is.

Although I may not reference The Dolphin Way in my training and seminars on communication and coaching I’m excited to see Kang’s philosophy espoused. One final tidbit, her advice about children’s’ activities can also be adapted to the workplace: play freely, explore bravely, bond socially and contribute wholeheartedly. Oh yes, and I gave my daughter, a first time parent, a copy of the book…right after I read it!

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The NOW Habit at Work

Neil Fiore
John Wiley& Sons, 2010

Habit, according to one definition in, is an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. These involuntary habits are hard to recognize which is why they can hinder us. It takes effort and reflection time to look at ourselves and see which habits help us or hold us back. The NOW Habit at Work by Neil Fiore is a useful resource to help you reflect on the effectiveness of your habits.

Fiore focuses on seven essential strategies to assess and improve workplace effectiveness and time management. He provides practical suggestions and exercises to help the reader examine unhelpful habits and make changes to form new and more beneficial ones. Chapters include time management, effective communication, goal setting, focusing, having a compelling mission, self-motivation and managing procrastinators and difficult employees.

In our hyper-drive work world we are bombarded by constant stimuli which make focusing difficult. Several studies suggest that constant interruptions in our work can dramatically decrease our productivity. Some of Fiore’s thoughts on focus include:

Recognize your favourite thoughts and distractions are outdated habits that no longer have control over you. Have a compelling vision of how you wish to live and work and as Fiore says, just get started…NOW.

I enjoyed reading The NOW Habit at Work and found some excellent ideas to apply in my life including the practical tips and exercises. I will be adding Fiore’s book to my reading list for future Time Management and Coping with Difficult People training and seminars.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How irrational beliefs keep us happy, healthy and sane

Matthew Hutson
Plume, 2012

A friend of mine who is an avid reader and a self-confessed magical thinker passed this title along to me. With our present day focus on logic driven decision making, Matthew Hutson makes an excellent research-based case for magical thinking as a necessary component of human cognition. After reading The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How irrational beliefs keep us happy, healthy and sane I wouldn’t say I’m a big magical thinker but I now recognize and appreciate the benefits and am trying to incorporate a little more magical thinking into aspects of my life. I see relevance for this information and have added this book to several of my seminar and workshop reading resources.

Hutson delves into the research of a number of social and psychological science luminaries to show how their theories exemplify magical thinking. For example human beings are paranoid optimists. We believe both nothing ventured, nothing gained and at the same time, better safe than sorry.

Although the world around us is random we like to have the illusion of control. Superstitions are a great example of this. We knock on wood just in case it might help avert bad luck. Even insignificant levels of perceived control can have an impact on our well-being. The author includes examples of Ellen Langer’s studies on control and Terror Management Theory, the work of Greenberg, Pyszczynski and Solomon. This theory looks at the human awareness of our vulnerability and mortality and how we invest in cultural belief systems to give life meaning and provide us with self-esteem.

Magical thinking allows us to let loose and have fun. Research has found a positive correlation between magical thinking and the ability to find pleasure in life. To be totally unmagic is unhealthy for us.

To have faith that someone else is in charge can increase our sense of personal control if we identify with the source of the external control. This faith allows us to believe the world must be organized and therefore predictable and navigable. Religious faith offers the belief that we can actively appeal to the higher power to intercede and act on our behalf. A belief in external control can reduce anxiety and provide comfort because someone somewhere is in charge.

Whatever level of magical thinking you enjoy, The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking can enhance your understanding of how and why people respond the way they do and how they make sense of the their experiences. It will give you useful insights into day-to-day communication and decision making at work and at home.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Humor Code: A global search for what makes things funny

Peter McGraw and Joel Warner
Simon & Schuster, 2014

What is a sense of humor? The authors of The Humor Code set out to discover the answer to this question. The journey takes McGraw, a professor of marketing and psychology at University of Colorado and Warner, a journalist, on a fascinating trip around the world. The authors explore humor in relation to McGraw’s Benign Violation Theory in which something is deemed humorous when it seems wrong, unsettling or threatening (violation) and at the same time is made to seem okay, acceptable or safe (benign).

As with many aspects of life, timing is everything. For example, a joke told too soon or too late will be more likely to elicit disgust rather than guffaws. Additionally our emotional attachment to the situation is important. A joke can be made more or less acceptable by shifting the psychological distance between the violation in the story and the listener.

