Having heard good things about Dr. Caroline Leaf, I was prepared to be impressed by her new book, Think, Learn, Succeed. I was not, unfortunately. The book was like a stew gone bad, filled with ingredients that are tasty by themselves but not in combination with others.
Here are the book’s ingredients I found tasty. First, the book is about “mental self-care,” about “a lifestyle of cognitive transformation that is both sustainable and organic.” As a middle-aged man, I certainly want my cognitive functions to remain sharp. Second, the book emphasizes changing one’s mindsets from negative to positive, developing an optimistic, “wired-for-love bias.” Such a mindset is eminently desirable. Third, the book teaches that each of is uniquely “gifted” in how we process information. The 70-question “Gift Profile” helped me identify the way I uniquely think about information; my profile made sense to me. Fourth, the book teaches a five-step learning method that builds memory meaningfully—again, an appealing topic.
And yet, for me personally, the combination of these tasty ingredients wasn’t tasty too. It started with the fact that the five-step learning method is too formulaic. I’ve completed one graduate degree and am working on another, and I’ve never used Dr. Leaf’s recommended “Metacom” technique—basically, mind-mapping—to learn my subjects. I can see its usefulness, of course, but I’ve done well in school without it. Plus, using Metacogs seems to sit uneasily with the notion that our Gift Profile demonstrates our unique way of thinking. How can our thinking unique if there’s only one way of learning?
A second problem: I’m an editor. This book needed better editing. There are 16 chapters devoted to 15 mindsets in Section One. Three chapters devoted to Seven Modules make up your unique Gift Profile in Section Two. And Section Three outlines a five-step process for learning. That’s 27 major points, not counting all the subpoints Dr. Leaf makes under these points. And it’s not clear to me how the sections on mindsets, customized thinking, and learning process hang together. At times, I felt like I was reading three books crammed uncomfortably between two covers.
Finally, the scientific research that underlies Dr. Leaf’s conclusions was alternately fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating because of the intrinsic appeal to me of subjects like the mind-brain problem, neuroplasticity, the biological substratum of memory, and the like. Frustrating because as a nonspecialist reader, the scientific details got a bit overwhelming. Plus, it wasn’t always clear that I needed a scientific basis for a particular conclusion, which to be honest, seemed like common sense.
So, just two stars on this one for me. I wanted to like it, but I had to force myself to finish it. Kind of like what you have to do when eating a bad stew…
Dr. Caroline Leaf, Think, Learn, Succeed: Understanding and Using Your Mind to Thrive at School, the Workplace, and Life(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018).
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