You would think that more than 3000 reviews averaging 4.6 would lead you to a great book. Instead, in this case, they led me to an awful book. The Power of Discipline is a slipshod bit of work. The writing/editing is terrible and the “evidence” supporting the author’s statements is often inaccurate.
Let me be more specific. I bought a copy of The Power of Discipline based on Amazon reviews. I understand that many people who read self-help books don’t worry too much about either writing or research support as long as the material is inspiring. I am definitely not one of those people.
I pushed through to finish the first chapter. That’s why the examples that follow are from that chapter alone. I’ll start with the “research support.”
The author describes the first study this way.
“Neuroscientists Todd Hare and Colin Camerer conducted a study in 2009 in which they used functional magnetic resonance imaging machines (fMRI) to record the brain activity that takes place when people are engaging in tasks that require them to use self-control and discipline. The participants were given a choice between accepting a small financial reward at the immediate conclusion of the study or a larger financial reward at a later date.”
I couldn’t find this study. There is an fMRI study by these researchers in 2009, but it looks at brain function while subjects make food choices.
The author gets the researcher’s name and date of the paper wrong for another piece of research.
When he describes some follow-up research to Walter Michel’s Marshmallow Study. The book’s author says: “In 2011, the participants of the Stanford Marshmallow experiment were re-evaluated.”
The author doesn’t specify a source here or anywhere else. The study he refers to is probably one conducted by B. J. Casey as the lead researcher, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in September 2011. Here’s how the author of the book describes a key finding of the study.
“It was also found that the participants who were able to delay gratification were more successful in all areas of life in comparison to the participants in the immediate gratification group.”
There is no mention of this or anything like it in the research.
Language and word choice are sloppy. For example, the author says, “The study revealed that a decision as simple as choosing whether to eat a marshmallow immediately or later determined the way they made decisions in adulthood.” It’s not clear if he means that the choices people made as children caused them to make decisions a certain way as adults, or whether he means that the way the children made choices is the same in adulthood.
I can’t imagine a competent professional editor letting a book like this slip into publication. I wonder if the author decided to forego either an additional draft or a professional edit or both. I wonder if the reason for not citing sources is to make it hard for readers to check the research for themselves.
In a Nutshell
Sloppy writing is bad. But it’s dangerous when an author doesn’t report the findings of research accurately. Skip The Power of Discipline and find a book where you can trust author’s conclusions.
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