The authors compare humor as light-hearted teasing versus humor as bullying. The former can build bonds and establish group morals. The latter, humor as bullying, creates social distinctions- in-groups and out-groups. When an individual or a group becomes the butt of a joke it is hard to respond without making the situation worse. After all, it was only a joke. The authors highlight the Prejudiced Norm Theory which finds disparaging jokes can increase tolerance towards discrimination.

Humor and coping seem to go hand in hand and research is currently assessing the link. For example, successful humor encourages positive feelings and emotions which act as a psychological buffer when things go wrong. Humor also shifts our perspective and allows us to reassess a situation. It seems that humorous griping when things go wrong may be natural and beneficial. It makes the complainer feel better than if he had complained negatively and also makes the listener feel better about the complainer.

The authors leave us with some words of wisdom gleaned on their world tour of humor:

The Humor Code provided me with insight into the field of humour studies and the ideas and theories currently being explored. Humor has always been an important part of my life and I incorporate it into my seminars and workshops wherever possible. I will be thinking about The Humor Code every time I do.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Procrastination Equation: How to stop putting things off and start getting stuff done

Piers Steel
Vintage Canada 2010

Procrastination is described as an irrational delay, one where we voluntarily put off tasks despite believing we will be worse off because of the delay. It sounds like a crazy thing to do and yet 95% of people surveyed admit to procrastinating. Whether you are a hard core procrastinator or a dilettante you will find some helpful ideas in Piers Steel’s book The Procrastination Equation.

A professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, Steel delved into the study of procrastination and from his research developed the procrastination equation. In his book, Steel walks us through the equation and offers advice on how you and I can deal with this less than helpful habit.

Procrastination is on the rise. More people today say procrastination is a problem for them than past research participants. One possible reason for this change is that the pleasure gained from work has remained constant over time. However the number and power of distractions has increased dramatically.

One researcher paints an unflattering picture of the procrastinator. Characteristics included: weak impulse control, lack of persistence, lack of work discipline, lack of time management skills and an inability to work methodically. Procrastinators struggle with the ability to plan work ahead of time and are easily distracted once they get started. Procrastination can have a negative impact on three major life areas- wealth, health and happiness.

The Procrastination Equation includes many excellent ideas to help overcome this harmful habit. Here are some thoughts the author shares on dealing with impulsiveness- the core of procrastination. Practice pre-commitment. Know your procrastination triggers and create an advance plan for how to handle temptation when it arises. Eliminate or shield yourself from immediate temptations and ask for the help and support of those around you.

If you recognize the negative impacts of procrastination on your life don’t wait any longer; read The Procrastination Equation. I found some great practical ideas in this highly readable book. I’ve incorporated several of Steel’s ideas into my own life and as well as my time management seminars and workshops. For more information check out the author’s website….Right NOW!

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Pursuit of Perfect: How to stop chasing perfection and start living a RICHER, Happier life

Tal Ben-Shahar

McGraw Hill, 2009

Do you know someone who struggles with perfectionism? In The Pursuit of Perfect, Tal Ben-Shahar, a former professor at Harvard, sheds light on the dark side of perfection. In the initial chapter he compares the perfectionist and optimalist viewpoints. Perfectionists see their journey through life as a straight line. Deviations from the plan are seen as unwelcome setbacks. Perfectionists are driven by a fear of failure and avoid activities where there is a risk of failure and challenge. Their focus is on the destination and the perfectionist is always looking for the next destination that will bring happiness. The world is seen as right versus wrong, success versus failure and no room for the middle ground. They focus on what is wrong and can be extremely hard on themselves and unforgiving of their mistakes. They often use words such as must, should, ought and have to. This focus on right and wrong can affect how they treat others. Perfectionists have a high need for control and would rather do something for themselves rather than trust others with the task.

On the other hand the optimalist values the journey itself and sees life in terms of a general destination via a convoluted path with many side paths. The optimalist doesn’t like failure any more than the perfectionist however takes the long view and sees failure as an opportunity to gain feedback and learn. An optimalist sees more options and tends to be a benefit finder. They accept that mistakes and failure are unavoidable and are therefore more forgiving of self.

Ben-Shahar discusses consequences of perfectionism which can include low self-esteem, eating disorders, depression and anxiety disorders. Fortunately The Pursuit of Perfect moves us beyond the challenges of perfectionism and includes excellent ideas and strategies to help a perfectionist move from the rigid, inflexible mindset of perfection to the open mindset of an optimalist.

