5 of my favorite psychology books

52 Comments

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One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “Who do you admire?” That and “What kind of underwear are you wearing?” You can learn a lot about someone with these questions. Trust me. I tested it.

It’s always fascinating to hear what people are reading. And since one of the most common emails I get is, “What books do you read?” I thought I’d share 5 of my favorite psychology books here.

I’ve told you how I spend over $50,000/year investing in myself via courses, books, conferences, and travel. The amount isn’t the point. The fact that you can accelerate your career, health, productivity, and relationships by years is an incredible thing.

In fact, books are some of the best investments you can make. My book, for example, took about 10 years to develop and 2 years to write. It costs less than $10. You can tap into the very best of my automated systems for less than the cost of a movie ticket — and get results like this.

So, I hope you decide to pick up one of these books — or any other great book — today. After reading hundreds of books on psychology, I’m only going to share the very best ones with you. Each of these has changed my life.

 

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
A book ostensibly about our invisible eating habits that is actually a deeply researched, phenomenally interesting book on our behavior. If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t lose weight even though you really want to, this book will explain how our situational circumstances are profoundly related to our behavior. Read this and you will never think the same about food or health again.

 

Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion
One of my favorite books on understanding why we behave the way we do. Aronson, the co-author, guest-lectured at Stanford and his class was one of the most thought-provoking ones I ever took. Learn how the media, our friends, and even we ourselves cause us to behave in unexpected ways. Each and every aspect of this book is rooted in theoretical literature, but it is incredibly fascinating to read.

 

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
The grandfather of all persuasion books, Cialdini put his years as the world’s foremost persuasion expert into this book. Impressively, this book is equally interesting to the ordinary reader as it is to persuasion experts. He distills years of research into a few critical principles that help you understand how to influence others and yourself — and how to protect yourself from unethical persuasion.

 

Breakthrough Advertising
One of the most sophisticated books on advertising ever written. Virtually every master-level direct-response copywriter has read this book once, and most read it every year, only to discover new insights. Be warned: This is extremely dense copy. I don’t recommend it to anyone but experienced copywriters, marketers, and psychologists. But beneath the verbiage are profound insights that have stood the test of time.

 

The Social Animal
Another book by Eliot Aronson, this is a terrific primer on how our environment shapes our behavior. If the average American read this book (and had the cognitive wherewithal to believe/trust it, which is another story), they would be shocked. For all the people who say, “Ugh! Fat people should just stop eating so much!” or “I would NEVER do ___” they would be terribly troubled to learn that a sophisticated persuader — given enough time — can create a situation powerful enough to persuade you to do almost anything. Murder. Gaining 45lbs. Allowing yourself to be abused. Or, on the positive side, to lose weight, become healthier, improve your vocabulary, manage your money, and become friendlier.

 

One last thing:  I did an interview with my mentor, Stanford psychology professor BJ Fogg, where we covered our favorite psychology/persuasion studies. We also shared some of our own theories with each other, many of which we haven’t released publicly. The interview took me over 15 hours to prepare for, and I decided to offer it for free instead of charging $1,000 — which it’s easily worth. If you’re interested, I recommend listening to it while reading one of the above books. It will give you an incredibly rich experience on the entire field of persuasion that a book alone could never provide. You can download the audio interview (with transcript) for free, here.

P.S. How has IWT changed your perspective on behavioral change? Whether it’s money, health, relating to friends, persuading yourself to change…what’s ONE thing you’ve learned on this site? Leave a comment below.

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52 Comments

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  1. As a psychology major (years ago) who tries to keep up with the field, I have read most of the books recommended. Of those books, I found “Mindless Eating” was the most eye-opening for me. I loved “I Will Teach You to be Rich,” but was already applying most of those principles. (My husband, however, completely changed his behavior after reading the book. It was the ONLY finance book that he ever finished reading and the only book that made him start handling his money in a reasonable way. Powerful stuff!

    In IWT, the most important message I’ve learned is that all the knowledge in the world of what to do, does not make us do it. It has made me mindful of actually finding my own personal motivation to do what I’m supposed to do, then actually getting off my duff and doing it. It sounds so simple, but it can be hard to do, and you have to dig deep to find the proper motivation (in my experience, anyway). The payoff, though, is huge. Thanks, Ramit.

