Psychology Society

Will Storr – The Status Game

As a tribal species, our personal survival has always depended on our being accepted into a supportive community. Powerful emotions compel us to connect: the joy of belongingness and agony of rejection. But once inside a group, we’re rarely content to flop about on its lower rungs. We seek to rise. When we do, and receive acclaim from our people, we feel as if our lives have meaning and purpose and that we’re thriving.

Our need for status gives us a thirst for rank and a fear of its loss that deforms our thinking and denies us the possibility of reliable happiness. It’s why, even as we raise ourselves so high above the other animals we appear to them as gods, we still behave like them – and worse. Always on alert for slights and praise, we can be petty, hateful, aggressive, grandiose and delusional.

This is why, I’ve come to believe, we make a fundamental error when we reflexively categorise our desire for status as shameful. A greater understanding of what helps drive us on our good days and bad must surely be useful. Digging beneath the flattering stories we like to tell of ourselves can help us see more clearly how we can become better, but also how easily we become tempted into delusion and tyranny.

We’re going to define three different forms of the status game – the dominance game, the virtue game and the success game – and ask how certain kinds of play can lead us into a fairer, wealthier tomorrow.

When asked why we do the things we do, we rarely say, ‘It’s because of status. I really love it.’ It can be distasteful to think of it as any kind of motivating force, let alone a vital one. It contradicts the heroic story we like to tell of ourselves. When we pursue the great goals of our lives, we tend to focus on our happy ending. We want the qualification, the promotion, the milestone, the crown. These motivations, that tend to spring to mind immediately, are known by researchers as ‘proximate’. They’re absolutely real and valid but they have other upstream ‘ultimate’ causes. Ultimate causes are often subconscious and so hidden from us: they’re the reason we want the qualification, the promotion, the milestone, the crown, in the first place.

Wherever psychologists look, they find a remarkably powerful link between status and wellbeing. One study of more than sixty thousand people across 123 countries found people’s wellbeing ‘consistently depended on the degree to which people felt respected by others’. Attainment of status or its loss was ‘the strongest predictor of long-term positive and negative feelings’.

Psychologists find that simply connecting with others and feeling accepted by them can be profoundly good for us. But equally revealing is how our minds and bodies react when we fail to connect. A wide range of research finds people with depression tend to belong to ‘far fewer’ groups than the rest of the population. Studies across time suggest the more a depressed person identifies with their group – the more of their own sense of self they invest in it – the more their symptoms lift.

In one study, participants were told they were taste-testing chocolate chip cookies. Before the test began, they were asked to mingle with other tasters then choose two they’d like to work with. Some were told (falsely) that nobody had picked them; others that everyone had. The first group, who’d been socially rejected, went on to eat an average of nine cookies more than the non-rejected: nearly twice the number. Most of them even rated the taste of the cookies more highly, implying their rejection actually altered their perceptions of the sugary food.

Marmot was surprised to discover precisely how high a civil servant climbed in the game of the civil service predicted their health outcomes and mortality rates. This was not, as you might reasonably assume, to do with the wealthier individuals leading healthier and more privileged lifestyles. This effect, which Marmot calls the ‘status syndrome’, was entirely independent: a wealthy smoker just one rung below the very top of the status game was more likely to fall ill, as a result of their habit, than the smoker one rung above them.

One review of the scientific literature found that ‘perceiving oneself as having low rank compared to others is consistently linked to higher depressive symptoms’. Some psychologists argue that when we become depressed we ‘mentally withdraw from the competition for higher status’. This keeps us off ‘high-status individuals’ radars’ and conserves energy, helping us cope with the ‘reduced opportunities imposed by low status’.

Much of what seems inarguably real and true, in the space around us, is not. The actual world is monochrome and silent. Sounds, colours, tastes and smells exist only in the projection in our heads. What’s actually out there are vibrating particles, floating chemical compounds, molecules and colourless light waves of varying lengths.

psychologically healthy brain excels at making its owner feel heroic. It does this by reordering our experiences, remixing our memories and rationalising our behaviour, using a battery of reality-warping weapons that make us believe we’re more virtuous, more correct in our beliefs and have more hopeful futures in store than others.

These apparently trite symbols matter. In one test, when participants were shown photos of people wearing ‘rich’ or ‘poor’ clothes, they automatically assumed those in wealthier looking outfits were significantly more competent and of higher status. This effect remained when they were warned upfront of the potential bias, when they were informed the clothing was definitely irrelevant and when they were told all the people worked in sales at a ‘mid-size firm in the Midwest’ and earned around US$80,000. It even remained when the participants were paid money to make an accurate guess.

The status detection system is highly evident in the behaviour of youngsters. Around three-quarters of arguments between children aged 18 and 30 months are over possessions, a figure that rises to 90 per cent when just two toddlers are present. For developmental psychologist Professor Bruce Hood, possession is a ‘means to establish where you are in the nursery pecking order’.

This has been found many times, with one study using data from twelve thousand British adults concluding ‘the ranked position of an individual’s income predicts general life satisfaction, whereas absolute income and reference income have no effect’.

These rules were essential because humans can often be greedy, dishonest and aggressive. One survey of sixty premodern societies uncovered seven common rules of play that are thought to be universal: help your family; help your group; return favours; be brave; defer to superiors; divide resources fairly; respect others’ property. These elemental rules dictate the ways humans keep their tribes working well.

In one study, 86 per cent of Australians rated their job performance as ‘above average’; in another, 96 per cent of Americans described themselves as ‘special’. East Asian games tend to be more collective

The brain begins learning these rules in infancy. As 2-year-olds, we have around one hundred trillion connections between our brain cells, double that of an adult. This is because, when we’re born, we don’t know where we’re going to pop out. Baby brains are specialised for many environments, many games. At this age, we’re better than adults at recognising faces of other races and can hear tones in foreign languages that grown-ups are deaf to.

Much of the rest of human life is comprised of three varieties of status-striving and three varieties of game: dominance, virtue and success. In dominance games, status is coerced by force or fear. In virtue games, status is awarded to players who are conspicuously dutiful, obedient and moralistic. In success games, status is awarded for the achievement of closely specified outcomes, beyond simply winning, that require skill, talent or knowledge.

In Tanzania, Hadza hunters who share meat widely ‘gain great social status – prestige that can be parlayed into powerful social alliances, the deference of other men, and greater mating success’, writes Buss. People engage in ‘competitive altruism’, battling to be ‘seen by others as great contributors to the group’. Of course, status is awarded to the altruistic in more modern societies too: studies show those who donate to charity, for example, experience ‘a dramatic boost in prestige in the eyes of others’.

Chimpanzee troops have been found to be ‘several hundred to a thousand times’ more aggressive than even the most violent human societies.

one survey found 53 per cent of Americans saying they’d prefer instant death than the reputation of a child molester; 70 per cent opted for the amputation of their dominant hand over a swastika tattoo on their face; 40 per cent preferred a year in jail to the reputation of a criminal.

It’s in this way that children in countries such as India overcome the pain of eating spicy foods. Mimicking the actions of high-status people is so desirable, it’s argued, their brains reinterpret the pain signals as pleasurable. Children are thought to teach themselves to enjoy spice-burning foods using automatic prestige-driven imitation. They rarely have to be forced.

Status games run on powerlines of influence and deference that crackle up and down their hierarchy. This is why, of all the countless status symbols that exist in human life, influence is probably the most reliable. We often assume money or fancy possessions are the most certain symbols of a person’s rank, but the highest-status monk in the world may have less wealth, and fewer Hermès ties, than the most junior banker on Wall Street. Influence is different.

But serious violence among women and girls is comparatively rare. For psychologist Professor Jonathan Haidt, ‘girls and boys are equally aggressive but their aggression is different. Boys’ aggression revolves around the threat of violence: “I will physically hurt you” … but girls’ aggression has always been relational: “I will destroy your reputation or your relationships”.’ Researchers argue female aggression tends to be ‘indirect’.

Humiliation has been described by researchers as ‘the nuclear bomb of the emotions’ and has been shown to cause major depressions, suicidal states, psychosis, extreme rage and severe anxiety, ‘including ones characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder’. Criminal violence expert Professor James Gilligan describes the experience of humiliation as an ‘annihilation of the self

If humans are players, programmed to seek connection and status, humiliation insults both our deepest needs.

The only way to recover is to find a new game even if that means rebuilding an entire life and self. ‘Many humiliated individuals find it necessary to move to another community to recover their status, or more broadly, to reconstruct their lives.’

An African proverb says, ‘the child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth’. If the game rejects you, you can return in dominance as a vengeful God, using deadly violence to force the game to attend to you in humility.

Researchers find happiness isn’t closely linked to our socioeconomic status, which captures our rank compared with others across the whole of society, including class. It’s actually our smaller games that matter: ‘studies show that respect and admiration within one’s local group, but not socioeconomic status, predicts subjective well-being’.

The model said a person is compelled to act when three forces collide in a moment: motivation (we must want the thing); trigger (something must happen to trigger a desire to get more of it) and ability (it must be easy).

more than any other to make them habitual. He described a way of issuing rewards such that they’d encourage compulsive behaviours. If a programmer wanted to create a certain action, in a user, they should offer a symbol of reinforcement after they’d performed the desired ‘target behaviour’. But here was the trick: the positive reinforcement would be inconsistent. You wouldn’t always know what you were going to get.

To strengthen an existing behaviour, reinforcers are most effective when they are unpredictable,’ Fogg wrote in 2003.

We await replies, likes or upvotes and, just as a gambler never knows how the slot machine will pay out, we don’t know what reward we’ll receive for our contribution. Will we go up? Will we go down? The great prize changes every time. This variation creates compulsion. We just want to keep playing, again and again, to see what we’ll get.

Canny players sense the flaw in their elites and seek to improve their own rank with flattery. And flattery works: Tourish calls it a ‘perfumed trap’. A study of 451 CEOs found leaders who were exposed to more frequent and intense flattery and agreement rated their own abilities more highly, were less able to change course when things went wrong, and led firms that were more likely to suffer persistently poor performance.

Surprisingly, what made the most difference to their behaviour wasn’t the level of inequality in their game, but whether or not the inequality was visible. When players’ wealth was hidden everyone, including the elites, became more egalitarian. But when wealth was displayed, players in every game became less friendly, cooperated ‘roughly half as much’ and the rich were significantly more likely to exploit the poor.

This is why poverty alone doesn’t tend to lead to revolutions. Revolutions – defined as mass movements to replace a ruling order in the name of social justice – have been found to occur in middle-income countries more than the poorest. Sociologist Professor Jack Goldstone writes, ‘what matters is that people feel they are losing their proper place in society for reasons that are not inevitable and not their fault’

By the time we are thirteen,’ writes psychologist Professor Mitch Prinstein, ‘it seems as if there is nothing more important to us than this type of popularity. We talk about who has it. We strategise how to get it. We are devastated when we lose it. We even do things we know are wrong, immoral, illegal, or dangerous merely to obtain status, or to fiercely defend it.’

Psychologist Dr Lilliana Mason writes, ‘more often than not, citizens do not choose which party to support based on policy opinion; they alter their policy opinion according to which party they support. Usually they do not notice that this is happening, and most, in fact, feel outraged when the possibility is mentioned.’

The moral reality we live in is a virtue game. We use our displays of morality to manufacture status. It’s good that we do this. It’s functional. It’s why billionaires fund libraries, university scholarships and scientific endeavours; it’s why a study of 11,672 organ donations in the USA found only thirty-one were made anonymously. It’s why we feel good when we commit moral acts and thoughts privately and enjoy the approval of our imaginary audience. Virtue status is the bribe that nudges us into putting the interests of other people – principally our co-players – before our own.

