Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book Review: 'Psyched Up' by Daniel McGinn

In the finals of the 2017 National Spelling Bee, a remarkably composed twelve-year-old girl plowed through a list of words that most adults would not even be able to pronounce. She was well prepared for this grueling contest and ultimately prevailed. Daniel McGinn's "Psyched Up" deals with the various ways in which musicians, athletes, business executives, and others get ready for high-pressure performances, competitions, and presentations. The book opens with a surgeon, Mark McLaughlin, who engages in specific activities before he makes his initial incision. Dr. McLaughlin drinks several cups of coffee, reclines, listens to soothing classical music, and mentally rehearses the procedure. Finally, he thinks positive thoughts and says a prayer. Are there techniques that anyone can use to optimize his or her ability to work effectively?

The author, an editor at the Harvard Business Review, presents studies that evaluate the merits of various types of mental and physical preparation. McGinn discusses the efficacy of pep talks; music as a source of inspiration; superstitions; mental training by experts; and, most controversially, the use of legal performance-enhancing drugs, such as beta-blockers. This work of non-fiction does not offer clear-cut prescriptions for success. Instead, McGinn presents a smorgasbord of ideas, leaving the individual reader to decide whether this information can be of use to him or her.

"Payched Up" is filled with entertaining anecdotes and intriguing concepts. On the other hand, McGinn uses too much jargon and presents conflicting information that, at times, leaves us more confused than enlightened. Still, for individuals who suffer from stage fright or other forms of anxiety, there are tips in this book that could make a difference in the way they handle the nerves that accompany a job interview, an important speech or recital, or other high-pressure occasions. This book is far from a cure-all for sweaty palms and severe anxiety, but it gives hope to people who long to be at their best when it counts the most.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.