Posts in "Book"

Book: Hooked - A Maker's Handbook

The book cover of Hooked

If you’re a product person who is building a product to get more people to use it and use it more often, this is a book you’d want to keep a copy on your desk.

If you’re a smart phone user who checks certain apps quite regularly that you’d even refuse to admit you’re addictive to it, this a book to help you understand how it was engineered to keep you hooked.

Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup commented: ‘A must-read for everyone who cares about driving customer engagement.’ (I’m usually skeptical about this kind of lip service, but this time, he’s right.)

I read this book at the right timing and I wrote at length in my company’s internal blog: my reading memos and summaries of the four core parts of the idea: Trigger -> Action -> Variable Reward -> Investment, with case studies of the product I was building.

The Hook model

A over-simplifed summary of each stage of the model:

  • Trigger: What nudges the action?
  • Action: Which part is weak to provoke the action? Lack of motivation or the process is too hard?
  • Reward: Is there an instant and variable reward when the user performs the action?
  • Investment: When are we asking them to invest, and what value we give back in return?

Flipping through the pages again, I found lots of post-its I attached in the book saying “I disagree,” and listing all the obvious counter-arguments. Yet still, the overall reading experience was great👏! It set the scene properly for you to deep dive for an extended period of time, so it naturally stimulates you and inspires you to think about your product’s problems and solutions. In that sense, I enjoyed the knowledge it provided and all the thoughts it provoked. It felt like taking apart a product and putting its components on the table, so you’ll be able to visualize and identify the habit-forming product’s system, the blueprint, or even the traps.


The part that I remembered the most is the Action - “the behavior done in anticipation of a reward.”

Fogg (a famous guy in this field) describes that the required ingredients to initiate any actions can be written in the equation of B = MAT (Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Trigger), so-called the Behavior Model.

  1. The user must have sufficient motivations
  2. The user must have the ability to complete the desired action
  3. A trigger must be present to activate the behavior

I’ve noticed a pattern of myself. If the book I’m reading is put on the dining table, I would pick it up after breakfast and continue reading. Instead, if my phone is there, I might just pick it up and check some feed. Let’s break down this behavior:

  1. Motivation: I like to read the book
  2. Ability: I have the time to read
  3. Trigger: The book is on the table
  4. 🎉

Even though the motivation and ability are right, when the trigger is absent, certain actions might not occur. So that’s why I’ve been intentionally putting my phone out of sight at home and putting books and pens on the dining table (for which my wife isn’t really happy hah 😅)

So, what are you going to do with this piece of knowledge? There is also a chapter dedicated to the ethical discussion. I felt the view of trusting people that they won’t do evil is naive though, and if you want to read more on this subject, I’d recommend another book Irresistible that is written from the opposite perspective.

Still, changing people’s behaviors is hard, reading this book won’t promise you the dreamland. But that doesn’t mean the knowledge is useless. The best way to take most out of it is to share your learnings with your team, adapt the vocabularies to better communicate, take your product on the map and analyze each aspect, do the case study of other popular products with high user engagements and try out your ideas and solutions. It is fun and rewarding.


There is a 13 minutes video to get the brief idea of the framework, but I’d say don’t cut the corners and read the whole book if you truly want to learn more. You’ll get the bone and fat, you may love the fat or trim it off eventually, either way, it would be a great learning process.

April 19, 2018 Book, Product

Systems, Goals, and Odds of Success

After Reading the Book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”

Book - how to fail at almost everything and still win big by scott adams

What this book is trying to tell is extremely simple: treat yourself as a programmable moist robot, build the system to control the inputs, so you can determine the outputs. Your time, focus, and energy are the fuels to keep you in the game, equip yourself with strategies with good odds, all you need to do is stay in the game long enough, success will find you, sooner or later.

Continue reading…

What distinguishes it from other self-help books are:

1) The author is the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, that means you will get tremendous entertainment value from the book, guaranteed. It’s enlightening and humorous, the only non-fiction book so far that keeps making me laugh while also sharing something inspiring.