When neuroscientist Professor Sarah Gimbel presented forty people with evidence their strongly held political beliefs were wrong, the response she observed in their brains was ‘very similar to what would happen if, say, you were walking through the forest and came across a bear

Professor Sam Gosling finds this when his students cluster into personality groups: ‘the extroverts don’t disguise their disdain for the uncommunicative introverts, who selfishly refuse to keep the discussion alive; they cannot fathom why their mute colleagues don’t do their bit to carry some of the conversational load. At the same time, the introverts have nothing but contempt for their garrulous counterparts; why not, they wonder, wait until you’ve got something worth saying before opening your mouth?’

For political psychologist Dr Lilliana Mason, part of the reason we continually attempt at warring for victory is that ‘people are compelled to think of their groups as better than others. Without that, they themselves feel inferior.’ At a ‘very primal level’ players are motivated ‘to view the world through a competitive lens, with importance placed on their own group’s superiority’. Humans love to become superior: to win. Researchers

A game’s command over its players strengthens when it flips into a mode of war.

For the vast majority of our time on earth, then, humans haven’t been subject to the tyranny of leaders. Instead, we lived in fear of what anthropologists call the ‘tyranny of the cousins’. These ‘cousins’ weren’t necessarily actual cousins. They’d usually be clan elders that, in these shallow hierarchies, passed for the elite.

In the end, she saved herself. At the time of writing, Templer’s company still exists, as does her blog. By conforming to the tyrannical cousins, and the frenzy spreading across the gossip networks of social media, she avoided being ‘cancelled’ – which is what we call it when internet mobs, unsatisfied by mockery, denunciation and humiliation meted out online, attempt at having their target de-graded as much as possible in the physical world.

A study of seventy million messages on the Chinese platform Weibo found the emotion that ‘travelled fastest and farthest through the social network’ was anger. Meanwhile, studies of mobbing events on Twitter find shamers increase their follower counts faster than non-shamers.

One investigation found those most likely to circulate ‘hostile political rumours’ including conspiracy theories and ‘fake news’ on social media were often ‘status-obsessed, yet socially marginalised’, their behaviour fuelled by a ‘thwarted desire for high status’, their aim, to ‘mobilise the audience against disliked elites’.

We found these same currents in the collective dreams of one of history’s most lethal games. The Nazis were Elliot Rodger, Ed Kemper and Ted Kaczynski on the level of a culture. They told a self-serving story that explained their catastrophic lack of status and justified its restoration in murderous attack. But it’s not just Germany that’s been possessed in this way. Nations the world over become dangerous when humiliated. One study of ninety-four wars since 1648 found 67 per cent were motivated by matters of national standing or revenge, with the next greatest factor – security – coming in at a distant 18 per cent.

Researchers find a primary motivation for suicide bombers is ‘the shame and humiliation induced by foreign troops in their country’.

When Algerians killed 103 French people following a riot, their colonialist masters sent aeroplanes to destroy forty-four villages, a cruiser to bombard coastal towns and commandos to slaughter on land: the French admit to 1,500 deaths, the Algerians claim 50,000. It’s for reasons like these that psychologist Dr Evelin Lindner has concluded that, ‘The most potent weapon of mass destruction’ is ‘the humiliated mind’.

Toxic morality is deeply implicated in these episodes: ‘genocide is highly moralistic’. Genocides are dominance-virtue games, carried out in the name of justice and fairness and the restoration of the correct order.

A ‘work ethic’ came into being, in which toil itself became prestigious. ‘This shift can be understood as the beginning of a work-centred society’, writes historian Professor Andrea Komlosy, ‘in which the diverse activities of all of its members are increasingly obliged to take on the traits of active production and strenuous exertion.’

We were getting our status from new kinds of games. Slowly, and in fits and starts, our focus had been juddering from duty to the clan towards individual competence and success. This changed our psychology, rewriting the cultural coding of our game-playing brains, turning us into new sorts of humans.

For Protestants, life was no longer a gruelling test for heaven or hell. God already knew where you were ending up. Believers were to look for clues of ‘assurance’ to see if they were saved or damned: signs of ‘elect status’ could be found in their own personal behaviour such as virtuous and sober living, but also in the accrual of wealth and rank on earth. Believers were said to have a personal ‘calling’. God had endowed them with special talents that they should seek to maximise by choosing the right occupation or vocation, then working hard in it.

Humans had been able to conquer the planet partly because we exist in a web of stored information. Every individual born didn’t have to learn everything for themselves afresh: knowledge was communicated by elders and passed down through the generations.

By connecting our ability to accumulate knowledge to our desire for status, they’d discovered the future.

This ‘Industrial Revolution’ was a status goldrush. It came to define the country’s mood and culture. Britons ‘became innovators because they adopted an improving mentality’, writes historian Dr Anton Howes. This mentality spread like a ‘disease’ that could infect ‘anyone … rich and poor, city-dwellers and rustics, Anglicans and dissenters, Whigs and Tories, skilled engineers and complete amateurs’.

One of the most famous, Scottish economist Adam Smith, is commonly known as the ‘Father of Capitalism’. Perhaps more than anyone, the hyper-individualistic, self-interested money-obsessed world we live in today is linked to him and his theories of how free markets and competition generate prosperity. But Smith didn’t believe greed for wealth was the ultimate driver of economies. He thought something else was going on, something deeper in the human psyche. ‘Humanity does not desire to be great, but to be beloved,’ he wrote in 1759.

We win points for personal success throughout our lives, in the highly formalised and often precisely graded games of school, college and work. In the street, in the office and on social media we signal our accomplishments with appearance, possessions and lifestyles. We’re self-obsessed, because this is the game we’re raised to play.

Following the depression and world wars, the economies of the USA and Britain became more rule-bound, virtuous and group-focussed: it was an era of increasing regulation over banking and business, high taxation (topping out at 90 per cent in America in the 1940s and 1950s), broad unionisation and ‘big government’ innovations such as the New Deal, the Social Security Act, the minimum wage and the welfare state.

American and British players became concomitantly collective: the monkey-suited ‘Corporation Man’ of the 1950s suburbs gave birth to the even more collectively minded hippies, with their anti-materialistic values.

But in the 1980s, the game changed again. During the previous decade, the economies of the West had started to fail. New ways of playing were sought. The leaders of the UK and USA, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, decided to make the game significantly more competitive. In 1981, Thatcher told journalists, ‘What’s irritated me about the whole direction of politics in the last thirty years is that it’s always been toward the collectivist society.’

We see this perfect human all around us, beaming with flawless teeth from advertising, film, television, media and the internet. Young, agreeable, visibly fit, self-starting, productive, popular, globally-minded, stylish, self-confident, extrovert, busy. Who is it, this person we feel so pressured to punch ourselves into becoming? It’s the player best equipped to win status in the game we’re in.

Led by psychologist Dr Thomas Curran, the researchers discovered all the forms of perfectionism they looked at had risen between 1989 and 2016. Social perfectionism had grown the most. The extent to which people felt they had to ‘display perfection to secure approval’ had soared by 32 per cent.

Today, sixty-nine of the hundred largest economies on earth are not nations but corporations. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, technology company Apple made more money than the annual GDP of 135 countries; its market valuation was higher than the GDP of Italy, Brazil, Canada, South Korea and Russia.

In just three years, between 2015 and 2018, support for capitalism among young Americans fell from 39 per cent to 30 per cent; a 2019 poll found 36 per cent of millennials saying they approve of Communism. Sociologist Professor Thomas Cushman writes, ‘anti-capitalism has become, in some ways, a central pillar of the secular religion of the intellectuals, the habitus of modern critical intellectuals as a status group’.

Between 1979 and 2005, the average real hourly wage for white working-class Americans without a high-school diploma declined by 18 per cent.

Education lies at the heart of this divide.’ Most of the 41 per cent of white millennials who voted for Trump in 2016 didn’t have college degrees. In all, white non-college voters comprised around three-fifths of Trump’s support in 2016; 74 per cent of people with no qualifications supported Brexit, the educational divide being greater than that of social class, income or age.

The person most credited with attempting to realize this dream is Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin. His hatred for the bourgeoisie was blinding, violent and total; many contemporary historians see its genesis in the humiliation his own upper-middle class family suffered after his brother, Sasha, was executed for a ‘laughably amateur’ but nearly successful assassination plot.

By 1920, 5.4 million were directly employed by the government. ‘There were twice as many officials as there were workers in Soviet Russia and these officials were the main social base of the new regime,’ writes Figes. ‘This was not a Dictatorship of the Proletariat but a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy.’

During the Great Terror, the police were issued quotas for what percentage of their district was to be shot or sent to the camps. On 2 June 1937, it was ordered that 35,000 were to be ‘repressed’ in one district, 5,000 of whom were to be shot. Between 1937 and 1938, 165,200 priests were arrested, 106,800 of whom were shot. In the same period, an average of one and a half thousand people were executed daily. One and a half million ordinary Russians were arrested by the secret police, nearly seven hundred thousand were executed for ‘counter-revolutionary activities’.

Throughout the 1930s, there came into being a complex hierarchy of status. Stalin might have admitted there were now three classes, but sociologists found at least ten: the ruling elite; superior intelligentsia; general intelligentsia; working-class aristocracy; white collar; well-to-do peasants; average workers; average peasants; disadvantaged workers; forced labour.

The new elites gained access to special apartments and had the best goods automatically reserved for them. Their children were sent to exclusive summer camps. They received holidays, chauffeur-driven cars and money. It became ‘normal’ for them to have live-in servants

As for the state itself, it argued their privilege was temporary: soon all of the USSR would live like this. They were not a privileged elite, went the thinking, they were a vanguard.

More than two thousand years before the revolution, the Ancient Greek who’d first dreamed the Communist dream had been corrected by his student, Aristotle, who’d pointed out it wasn’t actually wealth or private ownership that created the human yearning to get ahead. That yearning was a part of our nature: ‘it is not possession but the desires of mankind which require to be equalized’.

To persuade us to push a penis in and out of a vagina, it invented orgasm. To persuade us to sacrifice our wellbeing for a screaming, shit-smeared infant, it made love. To persuade us to force mashed-up foreign objects down our throats, it evolved taste and appetite. To persuade us to engage in groupish, co-operative living, it conjured the obsessive joys of connection and acclaim. Follow the rules, and follow them well, and you can expect to feel great.

As we play for ever-greater status, for ourselves and our games, we weave a self-serving and highly motivating dream that writhes with saints and demons and irrational beliefs. This dream is presented to us as reality. It’s entirely convincing, in all its colour, noise and pristine focus. We see evidence everywhere that it’s true. It has the power to seduce us into the most depraved acts of hatred and barbarity. But it can also lead us into modes of play that truly make a better world.

Psychologists studying optimal self-presentation discuss a set of closely related ideas. Professor Susan Fiske argues that, when encountering others, people ask of them two fundamental questions: ‘What are their intentions?’ and ‘What’s their capacity to pursue them?’ If we want to supply the right answers, and so be received positively, Fiske finds we should behave in ways that imply warmth and competence. More recently it’s been argued a third component should be added.

For Professor Jennifer Ray, morality is ‘not only a critical and separable dimension … it may even be the primary dimension’. Elsewhere, ‘perceived sincerity’ has been found to be essential to successful ‘impression management’.

Throughout history, leaders have succeeded by telling a story that says their group is deserving of more status, which, under their direction, they’ll win. But it remains important this evangelical passion doesn’t morph into arrogance.

Tyrannies are virtue-dominance games. Much of their daily play and conversation will focus on matters of obedience, belief and enemies. Is the game you’re playing coercing people, both inside and outside it, into conforming to its rules and symbols? Does it attempt to silence its ideological foes? Does it tell a simplistic story that explains the hierarchy, deifying their group whilst demonising a common enemy? Are those around you obsessed with their sacred beliefs?

Some forms of status are easier to win than others. For those of us who aren’t pretty, virtue is probably the easiest to find of all. It’s as simple as judging people: because status is relative, their de-grading raises us up, if only in our minds.

Morality poisons empathy.