  2. Two psychology books that I really liked:
    Thinking, Fast and Slow – Kahneman
    Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) – Tavris and Aronson

  3. I look forward to checking these out. Thanks! I also wanted to pass on a recommendation for Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I read a lot of psychology-related books (though, strangely, none of the ones that you mentioned here–yet), but Cain’s is by far the most thorough and fascinating one I’ve read in a while. I’m guessing you’re very firmly on the extroverted side of the spectrum, but your interest in understanding why people act the way they do would make it a worth-while and enjoyable read.

    • I agree–this is an excellent book! I “faked” extroversion for years in business, and it worked okay, but I always felt awful. I’m so glad this book is out there for those starting out as introverts. It is reassuring to know they can be themselves and still succeed. (Ramit’s earlier testimony about the introvert who was successful is also a good read.)

    • Didn’t want to just post a me-too! comment, but I can’t recommend Quiet enough. A really great book. You can get a semi-preview of it by watching her TED talk here http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html

    • Thanks so much for posting this recommendation. I’m adding this to my booklist for this year. :)

  4. Ramit,

    Honestly, I cannot whittle it down to a single thing that I have learned from IWT, because I have learned numerous important lessons! One of the most important lessons is that the barriers that we put up that prevent us from taking action that we rationally know would be enormously positive for our lives (eg. earn1k) separate the truly successful people from the “shoulda couldas” (like me, I am ashamed to admit.) Can you just create a virtual boot and give me a good ass kicking right now?!!

    Thank you for all that you do, Ramit. Great stuff as always!!

  5. Nicholas Peddle Link to this comment

    You can’t just try harder to change bad habits. It is easier to create new good habits.

  6. Stephanie Biscardi Link to this comment

    Ramit,

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion for a while now-great read, with some scary, yet interesting stuff!

    When I was reading your transcript with BJ, your comment on attractiveness made me think of this TED talk by Denis Dutton, which might quench your curiosity about the topic.

    He explains a theory behind attractiveness, and why we appreciate/respect beauty in regards to evolution-based psychology.

    DenisDutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty
    http://youtu.be/PktUzdnBqWI

    -Stephanie

  7. i learnt abt the power of automation from IWT. previously i was keeping track of my money closely and paying my CC bills on time but manually. now i’m try to automate and it’s great cos i think and worry less abt my monthly budget. also, putting $500 buffer into my checking acct is psychologically assuring, wrt my cashflow. thanks ramit!

  8. Couldnt agree more. Continued learning is at the core of how I live my life. It’s cool to see some of your favorites. I read Influence about 5 years ago and have even taught a lot of its content. That book has so many real world applications in every facet of life, it’s unreal. I’m currently exploring Psycho Cybernetics after seeing it brought up several times in recent readings. Always enjoy your content. Keep crushing it Ramit!

  9. The time is now.

  10. I have to say what has most impacted me has been acknowledging my hidden scripts and trying to overcome them. I will also definitely check out those books!

  11. There’s a book that Aronson coauthored with Carol Tavris that is one of my favorite books of all time.

    Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

    http://www.amazon.com/Mistakes-Were-Made-But-Not/dp/0151010986

    You should check it out, it’s amazing.

  12. Unfortunately Breakthrough Advertising only seems to have used copies available for $90+, seems pretty rare. Bet that book would see some value as a reprint. But given the immensely high praise you gave it, maybe $90 is easily worth it? Might work like a fine bottle of wine, I’ll end up liking it more even though the taste is no different..

    • It’s been worth 1000x that to me in a single month.

    • I found the books I hadn’t read on the list available at my public library. Have you tried your library? Most have online catalogs for reserving books now. If they don’t have it, can you get it inter-library loan? (That’s usually just the cost of postage to/from the library.) The book is worth the money, but if you’re struggling like me, the library is a literal gold mine of information.

    • If you’ve got a library card, I have two words for you “interlibrary loan”. You can read it for free and spend the money you saved on the lattes Ramit is so fond of.

