In today’s busy world we’ve become a people obsessed with “work hacks” and supposedly hidden secrets on how to be more productive.

Getting more done in less time helps us get ahead, and even gives us more availability to do the things we love outside of work. The problem we run into is that it is easy to get motivated, but hard to stay disciplined.

Most of us look at productivity in the wrong way: task management tools are shiny at first and then go unused. Being chained to your desk is as unhealthy as it is unproductive. Achievement isn’t about doing everything, it’s about doing the right things. Productivity is about saying no.

Focus and consistency are the bread-and-butter of being truly productive. Let’s take a look at the science behind how the brain works in the synthesis state, and what changes you can make for the better.

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15 Easy Ways to Speed Up WordPress

WordPress is a great CMS and blogging platform. One weakness that it suffers from, however, is it can be pretty slow with default settings.

Without making some tweaks and optimizations, you could end up with a sluggish site. That’s not only a hassle for repeat visitors but will cause you to lose subscribers and customers. In this quick guide, I’ll cover all of the best ways that I’ve found to significantly speed up WordPress.

Why does WordPress site speed matter?

You only have a few seconds to capture a visitor’s attention when they land on your site for the first time. Sure, most people understand, but just how high is the bar nowadays?

Get ready to lose sleep at night: according to a report by the Microsoft search team, a 2-second delay in page responsiveness reduced user satisfaction by 3.8%, increased lost revenue per user by 4.3%, and reduced clicks by 4.3%. That’s money lost over poor performance.

If your site takes too long to load, most people are gone and won’t give you a second chance. Not only that, but Google now includes site speed in its ranking algorithm. That means that your site’s speed affects SEO, so if your site is slow, you’re now losing visitors from impatience and reduced rankings in search engines. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

How to speed up WordPress

These steps to speed up WordPress are not ordered by importance or any other criteria. I’ve just collected everything I’ve learned around how to speed up WordPress page loads and listed them all here. I guarantee that applying a few will help speed up your WordPress site.

1. Choose a good host

When starting out, a shared host might seem like a bargain (“Unlimited page views!”). It comes at another cost: incredibly slow site speed and frequent down time during high traffic periods.

If you plan on publishing popular content or running a high-traffic website, you’re hindering yourself by running your WordPress site on shared hosting.The stress of your site going down after getting a big feature is enough to create a few early gray hairs: don’t be a victim, invest in proper hosting.

The one WordPress host I continually recommend is WP Engine managed WordPress hosting.

Note: Above is my personal referral link which provides a small discount (and grants me a small commission) if you use it. I only recommend WP Engine because I’ve used it for nearly a decade.

My sites running WordPress are always fast, never have downtime when I earn links or mentions from big publishers, and the back-end is very easy to use. Last but not least, their customer support is consistently helpful, which is a must when it comes to hosting. The staff is friendly, patient, and well-versed on the ins and outs of WordPress. They’ll be your safety net for any problem that may arise.

Head on over to their homepage for WordPress users and check out their offerings. Or, at the very least, shop around to find another service platform with a great track record for speed, uptime, and customer support.

2. Start with a solid framework/theme

You might be surprised to hear this, but many of the default WordPress themes are lightweight and pretty fast. That’s primarily because they keep the features and functionality dead simple. That’s the opposite of a number of bloated drag-and-drop frameworks which offer lots of features, but come at the cost of slowing your site to a crawl—no matter what their homepage says.

From my experience, one of the fastest loading premium frameworks is still the Thesis Theme Framework, especially the new Focus skin. I’m using a completely bare bones version on this site, but I personally love simplicity. And Thesis surpasses the basic WordPress themes by being far easier to customize.

It’s an incredibly solid framework that won’t slow you down with excess plugins or custom edits. Make the changes right from the theme and avoid bloat while you customize. I’ll take it.

3. Use an effective caching plugin

WordPress plugins are obviously quite useful, but some of the best fall under the caching category, as they drastically improve page load time, and best of all, all of them on WordPress.org are free and easy to use on your site.

By far my favorite is W3 Total Cache, I wouldn’t recommend or use any other caching plugin, it has all of the features you need and is extremely easy to install and use. Simply install and activate, and watch as your pages load faster as various elements are cached.

4. Use a content delivery network (CDN)

A CDN, or content delivery network, takes all the static files on your WordPress website—such as CSS, Javascript, and images—and lets visitors download them as fast by serving the files on servers as close to them as possible.

I personally use the StackPath Content Delivery Network on my WordPress sites, as I’ve found that they have the most reasonable prices and their dashboard is very simple to use and comes with video tutorials for setting it up, which takes only a few minutes.

5. Optimize images

Image optimizers help you reduce the file size of your images without wildly reducing their quality. That’s a good thing, because one of the biggest culprits of slow load times are massive .png files embedded throughout the page—don’t make that rookie mistake.

Squoosh is by far the best free image optimizer on the internet, and was created by the Google Chrome team. The default file Squoosh uses is MozJPEG, which reduces image file sizes by 50-80% with no noticeable loss in quality. However, you can also select other lightweight image types like .webp.

If you’re like me and publish a lot of content, optimizing every image manually can be time consuming.

Fortunately, there’s a great free plugin called Smush which will optimize all of your images automatically as you’re uploading them to WordPress. No reason not to install this plugin, in my opinion.

And if you prefer to manage this on your desktop, I really like Squash for Mac users.

6. Optimize your homepage

There isn’t one single tweak that will optimize your WordPress homepage, but there are a few small steps you can take to speed things up. Your homepage is likely one of the most important parts of your site because new visitors will land there frequently and it starts the customer journey.

Here are a few steps you can take to speed up the homepage of your WordPress site:

  • Show excerpts instead of full posts.
  • Reduce the number of posts on the page. I like showing between 5-7.
  • Remove unnecessary sharing widgets from the home page—include them only in posts.
  • Remove inactive plugins and widgets that you don’t need.
  • Keep it minimal. Readers are here for content, not 8,000 widgets on the homepage.