2) Thanks to his various experience in public speaking, business writing, and other backgrounds, I found the book extremely easy to read and persuasive (in a good way.)

I’m glad he stopped pursuing the career as a salesman, otherwise, I might have bought whatever product he’s selling. I’m so hooked as a reader for his humor and storytelling technique.


“Passion is bullshit”, “Goals are for losers.” Given that I’m right in the season of dumping the goal-and-passion-driven engine to my mental garage, this line hits me at the perfect timing. I’m definitely biased, maybe I’m seeking validation, but what it presents is worthy food for thoughts.

The culprit of goals, almost by definition, is that it sets you “in a state of nearly continuous failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out.” It pushes you to fight the feeling of discouragement at each turn.

A system is “something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.”

For a cartoonist, that might be drawing one cartoon per day; for a writer, writing five hundred words per day. In contrast to goals, systems bring a steadier stream of low-grade highs. They’re guides to a fulfilling life, day by day, rather than enticing pictures of some grand end goal without instructions for how to get there.

It focuses on designing each action that naturally drives you to the next step without the need to use up your limited willpower supply. In another word, it’s kind of in the same family tree of routine, ritual, habit, and compass, but system gives you the vision of each component connected to the final outcomes, and it does sound much cooler right?

The concrete example of the author’s system: “Eat right, exercise, think positively, learn as much as possible, and stay out of jail, and good things can happen.” I know it sounds stupidly simple, maybe not that different than what your grandma told you when you were a kid, yet whether you can keep doing all of these throughout your life is the key. Design each step carefully so it drives you to the next action, and collectively it’ll increase the odds for luck to find you.

I have to admit that I do feel that he’ll success one way or another, if not Dilbert it may be other projects (just like Dilbert was one of them.) He’s seeing the world in a macro view, each time he applies his system, he gets a better chance of winning the game.

It reminds me of the Starcraft league (or any other sports leagues), you may get lucky to win one game, but to be the winner of the best-of-7 series, to beat the equally talented opponents, to advance through the seasons of, years of tournaments, you’ll not only need a good strategy, but also apply it, practice it, tweak it, maintain it, and reduce the required willpower to the minimum so it can be sustainable. All of these in a whole is the system.


The book covers a lot of topics: passion, goals, systems, attitude, talents, observations, humor, happiness, diet, exercise, and luck. I’ve never thought about that I would want to acquire skills like public speaking, persuasive writing, humor, and golf(!), but now I’m deeply hooked.

Thanks to the another book Irresistible that pointed me to this one.

Lastly, this could be a spoiler but, my favorite line of the book is this one: “Say something, you bastard!”, page 166.

September 24, 2017 Book

Blinkist Impression: Non-fiction summaries in 15 minutes

Blinkist is a service that provides summaries of a non-fiction books that you can read in 15 minutes. I gave it a try over the weekend and here are some first impressions.

It won’t be the dominant way of reading books for sure, but it can be useful in situations like the typical “don’t have enough time” scenario. These summaries are written by the staffs of Blinkist who love to read.

Continue reading…

Also, I found that for some authors that I can’t stand their attitudes or repetitive writing styles, but they did make some good points in their books (like The 4-Hour Workweek), with Blinkist I can grab the core ideas with all the arrogance or repetitive shaved off.

It can also be useful for single-purposed how-to guides, like learning some tips on cleaning up the room, without reading through a whole chapter (or chapters) of the life philosophy of the author (if you’re not interested in at all).

What We Gain from Reading?

During the free trial period, I picked up several new books and also some I’ve had read to compare and try to make a baseline of the evaluation.

The summary is of good quality, and I love the final “Actionable advice” on the last page to give you some guidance on what you can act upon right now, usually something small that you can start immediately.

Although it helped me quickly consumed some books on my to-read list, I didn’t proceed to subscribe. Something was missing for me, some key ingredients. It got me think what we actually gain from reading.

A Source of Food

Whenever I start a new book, it feels like I’m on a new journey. I have this hope beforehand where it should and would lead me to, even though most of the time I won’t get exactly where I planned to be, the journey itself is valuable.