I believe we can all take consolation in the knowledge that nobody ever gets there, not the superstars, the presidents, the geniuses or the artists we gaze up at in envy and awe. That promised land is a mirage. In our lowest moments, we should remind ourselves of the truth of the dream: that life is not a story, but a game with no end. This means it isn’t a final victory we should seek but simple, humble progress: the never-ending pleasure of moving in the right direction. Nobody wins the status game. They’re not supposed to. The meaning of life is not to win, it’s to play.

Psychology Society

Richard Thaler – Misbehaving

The core premise of economic theory is that people choose by optimizing. Of all the goods and services a family could buy, the family chooses the best one that it can afford.

Giving up the opportunity to sell something does not hurt as much as taking the money out of your wallet to pay for it. Opportunity costs are vague and abstract when compared to handing over actual cash.

I called this phenomenon the “endowment effect” because, in economists’ lingo, the stuff you own is part of your endowment, and I had stumbled upon a finding that suggested people valued things that were already part of their endowment more highly than things that could be part of their endowment, that were available but not yet owned.

Roughly speaking, losses hurt about twice as much as gains make you feel good.

The fact that a loss hurts more than an equivalent gain gives pleasure is called loss aversion. It has become the single most powerful tool in the behavioral economist’s arsenal.

“By default, the method of hypothetical choices emerges as the simplest procedure by which a large number of theoretical questions can be investigated. The use of the method relies on the assumption that people often know how they would behave in actual situations of choice, and on the further assumption that the subjects have no special reason to disguise their true preferences.”

Psychologists tell us that in order to learn from experience, two ingredients are necessary: frequent practice and immediate feedback.

Because learning takes practice, we are more likely to get things right at small stakes than at large stakes. This means critics have to decide which argument they want to apply. If learning is crucial, then as the stakes go up, decision-making quality is likely to go down.

Eventually I settled on a formulation that involves two kinds of utility: acquisition utility and transaction utility. Acquisition utility is based on standard economic theory and is equivalent to what economists call “consumer surplus.”

Humans, on the other hand, also weigh another aspect of the purchase: the perceived quality of the deal. That is what transaction utility captures. It is defined as the difference between the price actually paid for the object and the price one would normally expect to pay, the reference price

With those provisos out of the way, we can proceed to the punch line. People are willing to pay more for the beer if it was purchased from the resort than from the convenience store. The median† answers, adjusted for inflation, were $7.25 and $4.10.

Because consumers think this way, sellers have an incentive to manipulate the perceived reference price and create the illusion of a “deal.” One example that has been used for decades is announcing a largely fictional “suggested retail price,” which actually just serves as a misleading suggested reference price. In America, some products always seem to be on sale, such as rugs and mattresses, and at some retailers, men’s suits.

Once you recognize the break-even effect and the house money effect, it is easy to spot them in everyday life. It occurs whenever there are two salient reference points, for instance where you started and where you are right now. The house money effect—along with a tendency to extrapolate recent returns into the future—facilitates financial bubbles.

When most people think about Adam Smith, they think of his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations. This remarkable book—the first edition was published in 1776—created the foundation for modern economic thinking. Oddly, the most well-known phrase in the book, the vaunted “invisible hand,” mentioned earlier, appears only once, treated with a mere flick by Smith. He notes that by pursuing personal profits, the typical businessman is “led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it.”

The bulk of Smith’s writings on what we would now consider behavioral economics appeared in his earlier book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published in 1759.

These worries led Strotz to engage in what has become an obligatory discussion of Homer’s tale of Odysseus and the Sirens. Almost all researchers on self-control—from philosophers to psychologists to economists—eventually get around to talking about this ancient story, and for once, I will follow the traditional path. Odysseus wanted to both hear the music and live to tell about it. He devised a two-part plan to succeed. The first part was to make sure that his crew did not hear the Sirens’ call, so he instructed them to fill their ears with wax. The second part of the plan was to have his crew bind him to the mast, allowing Odysseus to enjoy the show without risking the inevitable temptation to steer the ship toward the rocks.

At some point in pondering these questions, I came across a quote from social scientist Donald McIntosh that profoundly influenced my thinking: “The idea of self-control is paradoxical unless it is assumed that the psyche contains more than one energy system, and that these energy systems have some degree of independence from each other.”

One innovation was the rebate, introduced by Chrysler in 1975, and quickly followed by Ford and GM. The car companies would announce a temporary sale whereby each buyer of a car would receive some cash back, usually a few hundred dollars. A rebate seems to be just another name for a temporary sale, but they seemed to be more popular than an equivalent reduction in price, as one might expect based on mental accounting. Suppose the list price of the car was $14,800. Reducing the price to $14,500 did not seem like a big deal, not a just-noticeable difference. But by calling the price reduction a rebate, the consumer was encouraged to think about the $300 separately, which would intensify its importance.

In many situations, the perceived fairness of an action depends not only on who it helps or harms, but also on how it is framed. But firms don’t always get these things right. The fact that my MBA students think it is perfectly fine to raise the price of snow shovels after a blizzard should be a warning to all business executives that their intuitions about what seems fair to their customers and employees might need some fine-tuning.

Of course, if we look around, we see counterexamples to this result all the time. Some people donate to charities and clean up campgrounds, and quite miraculously, at least in America, most urban dog owners now carry a plastic bag when they take their dog for a “walk” in order to dispose of the waste. (Although there are laws in place supposedly enforcing this norm, they are rarely enforced.) In other words, some people cooperate, even when it is not in their self-interest to do so.

The discussion with Charlie and Vernon also led us to recognize that the endowment effect, if true, will reduce the volume of trade in a market. Those who start out with some object will tend to keep it, while those who don’t have such an object won’t be that keen to buy one.

We ran numerous versions of these experiments to answer the complaints of various critics and journal referees, but the results always came out the same. Buyers were willing to pay about half of what sellers would demand, even with markets and learning. Again we see that losses are roughly twice as painful as gains are pleasurable, a finding that has been replicated numerous times over the years.

And while loss aversion is certainly part of the explanation for our findings, there is a related phenomenon: inertia. In physics, an object in a state of rest stays that way, unless something happens. People act the same way: they stick with what they have unless there is some good reason to switch, or perhaps despite there being a good reason to switch. Economists William Samuelson and Richard Zeckhauser have dubbed this behavior “status quo bias.”

A paradigm shift is one of the rare cataclysmic events in science when people make a substantial break with the way the field has been progressing and pursue a new direction. The Copernican revolution, which placed the sun at the center of the solar system, is perhaps the most famous example. It replaced Ptolemaic thinking, in which all the objects in our solar system revolved around the Earth.

Economics is distinguished from other social sciences by the belief that most (all?) behavior can be explained by assuming that agents have stable, well-defined preferences and make rational choices consistent with those preferences in markets that (eventually) clear.

Psychology Relationships

Esther Perel – Mating in Captivity

We all share a fundamental need for security, which propels us toward committed relationships in the first place; but we have an equally strong need for adventure and excitement. Modern romance promises that it’s possible to meet these two distinct sets of needs in one place. Still, I’m not convinced. Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?

Love flourishes in an atmosphere of closeness, mutuality, and equality. We seek to know our beloved, to keep him near, to contract the distance between us. We care about those we love, worry about them, and feel responsible for them. For some of us, love and desire are inseparable. But for many others, emotional intimacy inhibits erotic expression. The caring, protective elements that foster love often block the unselfconsciousness that fuels erotic pleasure.

My belief, reinforced by twenty years of practice, is that in the course of establishing security, many couples confuse love with merging. This mix-up is a bad omen for sex. To sustain an élan toward the other, there must be a synapse to cross. Eroticism requires separateness. In other words, eroticism thrives in the space between the self and the other.

Love may be universal, but its constructions in each culture are defined, both literally and figuratively, in different languages. I was particularly sensitive to the conversations about child and adolescent sexuality because it is in messages to children that societies most reveals their values, goals, incentives, prohibitions.

For those who aspire to accelerate their heartbeat periodically, I give them the score: excitement is interwoven with uncertainty, and with our willingness to embrace the unknown rather than to shield ourselves from it. But this very tension leaves us feeling vulnerable. I caution my patients that there is no such thing as “safe sex.”

Romantics value intensity over stability. Realists value security over passion. But both are often disappointed, for few people can live happily at either extreme.

In his book Can Love Last? the infinitely thoughtful psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell offers a framework for thinking about this conundrum. As he explains it, we all need security: permanence, reliability, stability, and continuity. These rooting, nesting instincts ground us in our human experience. But we also have a need for novelty and change, generative forces that give life fullness and vibrancy. Here risk and adventure loom large. We’re walking contradictions, seeking safety and predictability on one hand and thriving on diversity on the other.

And what is true for human beings is true for every living thing: all organisms require alternating periods of growth and equilibrium. Any person or system exposed to ceaseless novelty and change risks falling into chaos; but one that is too rigid or static ceases to grow and eventually dies. This never-ending dance between change and stability is like the anchor and the waves.

Not so long ago, the desire to feel passionate about one’s husband would have been considered a contradiction in terms. Historically, these two realms of life were organized separately—marriage on one side and passion most likely somewhere else, if anywhere at all. The concept of romantic love, which came about toward the end of the nineteenth century, brought them together for the first time. The central place of sex in marriage, and the heightened expectations surrounding it, took decades more to arrive.

It is not that our human insecurity is greater today than in earlier times. In fact, quite the contrary may be true. What is different is that modern life has deprived us of our traditional resources, and has created a situation in which we turn to one person for the protection and emotional connections that a multitude of social networks used to provide. Adult intimacy has become overburdened with expectations.

There’s a powerful tendency in long-term relationships to favor the predictable over the unpredictable. Yet eroticism thrives on the unpredictable. Desire butts heads with habit and repetition. It is unruly, and it defies our attempts at control.

The motivational expert Anthony Robbins put it succinctly when he explained that passion in a relationship is commensurate with the amount of uncertainty you can tolerate.

Introducing uncertainty sometimes requires nothing more than letting go of the illusion of certitude. In this shift of perception, we recognize the inherent mystery of our partner.

In the words of Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

In truth, we never know our partner as well as we think we do. Mitchell reminds us that even in the dullest marriages, predictability is a mirage. Our need for constancy limits how much we are willing to know the person who’s next to us. We are invested in having him or her conform to an image that is often a creation of our own imagination, based on our own set of needs.

We see what we want to see, what we can tolerate seeing, and our partner does the same. Neutralizing each other’s complexity affords us a kind of manageable otherness. We narrow down our partner, ignoring or rejecting essential parts when they threaten the established order of our coupledom. We also reduce ourselves, jettisoning large chunks of our personalities in the name of love.

In his book Open to Desire, the Buddhist psychoanalyst Mark Epstein explains that our willingness to engage that mystery keeps desire alive. Faced with the irrefutable otherness of our partner, we can respond with fear or with curiosity. We can try to reduce the other to a knowable entity, or we can embrace her persistent mystery. When we resist the urge to control, when we keep ourselves open, we preserve the possibility of discovery.

Eroticism resides in the ambiguous space between anxiety and fascination.

If love is an act of imagination, then intimacy is an act of fruition. It waits for the high to subside so it can patiently insert itself into the relationship. The seeds of intimacy are time and repetition. We choose each other again and again, and so create a community of two.

Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the other. With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals.

When people become fused—when two become one—connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. Thus separateness is a precondition for connection: this is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.

The dual (and often conflicting) needs for connection and independence are a central theme in our developmental histories. Throughout childhood we struggle to find a delicate balance between our profound dependence on our primary caregivers and our need to carve out a sense of independence.

Sexual desire does not obey the laws that maintain peace and contentment between partners. Reason, understanding, compassion, and camaraderie are the handmaidens of a close, harmonious relationship. But sex often evokes unreasoning obsession rather than thoughtful judgment, and selfish desire rather than altruistic consideration. Aggression, objectification, and power all exist in the shadow of desire, components of passion that do not necessarily nurture intimacy.

Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. It thrives on the mysterious, the novel, and the unexpected. Love is about having; desire is about wanting.

Intimacy has become the sovereign antidote for lives of increasing isolation. Our determination to “reach out and touch someone” has reached a peak of religious fervor.

In our era of communication, intimacy has been redefined. No longer is it the deep knowledge and familiarity that develop over time and can be cultivated in silence. Instead, we think of intimacy primarily as a discursive process, one that involves self-disclosure, the trustful sharing of our most personal and private material—our feelings.

The hegemony of the spoken word has veered into a female bias that has, for once, put men in a position of inferiority. Men are socialized to perform, to compete, and to be fearless. The capacity to express feelings is not a prized attribute in the making of American manhood. Dare I say it’s not even considered a desirable one?—at least, not yet.

I am not convinced that unrestrained disclosure—the ability to speak the truth and not hide anything—necessarily fosters a harmonious and robust intimacy. Any practice can be taken to a ridiculous extreme.

Some couples take this one step farther, confusing intimacy with control. What passes for care is actually covert surveillance—a fact-finding approach to the details of a partner’s life. What did you eat for lunch? Who called? What did you guys talk about? This kind of interrogation feigns closeness and confuses insignificant details with a deeper sense of knowledge. I am often amazed at how couples can be up on the minute details of each other’s lives, but haven’t had a meaningful conversation in years. In fact, such transparency can often spell the end of curiosity. It’s as if this stream of questions replaces a more thoughtful and authentically interested inquiry.

When the impulse to share becomes obligatory, when personal boundaries are no longer respected, when only the shared space of togetherness is acknowledged and private space is denied, fusion replaces intimacy and possession co-opts love. It is also the kiss of death for sex. Deprived of enigma, intimacy becomes cruel when it excludes any possibility of discovery. Where there is nothing left to hide, there is nothing left to seek.

If commitment requires a trade-off of freedom for security, then eroticism is the gateway back to freedom. In the broad expansiveness of our imagination we uncover the freedom that allows us to tolerate the confines of reality.

The more we need, the angrier we are when we don’t get. Kids know this; lovers do, too. No one can bring us to the boiling point as quickly as our partner (except maybe our parents, the original locus of dependent rage). Love is always accompanied by hate.

Most fans of kinky sex, at least those I’ve encountered, are drawn by the erotics of power and not, as it may appear to an outsider, by violence or pain.

The social critic Camille Paglia sees this rise in domination and submission as a collective fantasy that tweaks the rough spots of our egalitarian culture. It seems to me that rituals of domination and submission are a subversive way to put one over on a society that glorifies control, belittles dependency, and demands equality. In cultures where these values are at a premium—America, for example—we find more and more people seeking to give up control, revel in dependency, and recognize the very inequities no one wants to talk about.

More often than not, the beauty and flow of a sexual encounter unfurl in a safe, noncompetitive, and non-result-oriented atmosphere. Sensuality simply doesn’t lend itself to the rigors of scorekeeping.

There’s an evolutionary anthropologist named Helen Fisher who explains that lust is metabolically expensive. It’s hard to sustain after the evolutionary payoff: the kids. You become so focused on the incessant demands of daily life that you short-circuit any electric charge between you.

We find the same polarities in every system: stability and change, passion and reason, personal interest and collective well-being, action and reflection (to name but a few). These tensions exist in individuals, in couples, and in large organizations. They express dynamics that are part of the very nature of reality.

The tension between security and adventure is a paradox to manage, not a problem to solve.

It’s also worth noting that in Europe, teenagers engage in sexual activity an average of two years later than their American counterparts, and the rate at which teenagers give birth is a staggering eight times less. How is it that American society, with such a clear bias against teen sex, produces such a statistical embarrassment? Taboo-ridden

No history has a more lasting effect on our adult loves than the one we write with our primary caregivers.

Our sexual preferences arise from the thrills, challenges, and conflicts of our early life. How these bear on our threshold for closeness and pleasure is the object of our excavation. What turns you on and what turns you off? What draws you in? What leaves you cold? Why? How much closeness can you stand to feel? Can you tolerate pleasure with the one you love?

Our physical and emotional dependence on our parents surpasses that of any other living species, in both magnitude and duration. It is so complete—and our need to feel safe is so profound—that we will do anything not to lose them.

It takes two people to create a pattern, but only one to change it.

Over the years I’ve met more than a few people like James and Stella, couples whose otherwise colorful relationship teeters on the brink of sensual austerity.

Safety and stability take on a whole new meaning when children enter the picture. Read any parenting book about infants and toddlers and what you’ll find over and over is an emphasis on routine, predictability, and regularity. For children to feel confident enough to go out into the world and explore on their own, they need a secure base. Parenthood demands that we become steady, dependable, and responsible.

What I see over and over is that the person who takes on the role of primary caretaker almost always undergoes changes similar to Stephanie’s: a total immersion in the lives and rhythms of the children, a loss of self, and a greater difficulty extricating himself or herself from chores (a compulsion that is simultaneously frustrating and grounding).

Our fantasies allow us to negate and undo the limits imposed on us by our conscience, by our culture, and by our self-image. If we feel insecure and unattractive, in our fantasies we are irresistible. If we anticipate a withholding woman, in fantasy she’s insatiable. If we fear our own aggression, in our internal reveries we can feel powerful without worrying that we might hurt another.

What turns us on often collides with our preferred self-image, or with our moral and ideological convictions. Ergo the feminist who longs to be dominated; the survivor of sexual abuse who infuses her personal erotics with her traumatic experiences; the husband who fantasizes about the au pair (the stripper, the masseuse, the porn star) in order to boost his enjoyment with his wife; the mother who finds the skin-to-skin contact with her baby sensuous and, yes, erotic; the wife who masturbates to images of hot sex with the psychopathic boyfriend she knew she was never going to marry; the lover who needs to think about the hunk he spotted at the gym in order to get off with his boyfriend.

The point about sexual fantasy is that it involves pretending. It’s a simulation, a performance—not the real thing, and not necessarily a desire for the real thing. Like dreams and works of art, fantasies are far more than what they appear to be on the surface. They’re complex psychic creations whose symbolic content mustn’t be translated into literal intent.

Heterosexual pornography, predominantly produced by and for men, concerns itself almost exclusively with what the sociologist Anthony Giddens calls “low emotion, high intensity sex.” In part, it meets the need of many men to compartmentalize their sexual and emotional lives, and to separate their secure relationships from their rash urges.

Our erotic imagination is an exuberant expression of our aliveness, and one of the most powerful tools we have for keeping desire alive. Giving voice to our fantasies can liberate us from the many personal and social obstacles that stand in the way of pleasure. Understanding what our fantasies do for us will help us understand what it is we’re seeking, sexually and emotionally. In our erotic daydreams, we find the energy that keeps us passionately awake to our own sexuality.

The bonds of wedlock are so heavy that it takes two to carry them, sometimes three. —Alexandre Dumas

Despite a 50 percent divorce rate for first marriages and 65 percent the second time around; despite the staggering frequency of affairs; despite the fact that monogamy is a ship sinking faster than anyone can bail it out, we continue to cling to the wreckage with absolute faith in its structural soundness.

Historically, monogamy was an externally imposed system of control over women’s reproduction. “Which child is mine? Who gets the cows when I die?” Fidelity, as a mainstay of patriarchal society, was about lineage and property; it had nothing to do with love.

The exclusiveness we seek in monogamy has roots in our earliest experience of intimacy with our primary caretakers. The feminist psychoanalyst Nancy Chodorow writes, “This primary tendency, I shall be loved always, everywhere, in every way, my whole body, my whole being—without any criticism, without the slightest effort on my part—is the final aim of all erotic striving.” In our adult love we seek to recapture the primordial oneness we felt with Mom. The baby knows no separateness.

In a culture where everything is disposable and downsizing confirms just how replaceable we really are, our need to feel secure in our primary relationship is all the greater. The smaller we feel in the world, the more we need to shine in the eyes of our partner. We want to know that we matter, and that, for at least one person, we are irreplaceable. We long to feel whole, to rise above the prison of our solitude.

I question the widespread view that infidelity is always a symptom of deeper problems in a relationship. Affairs are motivated by myriad forces; not all of them are directly related to flaws in the marriage. As it happens, plenty of adulterers are reasonably content in their relationships.

Most American couples therapists believe that affairs must be disclosed if intimacy is to be rebuilt. This idea goes hand in hand with our model of intimate love, which celebrates transparency—having no secrets, telling no lies, sharing everything. In fact, some people condemn the deception even more than the transgression: “It’s not that you cheated, it’s that you lied to me!” To the American way of thinking, respect is bound up with honesty, and honesty is essential to personal responsibility.

In other cultures, respect is more likely to be expressed with gentle untruths that aim at preserving the partner’s honor. A protective opacity is preferable to telling truths that might result in humiliation.

At the boundary of every couple lives the third. He’s the high school sweetheart whose hands you still remember, the pretty cashier, the handsome fourth-grade teacher you flirt with when you pick your son up at school. The smiling stranger on the subway is the third. So, too, are the stripper, the porn star, and the sex worker, whether touched or untouched. He is the one a woman fantasizes about when she makes love to her husband. Increasingly, she can be found on the Internet. Real or imagined, embodied or not, the third is the fulcrum on which a couple balances. The third is the manifestation of our desire for what lies outside the fence. It is the forbidden.

Laura Kipnis says, “What is more anxiogenic than a partner’s freedom, which might mean the freedom not to love you, or to stop loving you, or to love someone else, or to become a different person than the one who once pledged to love you always and now…perhaps doesn’t?”

For these couples, fidelity is defined not by sexual exclusivity but by the strength of their commitment. The boundaries aren’t physical but emotional. The primacy of the couple remains paramount. The couples stress emotional monogamy as a sine qua non, and from there they make all sorts of sexual allowances.

I’d like to suggest that we view monogamy not as a given but as a choice. As such, it becomes a negotiated decision. More to the point, if we’re planning to spend fifty years with one soul—and we want a happy jubilee—it may be wiser to review our contract at various junctures. Just how accommodating each couple may be to the third varies. But at least a nod is more apt to sustain desire with our one and only over the long haul—and perhaps even to create a new “art of loving” for the twenty-first century couple.

Even the biochemistry of passion is known to be short-lived. The evolutionary anthropologist Helen Fisher says that the hormonal cocktail of romance (dopamine, norepineprine, and PEA) is known to last no more than a few years at best.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is getting what one wants, and the other is not getting it.”

I believe that longing, waiting, and yearning are fundamental elements of desire that can be generated with forethought, even in long-term relationships.

Like all couples, they go through periods when desire is dormant—when they are estranged from each other, or simply immersed in their own projects and in their own lives—but they don’t panic, terrified that something is fundamentally wrong with them. They know that erotic intensity waxes and wanes, that desire suffers periodic eclipses and intermittent disappearances. But given sufficient attention, they can bring the frisson back.

For them, love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of their romance, it’s the beginning. They know that they have years in which to deepen their connection, to experiment, to regress, and even to fail. They see their relationship as something alive and ongoing, not a fait accompli. It’s a story that they are writing together, one with many chapters, and neither partner knows how it will end. There’s always a place they haven’t gone yet, always something about the other still to be discovered.

Personal Growth Psychology

Adam Grant – Think Again

With all due respect to the lessons of experience, I prefer the rigor of evidence. When a trio of psychologists conducted a comprehensive review of thirty-three studies, they found that in every one, the majority of answer revisions were from wrong to right. This phenomenon is known as the first-instinct fallacy.

Part of the problem is cognitive laziness. Some psychologists point out that we’re mental misers: we often prefer the ease of hanging on to old views over the difficulty of grappling with new ones. Yet there are also deeper forces behind our resistance to rethinking. Questioning ourselves makes the world more unpredictable. It requires us to admit that the facts may have changed, that what was once right may now be wrong. Reconsidering something we believe deeply can threaten our identities, making it feel as if we’re losing a part of ourselves.

