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Books of the Month: Magic Words, Predictably Irrational, Hooked, and More…

Books of the Month: Magic Words, Predictably Irrational, Hooked, and More…

“Can you recommend a book for…?”

After being asked this question hundreds of times, I decided to start putting together a list of what I read in the last month, what I thought about each book, and which I liked best and why.

So, if you’re looking for something good to read, you might find these posts helpful. And if this is up your alley, get on my email list and I’ll send you a notification each month of when the next installment goes live.

Alright then, onto the goodies… Here’s what I read last month and what I thought of each:

Magic Words


The subjects of influence and persuasion are enduring interests of mine.

The bottom line is the better you are at getting people to say “yes” to you and your ideas, the better your life is going to be.

I picked up Magic Words on a whim and more or less got what I expected: a breezy review of the fundamentals of winning people over.

I’ve come across much of the key material in this book elsewhere so it wasn’t particularly revealing, but I did pick up a few new ideas that I liked.

For example, the emphasis on the careful use of words and phrasing of questions is spot on and the use of “yes” statements and “noddables” can be more powerful than you might think.

So, if you’re well versed in the science of selling, you can probably pass on this book. If you’re not, though, and want to get your feet wet, you’ll probably find it helpful.

3 Ideas I Liked From Magic Words

  • During every argument, negotiation, sales pitch, performance review, or platform presentation, you should strive to find a “yes” early on. However, when they were instructed to get a minimum of three “little yeses” early on in the conversation, suddenly they were able to close 32 percent of the sales.
  • We possess an ancient survival instinct that Dr. Tom Miller says “wants to keep you the same, as you are right now, every day, for the rest of your life, until you die.” The way your brain sees it— so far so good! You’re breathing and your heart is beating. Let’s keep that going for as long as possible. Anything new is a possible threat to that status quo. So, we say no to stuff.
  • People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves.

Predictably Irrational


Most us like to think of ourselves as more or less rational people that make more or less rational choices.

This is more fantasy than fact.

Some of us may be more analytical than others, but as Ariely illustrates in Predictably Irrational, we all behave like automatons sometimes.

I think that’s an important fact to accept and rooting out these “short-circuits” is a worthwhile endeavor.

The more infallible we think we are, the more ways we can be blindsided by life (and the more insufferable we can be for others). On the other hand, the more we can recognize where we depart from the ideal, the more we can understand ourselves, and particularly our strengths and weaknesses.

Well, Predictably Irrational can help you find some of the chinks in your armor (with a particular emphasis on the commercial realm).

Going from awareness to meaningful change is another matter (and beyond the scope of this book, IMO), but you can’t improve what you can’t see.

So, that’s why I think this book can benefit anyone.

And if you’re a marketer or entrepreneur, you’ll get the added bonus of new ideas on how to better present and sell your products and services (and I found it more useful in this regard than as a catalyst for better thinking that can lead to better living).

3 Ideas I Liked From Predictably Irrational

  • With everything you do, in fact, you should train yourself to question your repeated behaviors. We should also pay particular attention to the first decision we make in what is going to be a long stream of decisions (about clothing, food, etc.). When we face such a decision, it might seem to us that this is just one decision, without large consequences; but in fact the power of the first decision can have such a long-lasting effect that it will percolate into our future decisions for years to come. Given this effect, the first decision is crucial, and we should give it an appropriate amount of attention.
  • If you’re a company, my advice is to remember that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t treat your customers like family one moment and then treat them impersonally— or, even worse, as a nuisance or a competitor— a moment later when this becomes more convenient or profitable. This is not how social relationships work. If you want a social relationship, go for it, but remember that you have to maintain it under all circumstances.
  • Giving up on our long-term goals for immediate gratification, my friends, is procrastination.



Goldsmith opens Triggers with a pretty big promise:

He’s going to give you an almost “magic-bullet” system for effecting sweeping and permanent personal improvement.

It got off to a slow start (I almost quit) but by the midpoint, I was becoming a believer.

To my mind, Goldmsith clearly articulates some of the biggest barriers to self improvement and provides a simple, pragmatic method of overcoming them.

That method, which is the crux of the book, boils down to establishing what you need (and hopefully want) to start doing, stop doing, and keep doing, and then monitoring and scoring your progress (or lack thereof) in these areas of your life.

It’s a simple, logical way to stay mindful of what matters most to you and to monitor your efforts to improve.

If you read and like Triggers, read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People next–they go well together.

3 Ideas I Liked From Triggers

  • When we make bad choices and fail ourselves or hurt the people we love, we should feel pain. That pain can be motivating and in the best sense, triggering— a reminder that maybe we messed up but we can do better. It’s one of the most powerful feelings guiding us to change.
  • Many of us have a misguided belief that how we behave today not only defines us but represents our fixed and constant selves, the authentic us forever. If we change, we are somehow not being true to who we really are. This belief triggers stubbornness. We refuse to adapt our behavior to new situations because “it isn’t me.” We can change not only our behavior but how we define ourselves. When we put ourselves in a box marked “That’s not me,” we ensure that we’ll never get out of it.
  • If your motivation for a task or goal is in any way compromised—because you lack the skill, or don’t take the task seriously, or think what you’ve done so far is good enough—don’t take it on. Find something else to show the world how much you care, not how little.

Book of the Month



Hooked is slanted toward the app space but it’s a “must read” for anyone that wants to make their products and services “stickier.”