Overall, a clean and focused homepage design will not only help your website look good and get readers to where they want to go, but it will also load faster.

7. Optimize your WordPress database

I’m certainly getting a lot of mileage out of the word “optimize” in this post.

Optimizing your WordPress database through a very tedious and extremely boring manual process, or you can simply use the WP-Optimize plugin.

This plugin lets you do just one simple task: optimize your database (eliminating spam comments, post revisions, drafts, tables, etc.) to reduce their overhead. I’d also consider the WP-DB Manager plugin, which can schedule dates for database optimization.

8. Disable hotlinking and leeching of your content

Hotlinking is a form of bandwidth “theft.” It occurs when other sites directly link to the images on your site from their articles making your server load increasingly high.

This can add up as other websites and bloggers scrape your posts or images after they become popular, and it’s a must-do if you create custom images for your site on a regular basis. Place this code in your root .htaccess file:

disable hotlinking of images with forbidden or custom image option

RewriteEngine on

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?sparringmind.com [NC] RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?google.com [NC] RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?feeds2.feedburner.com/sparringmind [NC] RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif)$ – [NC,F,L]

You’ll notice that the code includes my feed and you’ll need to replace it with your feed’s name, otherwise your images won’t appear correctly.

9. Add an expires header to static resources

An Expires header is a way to specify a time far enough in the future so that the clients (browsers) don’t have to re-fetch any static content (such as css file, javascript, images etc). This way can cut your load time significantly for your regular users. You need to copy and paste the following code in your root .htaccess file:

ExpiresActive On

ExpiresByType image/gif A2592000

ExpiresByType image/png A2592000

ExpiresByType image/jpg A2592000

ExpiresByType image/jpeg A2592000

The above numbers are set for a month (in seconds), you can change them as you see fit.

10. Adjust Gravatar images

You’ll notice comments on most of my sites feature no Gravatar image. This is not an aesthetic choice, I did it because it improves page loads by simply having no image where there would normally be a silly Gravatar logo.

Some blogs go as far to disable comments throughout their site, which is also an option. You can do either, just know that it will at least benefit your site speed if you set the default image (found in “Discussion,” under the settings tab in the WordPress dashboard) to a blank space rather than a default image.

11. Add LazyLoad to your images

LazyLoad is the process of having only the images above the fold load—or, only the images visible in the visitor’s browser window. Then, when the reader scrolls down, the other images begin to load, just before they come into view.

This will not only speed up your page loads, it can also save bandwidth by loading less data for users who don’t scroll all the way down on your pages. To do this automatically, install the jQuery Image Lazy Load plugin.

12. Control the amount of post revisions stored

I saved this post to draft about fifteen times. WordPress, left to its own devices, would store every single one of these drafts, indefinitely. Now, when this post is done and published, why would I need all of those drafts stored?

That’s why I use the Revision Control plugin to make sure I keep post revisions to a minimum, set it to two or three so you have something to fall back on in case you make a mistake, but not too high that you clutter your backend with unnecessary amounts of drafted posts.

13. Turn off pingbacks and trackbacks

By default, WordPress interacts with other blogs that are equipped with pingbacks and trackbacks. Every time another blog mentions you, it notifies your site, which in turn updates data on the post. Turning this off will not destroy the backlinks to your site, just the setting that generates a lot of work for your site.

For more detail, read this explanation of WordPress Pingbacks, Trackbacks and Linkbacks.

14. Replace PHP with static HTML, when necessary

This one is a little bit advanced, but can drastically cut down your load time if you are desperate to include page load speeds, so I included it.

I’d be doing this great post injustice if I didn’t link to it for this topic, as it taught me how to easily do this myself, in a few minutes. So go there and check it out, it wrote it out in plainer terms than I ever could.

15. Use CloudFlare

This is similar to the section above on using CDN’s, but I’ve become so fond of CloudFlare since I discussed it in my best web analytics post that I’ve decided to include it separately here.

CloudFlare, along with the W3 Total Cache plugin discussed above, are a really potent combination; they integrate with each other and will greatly improve not only the speed, but the security of your site.

Reading is the supreme lifehack. Distilled insight that often took years to assemble can be grasped by the average reader in just a few hours. Books are nothing short of magic.

And the more you know about social psychology and human behavior, the better. Reading good psychology books lets you jump-start your education by absorbing what researchers, professors, and authors spent years putting together. I can’t think of a single better way to empower yourself than that.

What you read when you don’t have to determines what you will be when you can’t help it. —Oscar Wilde.

Note: While all of the books below will deal with the human mind, not all of them are purely scientific. Some books deal with persuasion, productivity, or creative work. With that caveat, let’s begin.

1. The Social Animal

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cA6upp

In my opinion, this is the best social psychology book ever written. This book seems to be in such high demand that prices are often outrageous. The demand is warranted, however: few books will give you as in-depth, interesting, and just a generally well-written overview of social psychology quite like Elliot Aronson’s classic. A must-read if you can obtain it; I consider it the best presentation of social psychology 101 ever written.

2. Influence: Science and Practice

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bQeH5X

This is considered the gospel on the psychology of persuasion. Cialdini’s now infamous work deserves the amount of praise it gets. Not only is the book easy to follow with tons of excellent examples explained in layman’s terms, but Cialdini also spends the time going into why these studies played out as they did. Lastly, he addresses how to defend yourself from persuasion techniques that wish to harm you rather than ethically convince you—scammers, people selling faulty products knowingly, disingenuous attempts to persuade, you get the picture. A frequently recommended book for a reason.

3. Thinking, Fast and Slow

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bPhvDp

One of my all-time favorite psychology books. Trying to go over what this book digs into would take me a whole post in itself. For behavioral research, there are few books that touch the scope and breadth that Dan Kahneman dives into with this masterpiece. Mr. Kahneman holds a Nobel Prize in economics as well, and this aspect shines through in the book’s many examples.

