Book Summary: 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman

Are you looking for a book summary of 59 Seconds By Richard Wiseman? You have come to the right place.

Last week, I finished reading this book and jotted down some key insights from Richard Wiseman.

You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t have time. This summary will provide you with an overview of everything you can learn from this book.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

In this 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot summary, I’m going to cover the following topics:

What is 59 Seconds About?

59 seconds offers a few handy tips and insights backed by scientific research. Take action today and see the changes you want to see in your life.

Who is the Author of 59 Seconds?

Described as “the most interesting and innovative experimental psychologist in the world today” by one of Scientific American’s contributors, Richard Wiseman has given keynotes for companies like Amazon and Google, and has written several bestselling books, including The Luck Factor and Quirkology.

Who is 59 Seconds For?

59 Seconds is not for everyone. If you are the following types of people, you may like the book:

  • Those tired of the same old self-help books
  • Thinkers who are creative
  • Fans of psychology

59 Seconds Book Summary


In regards to self-help, there’s a famous story about a man and his boiler that says a lot about where we’re at these days:

There is something wrong with the man’s boiler, and he attempts to fix it for weeks. The next day the engineer arrives, taps the side of the machine and presto, it starts running again. 

After receiving the bill, the man claims he shouldn’t have to pay for a fix the engineer performed in a matter of seconds. “Well,” replied the engineer, “you’re not paying for the fix, but for the years of training to know exactly where to tap.”

To fix most problems, you don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars or spend tens of years. Today, we’re able to “fix our boilers” in an exceedingly simple way thanks to advances in psychological research and technology.

In fact, as this book demonstrates, we can often make a change in under a minute. The following psychological tricks will help you improve yourself in a variety of ways, from being more creative to recognizing a liar.

Lesson 1: Be more likeable in your interview

Candidates are interviewed based on qualifications and previous work experience, right? Not quite. In the world of job seeking, there is one factor that is more important than all the others: likeability. Listed below are some tips for being liked by others.

The researchers followed over one hundred former students seeking their first jobs, and found that those who had the interviewer’s favor were more likely to be hired.

Several factors made them likeable, such as: some talked about interesting topics unrelated to the job, others maintained a genuine smile, and others spoke highly of the organization to which they applied. These are simple things that make a huge difference, and they are easy to do.

It is also helpful in an interview to disclose your weaknesses from the get-go.

Researchers at Duke University conducted research in the 1970s in which participants listened to a recording of a man discussing his life. One tape shows the man confessing early on to cheating at school; another tape shows him leaving his confession until the end.

Those who listened to the tape in which he made an early confession found him more likable.

Therefore, keep your positive aspects for the end of the interview. Thus, it appears that you like letting your strengths come up naturally in conversation, which makes you more likeable.

Another interview tip: don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Chances are that a mistake is more apparent to you than to others, and an overemotional reaction or apology will only draw attention to something that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Lesson 2: Making occasional mistakes and avoiding gossip will make you appear more sympathetic

Likeability isn’t just essential for interviews; it’s also a great asset for socializing. In fact, if you’re not likable, you’ll have a hard time making friends or being persuasive.

You may find it surprising, but people who seem competent falter more often than those who seem perfect.

In the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs invasion, consider how President Kennedy handled the situation. Kennedy’s likability increased as a result of the failed invasion of Cuba, since he made no excuses and accepted full responsibility for the failure.

The author gathered an audience and selected two actresses to demonstrate the blender. The first actress was highly knowledgeable and performed perfectly. The other messed up: The lid of the blender came off, and she spilled fruit juice all over herself. 

Even though the crowd found the perfect person’s demonstration to be professional and convincing, the second actress won in terms of likability.

In response to the question about why they rated the second actress higher, respondents said they could relate better to her human side than the first.

You only experience this effect once you are already viewed as competent. You will look unattractive and lose credibility if you make mistakes as an average performer.

You don’t need to worry about perfection if you’re proficient at what you’re doing. It’s okay to make mistakes!

You’ll also be more likeable if you avoid gossip.

A study conducted by Ohio State University researchers examined gossip’s perception. A video in which actors disparaged a third party was shown to participants. Interestingly, participants perceived the actors to possess the negative traits that the actors attributed to the third party!