The materials presented in the way are good supplies for thoughts. They may not directly contribute to the point of the book or are trivial and off-topic, but it inspires me to ponder, to seek the answer myself. These “by-products” are missed if you’re running too fast.

It reminds me of the movie Passengers, where they found the meaning of life “during the journey”, not as planned after arriving at the destination.

Bullets are the backbone, but we may need more flesh.

In Control?

I was gonna say it could be a good “addition” to my day-to-day reading activity. But what put me off was the lack of options of the pricing plans.

The subscription is $50 a year, with a $80 Premium plan that provides better functions like audios and sync. Interestingly you can’t pay monthly, need to be 1-year upfront. I wonder if they made it that way to prevent people from signing up just for 1 month and reading like a marathon and then just bailing out.

This “lack of options” led me to think I’m less in control (exactly the case mentioned in 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People). If it has had the monthly option, I’d probably sign up and forget about it and let it last for a year heh, who knows heh?

Nonetheless, I’d still recommend you to check out the 1-day free trial, especially with the App that can read it for you, and decide if it’s worth for you or not.

August 27, 2017 Product, Book

Book: Irresistible - Are We Lack of Will Power or Wired That Way?

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Having experienced obsessively refreshing the website and checking how many likes I got in the early days of Facebook, a hate-it-but-can-not-stop-doing-it behavior that I couldn't explain myself,
I hope that this book - "Irresistible", would provide more insights on this topic.

With the question in mind, I started reading.

Continue reading...

Reading Roadmap

This is my "Peek into the Future" series of reading, a "sequel" of the previous book I read - "Thank You for Being Late". Both books reflect on the issues caused by current technologies, while this one focuses on the behavioral addiction in smartphones, video games, wearable techs, emails, and so on.

Precious, Timely and Relevant

A Reflect on the Ethics of Design

It's the first book I read that questions the ethics of design of video games, wearable techs, social networks and upcoming VR tech. After years of trial and error, designers have learned and become capable of engineering a system that could abuse the weakness of human being, a weaponized product through thousands of tests that could easily outpace our willpower.

Also, as a software engineer, my company as any other companies, want people to use our products simply, more. The more people use the better. No companies would say "it's enough".

But imagine this, if they use our products 24x7x365, does it improve their lives or rather cause destructions? If I were in a company developing a highly addictive service like YouTube or Netflix or World of Warcraft that keeps so many users hooked to a degree that they can't stop even they want to, would I just blame them lack of willpower and self controls, or would I have this self-consciousness to say, "here we are abusing the human weakness, using it to our advantage, and it's evil"? Quote the book, "There are a thousand people on the other side of the screen who job it is to break down the self-regulation you have."

It made me think about the responsibilities as "the guy on the other side of the screen", to re-examine the ethics when designing a product.


One interesting fact I learned and got surprised was that Steve Jobs chose to not give an iPad to his kids. Evan Williams, a founder of Twitter and Medium, bought hundreds of books for his two young sons but refused to give them an iPad. "As if the people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: never get high on your own supply."

A Reflect on the Parenting

There are some great pieces in the book that showcased why too much time in front of a screen can affect a child's empathy.

Cyberbullying, or even any other mean conversations sent through message apps, provides zero nonverbal cues, hence hard for children to build empathy.

"Screens" makes parenting easy. But the book calls for more.

Parents have always taught their children how to eat, when to sleep, and how to interact with other people, but parenting today is incomplete without lessons on how to interact with technology, and for how long each day.

After reading it, I imagined, if I want to be a role model for my kids in the future, how I should behave myself these days, and this book showed some methods.

A Reflect on the Grit vs Addiction

When I was half way through the book, I can't help but comparing it to the other book Grit (and I almost shouted out when it literally used the word "grit" once in the book!). For the almost same stories - like a long-time runner who runs everyday for nearly 40 years - in the other book it'd be modeled as the perfect role model of grit, but here it could be treated as a behavioral addict.