4. The Happiness Hypothesis

Buy the book: https://amzn.to/3Gc8Xjw

The author recently published a belter in The Atlantic, one in which he takes a very pessimistic tone. One wonders what’s changed since the publication of this book, which looks at how long standing maxims, aphorisms, and philosophical wisdom can enrich your point of view and even build resiliency. I greatly prefer the way this book blends history and current day parallels compared to similar books with a Stoicism slant.

5. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain

Buy the book: https://amzn.to/3wEFtYm

“I think, therefore I am.” But where’s the feeling? The authors of this book challenge the oft-cited quote by Descartes and use research to demonstrate that emotions are not superfluous or a limiter, but rather that emotions are foundational to rational thinking. It’s an interesting premise and well argued, and it’s nice to see the relationship between logic and emotion revisited—and challenged.

6. Words Can Change Your Brain

Buy the book: https://amzn.to/3NxfV4W

The authors use research to capture a concept they call Compassionate Communication, which is described as a process to bond with the person we’re communicating with through authenticity and trust. The book is a lot more practical than it may seem at first glance. My main gripe is the length: it’s far too long and suffers from business book syndrome, where the material could have happily lived as a long-form article instead of the book. Good insight, but try a summary or skip around a few pages.

7. Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization

Buy the book: https://amzn.to/3yZwvqp

Transcend begins with an interesting premise: what if Maslow’s hierarchy was unfinished? Author Scott Barry Kaufman discovered this may be the case by going through unpublished journals written by Maslow. That prompt turned into this book: an exploration of self-actualization based on the latest research that picks up where Maslow left off. Kaufman does a great job not only “finishing” Maslow’s work, but also adds new color and insight to the pursuit of self-actualization.

8. Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2c0BOIt

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book, but just be forewarned that this should be used as a complement to the other more comprehensive entries on this list. While the book is informative, the studies are grazed over pretty quickly and not much depth is given to any individual study. It does make for a great “rabbit hole” read. This is where you find out about a study, look up more about it, find more related studies, and “go down the rabbit hole” searching for new material. A great starting point to getting your feet wet in a variety of persuasion-related studies.

9. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bXsFjy

The Heath brothers publish some of my favorite material on persuasion. Their book Switch aims to answer the question: “Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives?” Specifically, why is it so hard to change things that have become commonplace? Their arguments are structured well, as is their other entry on this list, and incredibly readable; you can tell that a lot of effort was put into breaking the book down into appropriate sections and making it easy to pick up by anyone.

10. The Art of Choosing

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cqQkdC

This is the quintessential read on how human beings make choices and what external influences affect those choices. I first came across Sheena Iyengar’s work by finding out about her infamous “jam study” through an online publication. Needless to say, I was fascinated by the idea that choice can actually be overwhelming, causing people to delay choosing rather than benefit from the extra options offered. It’s a fantastic read and very enjoyable all the way through. I happen to consider Sheena a great writer as well as a great researcher.

11. Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cA7D01

Human beings have zero understanding of intrinsic value. We are heavily influenced by contextual clues when we examine things like “price” and “cost.” This has been shown via a number of studies, and this book offers a superb analysis of the literature. You’ll be very surprised to see just how easily marketing departments can influence our perception of things with subtle tweaks to pricing, making this an important read for every consumer, which is all of us.

12. Stumbling on Happiness

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bPiTpu

Despite the title of this book, this isn’t a self-help book by any means. It’s more concerned with the mechanics of the mind than with the application of those ideas. One reviewer pointed out a quote that fits the book well: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.” It’s a fitting quote because the entire book reveals how your brain is essentially hard-wired into doing the exact opposite. Fortunately, Gilbert’s incorporation of research and insightful anecdotes make this one of the most enjoyable positive psychology books out there.

13. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cqS8Dt

Another book that may seem like self-help but really isn’t. Drive spends a majority of its time focusing on what gets us motivated in the workplace. It examines the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators that allow us to keep pushing and questions which methods of utilizing both (with intrinsic being far more important) are the most effective for both employees and employers. The book is a really important read, and I love how Pink tackles the subject, but I couldn’t help but agree with the highest critical review: the book has some padding. If you don’t mind a few sections going on a bit longer than they should, though, this book is a must-read.

14. Predictably Irrational

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bMMbUB

Few books will make you question your own decisions quite like this one; Ariely shows how seemingly mundane or meaningless changes can greatly impact our behavior when we don’t realize what’s going on, which appears to be a majority of the time. As a sample, check out his famous pricing study in The Economist, and you’ll see how small changes can really play with our perception of things. I would put this book squarely on the understanding of your brain category in this list, but this book also has some fantastic insights on persuading others if you closely examine the given examples.

15. Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bWiRYK

I have two main comments on Sally’s writing: the first is a slight critique, in that the book often tries to take more established ideas and make them sound entirely new. The second is full of praise: it’s hard to title a book with the word “Fascinate” if it’s not a page-turner, and Sally’s writing will definitely hook you until the end. She also leaves readers with an actual game-plan and candid examples when ideas are brought up, which I loved. I enjoyed Sally’s speech and picked this book up when someone recommended it to me, and now I’m recommending it to you because it’s an insightful look at persuasion.

16. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2c4NVGx

Definitely one of my favorite marketing books ever written, but it’s not something that can only be enjoyed by marketers. This quote from Mark Twain is included in the book’s description: “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” The authors offer an explanation as to why these ideas can stay with us for so long. I feel like we all find ourselves asking a similar question at times—how did something catch on so quickly while a superior alternative faded away? Diving deeper, this book aims to address the 6 ways certain ideas just stay with us while others slip away.

17. Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probabilities and Statistics on Everything You Do

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2c4NJqL

This book is probably the most unique of all of the books on this list. I wouldn’t call it a book about persuading others, but it does address what could have been an incredibly boring topic for some readers, the application of statistics and how they affect you and turned it into a really easy read. I approached this book expecting to slowly crawl through it, but there are a ton of great examples, and Fung does a fantastic job of using stories to get his points across. Whether you’re a numbers person or just want to take a layman’s look at statistics and their involvement in the current affairs of the world around you, you’ll enjoy this book thoroughly.

18. The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone (Especially Ourselves)

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bMMmPz

In case it hasn’t been made apparent so far, I’m a big fan of Dan Ariely’s work. There are some bold claims in this book: that perhaps honesty is but a choice between the benefit of cheating and our psychological motivation. Fortunately, Ariely makes some compelling arguments to back up each point addressed. As with Predictably Irrational, you’ll come away with a lot of questions, but in a good way: you’ll begin to re-think things that were formerly “obvious” in the context of what you just learned from Ariely. Many people have commented on how powerful the last two chapters are in particular: is there ever a context where cheating becomes socially acceptable? Ariely forces you to ask these and other meaningful questions, and the result is a powerful message with some great research & examples to comb through.

19. The Power of Habit (Why We Do What We Do)

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bXvfpV

This book came highly recommended, and I enjoyed it, but I have some thoughts. While the author does a great job of splitting up habits into appropriate sub-groups and showing how habits actually operate in the brain, there is one shortcoming: the book doesn’t specifically show you how to change any habit. Maybe my expectations were set for a different kind of book, but I found the lack of this aspect being addressed a bit unfulfilling. All that said, the book is still a very easy read and a great look at how habits manifest in the brain.

20. Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cqSFW0

This is another book that focuses more on serving up a bite-sized analysis of multiple studies rather than diving deeply into a few. As such, it serves as a fantastic jumping-off point and one of those rabbit hole books that I mentioned above: you’ll find yourself following up on multiple experiments in order to learn more. One fantastic thing that Roger Dooley has done is to break these studies up into separate categories, something that failed at the Yes! book above. With sections like Brainfluence Copywriting and Brainfluence Branding, you can tell what sort of studies you are about to get into. In some instances, I found the sources to be somewhat lacking: links to other books instead of the actual studies, for instance. But don’t let that stop you from picking up what is an otherwise great read.

21. Neuromarketing: Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cqUceD

This is one of the best beginner books for those interested in neuromarketing, or “brainy marketing,” as it is often referred to. This means that the book is a very easy read—studies are not cited in-depth, and the content can be easily consumed—and if you’re not new to this space, this book can seem a little simplistic. For instance, you could read my post on viral content and cover a whole section of this book on arousing emotions from buyers in a single blog post. But if you’ve never encountered this stuff before, this book, along with Influence, are must-haves for beginners. Those who have read a few of these books already can probably give this a pass.

22. The Branded Mind

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cqU5js

This book is not an easy read. That being said, it is a rewarding read if you can make it through. Du Plessis makes the argument that emotions are not in conflict with rational behavior and that they, in fact, can cause rational behavior. As mentioned, though, this book requires some patience: if you enjoy pop psychology only, be prepared for a challenge—this book reads more like a college textbook. If you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll get a lot out of this book, as it’s one of the most compelling books on the list.

23. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cqUgLv

I really enjoyed this book; it makes you think a lot about if having a ton of options at your disposal is good for your well-being. Schwartz argues that decision-making was a lot simpler years ago, and while the majority of the book focuses on a “buying angle,” the lessons here can be carried to many of life’s aspects. An abundance of choices has a tendency to trick our brain into thinking a lot of choices is a good thing when that is not necessarily the case. While Schwartz is very much an academic, the book reads quite fluidly and won’t trip you up with an abundance of scientific terms, although each point made is backed up quite eloquently.

24. Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bWkZQj

This is one of those amazing crosses between understanding marketing to utilize it for your entrepreneurial endeavors or simply understanding how brands try to persuade you. Some of the examples aren’t so mind-blowing, like grocery stores using crates to make fruit seem “farm-fresh,” but others are really interesting. I wish Lindstrom would have done a bit more analysis on each study, as he seems to just take each at face value. That being said, the studies cited are really interesting and very revealing in how easy it is for marketers to trick us.

25. The Compass of Pleasure

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cr2pQb

If you’ve ever wanted to know why cigarettes are one of the most addictive substances of all time or how dopamine can turn your brain into an addict for pleasure, this is the book for you. I would forewarn that this isn’t really a book to help addiction, but for understanding the nature of addiction and the processes in the brain.

26. The Buying Brain

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cr46gj

There is another book by Lindstrom called Buyology that often comes highly recommended when discussing books of this ilk. But I would say that you should skip that book and get this one instead. Pradeep creates a great overview of the emerging neuromarketing space and does so with a lot of good concrete examples. I enjoyed that specifically because many books have a problem of simply citing the research at hand: as a guy who regularly reads research papers, I appreciate the exposure to new research, but I could have just read it myself. This book avoids this problem by giving actionable steps for implementation.

27. The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bXG6Qt

You all know that I’m very interested in the psychology of language, and in particular, how psychology plays a role in storytelling. This book digs into how language can reveal a lot about a person. Some archetypes that are focused on include gender, affluence, liars, sadness, introverts vs. extroverts, and a variety of others. While the research in this book was excellent (and often collaborative), I wanted more. I felt like more examples could have been used in particular, but as for what’s there, it’s great.

28. Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bPszQX

If you head back up to #1 on this list, you’ll see that I’m an Elliot Aronson fan. If I could define this book in one word, though, it would be frightening. Even more so than Ariely’s contributions, this book exposes how everyone is at risk of refusing to admit to their mistakes, even when the evidence is conclusive. The research is accurate and cited appropriately, the book is still an easy, enjoyable read, and it’s from the guy who wrote my favorite social psych book of all time, with a talented co-author. What’s not to love.

29. Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bXFXN2

While this book specifically addresses social engineering, there are many psychological aspects that turn this into a very intriguing read on influence. The book definitely has an antagonistic tone, but that’s because of the subject matter: people are referred to as “victims,” and the activities are defined as “exploits” and “attacks” because that’s what they are. It’s kind of like watching those shows where a former thief shows the homeowners how easy it was to break into their house. Except with this book, manipulation is the subject at hand.

30. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bQq79O

This book focuses on the findings from the legendary Stanford prison experiment. If that research has fascinated you in any way, you need to check this book out; it essentially offers an “inside look” at much of the data from the study, including things like transcripts. It’s a compelling look at how even “normal” people fall into the roles of situations that many of us in the first world can hardly imagine happening or would like to deny. The last chapter is also quite intriguing for those familiar with the experiment: the author outlines a program intended to build resistance to mind-control strategies. Scary stuff, but a necessary read.

31. Obedience to Authority

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cAfNpg

Another book that is a tell-all about a fascinating, provocative, even horrifying psychology study known as the Milgram experiment, named after the lead researcher. If you are unfamiliar with the study, it was meant to test whether or not people would obey authority even when they were asked to do something that they knew was wrong. It details many accounts of participants showing signs of severe distress, yet continuing on with the applied shocks as actors in another room, pretending to be other subjects, screamed cries of pain. This book is a necessary read in understanding the construct and inherent dangers of authority.

32. The Optimism Bias

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cAggrE

Tali Sharot’s in-depth look is one of the better efforts to analyze the current research, along with Sharot’s own research, on optimism, memory, and their connections to our emotions and actions. My single gripe with the book is that it is too long. I wouldn’t normally make a statement like this, but what I mean is that certain parts of the book feel a bit wordy, although, given the topic and the tendency to pick apart certain aspects of research, it’s understandable. I still feel like the content could have been more concise, but as for what’s there, it’s great. This isn’t a pop psychology book: it takes a look at some deep research from a leading expert. Definitely worth picking up if you’re interested in neuroscience and studies on memory.

33. Mindfulness

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bMUpvQ

Author and professor Ellen Langer would posit that robotic or mindless behavior can lead to a lot of pain in life. I would agree, and the fact that so many other books on this list show just how susceptible we are to that sort of behavior, I’d say it’s a problem worth worrying about. The purpose of this book is to encourage the reader to be more mindful of their actions—and to notice when automatic behavior begins to take over. As a few disappointed reviewers have noted, the focus is on the process of creating more mindfulness in your life rather than the benefits of change.

34. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bMT8Fa

While I did really enjoy this book, there is certainly some merit to the top critical review on Amazon: “This book is a rehash of other, better books.” That’s not to say that Sway isn’t an enjoyable read. Rather, the book’s predecessors dive deeper into the same concepts. One of these is Influence, so at the very least, the book is in good company in terms of the things it talks about; it just did so much later and from a bite-sized perspective. Again though, this book can serve as a fantastic starter read that helps you find a ton of other great studies to check out. The content is also quality stuff and will be new to you if you aren’t an avid reader of psychology books, so don’t be afraid to give this one a go.

35. Redirect

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cr4NGB

Wilson’s focus on this book can be summed up in two large, overarching points: (1) using the process of “story editing” to change our perception, and (2) that what is true of culture is also true of individuals. This book seeks to understand and to pass on knowledge, not to help you change your life. This book, being all about subtlety and subtle changes, does a good job of giving relevant examples that make somewhat opaque descriptions a lot easier to relate to. This is an interesting book and one of few that strays into the positive psychology territory—definitely worth checking out.

36. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bWruT2

Another reviewer’s summary of this book described it as “MythBusters for the brain,” an apt description. Misconceptions like “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” are put to the test, and Medina does a great job of finding relevant research to put claims like that to bed. Funny enough, this book often appears on leadership lists, despite not being an outright leadership or management book. I’d say that its main two topics seem to hinge on productivity and relationship management, so it is easy to see why a business and the leadership-oriented crowd would enjoy this book. For everyone else, it is a very easy read and very much worth checking out.

37. You Are Not So Smart

But the book: http://amzn.to/2cg1938

Largely dealing with fallacies in our minds that happen to make us look very stupid when they’re in action, McRaney takes topics that are largely known by those with interest in the field, like the Dunning-Kruger effect, and creates an entertaining read on otherwise well-covered studies. The thing is, the presentation makes this book worthwhile even if you have already heard of a few of these, and McRaney is a great writer; his blog was featured on my list of successful blogs that are awesome and not about marketing. If you’re interested in how your brain is sabotaging you and in finding out more about the delusions we all hold, this book is the perfect place to start.

38. What Makes Your Brain Happy (and Why You Should Do the Opposite)

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2c4QsS6

Take this as a more serious version of the book above. Largely concerned with cognition and specifically with cognitive biases, David DiSalvo makes this book stand out in quite a few ways. The research isn’t rehashed like many books you’ll find in this space. Not only that, there are tactics and resource materials included in the book. My only problem with these is that they are clumped near the end instead of being sprinkled about the many great examples. An overall exciting book with a lot to offer. I’ve read this one very recently and was happy that I did.

39. Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bQsk5j

This book is all about the levels of consciousness in the brain. As we’ve seen, your brain isn’t just the thing you think you control. While the examples in this book are quite interesting, considering it is a “real” neuroscience book, I expected a bit more from the research. However, the writing is captivating; if nothing else, you’ll learn how to write attention-grabbing headlines as Eagleman sends you page after page into highly interesting findings on our unconscious.

40. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2crAx1d

Whatever you make will be deemed original or cliché in comparison to what currently exists; creation may be about the lonely hours, but a final product is never judged in isolation. In other words, creative work lives in a dynamic, ever-changing ecosystem. Getting ahead of the curve, or doing the unexpected, means eschewing what everyone currently expects, which requires knowing what everyone expects. Knowing the metagame—or comparing your work to what exists today—is useful for spotting opportunities for differentiation. Originals will help you spot opportunities to stand out and dig into the research around how creative thinking works and what you can do to encourage those light-bulb moments.