When it comes to our knowledge and opinions, though, we tend to stick to our guns. Psychologists call this seizing and freezing. We favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt, and we let our beliefs get brittle long before our bones. We laugh at people who still use Windows 95, yet we still cling to opinions that we formed in 1995. We listen to views that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard.

Mike Lazaridis dreamed up the idea for the BlackBerry as a wireless communication device for sending and receiving emails. As of the summer of 2009, it accounted for nearly half of the U.S. smartphone market. By 2014, its market share had plummeted to less than 1 percent.

When a company takes a nosedive like that, we can never pinpoint a single cause of its downfall, so we tend to anthropomorphize it: BlackBerry failed to adapt. Yet adapting to a changing environment isn’t something a company does—it’s something people do in the multitude of decisions they make every day.

Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions. That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having conviction in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.

With advances in access to information and technology, knowledge isn’t just increasing. It’s increasing at an increasing rate. In 2011, you consumed about five times as much information per day as you would have just a quarter century earlier. As of 1950, it took about fifty years for knowledge in medicine to double. By 1980, medical knowledge was doubling every seven years, and by 2010, it was doubling in half that time.

Researchers have recently discovered that we need to rethink widely accepted assumptions about such subjects as Cleopatra’s roots (her father was Greek, not Egyptian, and her mother’s identity is unknown); the appearance of dinosaurs (paleontologists now think some tyrannosaurs had colorful feathers on their backs); and what’s required for sight (blind people have actually trained themselves to “see”—sound waves can activate the visual cortex and create representations in the mind’s eye, much like how echolocation helps bats navigate in the dark). Vintage records, classic cars, and antique clocks might be valuable collectibles, but outdated facts are mental fossils that are best abandoned.

Two decades ago my colleague Phil Tetlock discovered something peculiar. As we think and talk, we often slip into the mindsets of three different professions:preachers, prosecutors, and politicians. In each of these modes, we take on a particular identity and use a distinct set of tools. We go into preacher mode when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy: we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals. We enter prosecutor mode when we recognize flaws in other people’s reasoning: we marshal arguments to prove them wrong and win our case. We shift into politician mode when we’re seeking to win over an audience: we campaign and lobby for the approval of our constituents. The risk is that we become so wrapped up in preaching that we’re right, prosecuting others who are wrong, and politicking for support that we don’t bother to rethink our own views.

The entrepreneurs arrived in Milan for a training program in entrepreneurship. Over the course of four months, they learned to create a business strategy, interview customers, build a minimum viable product, and then refine a prototype. What they didn’t know was that they’d been randomly assigned to either a “scientific thinking” group or a control group. The training for both groups was identical, except that one was encouraged to view startups through a scientist’s goggles.

From that perspective, their strategy is a theory, customer interviews help to develop hypotheses, and their minimum viable product and prototype are experiments to test those hypotheses. Their task is to rigorously measure the results and make decisions based on whether their hypotheses are supported or refuted.

Over the following year, the startups in the control group averaged under $300 in revenue. The startups in the scientific thinking group averaged over $12,000 in revenue. They brought in revenue more than twice as fast—and attracted customers sooner, too.

Mental horsepower doesn’t guarantee mental dexterity. No matter how much brainpower you have, if you lack the motivation to change your mind, you’ll miss many occasions to think again. Research reveals that the higher you score on an IQ test, the more likely you are to fall for stereotypes, because you’re faster at recognizing patterns. And recent experiments suggest that the smarter you are, the more you might struggle to update your beliefs.

My favorite bias is the “I’m not biased” bias, in which people believe they’re more objective than others. It turns out that smart people are more likely to fall into this trap. The brighter you are, the harder it can be to see your own limitations.

In the case of the BlackBerry, Mike Lazaridis was trapped in an overconfidence cycle. Taking pride in his successful invention gave him too much conviction. Nowhere was that clearer than in his preference for the keyboard over a touchscreen. It was a BlackBerry virtue he loved to preach—and an Apple vice he was quick to prosecute.

The legend of Apple’s renaissance revolves around the lone genius of Steve Jobs. It was his conviction and clarity of vision, the story goes, that gave birth to the iPhone. The reality is that he was dead-set against the mobile phone category. His employees had the vision for it, and it was their ability to change his mind that really revived Apple. Although Jobs knew how to “think different,” it was his team that did much of the rethinking.

Research shows that when people are resistant to change, it helps to reinforce what will stay the same. Visions for change are more compelling when they include visions of continuity. Although our strategy might evolve, our identity will endure.

You’ve probably met some football fans who are convinced they know more than the coaches on the sidelines. That’s the armchair quarterback syndrome, where confidence exceeds competence.

The opposite of armchair quarterback syndrome is impostor syndrome, where competence exceeds confidence.

We’re all novices at many things, but we’re not always blind to that fact. We tend to overestimate ourselves on desirable skills, like the ability to carry on a riveting conversation. We’re also prone to overconfidence in situations where it’s easy to confuse experience for expertise, like driving, typing, trivia, and managing emotions. Yet we underestimate ourselves when we can easily recognize that we lack experience—like painting, driving a race car, and rapidly reciting the alphabet backward. Absolute beginners rarely fall into the Dunning-Kruger trap.

It’s when we progress from novice to amateur that we become overconfident. A bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

“Arrogance is ignorance plus conviction,” blogger Tim Urban explains. “While humility is a permeable filter that absorbs life experience and converts it into knowledge and wisdom, arrogance is a rubber shield that life experience simply bounces off of.”

Humility is often misunderstood. It’s not a matter of having low self-confidence. One of the Latin roots of humility means “from the earth.” It’s about being grounded—recognizing that we’re flawed and fallible.

You can be confident in your ability to achieve a goal in the future while maintaining the humility to question whether you have the right tools in the present. That’s the sweet spot of confidence.

Uncertainty primes us to ask questions and absorb new ideas. It protects us against the Dunning-Kruger effect. “Impostor syndrome always keeps me on my toes and growing because I never think I know it all,” Halla reflects, sounding more like a scientist than a politician.

Arrogance leaves us blind to our weaknesses. Humility is a reflective lens: it helps us see them clearly. Confident humility is a corrective lens: it enables us to overcome those weaknesses.

I found a Nobel Prize–winning scientist and two of the world’s top election forecasters. They aren’t just comfortable being wrong; they actually seem to be thrilled by it. I think they can teach us something about how to be more graceful and accepting in moments when we discover that our beliefs might not be true. The goal is not to be wrong more often. It’s to recognize that we’re all wrong more often than we’d like to admit, and the more we deny it, the deeper the hole we dig for ourselves.

In a classic paper, sociologist Murray Davis argued that when ideas survive, it’s not because they’re true—it’s because they’re interesting. What makes an idea interesting is that it challenges our weakly held opinions.

When a core belief is questioned, though, we tend to shut down rather than open up. It’s as if there’s a miniature dictator living inside our heads, controlling the flow of facts to our minds, much like Kim Jong-un controls the press in North Korea. The technical term for this in psychology is the totalitarian ego, and its job is to keep out threatening information.

It’s easy to see how an inner dictator comes in handy when someone attacks our character or intelligence. Those kinds of personal affronts threaten to shatter aspects of our identities that are important to us and might be difficult to change. The totalitarian ego steps in like a bodyguard for our minds, protecting our self-image by feeding us comforting lies.

As physicist Richard Feynman quipped, “You must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Neuroscientists find that when our core beliefs are challenged, it can trigger the amygdala, the primitive “lizard brain” that breezes right past cool rationality and activates a hot fight-or-flight response. The anger and fear are visceral: it feels as if we’ve been punched in the mind. The totalitarian ego comes to the rescue with mental armor.

Discovering I was wrong felt joyful because it meant I’d learned something. As Daniel Kahnemann told me, “Being wrong is the only way I feel sure I’ve learned anything.”

The students who found it stressful didn’t know how to detach. Their opinions were their identities. An assault on their worldviews was a threat to their very sense of self.

A few years ago I surveyed hundreds of new teams in Silicon Valley on conflict several times during their first six months working together. Even if they argued constantly and agreed on nothing else, they agreed on what kind of conflict they were having. When their projects were finished, I asked their managers to evaluate each team’s effectiveness. The teams that performed poorly started with more relationship conflict than task conflict. They entered into personal feuds early on and were so busy disliking one another that they didn’t feel comfortable challenging one another. It took months for many of the teams to make real headway on their relationship issues, and by the time they did manage to debate key decisions, it was often too late to rethink their directions.

“The absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy.”

Although productive disagreement is a critical life skill, it’s one that many of us never fully develop. The problem starts early: parents disagree behind closed doors, fearing that conflict will make children anxious or somehow damage their character. Yet research shows that how often parents argue has no bearing on their children’s academic, social, or emotional development. What matters is how respectfully parents argue, not how frequently. Kids whose parents clash constructively feel more emotionally safe in elementary school, and over the next few years they actually demonstrate more helpfulness and compassion toward their classmates.

In a classic study, highly creative architects were more likely than their technically competent but less original peers to come from homes with plenty of friction. They often grew up in households that were “tense but secure,” as psychologist Robert Albert notes: “The creative person-to-be comes from a family that is anything but harmonious, one with a ‘wobble.’”

Disagreeable people tend to be more critical, skeptical, and challenging—and they’re more likely than their peers to become engineers and lawyers. They’re not just comfortable with conflict; it energizes them. If you’re highly disagreeable, you might be happier in an argument than in a friendly conversation.

One experiment, when people were criticized rather than praised by a partner, they were over four times more likely to request a new partner. Across a range of workplaces, when employees received tough feedback from colleagues, their default response was to avoid those coworkers or drop them from their networks altogether—and their performance suffered over the following year.

Agreeableness is about seeking social harmony, not cognitive consensus. It’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable. Although I’m terrified of hurting other people’s feelings, when it comes to challenging their thoughts, I have no fear. In fact, when I argue with someone, it’s not a display of disrespect—it’s a sign of respect.

My favorite demonstration is an experiment by my colleagues Jennifer Chatman and Sigal Barsade. Agreeable people were significantly more accommodating than disagreeable ones—as long as they were in a cooperative team. When they were assigned to a competitive team, they acted just as disagreeably as their disagreeable teammates.

When they argued about the propeller, the Wright brothers were making a common mistake. Each was preaching about why he was right and why the other was wrong. When we argue about why, we run the risk of becoming emotionally attached to our positions and dismissive of the other side’s. We’re more likely to have a good fight if we argue about how.

One difference was visible before anyone even arrived at the bargaining table. Prior to the negotiations, the researchers interviewed both groups about their plans. The average negotiators went in armed for battle, hardly taking note of any anticipated areas of agreement. The experts, in contrast, mapped out a series of dance steps they might be able to take with the other side, devoting more than a third of their planning comments to finding common ground.

The more reasons we put on the table, the easier it is for people to discard the shakiest one. Once they reject one of our justifications, they can easily dismiss our entire case.

Harish started by emphasizing common ground. When he took the stage for his rebuttal, he immediately drew attention to his and Debra’s areas of agreement. “So,” he began, “I think we disagree on far less than it may seem.” He called out their alignment on the problem of poverty—and on the validity of some of the studies—before objecting to subsidies as a solution.

Most people immediately start with a straw man, poking holes in the weakest version of the other side’s case. He does the reverse: he considers the strongest version of their case, which is known as the steel man.

“If you have too many arguments, you’ll dilute the power of each and every one,” he told me. “They are going to be less well explained, and I don’t know if any of them will land enough—I don’t think the audience will believe them to be important enough. Most top debaters aren’t citing a lot of information.”

