Timothy Wilson gave an interesting talk at APS, but rather than blogging about the talk, I will be doing several blog posts on the recent book he has published, REDIRECT: Changing the Stories We Live By. This is a very important book and deserves a thorough treatment, although there is no way I can do justice to this book, and I highly recommend that you read it yourselves. There is a previous healthy memory blog post on a previous book by Timothy Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves, which I also strongly recommend.
One of the objectives of the book is to debunk the self-help book industry, which is not to say that all self-help books are junk, but most of them definitely are. Consider such best selling volumes as, You Can Heal Your Life, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and The Secret. These books ran up more than $700 million in sales in 2005. When other forms of self-help are added to the mix, such as infomercials, seminars, and sen personal coaches, the total amount spent on self-improvement reached $9.6 billion in 2006. The fact that there are so many self-help books on the market might indicate that none of them is highly effective. If one of them did unlock the secret to everlasting happiness, it would corner the market and crown out the others. In the self-help industry there is what is known as the eighteenth-month rule, which is that the person most likely to buy a self-help book is someone who bought one eighteen months earlier.
Consider “The Secret,” which was distributed as both a film and a companion book released in 2006. Both have been phenomenology successful. The DVD has sold more than two million copies and the book more than 4 million copies. The secret revealed in this book is the “law of attraction,” which says that thinking about something makes it more likely to happen to you. If you understand this basic “law of the universe,” there are these three simple steps to getting to what you want: first, think about it—focus on the positive and not the negative. The second step is to believe in what you want and have faith that it will soon be yours. The third step is to receive the idea of having what you want, feeling as you will once you get. Now here’s how all this works. “Thoughts have frequencies that are magnetic, attracting things that are on the same frequency. Moreover, the frequency you transmit reaches beyond cities, beyond countries, beyond the world. It reverberates throughout the entire universe.” Can you believe this? Is there such stupidity rampant in the world? Is the name of our species, homo sapiens, a misnomer? Please tell me that people are buying these books and videos for laughs. I realize that most self-help books are not this much off the wall, BUT LOOK AT THE LARGE NUMBERS OF SALES!
Now there is nothing wrong with being positive per se. It is a quite prominent theme in self-help books, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking was on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more than five million copies. Positive Psychology has similar problems that were reviewed and remedied in the healthy memory blog post the “Other Side of Positive Psychology.” And you will see the positivity also plays an important role in REDIRECT, but positivity cannot stand alone.