41. Out of Character

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bQsPw6

Just what exactly is happening when someone breaks character? Is character even concrete, or is it more like a shade of gray? I found this book really fascinating in its singular focus on character and the psychology of how external events impact it. Living a humdrum life often makes understanding these peculiar acts difficult, and this book takes a look at a lot of examples that show us that if we were in similar circumstances, we’d be very likely to act in a similar manner. Great examples, great research, and a great focus make this a must-read.

42. Blink

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bQsUjo

The good part about this book is that the studies presented are interesting, and Gladwell does a superb job of showcasing how people are able to develop a sense of things; it becomes one of the more interesting books on the unconscious because of this. The problem with the book is apparent, though: it’s been pointed out by many others. This book seems like a collection of short stories and not a unified idea. That aside, the different sections are far too interesting to pass up for this general lack of unity.

43. The Person and the Situation

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2crB2bA

This book is about situational influence and its effects on our decision-making process. The authors do a great job of demonstrating the many types of faulty logic that we are prone to in a variety of environments. This book almost reads like one of those great textbooks that you had in college: the ones that you actually enjoyed, even though they were supposed to be academic. I would classify this as an introductory book, however, so keep that in mind if you are very familiar with the field.

44. The Psychology of Attitude Change and Social Influence

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2c4ST76

If I could sum up this book in a single phrase, I would call it a more academic Influence. What I mean is that the book takes a very scholarly approach to the psychology of influence but is perhaps a little bit less practical than Cialdini’s work. For a true academic understanding of persuasion, though, this book is fantastic. It came highly recommended by a former professor of mine, and I’m glad I picked it up. If you enjoyed the former recommendation at all, the one that covers Zimbardo’s prison experiment, you should consider this book, too.

45. Situations Matter

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2cr82xU

I really enjoyed the writing style of this book. My goal with this blog has always been to take interesting psychology and neuroscience research and turn it into actionable, digestible posts for readers. I can appreciate when an author has a fun writing style to keep things engaging. That being said, it’s not for everyone. The research, however, is enjoyable for academic and laymen readers alike. I’d sum the subject matter being about the psychology of “context,” and the implications are pretty powerful. For instance, “Who we love is more explained by geography, familiarity and state of mind than we realize.” One of those books that prompts you to ask intriguing questions.

46. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bXK8Zq

This is a book that falls squarely into positive psychology, but it is, bar none, one of the best out there. Self-control and work ethic go hand-in-hand in my opinion: many people want to work hard, but it’s a lack of self-control that prevents them from doing so. And let’s be frank here, everybody suffers from a lack of self-control from time to time. If you are interested in applying psychology to improve yourself and your mind, this is the book for you. If not, you’ll still walk away with a great understanding of how self-control works in our minds. This book is practical, the science is sound, and the author, Kelly McGonigal, is highly recognized: I have no hesitation recommending this one.

47. The Tipping Point

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bQuIsC

As with much of Gladwell’s work, I found this really interesting but maybe a bit short of the hype surrounding it (and there was a ton of hype, so it’s hard to approach this book with neutral anticipation). Gladwell would suppose that there are 3 types of gifted people who are essential to “sticky” ideas: Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople. While all of the information is great in explaining that there are critical aspects of things that become “epidemics” or “go viral,” he doesn’t really get into how that happens, just that it does. Now, it’s not like I was looking for a “how to create a viral campaign” from this book, but the examples are lacking in that area. Still, a highly important book, and it references the monkey sphere, so I needed to include it.

48. How to Win Friends and Influence People

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bQtSMv

With the reach that this book has had in its long lifetime, it’s unlikely that you’ve never encountered it before. In order to mix things up a bit, since this book is so well known, I thought I might offer some fantastic insights from one of my favorite book reviews of all time:

The advice is largely sound, but I think the reader should keep in mind the context within which this book was written … [it was] intended primarily as a companion book to Dale Carnegie’s classes on how to be a good salesman … these techniques work very well in the context of sales and public relations, i.e., in relationships that are not expected to be deep and/or long-lasting.

What I found most interesting was that the last chapter… was to describe those individuals with whom none of Dale Carnegie’s techniques work. In this unpublished chapter, Carnegie wrote that there were some people with whom it was impossible to get along. You either needed to divorce such people, “knock them down,” or sue them in court.

Why is that chapter absent from this book, you ask? Well, Dale Carnegie was in the middle of writing this chapter when he was offered a trip to Europe, and rather than complete this last chapter, he decided to take the trip. The uncompleted book was sent off to publishers, and Carnegie shipped off to Europe.

The making of something often reveals the intentions of the maker, and this is one of those factoids that adds a lot of color and context to this book—and should help you view the advice from the right lens.

49. Strangers to Ourselves

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2c4U1aM

Your conscious mind isn’t always in control—a common theme in the psychology books on this list. This book is one of the biggest jolts in this category of understanding that concept; it’s definitely a psychology book, but the questions it brings up almost make it feel like the book was written for philosophy majors. While it’s an easy read, it’s certainly challenging to the mind, I didn’t find the research as compelling as some other similar books, but the questions raised by Wilson are by far some of my favorites.

50. The Invisible Gorilla (How Our Intuitions Deceive Us)

Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2bWsLcZ

Before reading this book, watch this video and count how many times the players in the white shirts pass the basketball. Go on, I’ll wait. How many did you count? That’s the study that the book gets its name from, and it looks at how we often have massive illusions about our attention. Even if the study didn’t trick you, you’ll still likely enjoy the book. If the study did get you, you’ll love it even more.

Books are a uniquely portable magic

That’s a quote from Stephen King that perfectly captures the joy of reading—and learning. A last note: this list was compiled based on a large scope—social psychology, persuasion, understanding one’s mind—and it was also not limited to strictly scientific books so that it could be enjoyed by a wide variety of people. Some pop-psychology is obviously going to appear on the list. Thanks for reading, and please share this article if you enjoyed it.