  13. Another book that you / your community may want to lay hands on is Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. It offers an effective framework based on how human’s receive ideas – and also shows how to use that information to (ethically) control social dynamics in a business deal.

    The amazon link is http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pitch-Anything-Innovative-Presenting-Persuading/dp/0071752854

  14. Well, then. I just bought a $90 book. Looking forward to learning from it. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Its worth it – but it will take a while to complete. Very “heavy” read.

    • Ross, don’t feel too bad. 1) as Ramit, said the book is actionable and priceless; 2) even when it was in print, its price was $99 so you haven’t overpaid relative to the thousands who purchased it before you. Best wishes.

    • Btw, thanks to my friend Michael for first recommending this book. He actually used to know Eugene Schwartz (author of Breakthrough Advertising) when he was alive. Check out michaelfishmanconsulting.com for more.

    • Thanks Ramit,

      It’s now a $174.49 book! Or a whooping £188.94 from Amazon UK!
      I’ve ordered the other 4 books though (a total of under £20!)

  15. Alexander Boland Link to this comment

    I started getting into this kind of psychology when I read “Nudge” and “Blink” within a short span of each other. The problem came off to me as tricky–sometimes intuition is the devil that makes us do stupid stuff, other times it’s much smarter than our more “logical” thinking. It was a bit of a paradox that I wanted to figure out for the sake of better problem solving.

    The breakthrough I saw with IWT was an emphasis on how to be systematic about changing something. The 80/20 guide to finding jobs was very widely applicable to me–it helped me learn how to identify when the reason one isn’t making progress is because of some weak point in the system. If we can understand the system, then we can save our “willpower” for the places where it has a disproportionate impact.

  16. The short version: You’ve taught me that when I design a weight loss program, I must design a behavior change program as much as a physiological program.

    The long version: At the gym where I work, we are currently running a weight loss challenge. Another trainer wrote the program and nutritional advice, I am simply there to help, but I get to write and run the next session of the program.

    The program itself is very good in terms of the physiological aspect of losing weight. However, there is a huge lack of phsycological understanding and no help in getting them to change their behavior. The program doesn’t have anything built in to help people set themselves up for success, other than “try harder” and “eat the foods we say.”

    The people who are not succeeding have lots of phsycological barriers hindering them. Specific examples of this:

    - Social: All of her friends are obese and making rude comments to her, out of jealousy. It is difficult for her to cope with the comments because she “doesn’t want to lose her friends”

    - One woman feels like the exercises are not going to be work for her because she is “not coordinated enough” to do bodyweight squats and lunges.

    Another way I feel the program lacks in helping behavior change is dealing with stressful jobs that don’t allow for several small meals all day. One woman works long hours in a courtroom that doesn’t allow food or drink. Rather than help her develop a plan to eat appropriately within her requirements, the trainer told her that there was no way her situation could possibly be as bad as she imagined and she needs to just try harder.

    What I’ve learned watching this weight loss challenge unfold is that for the next session that my biggest challenge will be getting them to change their behavior. It will need to be designed in such a way that creates behavior change and has mechanisms to help them through setbacks.

    Interesting sidenote: Triggers

    - One woman could no longer buy dress pants at the store. She went online and ordered a pair of size 22 pants. When they arrived, they didn’t fit, she broke down in tears and decided to lose weight.
    - One woman has Irritible Bowel Syndrome and no longer wants to take medication.
    - One man is over 400 pounds and wants to live long enough to watch his daughters grow up.
    - One woman thinks she wants to lose weight, but signed up for the challenge as moral support for her friend. (she’s not doing well)

    • Genius comment. Everybody read this.

    • Are any adjustments in the weight loss program made to have “small goals” and “small wins”? It sounds like the woman who feels she lacks coordination may be trying to do the exercises with too much weight for a beginner. Even doing the exercises with a can of peas is better than not doing the exercise at all. And if she can succeed with small wins, she might not win the competition, but she could lose some weight.