In other words, if you want to be seen positively, simply speak positively about others.

Lesson 3: Get motivated without wasting time with useless fantasies

Everyone seems to be jumping on the visualization bandwagon these days in the self-help industry. It is touted as a way to attain success: imagine yourself fitting into those jeans and voila!

A number of studies suggest that visualization may not be as useful as it seems.

Students were asked to imagine, for a couple moments each day, receiving a good grade and how happy they felt. Another group was not asked to imagine anything. 

The visualization students studied less and had lower exam grades than the other group, despite only spending a few minutes on the visualization exercise each day.

Researchers postulated that those who dream about a great life don’t prepare for setbacks and therefore don’t have the mettle required to succeed.

How can positive change be achieved? By creating a plan.

5,000 participants with various goals, such as losing weight and quitting smoking, were tracked in a study conducted by the author. Participants with a plan achieved their goals.

Planning involves breaking your goals down into subgoals and creating a step-by-step process. You’ll feel less fear and hesitation if you take these less intimidating steps. Then you’ll be able to fit into those jeans.

In addition to telling your friends and family about your goals, you can use this strategy to achieve them. Public plans and promises increase the likelihood that people will follow through – so make them public.

Lesson 4: Avoid brainstorming in order to stimulate creativity

Brainstorming is often seen as a great way to boost creativity. We probably got this idea from advertising executive Alex Osborn in the 1940s, who said that group work provided twice as many ideas. In research, however, it has been found that brainstorming actually inhibits the emergence of creative ideas.

During the 1880s, a French agricultural engineer conducted a study in which participants lifted heavy weights by pulling a rope. Results showed that an individual could lift about 185 pounds by themselves. When they were together, however, the weight per person dropped to 140 pounds.

We diffuse responsibility when we work in groups. We are responsible for our own success or failure when we are alone.

The research of Brian Mullen at the University of Kent at Canterbury confirmed this. He found that participants who worked independently generated more high quality ideas and more quantity than those who worked in a group.

However, what other means do you have to be more innovative and creative besides working independently? Take a look at what you are subconsciously thinking.

Salvador Dali would lie on the couch holding a spoon as he hoped to receive new painting ideas. As he went to sleep, the spoon would fall from his hand and onto the floor. After hearing the sound, he immediately started sketching while in this slightly altered, more subconscious state.

People are familiar with the fact that our subconscious minds are capable of incredible things. It is important, however, to learn how not to oppress it with our conscious mind.

In a recent study, psychologists from the University of Amsterdam found that people are more creative when their conscious minds are distracted, thus allowing their unconscious minds to create.

To solve a problem, you should turn your attention to a puzzle or something else that will distract you from the problem at hand. You’ll have a better chance of finding a solution when your unconscious mind is working on the issue in the background.

Lesson 5: Enhance your creativity by surrounding yourself with greenery

We struggle so much to be creative, but it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Changing your environment can enhance your ability to be creative.

We are shaped by our environment, which in turn affects our reactions. A person’s environment shapes them even when they aren’t conscious of it. This is called priming.

In other words, people in that atmosphere will be primed to clean up more carefully if a subtle smell of cleaning spray is added to the air.

What are the ways in which priming enhances creativity? Jens Förster conducted an experiment at the International University Bremen that asked participants to write a few sentences about punks – their behavior, appearance and lifestyle. This was done because punks are anarchists and radicals. 

A second group was asked to do the same, but focus on a conservative and logical engineer. Afterward, they were tested on their creativity.

What is the result? When primed with the idea of punks, the group had significantly more creative ideas than those who were primed with the idea of engineers.

Consider describing a musician or artist using this knowledge. Think about their lifestyle, behavior, and appearance. Your creativity will grow as you enter that mindset.

Adding plants and flowers to your surroundings is another quick way to foster creativity. They reduce stress and improve your mood, thereby enhancing your creativity.

Researchers asked participants to perform creative tasks in rooms with plants or racks in one study. People’s creativity increased significantly with the addition of the plant.

Researchers at Texas A&M University found that placing flowers and plants in an office boosted idea generation by 15 percent among male employees, and improved problem-solving skills among female employees.