The 7 Psychological Benefits of Writing Regularly

When most people imagine a writer, they picture a quirky recluse hunched over a desk in some cabin with crumpled paper strewn about as they obsessively work on the next great American novel.

But writing is so much more. Prose is thought put to page, which makes all of us writers, even if we don’t have the chops to tangle with Faulkner. In most cases, writing is most useful as a tool for thinking, expression, and creativity; cabin-dwelling novelists be damned.

Let’s look at some of the benefits of making writing a regular habit.

1. Writing makes you happier

Much of the research on writing and happiness deals with expressive writing, or jotting down what you think and how you feel. Even blogging “undoubtedly affords similar benefits” to private expressive writing in terms of therapeutic value.

Expressive writing has also been linked to improved mood, well-being, and reduced stress levels for those who do it regularly, says Adam Grant:

“Research by Laura King shows that writing about achieving future goals and dreams can make people happier and healthier… And Jane Dutton and I found that when people doing stressful fundraising jobs kept a journal for a few days about how their work made a difference, they increased their hourly effort by 29% over the next two weeks.”

2. Writing helps clarify your thinking

Laziness with words creates difficulty in describing feelings, sharing experiences, and communicating with others. Being able to flesh out thoughts in your mind only to have them come stumbling out when you speak is supremely frustrating. Fortunately, regular writing seems to offer some reprieve.

In Richard Langham’s book Revising Prose, he shares that one of the most important benefits of clear writing is making sure you’re actually saying something. The cost of confusing someone else with unclear prose is high, but what about the cost of confusing yourself?

One benefit of writing is that it helps you remove the fluff and think clearly

As an added benefit, in both emotional intelligence and in hard sciences like mathematics, writing has been shown to help people communicate highly complex ideas more effectively. Writing helps eliminate “it sounded good in my head” by forcing your hand; brains forgive fuzzy abstractions, prose does not.

3. Writing can help you handle hard times

In one study that followed recently fired engineers, the researchers found that those engineers who consistently engaged with expressive writing were able to find another job faster. According to Adam Grant:

“The engineers who wrote down their thoughts and feelings about losing their jobs reported feeling less anger and hostility toward their former employer. They also reported drinking less. Eight months later, less than 19% of the engineers in the control groups were reemployed full-time, compared with more than 52% of the engineers in the expressive writing group.”

Older research also shows that writing about traumatic events actually made the participants more depressed until about six months later, when the emotional benefits started to stick. One participant noted, “Although I have not talked with anyone about what I wrote, I was finally able to deal with it, work through the pain instead of trying to block it out. Now it doesn’t hurt to think about it.”

It seems that timing is critical for expressive writing to have an impact. Forcing the process to happen may only worsen things, but if writing is an activity that is engaged in naturally, the benefits seem clear.

4. Writing makes you feel more grateful

As the authors of one study noted, subjects who reflected on the good things in their life once a week by writing them down were more positive and motivated about their current situations and their futures.

The catch was that the benefits were minimal when they wrote about them every day. This makes sense; any activity can feel disingenuous and just plain boring if done too often. It seems like the key is to reflect and write about gratitude regularly, but not begrudgingly often.

5. Writing helps close out your “mental tabs”

Have you ever had too many Internet tabs open at once? It is a madhouse of distraction. When I feel like my brain has too many tabs open at once, it’s often the result of trying to mentally juggle too many thoughts at the same time.

Writing gives form to your ideas and gets them out of your head, freeing up bandwidth and preventing you from crashing your browser like a late-night downward spiral on Wikipedia. Getting important ideas down alleviates the stress of losing your thoughts to time or an overcrowded mind.

I’ve personally never felt inclined to not work on something just because I “archived” the idea with some notes or an outline. In fact, I’m more likely to continue developing that idea since it has already been started.

If all else fails, remember this joke from Mitch Hedberg: “I sit at my hotel at night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.”

6. Writing is a proven way to learn

Information often sticks better when it’s learned as though it needs to be taught or re-written in your own words. This concept of having a “writer’s ear” never fully clicked with me until I started writing regularly.

There’s a certain discipline required to create interesting written work that demands the individual be receptive and focused on finding new sources of information, inspiration, and insight. Personally, I’ve read books, listened to podcasts, and watched videos I would normally have put off in order to learn something new so that I might write about it later.

Simply being a curator of good ideas encourages deeper thinking, research, and “heading down the rabbit hole” in order to find unique takes on topics that matter to you. Committing to creating a volume of work also allows you to tackle big ideas more effectively.

Writing around a certain topic for some time will allow you to build off of older thoughts, utilizing what you’ve already written to develop ideas on a grander scale. I’m sure many writers have written a paragraph that leads to an essay, which leads to a series of articles, which leads to a book.

7. Writing is leadership at scale

Though the world may now be drowning under the personal brand deluge, there are sincerely interesting opportunities that an “anyone can publish” world brings about.

The ability to leave an impact at scale through your words alone is an astounding concept. There’s a bit of a creative shock the first time someone emails you, thanking you for the work you’ve put out and sharing how it has helped or influenced them.

The positive feedback for this “leadership at scale” leads to gratitude and further motivation for the writer.

Facebook Marketing

Facebook benefits from smart content marketing just like anything else, and also just like anything else, it’s going to take some traffic to get where you want to go.

I’m mentioning that here because I don’t want people to get unrealistic hopes up for what I’m about to go into: in order for most of this to work well, you’re going to need some kind of traffic; 10 unique visitors a day does not make a multi-thousand followed Facebook page.

So, before you get into Facebook marketing, do the unthinkable: stop marketing, stop connecting, and start creating something that people will want to come to.

Facebook is a great means to drive additional traffic, but you have to get the ball rolling yourself with outstanding content and amazing guest posts.

Is Facebook worth it?

