Book by: Richard Wiseman
Review by: Jennifer Brown
Mānoa Transfer Coordination Center
Office of Undergraduate Education
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa


The common desire to improve upon one’s life has spawned a booming self-help industry. Self-help experts often claim to help an individual meet a certain goal, such as finding better relationships, getting a dream job, creating the best body possible, or simply developing overall happiness in a remarkably quick way, yet most of the recommended techniques have little to no research to back them up. In 59 Seconds Richard Wiseman compiles and reviews behavioral and psychological research on all of these topics and more and then recommends what an individual can do in less than a minute to improve upon an aspect of life.

Wiseman provides techniques for nearly every common self-help topic, from general happiness, to parenting, to speed dating, each recommendation can be implemented in under a minute. In the book’s conclusion he provides his top ten “scientifically supported techniques that could help improve people’s lives in less than a minute” (p.293). This is a brief summary of the main areas covered in the book, which is helpful because of the large number of techniques included in this text. Some techniques are easy changes, such as keeping a plant in the office to reduce stress, using crossword or Sudoku puzzles to allow your unconscious brain to work on a tough problem, or touching people lightly on the arm to increase the likelihood that they will agree to help you. Others require a bit more time or may be impractical for regular use.    

One recommendation that is especially useful to advisors and students is journaling. Writing is a useful strategy for improvement in both happiness and motivation. To develop a “gratitude attitude” Wiseman recommends taking about a minute each day for five days to write in a diary. The five topics are; giving thanks for three things that happened in the previous week, remembering one particularly wonderful experience in life, imagining future achievements, thanking someone close, and reviewing things in the past week that have gone especially well. This minor investment of time should quickly result in improved mood and happiness (p.23). Creating a written plan for an important goal increases motivation and successful achievement. Rather than visualizing achieving the goal (a long utilized strategy that research has proven useless), developing a plan in writing that includes progress markers, rewards, benefits, and accountability in a concrete way leads to greater success. Wiseman includes a four-step worksheet for creating such a plan in a journal (p.87). 

Although 59 Seconds is not focused on higher education or advising, the book is an enjoyable and interesting read and can be used in working with college students. The writing exercises could be helpful with students on or near probation who need to develop more concrete study habits. During high stress periods, the gratitude writing exercise could be used as a reminder of the joys of advising. The four-step worksheet can be used for any goal from developing a new program for students to creating a plan for better work-life balance. This book will not be one of my top advising resources, however, I recommend it for those interested in science-supported techniques to increase happiness, creativity, and motivation in their daily lives. 

59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute. (2009). Book by Richard Wiseman. Review by Jennifer Brwown. New York, NY: Anchor Books (Random House), 320pp., $15.95 (Paperback). ISBN 978-0-307-47486-5

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