What's the difference? It's the mindset. If he pictures the exercise as a core activity to live a healthy life and chooses to do it every day, then it's a display of true grit. But if he's driven by the numbers/goals shipped from the wearable techs, feeling irresistible of breaking the streaks, forcing himself to go out even when he's physically ill, that's an addiction.


Here Is the Big But...

The most critical problem is, you won't learn that much about what the book was titled to teach - ingredients of the behavioral addiction and how to engineer it. You'd get that kind of "aha" moments a lot, but each chapter is not explained in full lengths, and it rarely pieces them altogether.

It felt like the same cotton candy wispy knowledge I get from reading hundreds of articles on my phone but having trouble recounting what I really know now after all that consumption
(One review from Goodreads)

And after 10+ chapters of reviewing the history and revealing the components, you'd expect some sort of solutions or redemptions. Ironically, after criticizing addictive games all the way through, in the end it uses gamification at length as the suggestion to encourage and overcome some of the issues. Too thin.

Lastly, just a preference, but the writing is a little dry.

Some of the great quotes

Where once you had to seek out new goals, today they land, often uninvited, in your inbox and on your screen.
(On the "like" button on Facebook) Users were gambling every time they shared a photo, web link, or status update. A post with zero likes wasn't just privately painful, but also a kind of public condemnation... Like pigeons, we're more driven to seek feedback when it isn't guaranteed.
"I worry what happens when a violent video game feels like murder. And when pornography feels like sex. How does that change the way humans interact, function as a society?"
Wearable techs like the Apple Watch and Fitbit allow you to track your workouts, but they also discourage you from paying attention to your body's internal exhaustion cues.

Further Reading & Watching

I've tweeted on the same topics before, and I still enjoy reading/watching them again.

What's next for Me?

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life

This was directly mentioned in the book, I feel this is exactly the "system" I want to build into my life.

Instead of goals, live your life by systems. A system is "something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run." For a cartoonist, that might be drawing one cartoon per day; for a write, writing five hundred words per day. In contrast to goals, systems bring a steadier stream of low-grade highs. They're guides to a fulfilling life, day by day, rather than enticing pictures of some grand end goal without instructions for how to get there.

As for the continuous reading of the "futures", I have these 2 books in mind particularly:

Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It. A quick Ted talk to get the idea: https://www.ted.com/talks/marc_goodman_a_vision_of_crimes_in_the_future

The 100-year Life - Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, I don't want to retire :)

Ready Player One, it's a fiction set in the future where living in the VR world becomes the norm.

July 15, 2017 Book

Book: Thank You for Being Late

Book Thank you for being late

"The twenty-first century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today's rate of progress".

That's the time we are living at, and the book takes you on a trip to walk you through the accelerations in technology, climate and market, how they are collectively affecting our lives and how we as individuals, organizations, countries and human beings should learn to adapt to this new pace of change.

I love 2/3 of the book.

Continue reading...


No matter if you check technology news regularly or not, it's a quite well-packed content that can give you a real feeling of how life could be in the future, and what to do when technology accelerates faster than humans can cope.

Also, the story about folks in Africa, had to leave their home and head north, but stuck in the middle and probably can never meet family again, truly touched me.

Quoting the books:

Tell these young African men that their odds of getting to Europe are tiny and they will tell you, as one told me, that when you don't have enough money to buy even an aspirin for your sick mother, you don't calculate the odds. You just go.

no work in the village, went to the town, no work in the town, heading north. (And never ended up going Europe or back home)

And in the chapter "Is God in Cyberspace", it reflects issues about current social media like harassment, fake news, echo chamber, angry mobs, etc. It sets the context in the political situation, but I think it applies everywhere.

Our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. It's as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.

It's the one chapter I do want to read again.


What I don't like much, firstly is the title of the book. To me it's a bait, "Thanks for being late" is also the title of chapter 1, and it doesn't really capture the whole idea of this book at all. As for the meaning of "Thanks for being late", I'm a person who doesn't like to be late, and holds a moderate tolerance of waiting for the late people, the title gives me too much "fake hope" or "fake image", "it's not something I imagined or something you promised", it feels like that.