The Pursuit of Perfect reminds all of us that the self-compassion of an optimalist viewpoint encourages us to:

I look forward to incorporating these ideas into future seminars and training sessions that I offer.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Myths of Happiness

Sonja Lyubomirski

Penguin Press, 2013

Have you ever found yourself saying something like “I’ll be happy when…”  In Sonja Lyubomirski’s new book The Myths of Happiness, the author takes us through many of the “I’ll be happy when…” life stages including marriage, children, career, health issues and aging. Lyubomirski, a Stanford University faculty member, is a well-known researcher in the field of positive psychology and happiness.

The Myths of Happiness indicates that we overemphasize both how happy some life changes will make us and how devastating others may be.  One of the reasons is hedonic adaptation. Human beings are good at adjusting to new circumstances quickly. Research shows that when people change jobs they experience increased satisfaction immediately after the job change. One year later their level of satisfaction drops back to their pre-move level.

The author shares practical ideas in each chapter to help us better understand and deal with these life changes and our pursuit of happiness. Several ideas in relation to job satisfaction include:

I found this book to be a well written overview of our life stages and the traps we can set for ourselves along the way as we strive for happiness. Lyubomirski offers insights into why we do these things and practical ways to prevent getting stuck. Happiness is within reach.

I have added Lyubomirski’s book The Myths of Happiness to my reference list for seminars and workshops on Productivity, Motivation and Happiness at Work. Check out another excellent book on happiness, The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc



Barbara Fredrickson PhD.

Crown Publishing Group, 2009

Joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, love- these are the positive emotions Barbara Fredrickson studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

In Positivity she shares her insights on three core truths she has found through her research:

Through her research Frederickson has found a number of interesting benefits to a positive emotional life. Positivity builds our psychological strength and creates more optimism, resilience, openness, acceptance and a life driven by purpose. It helps us develop and build good mental health habits and allows us to be more open to the moment and to our surroundings. Look to positivity to build social connections; energizing those around us and creating stronger connections to others. Finally positivity builds physical health and predicts lower levels of stress related hormones and higher level of growth-related and bond-related hormones, enhances immune functioning and diminishes inflammatory response to stress.

Fredrickson shares many practical ideas in Positivity. Two suggestions are to decrease negativity by changing our media diet and to increase positivity by developing the mental habit of savoring goodness.

Think about your own media diet for a moment. Whether you are a news junky or a fan of fiction via the internet, movies, television or print you may be surprised at the amount of negativity you ingest daily. Media is one way we determine what is “normal” and a focus on negative information and images can result in us believing the world is worse than it is.  Track your media diet and consider decreasing your consumption of negative media.

One way to increase positivity is to savor the goodness around you. Fredrickson suggests approaching the opportunity with mindfulness:

I discover ways every day to incorporate Fredrickson’s findings in my personal and professional life and I can anecdotally endorse her core truths. I’m delighted to be able to share positivity research through my seminars and training. 

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Paradox of Choice: Why more is less

Barry Schwartz

Harper Perennial, 2005

I am fascinated by how human beings use critical thinking in decision making and I enjoy adding new ideas into my training and seminars on Critical Thinking. The Paradox of Choice did not disappoint! I found it a well-written book, based on sound research and perhaps most importantly full of practical ideas. I walked away with new insights into what makes us tick and how we can make more satisfying decisions. Schwartz, a Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, is a popular speaker on TED Talks.

When asked if we want choice, we generally give a resounding YES! but the range of choice in our life today can be overwhelming. Schwartz makes the case that we are held hostage by the tyranny of small decisions and more is not necessarily better.  Our multitudinous options produce three unfortunate effects:

Multiple options can turn us from “choosers” into “pickers.” Choosers think actively about the possibilities before deciding based on: what’s important to them, what’s important about this particular decision and the short and long range consequences of the decision. Pickers, often overwhelmed and paralyzed by the options, just grab one and hope for the best. If you’ve ever found yourself standing in a store aisle deciding which colour of widget to buy you may know the feeling.

In the final chapter of The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz pulls his ideas together and provides the reader with practical ideas to make more satisfying decisions. Here are some words of wisdom.

