Neuroscience and behavioral psychology have captured the imagination of scientists, journalists and people in general. When reading some of the most lauded books in this field, you almost start to believe that knowing the right bag of tricks can guarantee certain outcomes in human interactions.
Caroline Webb, a former partner at management consultancy McKinsey & Company, does not fall into this category in her book How to Have a Good Day. Webb adopts a realistic and restrained tonality when discussing emerging discoveries about the brain and human psychology. While she displays deep academic knowledge, her book is practical and offers tweaks in behavior and attitudes geared simply to help everyone have a better day at work.
Webb’s writing style is direct, lightly but appropriately humorous, anecdotal, highly organized, and eminently readable. She uses her own experiences in a sometimes gently self-deprecating manner as illustrations of the scientific background tenets she cites as a foundation for having a good day. As she asserts in her preface, “Our thought patterns can affect everything from our perception of reality to the moods of those around us.” She proceeds to help the reader understand how to use this science-based knowledge not only for one’s self-betterment, but for the betterment of all one’s associates – whether at work, home, or anywhere.
In this well-researched book (Webb cites more than 600 academic articles and books), the author attempts to inspire the reader to have a day – every day – in which they feel that their efforts count, they are confident and supported, and they feel energized from beginning to end. Webb uses seven building blocks of science to support her themes. Two are about the foundations of behavior, three about the transformation of behavior, and two about strategies for personal energy and resilience. She also attaches appendices that include advice on meetings and emails, and a checklist to reinvigorate your routine.
Among Webb’s recommendations: Plan downtime and avoid “decision fatigue”. “Pit stops are not wasted time — they’re an essential part of an efficient, well-planned race,” she says. We need enough sleep. “As one CEO I know put it, going short of sleep is like forgetting to save a document that you’ve worked on all day. If we don’t regularly rest and refuel our brain, the quality of our reasoning, self-control and planning declines sharply.”
What else do we learn in this fascinating book? Gossip is healthy. The author admits to humming Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” to herself before important meetings to prime her performance. And multitasking damages productivity: “We’re far more productive if we singletask.”
This book is not easy reading, but it’s good reading. Some would argue it’s required reading.