Next is the slogan in the subtitle: "An optimist's guide to thriving in the age of accelerations", is not deeply explained. Some reviews in Goodreads also expressed similar thoughts, and his "return to Minnesota" perspective was long on nostalgia and short on being a "guide to thriving". I rarely say this about books, but I do want to take back my time on reading the 2 "Minnesota" chapters.

What I dislike the most, is the way he implicitly displayed as if only America is the "hero" country who fight against Russia, China and so on - so to keep the peace of the world and save from those "evils". Throughout the book, he set the scene in a global scope and did a good job analyzing the world nowadays, but in the end, as for the most important answer of how to cope, it suddenly srhinked to America only, what a waste.


That's the 1/3 I disliked but overall, I liked the experience, and that's the most important thing. It fed my brain and provided the opportunity to reflect technology as a whole based on my experience. Also took me to as far as Africa continuent, as close as inside Google's self-driving car, I appreciate the work and I got a lot out of it.


"Thank you for being late "on Goodreads

May 13, 2017 Book

Book: On Writing Well

I like to peek into people's workflow and tool kit. It can be watching how a person drips a cup of coffee, from grinding the beans to pouring into a pre-heated mug; It can be observing how a chef cooks a dish, from choosing the ingredients to presenting it on the plate; It can also be, exactly what I'm gonna write about - reading a book about how a writer thinks and writes, from mastering basic principles to adjusting the attitudes.

Continue reading...

Ever since I turned into 30, I've noticed an emerging needs to pin down who I once was, to ponder on who I really am and where I'm heading, to seek the meanings of life from all sorts of unexpectedness. My two great companions on this quest have been reading and writing. This book is perfect: it kills two birds with one stone. (Not like I got my 2 companions killed.)

I am a writer and I'm not. I am a writer because I write stuff regularly, but before that I love to think about stuff. Whenever I'm not talking - my majority life has been like that - I'm thinking about something inside. Meaningless or not, it doesn't matter. That something keeps me alive, and only through writing I can put those thoughts in a logical order and make sense out of it.

I'm not a writer in terms of professionals who publish some books and make a living with it. But I won't stop day dreaming that one day I might reach more readers not with better stories but with stories that are written better.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book. No matter what type of writers you are, this book give you some guidance:

On writing skills (principles and methods)

  • How to choose and tweak words, lead and end
  • How to organize long pieces of information and where to stop
  • How to put your style, your symbols into your writing?
  • Should or should not indulge a humor that you're worried about whether the reader will "get it"
  • How to tweak rhythm and alliteration
  • Why rewrite is so critical
  • ...

On different formats of writings

  • How to write about people, place and yourself (memoir)
  • How to write subjects out of your specialty
  • How to write reviews and critics
  • ...

On attitudes

  • Who are you writing for ultimately?
  • How to fight fear, find confidence and have fun
  • ...

I especially enjoyed the technique of using thesaurus dictionary to choose words, not just to find more precise ones but also to make it sound good. Readers not just read your words, they also hear them. I think that's one of the secret ingredients why good articles read instinctively good - it's fine tuned for our palate.

And I loved the attitudes part the most. Even though the author is targeting non-fiction writers, the fundamental about writing or perfection can be applied to any fields that requires hard work and craftsmanship.

He also showed me writing well is not about talents but constant efforts:

"What do you do on days when it isn't going well?"

The professional writer must establish a daily schedule and stick to it. Writing is a craft, not an art, and that the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspirations is fooling himself. He is also going broke.

"What if you're feeling depressed or unhappy? Won't that affect your writing?"

If you job is to write ever day, you have to learn to do it like any other job.

"Ultimately the product that any writer has to sell is not the subject being written about, but who he or she is. What holds me is the enthusiasm of the writer for his field." As a person who has never lived in any English-speaking countries, learned it as 3rd language and only holds limited vocabularies in hands (can't blame anyone for this), I'm never confident enough to write with it. But language is a beautiful thing - with simple words and sentences I can still be myself and further find some missing fragments of myself within it, which can't be found in my native language.