Choose when to choose– Consider what choices in your life really matter and focus your time and energy there. It may mean letting some opportunities pass by but restricting options will help you feel more satisfied in the long run.

Control your Expectations- We evaluate our satisfaction or disappoint with an experience by how it compares to our expectations. Be realistic about what your decision will achieve and avoid over-the-top expectations.

Curtail social comparison- We tend to evaluate ourselves by comparison to others. It is a challenge to avoid this trap as it offers an easy measurement of success. However when you know what is truly important in your life you are less swayed by others.

If you’d like more insights into how you make decisions and how you can improve your decision making consider being a chooser and read The Paradox of Choice.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Give and Take: The Revolutionary Approach to Success

Adam Grant

Viking, 2013

True confessions…I loved this book! The author, Adam Grant a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, is the youngest tenured professor at Wharton and is a well-regarded researcher and professor. After reading Give and Take I can understand why. This book is based on his research into the three fundamental styles of social interaction- giving, taking and matching- and what these styles mean as we navigate our professional, personal and community lives.

In a nutshell givers like to give more than they get, are other-focused, pay attention to what others need from them, and are generous in sharing, time, knowledge, skills, and connections. Takers like to get more than they give, put their own interests ahead of others, self-promote to gain credit for their efforts and are self-protective in dealing with others. Matchers are about reciprocity, principles of fairness, an equal balance of giving and getting and exchange of favors.

An individual’s interaction style is not written in stone. The style chosen may be situation based. A dominant style becomes noticeable the longer we interact with each other.

Many people who are givers in their personal life act more like matchers at work.

Givers can be reluctant to show their preferred nature especially in the workplace where it may be judged as weak or naïve. However given today’s culture of team work and reliance on others it can be crucial for success. Additionally in our networked age information about an individual’s reputation and actions is only a click away.

One of Grant’s interviewees, Adam Rifkin, a consummate giver, talked about what he calls the five minute favour.  Rifkin says, “You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody.” Giving spreads rapidly and widely across social networks. We look at others to understand the group norms and determine appropriate behaviour. Imagine a workplace where giving is the norm!

Giving is not without some hazards and Grant devotes a chapter to situations where giving is not the best response. The author also offers practical ways to incorporate giving at a personal, professional and community level.

Ultimately giving is a style of interaction worth cultivating. It offers a way to attain goals without cutting others down. As Grant notes, in group of takers success is zero sum; in a group of givers the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

I can’t do justice to Give and Take in this short review but I think it is a must read for anyone wanting to make a positive difference in their environment. Go. Read. Give.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work

Shawn Achor

Crown Business, Crown Publishing Group, 2010

There are a number of excellent books available exploring the study of positive psychology and this is one. Positive psychology is not positive thinking so keep reading about Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage! The field of positive psychology has been around for more than twenty years and yet is not well known in the business world. This research has significant work and life applications and can provide your workplace with a competitive edge.

The underlying premise to positive psychology research is that if you study those who fall below average you’ll develop an understanding of average and miss the opportunity to find out how to exceed the average. As Achor notes- you can study gravity forever without learning how to fly.

Research shows that chasing success to attain happiness doesn’t work. As soon as we achieve one goal it is replaced by another, delaying happiness yet again. Positive psychology has found that when happiness is at the centre of our lives success revolves around it. Longitudinal studies of happiness have found it leads to greater productivity and health. This is not to say we should never experience “negative” emotions. These emotions are part of our evolutionary design and serve a purpose in life. However this may not be a place in which we want to live every day.

Achor’s book is full of practical and research-tested ideas to help each of us enhance the happiness in our lives. Here are just two:

I would recommend The Happiness Advantage to anyone wanting to increase personal and professional satisfaction. My reading in the field of positive psychology has inspired me to develop new training and seminars incorporating positive psychology into the workplace for greater productivity and employee motivation. Keep your eye open for more book reviews on the engaging field of positive psychology.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Antidote: Happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking

Oliver Burkeman

Penguin Group, 2012

Do we have a love affair with positivity and have we come to overvalue the positive? Oliver Burkeman, a feature writer for The Guardian, suggests this is the case. The Antidote is the result of his quest to understand negative thinking and the benefits accrued by aspects of a negative perspective. Burkeman interviews some of the world’s leading thinkers and experiences first hand some of the strategies he discusses in the book.

