In this review I will:
a. summarize the book's content,
b. provide an overview of the amazon reviews of this book, and
c. evaluate the book's merits.
The overarching message is that we benefit ourselves when we engage in metacognition (Rock's term). We improve ourselves by becoming more aware of how our power of awareness functions. Rock often expresses this idea metaphorically by telling us that it is to our advantage to develop a strong "director."
When we enhance our self-awareness, we appreciate that human beings are motivated by five types of phenomena: Social status, Certainty, Autonomy (independence), Relatedness (social connections), and Fairness. Enhancement of these five dimensions is experienced as rewarding. Diminution along any of these dimensions is just as aversive as physical pain.
When we are suffering because one or more of these dimensions has been threatened, we can use three procedures to restore our mental well-being.
The first is labeling. By describing an emotion we can reduce it. If someone insulted me, I can tell myself that I am angry. That will make me feel better.
The second procedure is reappraisal. By changing our perspective or our interpretation of a situation, we can lessen the negative emotion. If someone insulted me, I can take his perspective and realize that he is so upset that he is not responsible for his actions. Or, perhaps I could reinterpret the situation and realize that what I took to be an insult might not have been one after all.
The last procedure is lowering expectations. Decades ago I discovered that if many people told me that I must see a movie because it was amazing, I would often be disappointed, because it failed to be as amazing as I had expected it to be. On the other hand, if I just saw some random flick on a whim, and it was decent, I was really happy, because it was much better than I thought it would be. We experience exceeded expectations as highly rewarding, and unmet expectations as painful. We can develop the ability to set our expectations lower, allowing them to be exceeded more often.
In business and in life in general, we often confront difficult problems. Rock offers a number of methods for helping us develop better solutions.
First, we can simplify the problem to the greatest extent possible by using few words to state it.
Second, we can get our mind off the problem by quieting the mind-- e.g. by taking a shower or a walk.
Third, we can focus the mind on potential solutions and, as much as possible, stop thinking about the problem.
I bought this book because it had some of the most forceful, positive reviews that I have ever read for a self-improvement book. Since I have read books that have deeply affected my own life, I was pleased to read the reviews of so many readers whose lives were positively altered by the methods they learned from this book. I actually stopped reading a couple of books that I am in the middle of, because the potential impact of this book seemed so much greater.
It should come as no surprise to readers of Rock's book, that the over-the-top reviews of his book lessened my appreciation of it. Reading these reviews stimulated very high expectations in me. Unfortunately, those high expectations were not met. This book has had very little, if any, impact on my life. Very few of the reviewers have indicated what particular and specific changes they made based on the book's recommendations, and how that helped them. I have found it quite difficult to translate the insights given in the book into practical changes in my life.
As I stated at the beginning of the Content section, the overarching message of the book is the importance of metacognition, which is usually called "mindfulness." If your goal is to develop your powers of mindfulness, I can recommend books that give much more practical, useful advice than Rock's book. I started doing mindfulness practice about six months ago. To be perfectly frank, it's not at all clear to me that I have become any more mindful than I was before I started. But I am aware of the fact that there is a lot of evidence that mindfulness practice benefits most people who engage in it, so I soldier on hoping that at some point I will notice that mindfulness is benefiting me as well.
As far as lessening negative emotions using labeling, reappraisal, and lowered expectations, you would be better served by reading a cognitive-behavioral therapy book with practical exercises that help you develop those skills. David Burns's The Feeling Good Handbook is an excellent choice.
If you want to know more of the science Rock discusses, Heidi Grant Halvorson's Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, covers some of the same studies Rock does, but she presents it in a more accessible manner, making it much easier to implement changes in my life.
If, instead of self-improvement, your goal is to be stimulated intellectually on the subject of awareness and thought, take a look at Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained, or Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.
In conclusion, Rock's book does a decent job synthesizing a lot of content into a relatively coherent presentation. But I had trouble translating this content into practical changes in my life. There are other books on psychology and mindfulness that do a better job demonstrating exactly what the reader needs to do to bring about positive behavioral and emotional changes.