I'm gonna continue this journey with 4 core lessons learned from the book: clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity. Now I've doubled my dual weapons, I hope and I can go out hunt for 2 birds, or 3.

November 27, 2016 Book

Why Books Have To Be So Long?

Have you ever felt this way? "This is a great book but I only wish it could be shorter".

thick book

I've never finished Getting Things Done, the famous personal productivity and task management book. Even though I love the idea and concept, there're way more words seemingly unrelated or off topic. Don't feel motivated enough to continue, that's why I dropped out.

Continue reading...

Another one is the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, part of me still feel ashamed not finishing this book but same reason above, too redundant.

Not All of Us Want Quick-fix But...

It's not like all of us want a bullet points or checklists to quick fix whatever problems in our life. We pick up the book instead of just googling "how to blah blah blah" right?

So I really hope there is a good balance point once the story is well told, conclusion is laid out, then that's it, no more off topic contents to make an already great work less great.

Books That Are Short Yet Great

Among all the books I've read, REMOTE is outstanding because of its contents and its length. Precise, concise and convincing. I remember the author mentioned that after they wrote the whole book, they cut it to half size to save readers' time.

The free ebook "SHAVE 10 HOURS OFF YOUR WORKWEEK" by Michael Hyatt is another great example, only 50 pages but it perfectly covers all the points.

And one timely tweet I saw recently is this: "21 minutes edited down to 14 minutes (- 33%) because I respect your time."

Isn't this another great aspect of delivering your contents that most book authors are either ignoring or being kept in blindspot? You don't need to pack tons of words to make it a book, while you can write a blog post.

May 06, 2016 Book

Book: David Beckham

This book covered all those major moments of his football life. From his childhood, how he got his work ethic from the family background, where he's love for Manchester United is from, to the "infamous" tragedy in 1998 World Cup, last 3 minutes vs Bayern Munich in 1999 UEFA Champions League final, 2002 revenge to Argentina, to the final match as a football player. In a very personal story telling way, as if he's sitting there talking to you. I've watched some of his talks before, gentle, humble, honest. You would enjoy this book if you are a fan of David Beckham for sure.

Continue reading...

I still remember the 1998 World Cup England vs Argentina match, vividly. I was just about getting 15, the good age to be able to fully enjoy the football match, just started to understand the tactics of teams and skills of individuals. That year was special to me, and what made it more special was that match.

As Beckham wrote himself, after he was provoked by Argentina player Simeone and got sent off the pitch, and then was blamed for the lose of the game, "I was the most hated man in England". There're people, super skilled, super smart, but they just like the dirty plays and mental tricks, Simeone is one of them, to me at least. And Beckham as the inexperienced player that year, paid the price, he suffered a lot. What made it worse was that his families were also involved in that national hatred. There was an envelop with bullets in it sent to his house. His dad was yelled by a stranger in the street. During that dark era was his teammates and his club, Manchester United and its supporters embraced him. You would thank the past self that you've had done something with your full heart and earned those respects and people around, that one day when you really need a hug, they would come to you.

I would also like to mention about his work ethic. He wrote in the book that throughout his career he had been getting this criticism that he's more of a fashion star rather than a football player. Maybe it's because his handsome look, maybe because he married to a fashion star, but people may not know that how much effort he had put into training and practicing. Those free kicks are not luck. That's a natural consequence. He started practice earlier than everyone, and stayed late than everyone in the team. Rainy days, snowy days, all the same.

Confidence is a funny thing. People often say that you need a lot of luck to win. But, for me, confidence comes down to preparation. When you have practiced something so much that is has become a part of who you are. Second nature.

When Beckham talks about free kicks and confidence.


Football is a sport, but in many ways, it's also an attitude to life. To me Beckham made a huge positive influence on/off the pitch, to his supporters and enemies.

Note: The kindle version of this book is unlike the normal ebook, more like scanned and turned it to a pdf, has the original book layout but it also makes it terrible to read on laptop/phone, and can't highlight or keep any notes. A hardcover book is recommended.

April 02, 2016 Book

Book: Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

A book about self-justification

How do you see yourself, and how would you describe it?

