Reviewed by Katherine Matthews
As many of us tend to get caught up in our minds, we may forget about the significance of the body that houses all those thoughts and emotions. Sian Beilock’s book How the Body Knows Its Mind is an effort to emphasize the connection between body and mind, offering support for the argument that many of the mind’s problems can be sourced from, or solved by, the body. This sounds like an argument so obvious that it hardly needs to be written down at all—and, really, it is—yet it’s also the kind of common sense wisdom that’s worth repeating.
Beilock’s book is a look at research in support of this mind-body perspective from various angles, from depression, to confidence, to health and immunity, to clear thinking. She isn’t presenting her own groundbreaking research, at least, not much of it. Rather, she’s collected notable research that’s taken place over the years which supports her argument. Unfortunately that means that, if you’re relatively well-informed on modern research via TED talks (she includes, for example, TED talks from Daniel Wolpert on sea squirts and Amy Cuddy’s work on ‘power poses’) as well as traditional psychology at large (she even reaches back to do a full explanation on Harry Harlow’s experiments in the 1950s on monkeys and affection), the result is that Beilock isn’t telling you anything new. Some sections could even be painfully lacking in profundity, for example her chapter on the restorative powers of nature. Maybe it was just her determined effort to create a comprehensive book on the topic, but I found myself skimming a great number of pages as I looked to find something new that the author was contributing to thought or research, rather than something she was simply collecting and repeating, no matter how well-established or banal.
The book does, however, excel at being very readable, making it an excellent general interest or airport read. I can’t help but feel that some of my boredom with the book had to do with the fact that, for me at least, she was already preaching to the choir, so I think the book is best suited for those who need some scientific convincing (which they haven’t already seen or read from many other sources piecemeal). Affable and easy-going, it’s a non-challenging non-fiction read for the person who occasionally gets stuck in his or her head.
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Sian Beilock also wrote Choke: The Secret to Performing Under Pressure.