Review of Amy Branns book that ‘Not only provides us with greater understanding on how the brain works, but also gives us useful tools on how to make the brain work for each of us’, according to Stephen M R Covey.
While the book delivers on its promise, typesetting and grammatical errors make it hard to read, and factually wrong information makes me doubt the validity of other provided information. While I don’t regret reading it, I would not recommend it to others.
I bought this book together with Ego is the Enemy in the end of July, and read it in the end of August.
First, we will go over the books content real quick.
Part One: You
The first chapter is about how willpower and stimulation influence personal productivity and efficacy. Something I learned is that learning ability increases significantly if the brain is frequently exposed to new stimuli.
In the second chapter, stress and how it works is explained in detail. While multiple techniques on how to deal with stress were mentioned, I did not exactly find them actionable.
Priming, anchoring and their effects on our control are explored in chapter three. While they are relevant to be aware of, I would guess that their effects wear off fast if used to ‘control’ your thoughts and emotions, as suggested.
Chapter four has useful tips on how to design your environment, how to deal with distractions and how to self-manage time. Most of the collected tips were not new or unknown. I did learn however, that active dopamine (in your system) increases chances of deciding for short-term payoff actions over long-term ones. I do notice this myself sometimes, and decide to recuperate when I do so.
Finally, chapter five has some actionable tips on improving both learning and sleeping quality.
Chapter six is about habits, but most of its content is described as ‘common misconceptions’ in The Power of Habit. More about this in criticism.
Part Two: Your Colleagues and Clients
Chapter seven is about having a good work-life balance. How this looks like for you depends on a number of factors, however.
In chapter eight, I learned that visualizing and simulating (but not doing) physical exercises can prime the body to increase strength to the same degree as doing the exercise. The idea is to thoroughly visualize every step, to help your brain find ways to achieve it.
I learned about the Swayer effect in chapter nine. It is when you lose intrinsic motivation for doing something after you have gotten extrinsic rewards for doing it sometime prior. The chapter is about how motivation works, and why it is so hard to motivate others. I’ll see how it holds up against what is said in Drive soon.
The tenth chapter is all about resiliency, the dynamic ability to overcome and prosper more easily from negative or difficult events in daily life. Essentially, it is nurtured by having little mental fatigue, being mindful, and approaching new situations with an open and curious mind.
In the eleventh chapter, we learn what to do when we are asked for innovation and creativity. At its core, it is about being able to generate ideas without being judged for them, and doing things in other ways than normal.
Appearing competent to others is the topic of the twelfth chapter. Apart from the fact that you should take notes during meetings and preparation does not mean knowing all numbers off your head, there are tips on how to actually become competent. Doing even small amounts of exercise will improve your mental abilities by up to 30 percent. A balanced lifestyle improves mental abilities as well.
Chapter thirteen has useful tips for leading teams. According to Amy, your main job is to reduce uncertainty for employees while giving them control, and showing integrity as well as congruence with actions.
Psychological safety is required to facilitate the expression of skills and take necessary risks. What a safe environment is and that the creation is the responsibility of leaders is described in chapter fourteen.
The last chapter contains tips about team coherence, which includes trusting your teammates, having clear expectations and planning ahead.
I do not regret reading the book, but I would not read it again. There are many better books out there, especially on the same or referenced topics.
Even though I would not read it again, I had useful takeaways:
- Mental Capacity is a network effect of exercise, sleep, water, breaks, stress, …
- Swayer effect: losing intrinsic motivation after receiving extrinsic rewards
- Reduce perceived novelty to avoid cognitive overload
Mental Capacity as Network Effect
Everything needs to be right for high mental performance. There needs to be enough energy available through food (or keto) to perform at the highest level you are capable of. Not enough sleep or rest reduce the performance you are capable of tremendously. There are multiple studies showing that even small amounts of physical exercise can increase mental capacity considerably.
Higher mental capacity allows you to learn faster and focus better. Having more diverse stimulus also increases overall learning speed and mental acuity. I assume it is through both transfer learning (unconscious) and having more hormones in your body (higher energy state) due to the more diverse stimulation.
While I was aware of the effect before, it has only recently been brought to my attention again. When reading about it, it was brought to my attention again, and in part inspired me to read Drive (currently reading). Also read the Edit after quotes.