It’s important to clarify that Burkeman is discussing positive thinking, popularized for example in self-help books like The Secret, and how positive thinking fails to help people feel happy. The concept of positive thinking is not the same as the field of Positive Psychology, a more recent branch of psychological study.

Burkeman shares a number of concepts that embrace aspects of negativity and suggests these perspectives on the world can benefit our mental well-being. For example, he considers the stoic philosophy of examining the worst case scenario. In this negative form of visualization a person examines the difference between an undesirable outcome and one that is completely terrible. “After all it could always be worse.” The stoic view accepts the universe is uncontrollable so there is no point in trying to control it. As an individual becomes more comfortable with the philosophy of future uncertainty, Burkeman says we explore our inner potential, feel better in the present and ultimately achieve greater future success. An example is the “principle of affordable loss” which suggests we should avoid thoughts of wonderful rewards if we succeed. Rather, ask how big the loss would be if we failed. If we can tolerate the large loss then we should give it a try and see what happens. The social psychologist Erich Fromm said, “The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.”

In the chapter on failure Burkeman says failure occurs everywhere and this is a fact we would rather avoid. To dismiss failure gives us a distorted view of success and prevents us from being open to richer experiences. After all, when we fail it is because we are pushing the boundaries of our present abilities.

I appreciated the thought provoking ideas in The Antidote and Burkeman’s fascinating journey in pursuit of his research. A number of these ideas will be useful in my training and seminars on Critical Thinking and Productivity, Motivation and Happiness.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk taking, gut feelings and the biology of boom and bust

John Coates

Random House Canada, 2012

I found The Hour Between Dog and Wolf a fascinating read. The author, John Coates, is a senior research fellow in neuroscience and finance at University of Cambridge- an interesting combination! Born and raised in Canada, Coates worked for many years in the New York financial industry. His book explores the human stress response and links our underlying physiology with the financial trading industry’s bubbles and collapses.

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf details the physiology of stress from its early role in human development to how stress affects our modern lives. He takes us inside the body and clearly explains the complex interplay of the brain, hormones and physiology in an understandable way.  Coates then applies this information to help us understand how a growing financial boom and subsequent bust can be connected to the stress response of financial traders on the trading floor.

The author shares thoughts on stress in the workplace in general. The stress reaction is both conscious and unconscious and some conscious aspects are within our control. For example we can choose to view novelty as a challenge and opportunity as opposed to a threat. Stress resilience can be developed from experiencing stress in short bursts of acute stress.  Chronic stress does not provide this strengthening benefit. Coates emphasizes the importance of listening to the body. Working on a task which has become mentally fatiguing may be a waste of time. In this situation the cure for fatigue is not rest but tackling a new task.

Other aspects of the workplace that can help employees deal with stress include policies which give the employees some control over the work they do and reduce uncertainty as much as possible. Social support is also an important part of stress management.  In times of great workplace stress organizations can experience manager instability. Studies have shown that in a crisis middle management may act similarly to monkeys who, when under stress, bully their juniors. It is important for organizations undergoing stress to be sure middle managers do not vent frustration on staff.

There is much food for thought in The Hour Between Dog and Wolf and Coates’ provides many useful insights into workplace stress and stress management.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Redirect: the surprising new science of psychological change

Timothy D. Wilson

Little Brown and Company, 2011

The term “science of psychological change” caught my attention when I picked this book off the shelf. I’m always curious about how to help people adjust to and manage change successfully. Redirectcovers a lot of ground as Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, explores the concept of redirection. In Redirect the author applies this idea to numerous life issues including well-being, parenting, teen pregnancy, teen violence, alcohol and drug use, diversity and prejudice and achievement. Wilson looks at the research on common interventions developed to alleviate these challenges. It seems many of our common sense approaches (for example Scared Straight programs) are not effective and may even make things worse.

The underlying message of this book is to understand how people view the world and how they make sense of things. When we understand this we can offer effective ways to assist as they change their interpretation and redirect their personal narrative and worldview in a positive way. Small changes in interpretation can have significant and long-lasting effects.

I found the chapter on personal well-being has application for employee motivation. Wilson states that happiness researchers have found the number one predictor of happiness is the quality of an individual’s social relationships. Genetics, life circumstances and resources to meet our needs are other factors. Human beings need meaning in life which comes from how we think about ourselves and our place in the world. The three well-being factors are: meaning- our core narrative and the beliefs we use to explain life; hope and optimism; and purpose- goals of our choosing that we make progress toward. This progress provides us with autonomy, mastery and effectiveness.