I often see it recommended as a “growth hacking” book but it’s far more substantial than any other I’ve read (in fact I have basically disliked anything that promotes “hacking” of any kind).

Hooked isn’t a lightweight collection of tips and tricks that may or may not boost your sales or user acquisition or satisfaction if you happen to have the right business model.

It’s a weighty and pragmatic exploration of consumer psychology that shows you how to systematically create “addictive” products and services, and you’ll see its principles in use in hundreds of successful businesses.

The eponymous star of the book is the four-phase “Hook Cycle” that can be used to create habit-forming products:

  1. Trigger. This is the actuator of behavior and it comes in two types: external and internal.
  2. Action. This is the behavior done in anticipation of a reward. Companies leverage two basic pulleys of human behavior to increase the likelihood of an action occurring: the ease of performing an action and the psychological motivation to do it.
  3. Variable Rewards. Dopamine levels surge when we’re expecting a reward and introducing variability multiplies the effect.
  4. Investment. This phase involves the user putting something into the product of service such as time, data, effort, social capital, or money. These commitments can be leveraged to make the trigger more engaging, the action easier, and the reward more exciting with every pass through the Hook cycle.

Each phase is expounded on and practical examples abound. You’d be hard pressed to find a product or service that couldn’t use some version of the Hook Cycle to grow faster.

The “ethics of addiction” is touched on as well, which is an important conversation to have. The principles in this book are inherently amoral and can be (and are) used for “good “or “evil.”

You can use them to “manipulate” people into developing good habits like waking up early, learning, and exercising, or destructive habits like fanatical video gaming, TV watching, or social media preening,

All in all, Hooked is one of the better marketing/psychology books I’ve read in a while and I highly recommend it.

5 Ideas I Liked From Hooked

  • Gourville claims that for new entrants to stand a chance, they can’t just be better, they must be nine times better. Why such a high bar? Because old habits die hard and new products or services need to offer dramatic improvements to shake users out of old routines. Gourville writes that products that require a high degree of behavior change are doomed to fail even if the benefits of using the new product are clear and substantial.
  • Paul Graham advises entrepreneurs to leave the sexy-sounding business ideas behind and instead build for their own needs: “Instead of asking ‘what problem should I solve?’ ask ‘what problem do I wish someone else would solve for me?’
  • You are now equipped to use the Hook Model to ask yourself these five fundamental questions for building effective hooks: 1. What do users really want? What pain is your product relieving? (Internal trigger) 2. What brings users to your service? (External trigger) 3. What is the simplest action users take in anticipation of reward, and how can you simplify your product to make this action easier? (Action) 4. Are users fulfilled by the reward yet left wanting more? (Variable reward) 5. What “bit of work” do users invest in your product? Does it load the next trigger and store value to improve the product with use? (Investment)
  • “The most important factor to increasing growth is . . . Viral Cycle Time.” 9 Viral Cycle Time is the amount of time it takes a user to invite another user, and it can have a massive impact. Having a greater proportion of users daily returning to a service dramatically decreases Viral Cycle Time.
  • Influencing behavior by reducing the effort required to perform an action is more effective than increasing someone’s desire to do it. Make your product so simple that users already know how to use it, and you’ve got a winner.

Have any book recommendations or anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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Leave a Comment!
  • Jacob Viets

    I know that this is not an article about working out, but I have a question regarding it. How do I fix an imbalance? After years of pitching without also working out (stupid decision) my right side is immensly more muscular than my left. It impairs my ability to do many exercises that involve both sides, because my left side gives out much earlier than my right side does. How would you suggest I go about correcting this imbalance?

    • You’ll want to do more work on your left side than your right (dumbbell and machine work) in addition to your barbell work.

  • Steven Scott

    These psychology-themed books (selling is certainly a branch of psychology, even if the university system won’t admit it), always entertain me, because I’m surrounded by fundamentalist Christians. I enjoy the contrast between the lesson of psychology (that we think and act EXACTLY like animals evolved mostly to eat and breed), and the loudly-expressed view of my neighbors and co-workers (that we’re specially created to fulfill a function totally at odds with our instincts, urges, interests, aptitudes, and anatomy). If we were built to be Christians, none of these marketing tricks would work.

    • Definitely agree selling is psychological and I’m not sure you can boil the human experience down to the desire to eat and breed.

      What Christian views do you feel are at odds with our natural programming?

  • Cindi Malcolm

    I agree that psychology is used in selling a product or idea. If we know the currency of someone, what they value, we are able to present our product in a way that appeals to that person. However, I disagree with the assumption that Christians ” specifically are created to fulfill a function totally at odds with our instincts, urges, interests, aptitudes, and anatomy”. God through Christ creates us with these instincts, urges, interests, aptitudes, and anatomies to use in His Kingdom-to use to help mankind. The difference lies in our ability to harness these resources for “good”. We are not at the mercy of our instincts, and so forth, if we control ourselves with God’s help. Under the influence of Almighty God, who created us in His image, our instincts, urges, interests and aptitudes can be purified, tweaked, if you will, to be used for the good of others, and to keep us out of trouble. Christians are the same, but different than the natural man.

    • Thanks for the comment Cindi. I’m going to stay out of the religious debate but I definitely agree we can work to change for the better and that pursuing excellence is a worthy way to serve the divine.

  • The Cryptofiend

    Thanks for the recommendations. Am always looking for new books on these kind of subjects to read.

  • Chris Cusimano

    Mike, I highly highly recommend the Lucky Years by Dr. Agus

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