Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Book: Rip it Up by Richard Wiseman

In "Rip It Up", Richard Wiseman offers more more evidence-based advice on how to go about changing the reader's life for the better.

The book is premised on the As If  principle, which is about acting and behaving in order to create an emotional state, instead of acting upon an emotional state. This is shown to be well supported by experiments by multiple psychologists, going back to the work of William James, an eminent 19th century psychologist.

This is a first rate book which I believe has the potential to change a person's life. See below for my take-away scribblings.


On Happiness

William James, in Principles of Psychology (1890), developed the idea that behaviour causes emotion, a theory he described as 'bottled lightning' given its potential. The implication is that we can manufacture positive emotion by acting happy (e.g. sitting with positive body language, smiling, and generally acting as if we are already cheerful). James stated that 'to wrestle with a bad feeling only pins our attention on it, and keeps it still fastened in the mind.'

In contrast to the common sense direction of causation: feel happy > smile, the As If theory states the opposite is also true (smile > feel happy).

To give yourself a boost, say each of these sentences to yourself, slowly and convincingly (see work of Emmet Velten, 1960s):

I feel surprisingly good about myself today.
I think I can make a success of things.
I am glad that most people are very friendly towards me.
I know that if I set my mind to something, it will usually turn out well.
I feel very enthusiastic right now.
It's as if I am full of energy at the moment, enjoying what I am doing. 
I'm very optimistic at the minute and expect to get along very well with most of the people I meet.
I'm feeling very good about myself and the world today.
Given the mood that I am in, I feel particularly inventive and resourceful.
I feel my life is very much under my control.
I am pretty certain that most of my friends will stick with me in the future.
This feels like one of those days when I'm raring to go.

The theory is supported by experiments on facial expressions (smiling makes people feel happier, angry expressions build anger). Experiments with speech and movement also support this idea. For example, when people shuffle about like old people, this affects their happiness and makes them feel old.

The brain centre of fear, the amygdalla, is active not only when we experience fear but also when we wear a fearful expression.

Research also shows that happiness and other emotional states spread like an infectious disease.

 Attraction and Relationships

'Whatever we learn, we learn by actually doing it; men become builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts we become self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave.' - Aristotle

There appears to be two varieties of love:
- Passionate love: attraction focused, activates parts of the brain commonly associated with drug use and alcoholism.
- Compassionate: more about attachment vs attraction. This is experienced in secure, long-term relationships.

Friendship and love tend to be enhanced by prolonged contact.

Conventional theories struggle to explain why so many emotions produce the same bodily responses: fight or flight (variability in heart rate, sweating, oxygen to the muscles, digestive juices in stomach, adrenaline, etc), falling in love, presentation, fear, etc. Shacter says it is all just a fight between just one system, that there is a tug of war of emotional intensity that provokes this bodily response.

'Depending on the context, a thumping heart can be seen as a sign of anger, happiness or love.'

Following in the footsteps of William James, creating these states can be used to experience heightened emotion (see Dutton and Aron's famous experiment looking at attractiveness ratings by men of a female market researcher on a rock solid bridge and one that swayed in the wind). Lesson: if you are going on a date, avoid country walks and meditation classes and instead head to theme parks, high bridges, comedy shows, and scary films.

Epstein, a psychologist believes that love develops according to established principles, in contrast to the magical love myth promoted in Western civilisation, and that people will fall in love if they behave as if they are in love (this often happens with actors).

Boredom is one of the sources of an unhappy marriage.

The Dice Man exercise to bring back the magic between people:

Circle the activities you find interesting and add some of your own. Select six that you both find exciting. Roll a dice and ensure you carry out the activity over the next week. Repeat the process every fortnight. 

Countryside walk / See a live concert / plan a trip or holiday / shopping trip / some kind of artwork / redecorate your home / attend a sports event / go to a new restaurant / go to a lecture or talk / go camping or hiking or boating / invite friends for a meal / go dancing / visit a fair or zoo / learn to windsurf / eat snails / go on a long car journey / bet on a horse race / place a pin on a map and go there / enter a pub quiz / learn some circus skills / arm wrestle / go canoeing / sleep under the stars / go on a long train journey / get a massage or go to a spa / go to the gym / visit a museum / watch a film / travel on a hot air balloon / do a parachute jump.

Mental Health 

'Action is the antidote to despair.' - Joan Bez

Studies looking at paralysis and botox treatment support the notion that action causes emotion; physical inhibition can dampen certain emotions, both positive and negative.

Behavioural change exercise: Identify problem behavioural problem areas (e.g. avoiding seeing friends and family, stopped taking part in activities you enjoy, stopped taking care of yourself?), and identify desired goals relating to one or two of the following (relationships, work and education, recreation, community, physical health). Identify target behaviours to avoid and to achieve; not general things like 'be happier', but specific things like waking up by 9am, registering for x, calling x once a week, etc. Create a plan, putting a time against each of the planned activities, stating when and how they will be achieved.  

Don't try to change all of your behaviours at once. Build up gradually. Don't let your thoughts get in the way. If you have negative thoughts, accept them and move on. Everyone fails once in a while. Don't fall into the trap of 'I'll do it when I feel better.'


Be careful when rewarding behaviour. This can stifle creativity, problem solving, etc, and can lead to thinking you need to be paid to perform an activity instead of doing it for its own sake.

Working on something for a few minutes increases the probability of its completion.


Behaviour can cause belief (the Benjamin Franklin effect, going to an event = favour it vs other options, desegregation in the US and increased support after the fact, i.e. we justify after the event).  Again, it's the As If theory at play.

Creating a New You (based on the As If principle)

"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one is true." - Nathanial Hawthorne

Demeaning experiences lead to low self-esteem, and you can end up blaming yourself (the negativity feeds off itself.

Taking risks increases confidence and more confidence encourages more risk taking.

Power posing increases confidence (see work by Dana Carney) and risk taking - testosterone is raised and cortisol levels reduced. If you don't have time to strike a power pose for a minute, you can make a fist.

Clothes maketh the man: Clothing influences other people's perception as well as your own perception e.g. black = authoritarian (also increases aggression). Seeing a man in a professional suit = automatically judge a level of competence.

Think back to Zimbardo's famous Stanford prison experiment, which ran for six days before being shut down. People acted in ways they though they were incapable of, consistent with the roles that had been randomly assigned. People became the role.

Studies show that when people are given more responsibilities they become more assertive.

We can use these ideas to shape our life, instead of thinking of our personality as fixed. The psychologist George Kelly believed people can change their personality much like an actor can change their role, and also that how people saw themselves was at the heart of many of their problems.

"We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing" - E.B. Shaw
See Ellen Langer's experiment on reversing the clock on men in the 70s and 80s. Fully recreated the environment of their youth, playing the same radio vintage songs, and engaging in activities to heighten this sense of youthful age > the people started behaving younger, with dexterity, speed of movement, blood pressures, etc all improving. The BBC recently repeated the experiment with similar results.

Tips to slow down aging:
- Maintain a sense of control in your life - don't overly rely on others.
- Keep mentally active - be interested in the world, find out what's happening, start a blog, stay curious, maintain hobbies and interests, and stay in touch with friends and family.
- Young at heart: Spend time with younger people.
- Actively active: Keep involved in sports, maintain a spring in your step.
- Make an effort: The way you look influences how you feel.

In order to change, you need to act

William James: "If you want a quality, act as if you already have it."

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