      As for the person who can’t eat multiple small meals, surely some accommodation to the recommended eating program can be made. I’m guessing there are at least a few bathroom breaks during the day. Could she substitute a protein bar or shake during breaks for the recommended foods? They fit in a briefcase or purse and can be eaten very quickly. Could she also have them on her commute to and from the courtroom? There has to be a work-around.

      Good luck with handling the next program. It sounds like you really know what needs to be done. Too bad the head organizer doesn’t. (I bet that person never had to lose weight in his/her life.)

  17. The value of testing. Anything you want to change, any plan you want to put in place to make that change, can be helped by testing, tracking results and adjusting. Total game changer for me, because I no longer get stopped at “that would never work” or “that will just be a waste of time.” Will it? Let’s try and see, let’s see how I get stuck, and see what else I could try instead.

    Meanwhile, I have to chime in with my own suggestion, by Stanford’s Carol Dweck, “Mindset.” I dismissed this book, unread, for six months: Oh, so if I’m just super positive, I’ll be happier. Thanks for the obvious advice. But that’s not the takeaway at all: The human brain *is* plastic, *is* capable of learning and talking yourself into believing the opposite — blanket statements that people either are or aren’t smart, that a mistake makes you an idiot — actually limits your cognitive growth.

  18. One of the many ideas your blog and book has helped me with is that the environment is more important in behavior change then will power/motivation. Setting up a good environment is better then “trying harder”

    Ex Just the other day my fiance and I went to the local bar to watch the fights. Last time we went there to watch the fights we both felt guilty afterwards because of the amount we drink and ate and thus spent. However, this time we both felt really happy with ourselves because we dramatically consumed and spent less. As we walked home we talked about it and it was so apparent how a few small changes in the environment made a big difference. 1 ate a big meal just before going out 2 sate at two random chairs that did not have a server. We had to physically walk 15 feet to the bar and fight through the people and finally get bar tenders attention. All of these little things added up to a 50+% less bill at the end of the night.

    Had we not eaten as late or sat right at the bar, our will power would have been tested and destroyed. These kinds of positive constraints are huge and I am constantly looking for them in different areas of life.
    Thanks Ramit.

  19. One thing that I’ve learned that has affected my life the most is your thoughts on “deeply understanding your customer.”

    I’ve found that this concept applies in countless situations. It works in business (of course), it works in leadership, persuasion, negotiating, debates with friends, teaching/mentoring students, winning arguments… the list goes on.

    Thanks Ramit

  20. One of the best books that I’ve read recently was Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

    http://www.amazon.com/Switch-Change-Things-When-Hard/dp/0385528752

    I got the feeling that perhaps it was supposed to be entertaining rather than practical, especially compared to the books above. Would that be accurate? Looking forward to checking some of these books out :)

  21. I’ve learned many more things than just one, but the biggest one is understanding your customer. In my case my customer is really my boss and I knew I needed to really understand what she wanted from me to earn promotions and raises. Before I found your blog I was mindlessly coasting along and just doing the work I was assigned and not standing out in any way.

  22. This may not be the best post to log my feedback, but I’m too lazy to find some place more appropriate.

    I just beat out over a dozen applicants for a rental house and I have a baby, a dog, and two cats. I live in SF where the rental market is a ridiculous circus. People are offering their first born’s immortal soul for a place to live.

    How did I get the pick of not one, but two places I applied? By using some of the techniques I learned in Dream Job.

    I’m a solid applicant on paper (well, minus the pets), but there are others that look good too and have sad stories of why they need the place. Some people are willing to pay over the asking price. One guy had served at the same little known army base as the landlord. When the landlord heard that, he went over and HUGGED THE GUY. They spent 20 minutes connecting over that shared experience. I thought I was toast at that point.

    After the open house, in which I did my best to be friendly and personable, I followed up with an email with a list of three reasons I would make an excellent tenant. I didn’t say how much I wanted the place or how it fit my needs perfectly; I told the landlord how I could meet his needs. Simple things like I would sign a two year lease so he wouldn’t have to go through this painful process again in a year. I showed with a screenshot from streeteasy.com how the improvements I put into the last place I rented allowed the landlord to increase the rent after us by $700/month.

