When someone would tell comedian George Carlin to “have a nice day,” Carlin would react angrily: “What if I don’t want to have a nice day?” Unlike Carlin, most of us would prefer to have nice days, but in our overworked, over-stressed and overbooked lives, it is not always easy. A new book by former McKinsey consultant Caroline Webb promises to come to our rescue. Entitled How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life, it uses the advances in behavioral science, psychology and neuroscience to help us overcome or mitigate all of the stresses, setbacks and mishaps that create the many bad days or bad moments we endure.
The Essential Sciences
Webb begins her book with a quick look at three scientific advances that are key to understanding how we will be able to create a good day:
• The two-system brain. Our brains run two opposing systems in parallel, she explains. The deliberate system is our conscious thinking, slow and rational. The automatic system is subconscious, fast and instinctive. The deliberate system calculates a 15 percent tip; the automatic system makes us jump back before we are hit by a car.
• The mind-body loop. The mind and body are interconnected in ways we never realized. We knew happiness leads to a smile, but we did not know smiling (no matter how we feel) will make us happier.
• The discover-defend axis. We are constantly moving along an axis, anchored on one end by a defensive outlook, expecting attack at any moment, while anchored on the other end by a discovery mood, seeking out rewarding experiences.
Having laid the scientific groundwork,Webb then covers her seven building blocks of a good day:
Priorities: setting the intentional direction of the day.
Productivity: making the most of the hours of the day. Relationships: having positive, productive interactions.
Thinking: making wise choices, being creative and smart. Influence: maximizing the impact of what we say and do.
Resilience: overcoming setbacks and annoyances.
Energy: boosting enthusiasm and enjoyment.
Webb offers clear guidelines for each of the building blocks. Thus, for example, the section of the book on productivity includes chapters on single-tasking, planning deliberate down time, overcoming overload and beating procrastination. The chapters related to influence cover getting through their filters, making things happen and conveying confidence. Throughout the book, Webb carefully links the science introduced at the beginning to her directives. Down time increases productivity, for example, not only because a brain needs to rest but also because neuroscientists have discovered that the subconscious brain keeps working even when the conscious brain is at rest.
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