That depends. What is undeniable though, is that Facebook has gotten big:

  • Over 500 million active users
  • 50% log on during any given day
  • Average user has 130 friends and connects with 80 pages
  • Average user shares 90 pieces of content each month

Facebook could become a valuable part of your content marketing strategy. The foundations of which were laid when you started your self-hosted site.

Compare Yourself

A common, tired parlance in the world of personal development is to never compare yourself to others.

The intent is honorable; the advice is terrible.

There is a self-aggrandizing belief that you never need “suffer” from viewing your work next to someone else’s. This thinking stems from the fact that it is difficult to recognize what makes for a healthy, constructive comparison and what makes for a toxic one.

A healthy comparison is looking at great work and analyzing its parts. This stuff doesn’t appear out of thin air. Even the wunderkinds of the world are not taking dictation from God. What ends up on the canvas is the result of unique talent, experience, and deliberate effort. Study it.

You cannot deliver excellence until you’ve felt its presence. As Stephen King would say of his craft:

You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.

Analyzing brilliance serves as a reminder of what is still possible. If you care only for ego, this is disheartening. If you care about the work, this is invigorating—how lucky you should be to have so much left to hone and experience.

The mistakes we make

Keeping up with the Joneses is a poisonous, self-destructive form of comparison because it constantly benchmarks results.

How well some author’s book sold. How much some entrepreneur made on an acquisition. How flawlessly some musician played at a show. How awesome someone’s Instagram page looks (barf). We stay glued to other people’s results, even though they have nothing to do with us.

The only comparison that you can learn and benefit from is the craft.

Results are too variable. Luck and the chaotic nature of the universe will do as they please. Sharpening your creative edge, however, is under your ownership. The best way to improve is to study those who are at a level you would like to someday reach.

Many talented people become judge, jury, and executioner for their work because they see “the greats” and demotivate themselves by dwelling on how they will never mirror such virtuosity.

They have it all wrong. Comparing your work isn’t about being the best, it’s about being the best you are able.

Averting your gaze from others may save your ego but it comes at the cost of never learning anything from them. Setting standards that you must replicate is impossible—results are fluid and do different things for different people. The goal of comparison is merely to raise the bar that keeps you moving forward.

Constructive comparison is not reading “8 Things All Successful People Do,” or any similar schlock. Constructive comparison is being an aspiring essayist and studying the works of John McPhee. Purpose, direction, learning; ego-bruising and vicarious living need not apply.

The goal isn’t to duplicate process, but understand impact. The reaction. You will often learn more studying the work than you will listening to the creator describe how it came to be.

Have a role model. Study the best. Demand more. Someday, if you’re lucky, a creative idol may become a creative rival.

YouTube Marketing

In social media and blogging, big predictions have been made for the future of YouTube. A post on Social Media Examiner covering 30 predictions from social media pros had a slew of positive predictions for how important YouTube was going to be in the coming year, including the follow:

  1. YouTube will get recognition and significant use as a major social network.
  2. YouTube will take the lead.
  3. YouTube rises to top of mind.

In fact, of all of the great platforms covered in this highly insightful prediction post, YouTube was viewed the most positively in the coming years. The general consensus?

Video is in, and as bloggers, we need to embrace the coming changes, or risk getting left in the dust.

The YouTube Advantage

Now, you probably aren’t too surprised to see YouTube being mentioned as the video platform of choice when it comes to 2012′s coming focus on video content.

Fact of the matter is, video viewing is becoming a huge part of media consumption on the web, and YouTube isn’t just leading the way, it’s almost lapping the competition: Americans are creating, sharing and viewing video online more than ever, Pew reported in a recent research study.

The percentage of American adults online using video-sharing sites such as YouTube or Vimeo increased to 71 percent in May 2011 from 66 percent the year before.

Seven in 10 American adults online are using video sharing sites such as YouTube… YouTube accounted for 22 percent of mobile data bandwidth usage and 52 percent of total video streaming in the first half of the year, according to broadband consulting firm Allot Communications. —Washington Post

What all of that data is pointing to: video content is becoming a huge part of our media consumption, and YouTube is the vanguard platform in the area.

Not only do you have YouTube’s astoundingly large audience to get your content out too, there are certain advantages to video use as a blogger that aren’t platform specific.

Guest Blogging

This section will turn into a holistic overview on guest blogging as I post more information on the topic.

I believe that guest blogging is still one of the best ways to practice effective content marketing for any website, but is especially useful for blogs.

I’d also like to go over some of the guest posts I’ve done, in case you are interested in reading some of my other content that isn’t featured on here.

In time I will include a list of links to all of the posts about guest posting on this blog, as well as links to my guest posts on other blogs.

Social Proof

Social proof is powerful stuff.

So powerful, in fact, that is was largely responsible for the biggest cult suicide in history.

As scary as that sounds, social proof can also be used for good, convincing people to take positive actions for themselves by dissuading their doubts.

Unique Proposition

Your unique selling proposition (USP) is literally the foundation of your business. In addition to finding an audience in need and figuring out how to fill that need, you also need to position yourself in the market in a unique way.

It’s an important decision to make, one that definitely deserves some time before you pull the trigger. The thing is, you don’t want to get stuck in “paralysis”, frozen with fear of choosing the wrong USP for your brand.

Today I’ve got a great pair of interviews that will help you find (or strengthen) your USP… and not take forever to do it.

Do you really need a unique selling proposition?

I think it is apparent to most of you reading why a USP can greatly benefit a business… but what about blogs? Do blogs really benefit from strong branding?

I’d have to answer that with a resounding yes. The thing is, blogs are often at the forefront of a business, especially if you are taking the “lean” way of building your audience before you even have a product.

Free Ebook

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To grab it (30+ pages of psychology studies that reveal incredible conversion techniques), simply enter your email below:

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Really, I just want to get this guide to you, not to hassle you via email. Enjoy, and if you have a few comments, feel free to leave me some feedback.