It Takes What It Takes: How to Think Neutrally and Gain Control of Your Life by Trevor Moawad with Andy Staples, HarperOne, 2020
Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019
Focusing our thinking to maximize goal achievement is the topic of these two very different books. Trevor Moawad, author of It Takes What It Takes, is a mental conditioning coach to elite athletes and a true believer in the power of positive thinking. His book is filled with stories and examples from his time working with top NFL teams. Wendy Wood, author of Good Habits, Bad Habits, is a professor of psychology and business at USC and author of numerous rigorous academic research studies on the science of habits.
It Takes What It Takes, which Moawad co-wrote with Andy Staples, covers twelve strategies for overcoming negativity to manage both challenges and successes in life. The book features numerous anecdotes from Moawad’s years as a mental coach to champion athletes such as Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks (who wrote the foreword). The overall concept of the book is that the same powerful mental-conditioning tactics that help teams win Super Bowls can help you win in all aspects of your life.
Moawad bases his advice on a mix of elements from evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology, behavioral economics, Buddhist mindfulness, and neurolinguistics. Not surprisingly, he also references lessons learned from his father, the renowned coach turned self-help pioneer, Bob Moawad. The younger Moawad jokingly refers to himself as his dad’s science experiment because of the motivational lessons he received daily (and sometimes nightly, in the form of subliminal motivational recordings) as a child. He says you don’t necessarily need to know why his tactics work, you just have to know that they do work—and his clients’ track records of success are convincing! He also brings in a modest number of outside sources to back up his methods, with some citations and endnotes referencing published literature.
I particularly appreciated the ideas in chapters four and five about verbal governance, which call upon us to avoid verbalizing negativity, and a negativity diet, which advocates refraining from all negative media, including TV, news, and even country music or blues songs (which he thinks are thematically toxic). He’s a huge fan of inspiring media. I’m always up for a life hack, and after reading this, I tried Russell Wilson’s favorite Christian music on Spotify to test whether it made me feel more positive. It actually worked.
The matrix for conscious competence in chapter ten is valuable as a framework for both meeting people where they are and understanding your own capabilities. In the end, I was left with the impression that this is really a leadership book and that perhaps it sold itself short by not putting that up front.
In Good Habits, Bad Habits, Wendy Wood digs much deeper, and describes the science behind building good habits to support goal achievement. Wood asks and answers the question of why it is so hard for the average Joe to achieve his or her goals.
The difference between the two books is exemplified by how the authors discuss the famous Nike slogan, “Just Do It,” from two very different points of view. Trevor Moawad cites it at face value, while Wendy Wood attacks the root causes that make it hard for regular people to carry out this advice. Wood skillfully outlines how we can get better at sticking to our goals by better understanding the principles of context, repetition, rewards, and consistency as drivers of habits. Her ideas in the book are backed up by numerous published and peer-reviewed academic studies (many from her own lab) that are highly convincing and also inspiring.
A repeating theme in Good Habits, Bad Habits is the importance of tapping into the unconscious parts of our minds that govern habits, “a vast semi-hidden nonconscious apparatus” that we can wrangle to achieve our goals. Wood introduces us to this “second self”—as opposed to the conscious self that we feel is in the driver’s seat. Because the second self controls an astonishing 43 percent of what we do, according to Wood’s published research, it’s definitely a good idea to get acquainted with it.
Wendy Wood peppers Good Habits, Bad Habits with anecdotes about how habitual behaviors can help companies such as Procter & Gamble achieve higher sales or brand loyalty. She also discusses the use of habits to manage employees, improve relationships, manage health, and avoid addiction. One is left with the feeling that developing good habits is the answer to most of life’s challenges—and her book provides a great roadmap for that path.