    Attached to the email was a video of me talking through these points and letting him meet my cute pets. I get to add a personal touch to a followup email and put a face to the name again.

    I got a call the next morning asking me if I wanted to rent the house. After the landlord told me I had the place, he said how he felt bad turning down so many people; people that laid sad stories on him, but in the end he had to do what was best for his property. And that was going with the guy that addressed the concerns that a landlord would have.

    I already got a $5k raise at work and now I’m going to save $600 month on rent and have more space. I was kinda iffy about dropping $2k on Dream Job but it’s going to pay for itself many times over. Thanks Ramit.

  23. Learning the psychology of change, one can’t just commit to change and easily accomplish it, has allowed me to (slowly, as I am determined to make profitable changes throughout the process) implement IWTYTBR systems. Progress is slower than I’d like, but making a schedule for each day (the night before) has been a huge help. Always working on it.

  24. [...] more here: 5 of my favorite psychology books July 9th, 2012 | Tags: ask-people | Category: [...]

  25. Check this out – Weight loss from a man’s perspective. The CEO of Weight Watchers shares his personal journey about keeping weight off. He mentions B.J. Fogg and Stanford, of course ;) http://manmeetsscale.com/?s=b.j.+fogg

  26. Awareness..of my behaviors that help with long and short term money goals. Yea, that is the good and the bad…glad to be able to give myself some credit after using some of the iwtr strategies, glad to be able to to re- assess, as they say, the strategies underutilized, and then examine why I need to use them…!

  27. “Predictably irrational” is also a fascinating book.

    Thank you for recommendations, Ramit, please do more posts like that!

  28. I’ve learned that the environment is more important than I tought.

    Now I try to surrender myself with people who accomplished what I’m working on. It’s just the beginning but I see the change.

  29. I’ve learned that the environment is more important than I tought.

    Now I try to surrender myself with people who accomplished what I’m working on. It’s just the beginning but I can already see the change.

  30. I this is what I have been looking for from you, Ramit. The most important things I always ask when I meet an interesting people is : would you share your bookmark and your favorite Books. From this, I will learn a lot . I support your intake about the fact that you can accelerate your career, health, productivity, and relationships by years by leaning some tolls I did leaning from Think and grow Rich By Napoleon Hill.
    Thanks Ramit

  31. Question for Ramit/Readers: What is the relationship between learning to influence people and getting people to like you? Are the skills the same? Is there a really good book that focuses in on the latter topic?

    Thanks!

  32. I know you’ve mentioned it before, but not here, but I really liked Clotaire Rapaille’s The Culture Code. Also Susan Cain’s Quiet.

  33. Schwartz’s book on Advertising is a must read for anyone who, as you put it, wants something “profound.” It’s inclusion, at the very least, elevates all the other books to must reads – IMO. Thanks for sharing and keep up the great work!

  34. One thing?? That’s hard so I’m listing more:
    -first it was big wins with salary/credit. And interest rates, etc.
    -then it was behavioral change in others and how people pretty much just won’t do it (except people like us, IWT readers) and it’s pointless to try to help them even when they ask unless they show signs of initiative.
    -now I can’t wait to read about people and behavior and why they are so effing stubborn even when it’s killing them (literally…my cousin “wanted help” with her tummy issues and then after she found out it was severe gluten intolerance has decided it’s all a load of crap and that’s just the way her tummy is).
    -and learn how to motivate myself better and carve out time to do the work and study I KNOW is necessary to continue being a top performer.

  35. One thing I learned from you is that sometimes I need to know why I have the scripts I have but most of the time I just need to know what the scripts are and what purpose they have been serving in the past. Once I know that I have leverage to write new ones that serve me in different ways so that I am not held back by things that no longer work. It isn’t easy, but I keep going on it.

    Current books on my list, I just finished Predictably Irrational and am working on The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely. Have added every book on your list, and a couple that readers suggested, that my library has to my check out cart for my next reading list, later this week or next.

  36. It made start everything I wanted and finish! :-)

    Ex:
    got a job with blue cross blue shield
    Finished college
    Got my finances straight
    Create conscious spending plan
    Invest
    Etc…