If they’re not invested in the issue or they’re receptive to our perspective, more reasons can help: people tend to see quantity as a sign of quality. The more the topic matters to them, the more the quality of reasons matters. It’s when audiences are skeptical of our view, have a stake in the issue, and tend to be stubborn that piling on justifications is most likely to backfire. If they’re resistant to rethinking, more reasons simply give them more ammunition to shoot our views down.

Psychologists have long found that the person most likely to persuade you to change your mind is you. You get to pick the reasons you find most compelling, and you come away with a real sense of ownership over them.

In a heated argument, you can always stop and ask, “What evidence would change your mind?” If the answer is “nothing,” then there’s no point in continuing the debate. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it think.

A few years ago, I argued in my book Originals that if we want to fight groupthink, it helps to have “strong opinions, weakly held.” Since then I’ve changed my mind—I now believe that’s a mistake. If we hold an opinion weakly, expressing it strongly can backfire. Communicating it with some uncertainty signals confident humility, invites curiosity, and leads to a more nuanced discussion.

Research shows that in courtrooms, expert witnesses and deliberating jurors are more credible and more persuasive when they express moderate confidence, rather than high or low confidence.

In every human society, people are motivated to seek belonging and status. Identifying with a group checks both boxes at the same time: we become part of a tribe, and we take pride when our tribe wins. In classic studies on college campuses, psychologists found that after their team won a football game, students were more likely to walk around wearing school swag.

Socially, there’s another reason stereotypes are so sticky. We tend to interact with people who share them, which makes them even more extreme. This phenomenon is called group polarization, and it’s been demonstrated in hundreds of experiments.

Citizens who start out with a clear belief on affirmative action and gay marriage develop more extreme views on these issues after talking with a few others who share their stance. Their preaching and prosecuting move in the direction of their politics. Polarization is reinforced by conformity: peripheral members fit in and gain status by following the lead of the most prototypical member of the group, who often holds the most intense views.

Upon returning from space, astronauts are less focused on individual achievements and personal happiness, and more concerned about the collective good. “You develop an instant global consciousness . . . an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it,” Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell reflected. “From out there on the moon, international politics looks so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a b*tch.’”

In one experiment, psychologists randomly assigned Manchester United soccer fans a short writing task. They then staged an emergency in which a passing runner slipped and fell, screaming in pain as he held his ankle. He was wearing the T-shirt of their biggest rival, and the question was whether they would stop to help him. If the soccer fans had just written about why they loved their team, only 30 percent helped. If they had written about what they had in common with other soccer fans, 70 percent helped.

In an ideal world, learning about individual group members will humanize the group, but often getting to know a person better just establishes her as different from the rest of her group. When we meet group members who defy a stereotype, our first instinct isn’t to see them as exemplars and rethink the stereotype. It’s to see them as exceptions and cling to our existing beliefs.

We found that it was thinking about the arbitrariness of their animosity—not the positive qualities of their rival—that mattered. Regardless of whether they generated reasons to like their rivals, fans showed less hostility when they reflected on how silly the rivalry was.

Research suggests that there are more similarities between groups than we recognize. And there’s typically more variety within groups than between them.

Since people held unfounded fears about vaccines, it was time to educate them with a dose of the truth. The results were often disappointing. In a pair of experiments in Germany, introducing people to the research on vaccine safety backfired: they ended up seeing vaccines as riskier. Similarly, when Americans read accounts of the dangers of measles, saw pictures of children suffering from it, or learned of an infant who nearly died from it, their interest in vaccination didn’t rise at all. And when they were informed that there was no evidence that the measles vaccine causes autism, those who already had concerns actually became less interested in vaccinating.

Together, they developed the core principles of a practice called motivational interviewing. The central premise is that we can rarely motivate someone else to change. We’re better off helping them find their own motivation to change.

Motivational interviewing starts with an attitude of humility and curiosity. We don’t know what might motivate someone else to change, but we’re genuinely eager to find out.

Before Marie-Hélène left the hospital, she had Tobie vaccinated. A key turning point, she recalls, was when Arnaud “told me that whether I chose to vaccinate or not, he respected my decision as someone who wanted the best for my kids. Just that sentence—to me, it was worth all the gold in the world.”

Overall, motivational interviewing has a statistically and clinically meaningful effect on behavior change in roughly three out of four studies, and psychologists and physicians using it have a success rate of four in five. There aren’t many practical theories in the behavioral sciences with a body of evidence this robust.

Motivational interviewing isn’t limited to professional settings—it’s relevant to everyday decisions and interactions. One day a friend called me for advice on whether she should get back together with her ex. I was a fan of the idea, but I didn’t think it was my place to tell her what to do. Instead of offering my opinion, I asked her to walk through the pros and cons and tell me how they stacked up against what she wanted in a partner. She ended up talking herself into rekindling the relationship. The conversation felt like magic, because I hadn’t tried to persuade her or even given any advice.

To protect their freedom, instead of giving commands or offering recommendations, a motivational interviewer might say something along the lines of “Here are a few things that have helped me—do you think any of them might work for you?”

Motivational interviewing pioneers Miller and Rollnick have long warned that the technique shouldn’t be used manipulatively. Psychologists have found that when people detect an attempt at influence, they have sophisticated defense mechanisms. The moment people feel that we’re trying to persuade them, our behavior takes on a different meaning. A straightforward question is seen as a political tactic, a reflective listening statement comes across as a prosecutor’s maneuvering, an affirmation of their ability to change sounds like a preacher’s proselytizing.

We can all get better at asking “truly curious questions that don’t have the hidden agenda of fixing, saving, advising, convincing or correcting,” journalist Kate Murphy writes, and helping to “facilitate the clear expression of another person’s thoughts.”

As Betty muses, “Even the devil appreciates being listened to.”

Inverse charisma. What a wonderful turn of phrase to capture the magnetic quality of a great listener.

Hearing an opposing opinion doesn’t necessarily motivate you to rethink your own stance; it makes it easier for you to stick to your guns (or your gun bans). Presenting two extremes isn’t the solution; it’s part of the polarization problem. Psychologists have a name for this: binary bias. It’s a basic human tendency to seek clarity and closure by simplifying a complex continuum into two categories. To paraphrase the humorist Robert Benchley, there are two kinds of people: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.

An antidote to this proclivity is complexifying: showcasing the range of perspectives on a given topic. We might believe we’re making progress by discussing hot-button issues as two sides of a coin, but people are actually more inclined to think again if we present these topics through the many lenses of a prism. To borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman, it takes a multitude of views to help people realize that they too contain multitudes.

If people read the binary version of the article, they defended their own perspective more often than they showed an interest in their opponent’s. If they read the complexified version, they made about twice as many comments about common ground as about their own views. They asserted fewer opinions and asked more questions. At the end of the conversation, they generated more sophisticated, higher-quality position statements—and both parties came away more satisfied.

Yet by 2018, only 59 percent of Americans saw climate change as a major threat—and 16 percent believed it wasn’t a threat at all.

To overcome binary bias, a good starting point is to become aware of the range of perspectives across a given spectrum. Polls suggest that on climate change, there are at least six camps of thought. Believers represent more than half of Americans, but some are concerned while others are alarmed. The so-called nonbelievers actually range from cautious to disengaged to doubtful to dismissive.

Although no more than 10 percent of Americans are dismissive of climate change, it’s these rare deniers who get the most press. In an analysis of some hundred thousand media articles on climate change between 2000 and 2016, prominent climate contrarians received disproportionate coverage: they were featured 49 percent more often than expert scientists. As a result, people end up overestimating how common denial is—which in turn makes them more hesitant to advocate for policies that protect the environment.

And multiple experiments have shown that when experts express doubt, they become more persuasive. When someone knowledgeable admits uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of the argument.

In a series of experiments, psychologists demonstrated that when news reports about science included caveats, they succeeded in capturing readers’ interest and keeping their minds open.

If Peterson had bothered to read the comprehensive meta-analyses of studies spanning nearly two hundred jobs, he’d have discovered that—contrary to his claims—emotional intelligence is real and it does matter. Emotional intelligence tests predict performance even after controlling for IQ and personality. If Goleman hadn’t ignored those same data, he’d have learned that if you want to predict performance across jobs, IQ is more than twice as important as emotional intelligence (which accounts for only 3 to 8 percent of performance).

In a pair of experiments, randomly assigning people to reflect on the intentions and interests of their political opposites made them less receptive to rethinking their own attitudes on health care and universal basic income. Across twenty-five experiments, imagining other people’s perspectives failed to elicit more accurate insights—and occasionally made participants more confident in their own inaccurate judgments. Perspective-taking consistently fails because we’re terrible mind readers. We’re just guessing.

What works is not perspective-taking but perspective-seeking: actually talking to people to gain insight into the nuances of their views. That’s what good scientists do: instead of drawing conclusions about people based on minimal clues, they test their hypotheses by striking up conversations.

My favorite assignment of Erin’s is her final one. As a passionate champion of inquiry-based learning, she sends her eighth graders off to do self-directed research in which they inspect, investigate, interrogate, and interpret. Their active learning culminates in a group project: they pick a chapter from their textbook, choosing a time period that interests them and a theme in history that they see as underrepresented. Then they go off to rewrite it.

Evidence shows that if false scientific beliefs aren’t addressed in elementary school, they become harder to change later. “Learning counter-intuitive scientific ideas [is] akin to becoming a fluent speaker of a second language,” psychologist Deborah Kelemen writes. It’s “a task that becomes increasingly difficult the longer it is delayed, and one that is almost never achieved with only piecemeal instruction and infrequent practice.”

In a curriculum developed at Stanford, high school students are encouraged to critically examine what really caused the Spanish-American War, whether the New Deal was a success, and why the Montgomery bus boycott was a watershed moment. Some teachers even send students out to interview people with whom they disagree. The focus is less on being right, and more on building the skills to consider different views and argue productively about them.

Rethinking needs to become a regular habit. Unfortunately, traditional methods of education don’t always allow students to form that habit.

In this experiment the topic doesn’t matter: the teaching method is what shapes your experience. I expected active learning to win the day, but the data suggest that you and your roommate will both enjoy the subject more when it’s delivered by lecture.10 You’ll also rate the instructor who lectures as more effective—and you’ll be more likely to say you wish all your physics courses were taught that way.

In the physics experiment, the students took tests to gauge how much they had learned about statics and fluids. Despite enjoying the lectures more, they actually gained more knowledge and skill from the active-learning session. It required more mental effort, which made it less fun but led to deeper understanding.

A meta-analysis compared the effects of lecturing and active learning on students’ mastery of the material, cumulating 225 studies with over 46,000 undergraduates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Active-learning methods included group problem solving, worksheets, and tutorials. On average, students scored half a letter grade worse under traditional lecturing than through active learning—and students were 1.55 times more likely to fail in classes with traditional lecturing.

In North American universities, more than half of STEM professors spend at least 80 percent of their time lecturing, just over a quarter incorporate bits of interactivity, and fewer than a fifth use truly student-centered methods that involve active learning.

It turns out that although perfectionists are more likely than their peers to ace school, they don’t perform any better than their colleagues at work. This tracks with evidence that, across a wide range of industries, grades are not a strong predictor of job performance.

Achieving excellence in school often requires mastering old ways of thinking. Building an influential career demands new ways of thinking. In a classic study of highly accomplished architects, the most creative ones graduated with a B average. Their straight-A counterparts were so determined to be right that they often failed to take the risk of rethinking the orthodoxy. A similar pattern emerged in a study of students who graduated at the top of their class. “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries,” education researcher Karen Arnold explains. “They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

The following year, the class’s favorite idea took that rethinking a step further: the students hosted a day of “passion talks” on which anyone could teach the class about something he or she loved. We learned how to beatbox and design buildings that mesh with nature and make the world more allergy safe. From that point on, sharing passions has been part of class participation. All the students give a passion talk as a way of introducing themselves to their peers. Year after year, they tell me that it injects a heightened level of curiosity into the room, leaving them eager to soak up insights from each of their classmates.