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

Until I read this book, I've seen myself as a rational, reasonable human being, most of the decisions I made were the best judgements I could give given the situation I was in. Of course I made mistakes, and there're some "would have's" but most of the people would've done the same. I act like as a humble person everyday but I do know deep down there's a arrogant aspect of myself, and I'm fine with that.

This book just helps me to uncover those events I consciously or subconsciously self-justified as "I'm right", it could be perfectly described as:

When we explain our own behavior, self-justification allows us to flatter ourselves: We give ourselves credit for our good actions but let the situation excuse the bad ones.

Self-Justification

The book explores self-justification through the territories of family, marriage, memory, therapy, law, prejudice, conflict and war. It helps us to preserve our beliefs, confidence, self-esteem and self-image, but also could get us into big trouble in all these areas.

You may or may not be aware of it, but it's happening everywhere. Like when you take a super cheap economic flight you would speak to yourself, "look at how much money I've saved, this is definitely worth the pain and inconvenience", and once you get the chance to take on first class, "look at the service and comfortable seat, this is definitely worth the extra money to enjoy a good journey".

There're some fascinating writings and stories in the book, how politicians could ever speak like a silly person, how the law enforcement is flawed, how even professionals reject obvious evidences and still claim they're right, how convenient memory is and could be tweaked to support our version of self-image, how perpetrator and victims interpret to same event, and how a person who seems perfectly normal could ever firmly truly believe he's abducted by an alien and even have children with them.

Here I'd like to pick up a few topics and add some of my takeaways.

A Pyramid of Choice

You may have heard the quote: "We are the choices we make", that's indeed the truth but itself fails to reveal a compound effect of decision making. It's as if we we gain 1 point when we do one thing good, and -1 when we do something wrong, but it's not that flat.

This book introduces this new concept of pyramid, a pyramid of choice. At the very beginning, we're all at the top of a pyramid, and then we face a situation in which both choices have each benefits and costs, like cheating or not cheating in an important life-changing exam. Then you make a decision with an implicit side-effect: you've justified it. Next time when you encounter the same situation, you're highly possible to repeat the same action you made before, otherwise how would you explain the last action? Admit you're wrong now?

Whenever you make a seemingly just one-time decision, you're actually starting a process of entrapment — action, justification, further action — that increases your intensity and commitment and may end up taking you far from your original intentions or principles. So each time, remind yourself: how do you want to step down the pyramid or just want to be slid down to nowhere near your initial goal. Once you slide down you would fight yourself so hard to climb up.

This also reminds me of the hot news: FBI tries to force Apple into a backdoored iOS for "just this one time, we swear!". Cook tells them no way. Apple is refusing to do so because that means to create a "master key" that could unlock any iPhone and no one could guarantee to do no evil.

Comparing the technology news to psychology may sounds absurd but I can't help thinking, does it also mean whenever we use the excuse "just this one time I swear" to indulge ourselves, we're indeed trying to forge a "evil master key" that leads to a dark path we definitely don't want to go in the first place.

The big question is, again, would you like to step down the pyramid, firmly, towards who you really want to be, or just slide down with some crappy excuses to nowhere near your original destination?

Self-awareness, Letting Go and Owning Up

The structure of book is Chapter 1~7 to explain in very details of self-justification in various areas, and then Chapter 8, the last chapter to give you some advice you can take once you're aware of the wrongs and want to make it right. Maybe it's constructed exactly this way to prevent people from hunting "quick-fixes", but if you're suffering extreme regret of actions you've taken, and eager find a way to cope with the scar on the soul, I recommend you to pick up this chapter first.

The book says there're 3 stages in the act.

  • Act 1 is the setup: the problem, the conflict the hero faces.
  • Act 2 is the struggle, in which the hero wrestles with betrayals, losses, or dangers.
  • Act 3 is the redemption, the resolution, in which the hero either emerges victorious or goes down in defeat.

People can't just skip the Act 2 to true redemption. It says "Active, self-reflective struggle to see the silver lining is a key ingredient of maturity."