Wilson includes a number of short exercises throughout the book that offer ideas on how to reflect and redirect life events in a positive way. Wilson leaves the reader with a number of good ideas based on his research. I’ll share my favourite take home advice. Be skeptical of self-help books even when they seem grounded in common sense. Look for ideas based on solid psychological research. Always be a good consumer of information and ask if statistically significant studies have proven the validity of the initiative. If follow-up has been done, does it work?

I found Redirect to be an insightful exploration of motivation. I’m aware of some of the interventions Wilson mentions. It was surprising to discover many of the programs that seem like they should effectively address an issue actually had negative consequences. A more successful approach is to first understand how the individual views the world, build a programme for that world view and finally verify and evaluate initiatives that are developed. 

Redirect provided some gems to incorporate into my workshops and seminars on managing change, motivation and critical thinking.   

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Sense of Being Stared At: and other unexplained powers of the human mind

Rupert Sheldrake

Three Rivers Press, 2003

I recently came across Rupert Sheldrake’s book, The Sense of Being Stared At. Sheldrake has been called a “delightful crackpot” by writer David Bowman and it seems his theories are not accepted by the majority of the scientific community. However the general public is more accepting of his theories as they provide an explanation for many of the odd things we experience.

Sheldrake has strong academic credentials including a PhD in biochemistry from Cambridge University and also studied philosophy at Harvard. Much of his work involves studying parapsychology including: precognition, telepathy and thought transference or as we might describe it- thinking of someone who subsequently contacts you- and a sense that someone is staring at you.

In The Sense of Being Stared At Sheldrake lays out his theory complete with anecdotal and historical evidence and scientific studies he and his colleagues have pursued. In addition to humans he has also found evidence of these abilities in dogs, cats and some breeds of parrot. Sheldrake believes we, and some of our animal friends, have evolved a seventh sense that allows us to be aware of our environment. If true it would provide a definite evolutionary advantage. He believes our minds extend beyond our physical bodies and calls this seventh sense a morphological field. The book’s appendix includes simple experiments people can try for themselves.

Sheldrake addresses a number of studies that have questioned his findings and he goes on to refute their findings with his own critical analysis.

I am always interested in ideas about communication whether for my personal interest or to enhance the seminars and training I offer. I was intrigued by his theory. Whether Sheldrake is right or wrong about a seventh sense I applaud his willingness to think outside the box (or in this case outside the body). It is a fun thought experiment to consider the ideas put forward in The Sense of Being Stared At.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The 80/20 Principle: The secret of achieving more with less

Richard Koch

Doubleday, 1998

The Pareto Principle is frequently mentioned in time management seminars and training. If you aren’t familiar with the 80/20 Rule it goes like this: roughly 80% of effects can be attributed to 20% of causes. In the corporate world the quality movement is based on 80/20 principle. Some other examples include:

The basic idea has always intrigued me. I dug deeper for information and found The 80/20 Principle by Robert Koch. Although I found Koch’s book a bit of a tough read it was worth the effort. My main interest was in regard to time management and I was pleased to find his discussion of the 80/20 theory ranged from business to personal applications. In addition to business and time management Koch applies the 80/20 principle to less concrete areas such as relationships and happiness.

Koch describes the concept in detail and challenges us to discover the 20% that leads to the 80% in our work and life. To achieve this we need to alter our thinking in a number of ways including: greater use of unconventional thinking; application of a non-linear approach to situations, holding a strategic focus, being progressive with intent to change the world for the better and using a hedonistic or pleasure seeking approach.

Considering time management, Koch suggests most of what we spend our time on is of low value. Examples of low value time use include:

Conversely examples of high value time use include:

This book is a good reference for anyone wanting to understand and explore the 80/20 Principle in their work or personal life.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Ecological Intelligence: How knowing the hidden impacts of what we buy can change everything

Daniel Goleman
Broadway Books, 2009

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence, has a new release which is a fascinating read. Goleman, a former science reporter for the New York Times, examines the impact of buying decisions and the environment. Ecological Intelligence chronicles the movement toward radical transparency in the marketplace and what is required to support this nascent concept.