Reducing Perceived Novelty
Approaching something new as “it is just like
<other thing>” reduces not only
perceived novelty but also the required mental capacity to familiarize yourself
with the new thing. Useful when being stressed or having otherwise limited
capacity, or to make learning new things easier in general.
This is by far one of the lowest-quality books I have read in some time. My criticism is mainly on these points:
- Factual Errors
- Typesetting and Grammar
- Guiding Structure
- Lacking Explanations
- Main Takeaways
- Useful Tips
- Appreciation for other Books
Some chapters (e.g. chapter six) contains information that is contrary to information provided by The Power of Habit - where the given information is scientifically backed up.
For a lot of claims, there were no sources. Chapter six is the only case where I noticed it at this scale, but I believe it is not the only case of scientifically outdated information.
Typesetting and Grammar
The fact that typesetting-errors (an ‘I’ in places where I would expect an ‘l’ or ‘1’, as well as other, similar ones) exist in the first place leaves me scratching my head. How did no one notice them? The first one is on page 32, but they are clearly recognizable throughout the book.
Sentences regularly do not make sense grammatically. I understood what these sentences wanted to say, but they still left me confused for a bit and interrupted my reading flow. Once or twice is not enough for me to mention it (I notice one or two in most books), but it gets annoying when it happens every couple pages.
Some readers pointed them out on goodreads for the first edition. Either they never got fixed, or new ones got introduced to the second edition. I do not know which answer I would prefer.
Throughout the book, there is a low-key but noticeable hatred against men. It is more distracting than anything else.
Problems and mistakes from women are framed as innocent or excusable, while there is close to no chance left unused to take subtle stabs at men. The male protagonist is described as having anger issues, and his mistakes make him appear to be a bad person. Reading how he ‘supposedly’ thinks or acts is alienating - no one would do that.
I would love to read the same content in a neutral tone. The forced framing of people, interactions and situations makes it unnatural and harder to understand.
It is not rare that a section or chapter starts out with a question, but ends without having provided a clear answer. Yes, all the information to get to an answer has been provided, but the final conclusion was not drawn. Reading this is irritating to say the least.
The 7 Habits, where every asked question was answered directly, is a much more comfortable read in comparison.
Explanations are Lacking
There are multiple instances where Amy tried to explain how things worked on a neurological level. Except that it was not an explanation. Explaining ‘reward experience’ by saying that ‘the ventral stratium and nucleus accumbens are involved in subtle ways’ is not helping me understand it.
Of course, I did not expect the book to be on par with other books that have sold millions of copies I have read recently, so I’m not sure how fair the criticism is. In short: they are leagues apart, but fixing the aforementioned issues would improve this book considerably.
At the end of each chapter were tips on how to apply the content of the chapter. While some of them were redundant, I wrote most of them down in my notes, and started applying them. A couple of them actually work for me!
Appreciation for other Books
Regardless of the other points, there is always something that can be said about bad experiences: It makes you appreciate the good ones more. This has absolutely been the case for me about this book. I now appreciate other high-quality books I have read more.
I would recommend you to read just about every other book from books over this one.
Being available constantly by phone, email and text can drop your IQ by as much as losing a night’s sleep.
There is no single answer to the question of what makes a good work-life-balance.
Engaging your brain in what you want to happen is incredibly important.
Motivation is a strange phenomenon. We tend to recognize it most in ourselves or others when it is lacking.
[…] people will adapt the amount of effort they put into things depending on the level of reward they expect to gain.
Congruency gives people certainty
The best way to move things forward is often to take action.
Edit: Well, this is awkward. I started reading Drive while writing this review, and there the Swayer effect is explored in more depth as well.
Turns out, it is not called the Swayer effect, but the Sawyer effect, an effect named after Tom Sawyer, one of Mark Twain’s fictional characters. He realizes that ‘what one is obliged to do’ is work, and everything else is ‘play’ in one of his stories.
The ‘Swayer Effect’ is mentioned on page 162 in ‘Make Your Brain Work’, according to my notes. So I looked it up, and in the second paragraph from the top there is the ‘Swayer Effect’.
I had written most of the review already. I considered fixing it throughout this text, but thought it would be more fun as a little anecdote at the end.
The weirdest part is how neatly it fits in with the narrative I told about the book so far.