My world at Blinkist revolves around books: self-help books, psychology books, books on business and marketing and persuasion. They’re full of colorful anecdotes and tried-and-true strategies for making just about anything in life easier or better.
While having multiple options for mastering a skill is a nice luxury, too much of a good thing is still just that. At Blinkist, we condense nonfiction books into 15-minute summaries; even so, if you tried to read the entirety of the library, the onslaught of advice would probably make your life more difficult, not less.
So, to do just as this post promises and help you make life easier, I tapped the brain power of my readerly colleagues and asked them to contribute the best guaranteed-to-make-life-easier tricks they’ve found while poring over hundreds of great nonfiction books.
These are the 7 best pieces of practical, applicable advice the Blinkist staff has found for making all kinds of daily challenges a little bit simpler.
How to: Get your favor granted
From wheedling a co-worker into cat-sitting to convincing your brother to loan you his truck, there’s a right and a wrong way to ask for a favor. The door-in-the-face technique, also called the rejection-then-retreat strategy, is a simple technique from Robert Cialdini’s book Influence.
First, ask for a big favor you know your counterpart will refuse – like a 100-dollar loan. Then, take a step back and ask for a much smaller favor – say, 10 bucks – with the second amount being the one you actually wanted, anyway.
Your counterpart will be more likely to agree to this second favor because a) he sees it as a reasonable compromise and b) you appear courteous and cooperative.
How to: Make someone forgive you
This one comes from Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Whenever you know you’re in the wrong, admit it. Immediately. Always blame yourself and make sure that anyone else involved knows you are aware of your mistakes.
This deflection is clever because blaming yourself for your mistake will confuse others who expect you to deny your role. The idea is that your counterpart will have already prepared to criticize you, but will be left with nothing to say because you’ve already criticized yourself. This inspires them to be more generous when meting out forgiveness.
Carnegie also points out that this trick works well because, though this person would initially have wanted to elevate themselves by attacking you, all they can do to make themselves feel better once you’ve folded is forgive you.
How to: Get anybody to like you
It turns out that a little game of monkey see, monkey do will get you everywhere. People are more apt to like you when you mirror their behavior, notes Olivia Fox Cabane in The Charisma Myth.
Cabane advises that upon first meeting someone, you notice and adapt to their style of speech. If you want to take this trick up a notch, you could try wearing similar clothes and talking with them about topics in which they seem interested.
Before you start to feel creeped out, this technique is subtler (and more benevolent) than it may seem: what it boils down to is paying close attention to your company.
Imagine you’re selling your car and a potential buyer shows up in full golf attire with clubs protruding from the back seat. A solid way to connect with this person would be to start a conversation about golf, sharing your enthusiasm for the sport.
Finding common ground, whether it’s club prattle about that beastly back 9 or your similar taste in shoes, establishes trust, which is the key ingredient in selling your car – or yourself.
How to: Make a great first impression
This is a tip that even your mother would love. When you meet someone new, smile. Dale Carnegie says in How to Win Friends and Influence People that a smile is the easiest but most effective way to make a positive first impression that lasts.
A warm smile makes you seem more likeable while also broadcasting to others that you’re happy to see them, which puts the odds of them being happy to see you in your favor.
An added bonus? Smiling has benefits beyond the charm factor. A grin – even when if it’s a little forced – leads to positive emotions for you, too, by releasing endorphins and serotonin, relieving stress, and even boosting your immune system.
How to: Always be prepared
It’s the Boy Scouts of America motto, but preparation doesn’t have to mean knowing how to tie 18 different sorts of knots and start a fire with nothing but a rock, a stick, and a prayer. No. The secret to being prepared? It’s having a backup plan.
When you’re aiming for a goal, think positively about your current course, but have a slightly different goal prepared in case you want or need to adjust. But wait. The real key isn’t that backup plan – it’s the third alternative: Plan Z, or “The Lifesaver.” Reid Hoffman & Ben Casnocha write in the The Start-up of You, that Plan Z is a critical ingredient to success.
Plan Z is your option if all else fails: think crashing on your best friend’s couch if your company goes bankrupt, or living at your parents’ place if you lose your job, your spouse, and your house, too.
Having a Plan Z is effective because it changes your mindset. Knowing that there is a back door even in the worst case scenario will give you the strength and the confidence to fearlessly pursue your first goal.
How to: Influence others
Selling people on your story starts with understanding theirs. Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor, explains that by truly listening to what people say, you’ll be able not only to anticipate the arguments they might mount against you, but also get a feel for their fears and uncertainties.
When you open a dialogue and invite your counterpart to share his or her worries, they’ll realize you’re really listening to them, which in turn encourages them to open up and allow the connection between you to grow.
If you learn their fears first, by the time you get around to telling your story, you’ll be equipped to offer counter arguments that defuse their concerns, thus making them more likely to see things your way.
How to: Be happier
Experts agree: being happy is really a matter of recognizing the good you’ve already got. Psychologists have proven that the feeling of gratitude improves your outlook on life, so in her book Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson recommends starting a gratitude diary. In it, you document the points in your day that made you feel thankful, so whenever you need a little shot of positivity you can turn to the diary and recreate those situations to trigger the feeling of gratitude.
Things to record could be the birth of your child, a thoughtful present someone gave you, a kind stranger offering you her seat on the bus, or the 20 bucks you just found on the street.
Whatever the line-item, looking through your gratitude diary will be similar to looking through old photographs that bring positive memories and feelings of bygone days.
These tips are pretty low barrier to entry and there’s got to be one you can start using today. I myself have tried the forgiveness trick to great success!
If you test drive the others, drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how they worked for you! Have you learned a great make-life-easier skill from a book or author? Tell us about it in the comments!
If you’d like to find more tricks to make life a little easier, you can read the books mentioned here (plus a whole lot more) in a 15-minute, made-for-mobile serving over at Blinkist.