When I was involved in a study at Google to identify the factors that distinguish teams with high performance and well-being, the most important differentiator wasn’t who was on the team or even how meaningful their work was. What mattered most was psychological safety.

I knew that changing the culture of an entire organization is daunting, while changing the culture of a team is more feasible. It starts with modeling the values we want to promote, identifying and praising others who exemplify them, and building a coalition of colleagues who are committed to making the change.

Some of the power distance evaporated—they were more likely to reach out to Melinda and other senior leaders with both criticism and compliments. One employee commented: In that video Melinda did something that I’ve not yet seen happen at the foundation: she broke through the veneer. It happened for me when she said, “I go into so many meetings where there are things I don’t know.” I had to write that down because I was shocked and grateful at her honesty. Later, when she laughed, like really belly-laughed, and then answered the hard comments, the veneer came off again and I saw that she was no less of Melinda Gates, but actually, a whole lot more of Melinda Gates.

Organizational learning should be an ongoing activity, but best practices imply it has reached an endpoint. We might be better off looking for better practices.

Focusing on results might be good for short-term performance, but it can be an obstacle to long-term learning. Sure enough, social scientists find that when people are held accountable only for whether the outcome was a success or failure, they are more likely to continue with ill-fated courses of action. Exclusively praising and rewarding results is dangerous because it breeds overconfidence in poor strategies, incentivizing people to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them.

Process accountability might sound like the opposite of psychological safety, but they’re actually independent. Amy Edmondson finds that when psychological safety exists without accountability, people tend to stay within their comfort zone, and when there’s accountability but not safety, people tend to stay silent in an anxiety zone. When we combine the two, we create a learning zone.

When we dedicate ourselves to a plan and it isn’t going as we hoped, our first instinct isn’t usually to rethink it. Instead, we tend to double down and sink more resources in the plan. This pattern is called escalation of commitment. Evidence shows that entrepreneurs persist with failing strategies when they should pivot, NBA general managers and coaches keep investing in new contracts and more playing time for draft busts, and politicians continue sending soldiers to wars that didn’t need to be fought in the first place. Sunk costs are a factor, but the most important causes appear to be psychological rather than economic. Escalation of commitment happens because we’re rationalizing creatures, constantly searching for self-justifications for our prior beliefs as a way to soothe our egos, shield our images, and validate our past decisions.

In some ways, identity foreclosure is the opposite of an identity crisis: instead of accepting uncertainty about who we want to become, we develop compensatory conviction and plunge head over heels into a career path. I’ve noticed that the students who are the most certain about their career plans at twenty are often the ones with the deepest regrets by thirty. They haven’t done enough rethinking along the way.

A first step is to entertain possible selves:identify some people you admire within or outside your field, and observe what they actually do at work day by day. A second step is to develop hypotheses about how these paths might align with your own interests, skills, and values. A third step is to test out the different identities by running experiments: do informational interviews, job shadowing, and sample projects to get a taste of the work. The goal is not to confirm a particular plan but to expand your repertoire of possible selves—which keeps you open to rethinking.

A second likely culprit is that we spend too much time striving for peak happiness, overlooking the fact that happiness depends more on the frequency of positive emotions than their intensity.

A third potential factor is that when we hunt for happiness, we overemphasize pleasure at the expense of purpose. This theory is consistent with data suggesting that meaning is healthier than happiness.

Psychologists find that passions are often developed, not discovered. In a study of entrepreneurs, the more effort they put into their startups, the more their enthusiasm about their businesses climbed each week. Their passion grew as they gained momentum and mastery. Interest doesn’t always lead to effort and skill; sometimes it follows them.

“Those only are happy,” philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote, “who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.”

It takes humility to reconsider our past commitments, doubt to question our present decisions, and curiosity to reimagine our future plans. What we discover along the way can free us from the shackles of our familiar surroundings and our former selves. Rethinking liberates us to do more than update our knowledge and opinions—it’s a tool for leading a more fulfilling life.

Define your identity in terms of values, not opinions. It’s easier to avoid getting stuck to your past beliefs if you don’t become attached to them as part of your present self-concept. See yourself as someone who values curiosity, learning, mental flexibility, and searching for knowledge. As you form opinions, keep a list of factors that would change your mind.

Don’t shy away from constructive conflict. Disagreements don’t have to be disagreeable. Although relationship conflict is usually counterproductive, task conflict can help you think again. Try framing disagreement as a debate: people are more likely to approach it intellectually and less likely to take it personally.

Ask “What evidence would change your mind?” You can’t bully someone into agreeing with you. It’s often more effective to inquire about what would open their minds, and then see if you can convince them on their own terms.

Ask how people originally formed an opinion. Many of our opinions, like our stereotypes, are arbitrary; we’ve developed them without rigorous data or deep reflection. To help people reevaluate, prompt them to consider how they’d believe different things if they’d been born at a different time or in a different place.

Acknowledge common ground. A debate is like a dance, not a war. Admitting points of convergence doesn’t make you weaker—it shows that you’re willing to negotiate about what’s true, and it motivates the other side to consider your point of view.

Personal Growth Psychology

Matthew Dicks – Storyworthy

How could you develop an ego or agenda to become internet- or podcast-famous (actual things, swear to god)? It’s a little like wanting to have the biggest house on the tiny-home scene.

Elysha has this consistent, annoying confidence in my abilities. She assumes that I’m capable of almost anything, which both undermines her appreciation for my abject terror and sets expectations far too high for my liking.

Your story must reflect change over time. A story cannot simply be a series of remarkable events. You must start out as one version of yourself and end as something new. The change can be infinitesimal. It need not reflect an improvement in yourself or your character, but change must happen. Even the worst movies in the world reflect some change in a character over time. So

Don’t tell other people’s stories. Tell your own. But feel free to tell your side of other people’s stories, as long as you are the protagonist in these tales.

A story is like a diamond with many facets. Everyone has a different relationship to it. If you can find a way of making your particular facet of the story compelling, you can tell that story as your own. Otherwise, leave the telling to someone else.

Lastly, the story must pass the Dinner Test. The Dinner Test is simply this: Is the story that you craft for the stage, the boardroom, the sales conference, or the Sunday sermon similar to the story you would tell a friend at dinner? This should be the goal.

This is why tiny moments like the one at my dining-room table with my wife and children often make the best stories. These are the moments that connect with people. These are the stories that touch people’s hearts.

I decided that at the end of every day, I’d reflect upon my day and ask myself one simple question: If I had to tell a story from today — a five-minute story onstage about something that took place over the course of this day — what would it be? As benign and boring and inconsequential as it might seem, what was the most storyworthy moment from my day?

I discovered that there is beauty and import in my life that I never would have imagined before doing my homework, and that these small, unexpected moments of beauty are oftentimes some of my most compelling stories.

All of this happens because I sit down every evening and ask myself: What is my story from today? What is the thing about today that has made it different from any previous day? Then I write my answer down.

As you start to see importance and meaning in each day, you suddenly understand your importance to this world. You start to see how the meaningful moments that we experience every day contribute to the lives of others and to the world. You start to sense the critical nature of your very existence. There are no more throwaway days. Every day can change the world in some small way. In fact, every day has been changing the world for as long as you’ve been alive. You just haven’t noticed yet.

It may take you a month, six months, or even a year to refine and focus your storytelling lens. You might give up five minutes of your day for an entire year and receive nothing in return. This process requires you to believe that eventually you will begin seeing these moments in your life, just as I and so many others have.

The reason is simple: We are the sum of our experiences, the culmination of everything that has come before. The more we know about our past, the better we know ourselves. The greater our storehouse of memory, the more complete our personal narrative becomes. Our life begins to feel full and complete and important.

There are many secrets to storytelling, but there is one fundamental truth above all others that must be understood before a storyteller can ever be successful: All great stories — regardless of length or depth or tone — tell the story of a five-second moment in a person’s life.

These five-second moments are the moments in your life when something fundamentally changes forever. You fall in love. You fall out of love. You discover something new about yourself or another person. Your opinion on a subject dramatically changes. You find forgiveness. You reach acceptance. You sink into despair. You grudgingly resign. You’re drowned in regret. You make a life-altering decision. Choose a new path. Accomplish something great. Fail spectacularly.

Many times storytellers fail to understand the importance of these five-second moments. They see the big when they should be looking for the small. They come to me and say, “I went to Tanzania last summer. I want to tell that story onstage.” My answer is always the same: No. Visiting Tanzania is not a story. Your ability to travel the world does not mean that you can tell a good story or even have a good story to tell. But if something happened in Tanzania that altered you in some deep and fundamental way, then you might have a story. If you experienced a five-second moment in Tanzania, you might have something. Think of it this way: If we remove Tanzania from the story, do you still have a story worth telling?

Like Jurassic Park, the real story isn’t about the big thing. In fact, when people talk to me about the story, they rarely mention the car accident or my near-death experience. Instead, they speak about my five-second moment, when I find myself alone in the emergency room two hours after the accident, waiting for surgeons to operate on my ruined legs. Upon hearing that I was in stable condition, my parents decide to check on the car before checking on me, leaving me alone, frightened, and in terrible pain in the corner of a cold, sterile emergency room. Except it turns out that I’m not alone, because my friends from McDonald’s find out about the accident and quickly fill the waiting room, making the kind of noise that only a gang of teenagers can make.

This was my five-second moment. It was the moment when I realized that I had family after all. My friends were my family, and they remained the only family I had and the only family I needed until I met my wife fifteen years later. It might be the greatest five-second moment of my life.

So how do you choose the right place to start a story? Simple. Ask yourself where your story ends. What is the meaning of your five-second moment? Say it aloud. In “Charity Thief,” I might say it like this: “I thought I was alone in this world, facing a lifetime of loneliness. Then I met a man who taught me that I knew very little about loneliness and never wanted to know loneliness the way that man knew it on that day and probably many, many days thereafter.”

Simply put, the beginning of the story should be the opposite of the end. Find the opposite of your transformation, revelation, or realization, and this is where your story should start. This is what creates an arc in your story. This is how a story shows change over time. I was once this, but now I am this. I once thought this, but now I think this. I once felt this, but now I feel this. Stories must reflect change of some kind.

Regardless of whether your change is infinitesimal or profound, positive or negative, your story must reflect change. You must begin and end your story in entirely different states of being. Change is key. The story of how you’re an amazing person who did an amazing thing and ended up in an amazing place is not a story. It’s a recipe for a douchebag. The story of how you’re a pathetic person who did a pathetic thing and remained pathetic is also not a story. It’s a recipe for a sad sack.

Listen to people in the world tell you stories. Often they start with a sentence like, “This is hilarious,” or “You need to hear this,” or “You’re not going to believe this.” This is always a mistake, for three reasons. First, it establishes potentially unrealistic expectations.

Second, starting your story with a thesis statement reduces your chances of surprising your audience. When you tell me that the story is hilarious, I’m already primed for humor.

Pay attention to the opening scenes of movies. So many of them use this strategy as well. We open on the protagonist or someone similarly important to the story. That person will be moving. Walking. Running. Driving. Flying. Climbing. Fleeing. Falling. Swimming. Crawling. Diving. Filmmakers want to immerse you into their world as quickly as possible. They want you to forget the theater and the popcorn and the jackass who is texting beside you. They want you to be absorbed by the story. They want you to forget that you even exist for the duration of the film.

Every story must have an Elephant. The Elephant is the thing that everyone in the room can see. It is large and obvious. It is a clear statement of the need, the want, the problem, the peril, or the mystery. It signifies where the story is headed, and it makes it clear to your audience that this is in fact a story and not a simple musing on a subject.

The audience doesn’t know why they are listening to the story or what is to come, so it’s easy to stop listening. If you don’t present a reason to listen very early on, you risk losing their attention altogether.

