Richard Wiseman, professor for The Public Understanding of Psychology University of Hertfordshire in the UK has written a self-help book which is research based, pleasant and easy to read and practical. It's called 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (Borzoi Books). Wiseman started out as a magician and later became a psychologist. Just like many famous magicians like James Randi and Derren Brown, he has a very skeptical and research based approach and a great skill at involving and entertaining the public. The purpose of this was to expose popular self-help myths and replace them by practical and brief self-help approaches that have been proven effective.
The book covers topics like decision making, dealing with stress, happiness, relationships, and parenting. The research covered in the book, which balances classical studies well with recent studies, is presented in an accessible and sometimes very funny way. SF is not mentioned in the book but some of the research is relevant for SF. One example is a study by Pham and Taylor (1999) on motivation. These researchers had participants in the experimental condition visualize a doing exceptionally well in their exams that were coming up. Students in the control conditions were asked to visualize themselves while doing the exams but doing normally, not exceptionally well. Although the intervention lasted very briefly, the effect was strong. Students in the experimental condition had felt good during the visualization but studied less hard and reached lower marks. Wiseman comments that visualizing a perfect future may make you feel better, it is a form of mental escapism which has the negative side effect of leaving you unprepared for difficulties that crop up on the ‘rocky road’ to success. Wiseman concludes: “Fantasizing about heaven on earth may put a smile on your face, but is unlikely to help transform your dreams into reality.”
This research confirms that as SF practitioners we should probably refrain from asking people what their ideal situation looks like, what their ‘best’ hopes would be, and what their perfect futures would look like. Instead, we’d better ask them to describe situations, futures and hopes that would be ‘good enough’. Apart from this example the book contains much interesting material. Although some SF practitioners may object to the traditional psychology approach of this book, many will probably like it if only for its focus on brief interventions and the pleasantness of the writing.