Lesson 6: Making yourself happy by focusing on benefits

There are many situations that can make us anxious, unhappy, or even depressed, whether it’s a breakup, an illness, or just daily stress. You can relieve your stress by doing a short exercise.

Many people seek distraction in such circumstances, but this solution is only momentarily effective. You should instead focus on finding benefits. Look for ways in which the hurtful experience can be used to your advantage. This method helps people in even the most difficult circumstances.

Over 300 undergraduates were asked at the University of Miami to select a time in their lives when they had been hurt or offended. 

Participants were then asked to spend a few minutes discussing how the event negatively affected them. The other participants had to describe the benefits that they gained from the experience – things that, for instance, made them a stronger or wiser person.

Researchers found that those who focused on what they learned from their experiences dealt with anger and unhappiness more effectively.

However, what about extreme cases? The silver lining can sometimes seem impossible to see in dire situations, but there is evidence that positivity can come from them, as well.

Several positive character traits have been found to increase in Americans after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including gratitude, hope, kindness, leadership, and teamwork.

In other studies, having a serious physical illness has also been linked to increased levels of courage, fairness, curiosity, humor, and appreciation of beauty.

Lesson 7: Watch your words to improve your relationships

We all could probably benefit from some assistance when it comes to our relationships. How can we keep them on the right track with some quick skills?

A relationship thrives on mutual support and agreement. Due to our acute sensitivity to our partner’s comments, even the slightest sour remark needs to be sweetened with love.

During his research into what causes couples to stay together or to break up, John Gottman discovered this.

Gottman studied the role of positive and negative comments in agreements, understandings, and forgiveness. He found that positive comments outnumber negative comments five to one for a couple to live happily ever after!

What else can you do to keep your love life healthy, besides giving your darling positive remarks? Write about your feelings and thoughts.

Scientists at the University of Texas studied ways to improve relationships by dividing 80 new couples into two groups. The first group wrote their thoughts and feelings about their relationship for three consecutive days, while the second group wrote about their days.

The first group was still together 77 percent of the time after three months, while the second group was still together 52 percent of the time.

One last way to improve your relationship: use the word “but.”

Researchers Sandra Murray and John Holmes interviewed couples about their partner’s most positive and negative qualities. Studying the participants for a year, the most successful relationships were those in which partners would qualify criticism.

In other words, the husband was lazy, but he made his partner laugh. The wife was terrible at cooking, but it meant more dining out. Couples could smooth out the negative impact of their partner’s faults and view the relationship differently with just the word “but.”.

Lesson 8: Identify lies using psychology

Is it possible to spot a liar? In an attempt to cover up something, they probably make grand gestures or tell elaborate stories, right? Psychology research shows otherwise.

Several studies suggest that people who lie are no more stressed than those who tell the truth.

In 2008, Southampton University researchers asked students about their grades while taking their pulse. Nearly half of the respondents exaggerated their success, yet they were no more stressed than their honest counterparts.

Observers and researchers have found that liars are just as likely to look you in the eye as those telling the truth, and they don’t move anxiously or fidget on their seats. Thus, lying doesn’t make us anxious, as the belief suggests.

What is the best way to catch a liar? Lies tend to seem like they’re overthinking things for no good reason. The tone of a liar is also impersonal and they avoid questions.

You must consider what others already know, what they can discover, what is plausible, and what matches what you have already said when you lie.

Let’s say you lied about your evening plans to someone. You are asked about it a few days later by the person you lied to. All of a sudden, your brain will scramble to remember everything you previously said without creating any contradictions.

Due to this, when you lie, your body responds the same way it does when you are thinking about a problem. When people are lying, they tend not to gesticulate as much, they take longer to answer, and they hesitate and pause more frequently.

In addition, they avoid words such as “I,” “me” and “mine” in order to distance themselves from the lie.

Additionally, liars often try to get attention away from themselves by asking questions themselves rather than answering questions about the issue.

Final Summary

Without much time or effort, you can improve many aspects of your life. 

Using the techniques in this book, you will be able to make quick and easy changes that will enhance your creativity, likability, relationships and more.

Further Reading

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