Tuesday, October 23, 2007

3 Seconds: The Power of Thinking Twice review

I (finally!) finished another book I've been meaning to read and review for a while, Dr. Les Parrott's 3 Seconds: The Power of Thinking Twice. The book was published by Zondervan earlier this year, and is one of many books by the author dealing with the basic topic of succeeding in life. The book is relatively short, at 193 pages (I'm not including the promotions for other Les Parrott books at the end), though not so short at the last book I reviewed. Parrott is a widely published (and widely read) doctor of psychology who founded the Center for Relational Development on at Seattle Pacific University. This particular book examines how one can live a more meaningful and impactful life by choosing not to immediately respond to one's first impulse and to embrace six patterns Parrott believes characterize successful people.

The book's length is broken down into a brief foreword by John C. Maxwell, an introduction in which Parrott lays out his thesis, six chapters corresponding to his six important impulses, and a conclusion summarizing his arguments. Parrott's thesis in essence is that taking three seconds to pause and re-examine one's decision: rejecting a primary impulse and embracing a secondary, less natural but more effective, impulse. The chapters cover the following negative and positive impulses:

  1. Empower Yourself: "There's nothing I can do about it," vs. "I can't do everything, but I can do something."

  2. Embrace a Good Challenge: "It's too difficult to even attempt," vs. "I love a challenge."

  3. Fuel Your Passion: "I'll do what happens to come my way," vs. "I'll do what I'm designed to do."

  4. Own Your Piece of the Pie: "It's not my problem, somebody else is to blame," vs. "The buck stops here."

  5. Walk the Extra Mile: "I've done what's required, and that's that," vs. "I'll go above and beyond the mere minimum."

  6. Quit Stewing and Start Doing: "Someday I'm going to do that," vs. "I'm diving in ... starting today."

In each chapter, Parrott dissects the initial impulse, analyzing its appeal and how and why it leads to failure, then follows up with his own second impulse and provides both statistical and anecdotal support for his solution to the problem. Woven throughout each chapter are not only motivational stories but referenes to Scripture (typically without direct, in-text citation, but typically also direct quotes).

Parrott's style is that of the counselor; his background as a psychologist comes through clearly. He deals primarily in the realm of human issues and speaks clearlywhen it comes to our mind's patterns. His writing is clear and simple. He doesn't have a distinctive voice, instead opting for a largely neutral tone that is informative and concise. While this doesn't lend itself to a particularly memorable style, it also keeps any idiosyncrasies from becoming overwhelming or annoying. Each section clearly states the thesis, expounds on it, and then neatly summarizes the ideas presented, along with several anecdotes for each chapter. Parrott doesn't spend a great deal of time dealing with things from a Scriptural perspective, focusing instead on the issues at hand from a psychological perspective (more on this below).

The merits of the book are its clear and concise writing, its skillful use of anecdotes, and its accuracy. As I noted in the stylistic analysis, Parrott's writing isn't particularly stylish, but it is simple and as such has a certain elegance. It's not cluttered, and this works to his advantage: the book gives you the information you want in a way that is easy to read, easy to understand, and easy to remember. The anecdotes presented bring the concepts to life in a way that help ensure that they do not remain mere abstractions. One interesting point in the book's favor, interestingly, is that the book is really not explicitly "Christian." Parrott is a psychologist, and a good one - but he is no theologian, and he makes no claim to be. He cites Christ at several points to build his case, quoting directly from Scripture, but the book is of the sort that it could easily be read by a non-Christian who would still come away having learned something. Perhaps more importantly, the book could easily be read by a non-Christian without feeling like Parrott was beating him or her over the head with the Bible in an attempt to Christianify, if you will, notions that are simply not terribly theological (though of course theology has implications for them). This might strike you as odd, but I see it as a huge advantage to the book: it is general enough to appeal to a broad audience, but has sufficient scriptural hooks to perhaps interest the non-Christian in taking a deeper look at Scripture.

The demerits, interestingly, parallel the merits: they are in the writing style, and the use of anecdotes. The downside to Parrott's lack of a distinctive voice is that the book, while informative and useful, is not terribly memorable. I didn't remember the principles presented without explicit review when I sat down to write this selection only four days after finishing the book. The book's emphasis on pure psychology absent much Scripture, while advantageous as noted above, could prove a turn-off to many Christians (though this is a less a demerit of the book than of the Christian publishing bubble, in my mind). On a related note, explicit referencing, even in footnotes, of the relevant passages would have been a huge boon to the book insofar as it does reference scripture.

I applaud Parrott for having written a credible and useful piece of non-fiction that is simply a good piece of work: that is, for being a good psychologist whose view is informed by his relationship with Christ, not a good Christian psychologist whose work is made irrelevant to the non-Christian by his lack of quality work. Too often I've seen authors who know their Christian audience will buy their book because it's by a Christian, instead of turning out quality work informed by their faith. While I can't say that the book should be mandatory reading, per se, I do think it's worth picking up if you have time. I know the Holy Spirit used it to bring me conviction in some of the areas Parrott addresses, and in so doing motivated me to pursue Him and His will in my life to a greater degree. If you've got some leeway in your schedule (or perhaps more importantly if you don't), you should consider this as one possible read.

- Chris


  1. Sounds like a book to skim through ...

  2. Dude,

    You got a real gift in that brain of yours, but, do you ever put it in neutral, like stop and watch a sunset or stare at nothing for a few minutes? Kinda keeps the brain from boiling over.

  3. Ame - yes. :-)

    Anon - well, I've tried, and it didn't work. I appreciate sunsets and staring at nothing more when contemplating, not less. *shrugs* So I'm weird, I guess. :-)


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