The guidelines I summaries is:

1. Self Awareness - I Could Be Wrong

In our private relationships, we are on our own, and that calls for some self-awareness. Once we understand how and when we need to reduce dissonance, we can become more vigilant about the process and often nip it in the bud, catching ourselves before we slide too far down the pyramid. By looking at our actions critically and dispassionately, as if we were observing someone else, we stand a chance of breaking out of the cycle of action, followed by self-justification, followed by more committed action. We can learn to put a little space between what we feel and how we respond, insert a moment of reflection, and think about whether we really want to buy that canoe in January, really want to send good money after bad, really want to hold on to an opinion that is unfettered by facts.

2. Accountable External Procedure

Because most of us are not automatically self-correcting and because our blind spots keep us from knowing when we need to be, external procedures must be in place to correct the errors that human beings will inevitably make and reduce the chances of future ones.

3. The Arduous Journey to Self-Compassion

Something we did can be separated from who we are and who we want to be. Our past selves need not be a blueprint for our future selves.

The road to redemption starts with the understanding that who we are includes what we have done but also transcends it, and the vehicle for transcending it is self-compassion.

Getting to true self-compassion is a process; it does not happen overnight. It does not mean forgetting the harm or error, as in “Ah, well, I’m basically a good, kind person, so I’ll treat myself gently and move on.” No; you might be a good, kind person but you are one who committed a grievously harmful act. That’s part of you now, of who you are. But it need not be all of you. It need not define you—unless you keep justifying that act mindlessly.

At last, as the book says, the most dangerous thing is not you make a mistake and find an excuse to escape from it, it's the terrible thing you committed and are still being blind about it. I was that person, and I'm feeling extremely thankful for this book to make me open my eyes and reflect on past events.

I confess, I was wrong, I'm sorry.

February 27, 2016 Self Development, Book

Book "Essentialism - The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

"Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Have you ever felt both overworked and underutilized? Have you ever found yourself majoring in minor activities? Do you ever feel busy but not productive?"

This book is about answers to these questions. The key messages and takeaways for me are:

  • Life is a tradeoff. You can’t have it all, therefore you have to choose, choose what matters the most. Less, but better.
  • You have to give yourself permission to say No to others, so you can say Yes to your goal and make highest contribution.
  • It’s not about getting more things done, it’s about getting the right things done. Effective over productive. I love this so much.

If You Don’t Have Time to Read it…

Here is a great video reviewing this book, and actually I started reading it because of this video. To be honest I think it might be arguably better than the book itself. If you don’t have enough time, just check out the video, should take you less than 25 minutes.

Chapters I Would Like to Read Twice

Part I: Essence: What is the core mind-set of an Essentialist?

  • CHOOSE: The Invincible Power of Choice
  • DISCERN: The Unimportance of Practically Everything
  • TRADE-OFF: Which Problems Do I want?

Part II: Explore: How can we discern the trivial many from the vital few?

  • SLEEP: Protect the Asset
  • SELECT: The Power of Extreme Criteria

Part III: Eliminate: How can we cut out the trial many?

  • DARE: The Power of a Graceful “No”

Part IV: Execute: How can we make doing the vital few things almost effortless?

  • PROGRESS: The Power of Small Wins

Overview

The first part, the "What" part, is really great. All the problems introduced there are so real, I could map literary everything to my real life. Very inspirational.

But sadly the following chapters, the "how" part, are less compelling to me. I agree with the general idea, it’s just the examples and evidences are not convincing enough.

Overall it’s a good book, I’d rate it 4 out of 5. It does give me positive energies and courages to improve my life, makes me pause to think about the past, which choices were made by “default”(others) and which were made by “design”(me), makes me think twice before purchase any non-essential items, makes me observe my bad habits & routines and fix them, makes me pursue less but better.

p.s. I didn't title this post as "Book Review", as I realized the word "review" is too big for me, makes me want to cover every aspect of the book, pros and corns, scan every note and highlight I made during the reading, that is overwhelming and will simplify stops me from writing. “Done is better than perfect”, indeed, the essential thing for me is to write this post and share my findings!

November 18, 2014 Book