When Did I Become Such A Reader?

This is what happens when all of your favorite television shows get BOOTED! I guess I should thank NBC for bringing me back to the basics. LOL!

Ok, so I wrapped ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ and had some great takeaways from the text. I’ve now moved onto ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell and while there are no real business practices I am diving into I will say I am enjoying the book!

Thanks Kyle (my official book buddy – when I finished the ‘Twilight’ series I bought her all the books and mailed them to her because she lives in Chile and they weren’t available. This is her way of giving back to me and I so appreciate it.)

I read this section about marriages and a doctor who can predict whether or not they will fail. Want to guess what he looks for? It isn’t excessive arguing. It isn’t lack of sexual connection. It isn’t even money problems. It’s… contempt. That’s right – if you are rolling your eyes and not opened to what your partner is saying, you better start being more conscious of it!

Before you read the excerpt, let me give you some background. This doctor would film 15 minute conversations married couples would have and then – through his science – determine whether or not they would divorce over the next decade or so. His guesses were 98% accurate.  WHAT?!


Let’s dig a little deeper into the secret of Gottman‘s success rate. Gottman has discovered that marriages have distinctive signatures, and we can find that signature by collecting very detailed emotional information from the interaction of a couple. But there’s something else that is very interesting about Gottman’s system, and that is the way in which he manages to simplify the task of prediction. I hadn’t realized how much of an issue this was until I tried thin-slicing couples myself. I got one of Gottman’s tapes, which had on it ten three-minute clips of different couples talking. Half the couples, I was told, split up at some point in the fifteen years after their discussion was filmed. Half were still together. Could I guess which was which? I was pretty confident I could. But I was wrong. I was terrible at it. I answered five correctly, which is to say that I would have done just as well by flipping a coin.

My difficulty arose from the fact that the clips were utterly overwhelming. The husband would say something guarded. The wife would respond quietly. Some fleeting emotion would flash across her face. He would start to say something and then stop. She would scowl. He would laugh. Someone would mutter something. Someone would frown. I would rewind the tape and look at it again, and I would get still more information. I’d see a little trace of a smile, or I’d pick up on a slight change in tone. It was all too much. In my head, I was frantically trying to determine the ratios of positive emotion to negative emotion. But what counted as positive, and what counted as negative? I knew from Susan and Bill that a lot of what looked positive was actually negative. And I also knew that there were no fewer than twenty separate emotional states on the SPAFF chart. Have you ever tried to keep track of twenty different emotions simultaneously? Now, granted, I’m not a marriage counselor. But that same tape has been given to almost two hundred marital therapists, marital researchers, pastoral counselors, and graduate students in clinical psychology, as well as newlyweds, people who were recently divorced, and people who have been happily married for a long time-in other words, almost two hundred people who know a good deal more about marriage than I do-and none of them was any better than I was. The group as a whole guessed right 53.8 percent of the time, which is just above chance. The fact that there was a pattern didn’t much matter. There were so many other things going on so quickly in those three minutes that we couldn’t find the pattern.

Gottman, however, doesn’t have this problem. He’s gotten so good at thin-slicing marriages that he says he can be in a restaurant and eavesdrop on the couple one table over and get a pretty good sense of whether they need to start thinking about hiring lawyers and dividing up custody of the children. How does he do it? He has figured out that he doesn’t need to pay attention to everything that happens. I was overwhelmed by the task of counting negativity, because everywhere I looked, I saw negative emotions. Gottman is far more selective. He has found that he can find out much of what he needs to know just by focusing on what he calls the Four Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. Even within the Four Horsemen, in fact, there is one emotion that he considers the most important of all: contempt. If Gottman observes one or both partners in a marriage showing contempt toward the other, he considers it the single most important sign that the marriage is in trouble.

“You would think that criticism would be the worst,” Gottman says, “because criticism is a global condemnation of a person’s character. Yet contempt is qualitatively different from criticism. With criticism I might say to my wife, ‘You never listen, you are really selfish and insensitive.’ Well, she’s going to respond defensively to that. That’s not very good for our problem solving and interaction. But if I speak from a superior plane, that’s far more damaging, and contempt is any statement made from a higher level. A lot of the time it’s an insult: ‘You are a bitch. You’re scum.’ It’s trying to put that person on a lower plane than you. It’s hierarchical.”

Gottman has found, in fact, that the presence of contempt in a marriage can even predict such things as how many colds a husband or a wife gets; in other words, having someone you love express contempt toward you is so stressful that it begins to affect the functioning of your immune system. “Contempt is closely related to disgust, and what disgust and contempt are about is completely rejecting and excluding someone from the community. The big gender difference with negative emotions is that women are more critical, and men are more likely to stonewall. We find that women start talking about a problem, the men get irritated and turn away, and the women get more critical, and it becomes a circle. But there isn’t any gender difference when it comes to contempt. Not at all.” Contempt is special. If you can measure contempt, then all of a sudden you don’t need to know every detail of the couple’s relationship.

I think that this is the way that our unconscious works. When we leap to a decision or have a hunch, our unconscious is doing what John Gottman does. It’s sifting through the situation in front of us, throwing out all that is irrelevant while we zero in on what really matters. And the truth is that our unconscious is really good at this, to the point where thin-slicing often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and exhaustive ways of thinking.


Does anyone else find this as interesting as I do? I can’t get over this. The book is FILLED with stories similar to the above focusing on gambling, suing, speed dating, the game of tennis and more.

Have any books that you’d like to recommend? I’m reading at night instead of watching TV and I am opened to suggestions.

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  1. Catherine wrote:

    I think Half the Sky is an important read. I was extremely moved by it.

    Posted 8.20.10
  2. Naomi wrote:

    you should read his other book ‘The Outliers’. It was really good and eye opening.

    Posted 8.20.10
  3. KissKiss wrote:

    Let the right one in (I think it’s called “let me in” in the US) by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It’s a nicely done horror about vampires, but there is so much more to it.
    Also, The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle. Three very funny and very moving stories that take place in Barrytown, a working class neighborhood in Dublin, Ireland.

    Posted 8.20.10
  4. Nadia wrote:

    I read Blink last year and found it opened up issues and ideas I hadn’t even thought of. Loved it!

    Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth” and “The Power of Now” changed my life. They are very controversial to some, but have helped a great many others. Highly recommend!

    For fiction: The Glass Castle, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Lovely Bones. All amazing books!

    Posted 8.20.10
  5. Kyle wrote:

    I knew you would like it! Go out and read The Tipping Point and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell too. I kid you not, they’re even more amazing. All three of those books, while maybe not directly applicable to every day life really get you thinking about human nature and why people behave the way they do. Glad you’re enjoying it.

    And my friends in Chile are still thanking you for The Twilight books 🙂

    Posted 8.20.10
  6. Leslie wrote:

    Vera, please keep it up! I always hope to see more about books on INO. I have been absolutely obsessed with books since I was 2 yrs. old. I rec’d my first book on the day I was born and it has just snowballed from there. I probably own 1000 books currently.
    I have Blink and haven’t gotten to it yet. Glad you like it!

    Posted 8.20.10
  7. Leslie wrote:

    Nadia – loved The Glass Castle too! It’s not fiction though – it is the author’s life story.

    Posted 8.20.10
    • Nadia wrote:

      My bad! I had about 4 hours sleep in total yesterday, no idea why I placed it in the “Fiction” section. Eeek!

      Posted 8.21.10
  8. April wrote:

    Here are a select few of my favorites: Loose Girl, Go Ask Alice, Stolen Innocence, and all the Chelsea Handler books.

    Posted 8.23.10

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