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Summer Reading: our favourite psychology books

July 18, 2023

With the Summer holidays right around the corner, we’re sifting through our (frankly, huge) To-Be-Read piles and finding the creme de la creme to pack into our suitcases for our adventures.

And we thought: who else might find our book-thoughts vaguely interesting?

You, of course!

So, here we have it: your summer reading list, courtesy of the KinchLyons team. The best psychology books we’ve had the pleasure of devouring recently - and now you can too!

[H2] But first, a Pro Tip…

If you’re packing your bags for a flight and worry about exceeding the weight limits, our very own Niamh has just the thing:

“I really recommend the Library app Borrow Box for digital and audiobooks. Once you’re a member of your local library, you can access the Borrow Box app and read or listen to your favoruite books from the comfort of your own tablet or phone.”

Easy peasy!

[H2] Alan’s Pick: ‘Tomorrowmind’ by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman & Martin Seligman

Alan says:

“Tomorrowmind grabbed my attention as I loved the BBC TV show Tomorrow’s World back in the day (showing my age there!) - and as soon as I saw that Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, co-authored it, it immediately jumped to the top of my reading list.

Martin Seligman is one of my professional heroes. As President of the American Psychological Association back in the 80s, Marty put positive psychology firmly on the map and is one of the biggest inspirations for me in building KinchLyons. 

Now an impressive 80 years old, Marty’s been awarded an honorary doctorate by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), a James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award (in 1995) and the esteemed APA Award for Lifetime Contributions to Psychology (in 2017). Most recently, Marty appeared on an episode of a cracking podcast called The Happiness Lab, where he spoke to Lauria Santos (a psych professor from Yale University) about his career to date and his latest work - definitely worth a listen!

Anyway, back to Tomorrowmind… 

Gabriella Rosen Kellerman seems to be the main author of Tomorrowmind. She’s an expert in workplace mental health and the CPO of BetterUp, which sells online coaching for the masses. A company, I imagine, trying to associate themselves with world-renowned psychologists as well as the likes of Prince Harry, who is one of their (perhaps spare?) BetterUp ambassadors and ‘Chief Impact Officer’.

Tomorrowmind promises that we’ll learn how to be ‘Thriving At Work - Now And In An Uncertain Future’. How? Well, by using an evidence backed framework, of course!

The book gives us access to five psychological powers billed as the most critical for workplace thriving. They fit nicely into the acronym PRISM - Prospection, Resilience (and Cognitive Agility), Innovation, Social support and Mattering.

There are a few research-backed findings which I found impressively sprinkled throughout the book, and helpful as we think of how to organise our new hybrid work better:

  • Kindness performed asynchronously creates significantly less positivity resonance. 
  • Empowerment reverses exclusion.
  • Time affluence increases the chance that people will help others.
  • Compassionate doctors provide higher quality clinical care.
  • Embodiment of values speaks to our deepest sense of significance.
  • Confucius 500 BC (and many other philosopher's) was essentially writing about positive psychology.
  • It was great to see Professor Alan Carr from UCD get name-checked for his contribution to positive psychology research.

Overall, Tomorrowmind’s an enjoyable romp through both current and old findings - it’s definitely worth a read and 100% worth adding to your summer reading list, but, as a self-confessed Marty Seligman fan-boy it does feel like Gabriella was firmly in the driving seat (something Marty hints at in The Happiness Lab podcast!).”

‘Tomorrowmind’ can be bought on Amazon here.

[H2] Tanya’s Pick: ‘Humour, Seriously’ by Jennifer Aaker & Naomi Bagdonas

Tanya says:

“When we enter the workforce, the number of times we laugh and smile on an average day statistically plummets. Oh dear.

It’s a glum fact, and one that’s only made worse when paired with another fact: humour is one of the most powerful tools we have for accomplishing serious work.

Studies reveal that humour can make us appear more competent and confident if used appropriately (if not, we can end up being more David Brent than David Walliams - and no one wants that) and that humour strengthens relationships, unlocks creativity and boosts our resilience in difficult times. Plus, it fends off a permanent and unsightly frown known affectionately as “resting boss face”.

Basically, humour’s great in the workplace - but severely underleveraged by most.

In ‘Humour, Seriously’, the authors draw on academic research, world-class comedians and inspiring business leaders to reveal how humour works and how you can use it more often and effectively in the workplace. We’re shown what makes something funny, how to mine your life for material, how to pack humour into your professional toolkit, how to keep it appropriate and (importantly) how to recover if you fall flat on your face…

When I stumbled across this title, I was intrigued - but wondered if dissecting and prescribing something as spontaneous and contextual as humour was actually any craic at all… I was pleasantly surprised! Aaker and Bagdonas do a great job of explaining how humour and levity can help us to make difficult situations easier to navigate and they do so in an appropriately humorous way.

Michael Lewis sums it up nicely when he says, “I think most of the people who pick up this book are going to be people who think to themselves, “I need to be funny”. But they’re going to find out that that’s not what they need. What they need is to introduce a totally different spirit into their lives.” Seriously.”

Find ‘Humour, Seriously’ on Amazon here.

[H2] Niamh’s Pick: ‘Option B’ by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant

Niamh says:

“This book has been on my TBR shelf for way too long, but I’m glad it finally made it to the top of the pile!

Option B is the route you have to take when Option A is no longer available to you. Facebook’s COO Sherly Sandberg discovered there’s no choice in the matter when Option A was stripped from her when her husband Dave died suddenly while they were away on holiday with some friends. She had to choose Option B: returning home to tell their two young children that their dad wasn’t coming home.