Radical transparency is the ecological analysis of a product’s entire lifecycle including the full range of ecological consequences at each stage of production. It provides the buyer with this information in away that is easy to understand. This allows buyers to choose products based on broader criteria than just price including issues of health, environmental sustainability and humane production.

Goleman traces the evolution of radical transparency from its early stages of forced disclosure and right to know legislation, through forced disclosure of hard to detect risks and benefits, to where we are now, a bottom up initiative by vigilant and active consumers. In a study of Marks and Spencer shoppers 25% didn’t care about a product’s virtuous pedigree while 10% went out of their way to make an ethical purchase. About 2/3 of shoppers preferred to make ethical choices but want the decision to be easy to understand or believed that their shopping preferences didn’t make a difference.

These are the consumers who could be helped by radical transparency. The information needs to be authoritative, impartial, comprehensive and understandable.

Purchasers whether business, government, institutions or individual consumers, need to know why they should care about their buying habits. Radical transparency provides a greater range of purchasing criteria beyond price and quality to include health impacts, environmental impact of the product life cycle and the humane treatment of workers.

The movement to radical transparency will not happen overnight but it is already underway. Goleman shares many examples in the book that suggest that product manufacturers are beginning to listen. As we become better informed our purchasing decisions send strong feedback to producers.

Goleman outlines hurdles which face radical transparency and they are not small ones. There is a growing perspective that something must change and the concept of radical transparency can produce a win/win for producers, purchasers and the environment.

Goleman lists a number of resources in the book. I found two websites to be especially eye-opening. I encourage you to take a few minutes with each of them. You may never look at products quite the same way again!

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the obstacles to psychological balance and compassion

A Conversation Between the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman

Times Books, 2008

What an intriguing concept to be a fly on the wall for a conversation between these two individuals- spirituality meets science in a conversation about human emotional experience and the pursuit of psychological fulfillment. The Dalai Lama is the temporal and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. Ekman, a PhD in clinical psychology studies emotion, emotional expression and deceit. I’m a fan of Ekman’s writing (Emotions Revealed, 2003 and Telling Lies, 2001 are on my library shelf) and I have also read some of the Dalai Lama’s commentaries.

It is fascinating to see the commonalities these men uncover in their conversation about emotions- specifically anger, compassion and empathy as well as the attainment of emotional balance. In many ways it is a personal book as Ekman reflects on his understanding of emotions from both a personal and professional basis.

So how does this conversation help us in the workplace? The workplace runs on people and people have emotions. Emotional issues commonly come up in discussion among participants in my seminars and training in Edmonton and around the province. The following points from the chapter on emotional balance give food for thought.

Human beings are physical, cognitive, emotional and social beings. The workplace has traditionally focused on the physical and cognitive aspects of workers. Recognition and understanding of our emotional nature is an important step forward. Emotional Awareness can help foster your understanding.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Future Babble: Why expert predictions fail- and why we believe them anyway

Dan Gardner

McClelland & Stewart, 2010

Have you noticed many experts speak with great authority regarding the rightness of their views and theories and are rarely called to account for inaccurate predictions later? If so, I predict Future Babbleis a book you will want to read! All kidding aside, Gardner’s book provides an understanding of why we love our authoritative experts and how we can improve our critical thinking and decision making abilities.

Gardner delves into a number of the natural biases which occur in our thinking. For example three biases are overconfidence, confirmation bias and our desire for control. The universal human trait of overconfidence helps us take action and makes us resilient in the face of setbacks. After we form a belief confirmation bias causes us to seek out and accept information which supports our belief and ignore contrary information. In fact when confronted with information to the contrary we go to great lengths to find an excuse to dismiss the information. We also seek control and struggle with the thought that life is random. We use a variety of coping mechanisms to help us deal with randomness including superstition and rituals, conspiracy theories and, you may appreciate this irony, expert predictions!

The book describes two different types of experts: the hedgehog and the fox. The hedgehog appears confident, exudes authority and has a simple clear message. The fox speaks in a more measured way, addresses multiple possibilities and uses a dose of humility. Although the hedgehog makes a great interviewee, the predictions of a fox have greater accuracy.

Gardner provides pointers to help us overcome innate human biases in our thinking.

The author has provided a sound research-based book written in an engaging and accessible way. I have added Future Babble to my training and seminars reading resource list for training and workshops I offer.

Check out other book reviews on critical thinking and decision making: Kluge and How We Decide

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc