Barking Up The Right Tree

Very rarely these days do I read a book on pop psychology that blows me away. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of great books on the subject, because there are.

It’s more of a reflection of the fact that I love the topic so much and I’ve read so many that I tend to be already familiar with the research and stories they focus on.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong (al) was like a breath of fresh air and the first book I’ve read on the topic that I can honestly describe as a page-turner.

If you have been loitering around here for any length of time you will know that I absolutely love exploding the myths and lies of self development.

I get exasperated by people who regurgitate alternative facts such as ‘we only use 10% of our brain’, ‘a leopard cannot change it’s spots’ and ‘you can achieve anything you set your mind to’ without ever stopping to think if they’re true.

Fortunately for me (and you), Eric Barker seems to think the same way and as such researches the shit out of common wisdom that is all too often common, but frequently not very wise.

What Would Life Without Pain Be Like?

He opens up the book by telling you about a girl who couldn’t feel any pain.

What was your gut reaction to that?

Mine was, ‘Oo baby that would be so awesome!’

But of course it’s not awesome it’s a major problem. Pain is there to alert us to something that’s wrong and if we cannot feel it we cannot do anything to rectify it.

In fact we can exacerbate matters. Imagine not knowing you have a hairline fracture in your leg as you set off out for a long run.

I’m sure every now and then you’ve bitten your tongue, right? It hurts, doesn’t it? Our first response is to back right and off and eat our food differently.

People who cannot feel pain cannot do that and a common problem for them is something as benign as biting their tongue leading to abscesses forming and infection setting in.

Barker will tell you why being confident is a bonus, and also why it can be a curse.

Why it’s great to suck up to people to get on in the workplace, and why it won’t help you get on at all.

Why helping others will help you become more successful, and why helping others may prevent you from being successful.

And why grit is so important, except when you should quit that is.


Yeh, well welcome to the human race.

Eric Barker doesn’t mind confusing you because he understands that life isn’t black and white and that it’s way more than 50 shades of gray.

There is no ‘rule’ that guarantees success, no blueprint you can follow – and there isn’t any one thing called success as you will find out when he chronicles some super successful people who in many ways, weren’t that successful – and often, they knew it.

Barker even dives into the world of values.

As somebody who has been hammering home the importance of core values in our life and whose method is used by hundreds of other coaches to help clients, he delivered a bombshell to me.

I have always talked about something I call ‘inherent values’. They are values we all want to adhere to – or at least the vast majority of us do.

Values like ‘meaning’, ‘significance’, ‘legacy’ etc.

Eulogy Values

Barker introduced me to the work of David Brooks who terms these types of values as eulogy values.

I’d never even thought of them like that, but it makes perfect sense.

Yes they are largely speaking inherent, but when you look at them from the perspective of your own eulogy they take on even more significance.

Thinking of our own mortality when making values-based decisions can be incredibly motivating.

Barker has got a very cool way of writing and often it feels like you’re reading a novel.

He’s witty, engaging and almost never fails to have you wanting to keep on going at the end of a chapter or section.

You can tell he writes a killer blog, because he almost has a clickbait way of finishing chapters – just in a good way.

Could you read a segment of a book that ends with; ‘So what happens if all of us become selfish and just stop trusting one another? The answer to that question is Moldova’ and not be begging to know, ‘what the fuck is going on in Moldova?’ and need to carry on reading?

‘Barking Up The Wrong Tree’ isn’t just a book of super cool stories, although there are lots of those, it’s a book that truly analyses success and doesn’t just follow the predictable beaten path.

It eschews self development dogma and allows you to extract the parts that are relevant to you and utilize them.

If you’re introverted, no problem you can still succeed. If you lack confidence, no problem you can still succeed. And if you don’t want to put in the standard 10,000 hours to master something, no problem you can still succeed.

Barker realizes not only that success is in the eye of the beholder, but also that the path is different for every person.

This has nudged the excellent ‘The Upward Spiral’ as the best book I’ve read this year.

How good are both? With each I read the physical book and then bought the audio version too.

Oh and one last thing. I always thought the romanticizing of pirates was silly. After all, they were violent, boorish, murderous thugs who although kind to parrots went around plundering treasure and killing people.

It seems I got that wrong too. Pirates really were very, very cool and Eric Barker can tell you why because he most definitely is barking up the right tree.