Through grief and adversity and supported by friends, family and co-workers, Sheryl found her way through the trauma of widowhood and single parenthood - and penned Option B to help others do the same.

Co-authored by renowned psychologist Adam Grant (who also wrote ‘Give and Take’ and ‘Think Again’), Option B helps the reader deal with adversity, suggesting a path towards happiness after a traumatic life event.

The things that stuck with me after reading Option B were:

  • The 3 Ps of Trauma can keep us stuck in a challenging space: Personalisation (“I caused this”), Pervasiveness (every aspect of life is filled with that emotion), and Permanence (“Nothing will ever be right again”) often cause the experience of trauma to extend far beyond the initial event. Finding evidence against them (moments of happiness in your day, for example) can lessen the grip.
  • Naming and talking about the elephant in the room helps those dealing with a traumatic experience. Talk about the even with your loved ones to give everyone permission to share their emotions.
  • Failure teaches more than success ever could. Success often blinds us to our flaws - failure forces us to examine them and figure out ways to resolve them.
  • Being a source of comfort for others can help relieve their stresses but also serves to give a sense of self-fulfilment too. Adam Grant puts his phone number on the board in every lecture, so that his students know they can contact him if they need it. Most don’t use it, but the knowledge that they can serves to relive their stresses. The more specific the help offered the better. Rather than saying let me know if you need anything, it can be helpful to ask “Would it be helpful if I …”

Option B is an easy read with some powerful lessons - rather than your typical lecturing, ‘this is how you ought to do grief’ approach, Option B allows us to absorb some of the hope, resilience and gratitude that might help in our own challenging experiences.”

Get a copy of ‘Option B’ on Amazon here.

[H2] Billy’s Pick: ‘I, Human’ by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Billy says:

“AI’s been a hot topic in recent months, despite the fact that it’s been a feature of our lives for a considerable amount of time. ChatGPT and other AI technologies are developing at a rapid pace and it has brought into focus questions about the potential positives and negatives of increasingly powerful AI.

Those writing about AI vary from, at one end of the spectrum, those who see this as an opportunity for humankind to solve many of the problems that plague us, to those, at the other end, who predict AI will hasten the demise of humankind.

In ‘I, Human’, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes less about AI itself and instead asks us to consider what it will mean for us to be human in a world that’s increasingly shaped by AI. When our thoughts, decisions and actions are shaped by algorithms of platforms like Spotify, Facebook and Netflix, Chamorro-Premuzic explores how AI is shaping us as human beings, individually and collectively. As he insightfully states, “Although AI has been rightly labelled a prediction machine, the most striking aspect of the AI age is that it is turning us humans into predictable machines”.

‘I, Human’ travels through a range of topics, from ‘Mass Distraction’ to ‘Digital Narcissism’, arguing that AI has already made us poorer versions of ourselves. The digital world separates us from our physical existence, then rewards impulsive behaviour over considered intention. We’re surrounded by technologies that are designed to grab our attention and it takes psychological effort to bring our offline selves back into focus.

Fans of AI claim it gives us back our time - but Chamorro-Premuzic argues that there’s no evidence to support that being the case and, in fact, the opposite seems to be happening: “Rather than raising the psychological standards of humanity, it has lowered them, turning us into a perfectly dull and primitive version of ourselves”.

This is a book that invites all of us to consider what truly makes us human: our capacity to be curious, our sense of wonder, our desire to understand and not simply predict. We’re left to consider how we, as individuals, can maintain our sense of humanity in the face of technological advances. As Chamorro-Premuzic succinctly puts it, “Even if AI is unleashing our least desirable tendencies, on an individual level we all have the power and ability to resist.”

‘I, Human’ can be found on Amazon here.

[H2] Susan’s Pick: ‘Drive’ by Daniel H Pink

Susan says:

“Published back in 2010, this book isn’t a newbie - but it is a goodie!

Daniel Pink’s ‘Drive’ has tones of American psychologist Frederick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory, an idea which proposes that certain workplace incentives may not serve to increase motivation among employees but, if they are absent, can certainly lead to de-motivation. One of these incentives (or disincentives) is money.

Herzberg suggests that the things that really motivate us to spend our energy tend to come from within - our intrinsic motivators. In ‘Drive’, Pink takes this a step further and argues that extrinsic motivators, like money, may not only fail to motivate us but, he says, in the wrong context and offered the wrong way, might actually demotivate us.

‘Drive’ goes on to distinguish between systematic, algorithmic tasks (like data processing or production lines) and tasks that require more creative problem solving. Pink’s theory is that, when it comes to the latter, financial rewards can decrease performance because they narrow the focus of the mind and reduce the intrinsic motivation that might otherwise be there to get an outcome.

To cut a long story short, according to Pink, if you need your people to do something that requires them to use their creativity, exercise agility in their thinking and persevere in overcoming challenges, you do need to pay them enough and you do need to provide good conditions - but that alone won’t do the trick, and an over-reliance on these extrinsic motivators may actually make things worse.

People need opportunities to grow, develop and expand their abilities, to put their own stamp on their work and to understand why it matters. They need input into what they themselves want to achieve and how they want their performance to be assessed.

On some level, we all probably know this already - but the research and anecdotes that Pink supplies to support his case are fascinating. Definitely driven to give this book a big thumbs up!”

Get a copy of Drive here.

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