Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book Review: My Life as an Experiment

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This was the second A. J. Jacobs book that I read, the first being The Year of Living Biblically.  Since I credit that book with being so hysterical and thought-provoking and interesting and faith-nurturing (yes, he wrote it as a secular Jew, but I'm serious) that it got me excited about reading again, I figured I should give another book of his a try.
The verdict: It wasn't nearly as good as The Year of Living Biblically.  BUT--it was still good.  I think I was expecting big things after the other book.  I want to do more than a traditional review because I want to share some interesting points I found in each chapter.  There's some good stuff here.

Jacobs likes to do experiments in his life; like living every biblical law literally for a year or reading the entire encyclopedia.  This book gave a chapter each to different experiments he tried out.  The first chapter was my favorite.  Jacobs had read that multi-tasking was actually bad for you and I was intrigued since this is a notion I have come to hold as well.  So he set out on a month of uni-tasking.  It was great.  I employed the uni-tasking for the day and have at least tried to keep it in mind ever since.  (To keep himself focused, Jacobs starts saying out loud exactly what he is doing or about to do.  "I am going to the bathroom.")  A nugget I flagged with Post-it flags to share with you dear readers:

"The very act of saying, 'I'm angry' makes you less angry.  It lights up the language centers in the brain, which are in the more evolved cerebral cortex, which allows you to better control yourself.  When you label something, you gain a level of mastery over it."

The next chapter dealt with outsourcing.  Jacobs outsources everything in his life for a month--down to calling his mom and arguing with his wife.  He had two women in India doing everything for him--even buying things and having them sent to him he could have walked down the street and brought home himself.  My favorite part was when he received a confirmation e-mail that his parents had been called for their anniversary.  There was a detailed description of the call where  the outsourced caller introduced himself and asked about the weather, etc.  Made me really want to outsource a call to my parents just to see how funny that conversation could be.  I bet the best would be outsourcing a call to my grandmother.

The most interesting tale from the outsourcing was a guy who read about what Jacobs was doing and decided to outsource his own job hunt.  And it worked!

I found the chapter on radical honesty to be somewhat overdone.  I felt like reading it was akin to reading that John Lennon quote about understanding life: I've heard the idea so many times it does not seem inspiring or revolutionary to me at all anymore.  Two nuggets I did flag were:

"I'm especially fond of Radical Honesty about my own flaws and mistakes.  I love the liberating feeling.  No desperate scrambles to come up with excuses.  No searching my memory banks to figure out what I told Peter versus Paul.  It's all out there.  Yeah, I screwed up."

"Words can be dangerous...they can become self-fulfilling prophecies.  You say out loud that your wife's friend is boring, then next time you see her, you perceive her as more boring."

A good reason to practice the old rule: if you can't say something nice, don't say anything.

Jacobs also did a month being as rational as possible--you know, not making decisions simply out of habit or comfort and not succumbing to irrational thoughts like, I always pick the slowest line at the store.  Nuggets flagged in this section:

"Source Amnesia.  We forget where we learned a fact.  Facts are initially stored in a pinkie-shaped region called the hippocampus.  But eventually the information shifts over to the cerebral cortex--where, as Welcome to Your Brain authors Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt put it, it is 'separated from the context in which it was originally learned...'...A fact learned in the Wall Street Journal gains as much credulity as a 'fact' learned from your cousin's barber."

Jacobs also shares that he started reading conservative "musings" in order to prevent himself from becoming too extreme--a tip shared by his distant cousin who not only reads things he disagrees with, but things that annoy him.  He conducted an experiment in which he had two groups discuss politics.  Conservatives only and liberals only.  It resulted in the conservatives becoming more conservative and the liberals becoming more liberal.  Extremism is a dangerous thing--I advise you to regularly read some of those links your friends with opposing viewpoints post on Facebook.  It's good for you.

And the last rationality nugget I liked: eating spaghetti for breakfast.  One of the things I learned and liked the most about working night shift was that I can eat anything any time of the day.  When you work nights, you overcome all those societal eating norms and I learned how to eat whatever I felt like no matter what the hour.  And I also learned how to just eat whenever I was hungry and not be ruled by eating at certain times or eating just 3 meals a day.

The last two chapters dealt with Jacobs's wife--she's been called a saint by many who understand what this man does for a living.  He spent a month doing everything she said (can you imagine!?!) and also underwent a brain scan to see if he did, in fact, scientifically, medically, love his wife.  He does :-)

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