Eventually the Elephant in my story changes color. The story isn’t really about escaping New Hampshire at all. It’s really a story about understanding the nature of loneliness. I change the color of the Elephant halfway through this story. I present the audience with one Elephant, but then I paint it another color. I trick them. This is an excellent storytelling strategy: make your audience think they are on one path, and then when they least expect it, show them that they have been on a different path all along.

A Backpack is a strategy that increases the stakes of the story by increasing the audience’s anticipation about a coming event. It’s when a storyteller loads up the audience with all the storyteller’s hopes and fears in that moment before moving the story forward. It’s an attempt to do two things: 1. Make the audience wonder what will happen next. 2. Make your audience experience the same emotion, or something like the same emotion, that the storyteller experienced in the moment about to be described.

This is why heist movies like the Ocean’s Eleven franchise explain almost every part of the robbers’ plan before they ever make a move. If you understand their plan to rob the casino, you can experience the same level of frustration, worry, fear, and suspense that the characters feel when their plans go awry. The filmmakers put the audience on Danny Ocean’s team. They know the plan, so they feel as if they are a part of the heist themselves.

Storytellers use Breadcrumbs when we hint at a future event but only reveal enough to keep the audience guessing.

In “Charity Thief,” I drop a Breadcrumb when I say: But as I climb back into the car, I see my crumpled McDonald’s uniform on the backseat, and I suddenly have an idea.

This is the moment to use an Hourglass. It’s time to slow things down. Grind them to a halt when possible. When you know the audience is hanging on your every word, let them hang. Drag out the wait as long as possible.

It’s the perfect time to use an Hourglass. Stakes. The desire of an audience to hear the next sentence, made greater by the deliberate slowing down of action and pace. Find the moment in your story that everyone has been waiting for, then flip that Hourglass and let the sand run.

The Crystal Ball is the easiest of the strategies to deploy, because you already use Crystal Balls in everyday life. A Crystal Ball is a false prediction made by a storyteller to cause the audience to wonder if the prediction will prove to be true.

Memory is a slippery thing, and as storytellers, we must remember this. Research suggests that every time you tell a story, it becomes less true.

A lie of progression is when a storyteller changes the order of events in a story to make it more emotionally satisfying or comprehensible to the listener. In my experience, this is the least common lie told, and I have never done it myself, but I’ve recommended that other storytellers use it from time to time.

Storytellers use conflation to push all the emotion of an event into a single time frame, because stories are more entertaining this way. Rather than describing change over a long period, we compress all the intellectual and emotional transformation into a smaller bit of time, because this is what audiences expect from stories.

Stories are not supposed to start with thesis statements or overwrought aphorisms. Let me say it again, because it’s that important: A great storyteller creates a movie in the mind of the audience. Listeners should be able to see the story in their mind’s eye at all times. At no point should the story become visually obscured or impossible to see.

Always provide a physical location for every moment of your story. That’s it. If the audience knows where you are at all times within your story, the movie is running in their minds.

The ideal connective tissue in any story are the words but and therefore, along with all their glorious synonyms. These buts and therefores can be either explicit or implied.

Just listen to someone tell you about their vacation to Europe or their weekend at the beach. It’s almost never a good story. It’s almost never something you want to hear. Why? “First we went here, and it was amazing, and then we went here, and it was also amazing, and then we saw this, which was so amazing.”

One other aspect to the but-and-therefore principle: the power of the negative. Oddly, the negative is almost always better than the positive when it comes to storytelling. Saying what something or someone is not is almost always better than saying what something or someone is. For example: I am dumb, ugly, and unpopular. I’m not smart, I’m not at all good-looking, and no one likes me.

The second sentence is better, isn’t it? Here’s why: it contains a hidden but. It presents both possibilities. Unlike the first sentence, which only offers single descriptors, the second sentence offers a binary.

This is the trick to telling a big story: it cannot be about anything big. Instead we must find the small, relatable, comprehensible moments in our larger stories. We must find the piece of the story that people can connect to, relate to, and understand.

Your big stories could be about a vacation to exotic locales or the birth of a child or your wedding day or the untimely death of a loved one. Any of these could be told well if you find a way to make the story smaller than it seems. This is hard to do. Rarely are stories of birth or death or weddings or vacations good. They are more often ordinary, expected, and boring. Cliché. But this need not be the case.

As Blaise Pascal first said, “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.” Brevity takes time, because brevity is always better.

The same thing happens later in that story, when I say, “Hi, I’m Matt, and I’m collecting money for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities.” It’s the most surprising moment of the story. People either gasp or laugh when they hear me say those words. If you’ll remember, I accentuate this surprise with a Breadcrumb and an Hourglass. I give a hint about what is to come (a crumpled McDonald’s uniform), and I make the audience wait forever to hear it by slowing my speech and adding enormous amounts of unnecessary description and repetition. Can you imagine how less surprising the moment would be if I had climbed into my car, spotted the crumpled McDonald’s uniform, and said, “I know. I’m going to go door-to-door pretending to be a charity worker.” Still surprising, perhaps, but not nearly so. Yet

Avoid thesis statements in storytelling.

You must end your story on heart. Far too often I hear storytellers attempt to end their story on a laugh. A pun. A joke. A play on words. This is not why we listen to stories. We like to laugh; we want to laugh. But we listen to stories to be moved.

Humor is a combination of wit, speed, tonality, confidence, daring, nonconformity, flexibility with the language, understanding of your audience, and more. In a lot of ways, it’s all about the way you say something. Delivery is critical.

Like all other emotional responses (see the previous chapter), humor is based entirely on surprise. A combination of specific words spoken in a specific way at a specific moment initiates a surprise that sparks a smile, a giggle, or actual laughter.

Babies and Blenders is the idea that when two things that rarely or never go together are pushed together, humor often results.

In the story about the way that my grandmother pulled my loose teeth, I refer to her as a sadist. Grandmother and sadist are rarely seen together, so it’s funny.

My favorite storyteller in the world — Steve Zimmer — does this in a story entitled “Neighborhood Watch.” After Steve’s family is not invited to the neighborhood Hawaiian luau, they decide to host the Zimmer family barbecue, which features “Zimmers, pineapple-flavored ham, and despair.”

The ending of the story — your five-second moment — will tell you what the beginning of your story should be. The beginning will be the opposite of the end. If my story is about my realization that the world (and especially people) are fundamentally unsafe and willing to hurt you for the pettiest of reasons, the beginning of my story needs to present my previous belief that people are basically good and the world is generally safe.

This is the magic of the present tense. It creates a sense of immediacy.

Rather than attempting to be grandiose about yourself or your success, you must undermine both you and it. This is because of two realities: First, human beings love underdog stories. The love for the underdog is universal. Underdogs are supposed to lose, so when they manage to pull out an unexpected or unbelievable victory, our sense of joy is more intense than if that same underdog suffers a crushing defeat.

I also suggested this: Can Tim’s story be about something other than Mount Everest? Can the climb to the summit be about something more personal? More interior? Perhaps a bit of individual growth that resulted from the climb? I know it sounds crazy to turn the summiting of Mount Everest into something other than the summiting of Mount Everest, but if I can turn a story about putting my head through a windshield and dying on the side of the road into a story about my friends taking the place of my family, why not?

Avoid phrases like “You guys!” for the same reason you shouldn’t ask rhetorical questions. When a storyteller says something like “You guys, you’re not going to believe this!” the bubble is instantly broken. Time travel has abruptly ended. The audience is keenly aware that someone is standing in front of them, speaking directly to them and the people sitting around them.

Phrases like, “But that’s a story for another day,” or “Long story short” serve to remind our audience that we are telling a story. If your audience knows that you’re telling a story, then they’re not time traveling.

The lesson here: Nervousness can be your friend. Too much of it is never good, but not being nervous at all isn’t good either. I bristle at the saying, “If you’re not nervous, you don’t care enough,” because I couldn’t care more about performing well, but there is some truth in this statement. It ain’t always bad to be nervous.

It’s hard to be authentic and vulnerable when you’re reciting lines. It’s also obvious to an audience when a storyteller is simply reciting a story instead of telling a story. Instead of memorizing your story word-for-word, memorize three parts to a story: 1. The first few sentences. Always start strong. 2. The last few sentences. Always end strong. 3. The scenes of your story.

Some people remember their scenes in a list, but I actually remember these scenes as circles in my mind. The size of the circle reflects the size of the scene. The color of the circle reflects the tone and tenor of the scene.

But when you can see your audience — in a classroom, a conference room, your aunt’s kitchen, a reception hall, or a faculty meeting — eye contact is important. You can’t speak to the middle distance and expect your audience to connect.

This is what I call the Spider-Man Principle of Meetings and Presentations (though Voltaire admittedly said it first): “With great power comes great responsibility.”

A first date is an interview of sorts. If you can make the person laugh, share a little vulnerability, and tell a good story in the process, your chances for second and third dates increase exponentially.

I believe that it is the teacher’s responsibility to provide a reason to learn. A meaningful, entertaining, engaging, thrilling, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants reason to keep their eyes and ears and minds open. This is why every lesson requires a hook. A hook is not a statement like “This material will be on Friday’s test” or “This is something you’ll use for the rest of your life.” A hook is an attempt to be entertaining, engaging, thought-provoking, surprising, challenging, daring, and even shocking. This can be done in dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of ways.

Four times I have stepped off the stage at a storytelling show and been approached by a woman who wanted to share the story of her miscarriage with me.I was speechless the first time this happened. I called Elysha immediately after the show to tell her. Elysha’s response was surprising. “Of course she wanted to tell you,” she said. “You stood on that stage and talked about one of your most difficult moments in your life with complete honesty. Your story made you safe to talk to. And she never needs to see you again. She could unburden herself of this secret to someone she knew she could trust, and she doesn’t have to see you at work or home the next day.” It made sense.

Personal Growth Psychology

James Clear – Atomic Habits

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.

Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.

The impact created by a change in your habits is similar to the effect of shifting the route of an airplane by just a few degrees. Imagine you are flying from Los Angeles to New York City. If a pilot leaving from LAX adjusts the heading just 3.5 degrees south, you will land in Washington, D.C., instead of New York. Such a small change is barely noticeable at takeoff—the nose of the airplane moves just a few feet—but when magnified across the entire United States, you end up hundreds of miles apart.

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat.

The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.

Behind every system of actions is a system of beliefs. The system of a democracy is founded on beliefs like freedom, majority rule, and social equality. The system of a dictatorship has a very different set of beliefs like absolute authority and strict obedience.

Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last. You may want more money, but if your identity is someone who consumes rather than creates, then you’ll continue to be pulled toward spending rather than earning.

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.

True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity.

The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader. The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician.

Your behaviors are usually a reflection of your identity.

Research has shown that once a person believes in a particular aspect of their identity, they are more likely to act in alignment with that belief.

Once you have adopted an identity, it can be easy to let your allegiance to it impact your ability to change. Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity. “I’m terrible with directions.” “I’m not a morning person.” “I’m bad at remembering people’s names.” “I’m always late.” “I’m not good with technology.” “I’m horrible at math.” … and a thousand other variations. When you have repeated a story to yourself for years, it is easy to slide into these mental grooves and accept them as a fact.

The biggest barrier to positive change at any level—individual, team, society—is identity conflict.

Your habits are how you embody your identity.

The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior. In fact, the word identity was originally derived from the Latin words essentitas, which means being, and identidem, which means repeatedly. Your identity is literally your “repeated beingness.”

Each habit is like a suggestion: “Hey, maybe this is who I am.” If you finish a book, then perhaps you are the type of person who likes reading. If you go to the gym, then perhaps you are the type of person who likes exercise. If you practice playing the guitar, perhaps you are the type of person who likes music.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.

Putting this all together, you can see that habits are the path to changing your identity. The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do. Each time you write a page, you are a writer. Each time you practice the violin, you are a musician. Each time you start a workout, you are an athlete. Each time you encourage your employees, you are a leader.

Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

Habits are mental shortcuts learned from experience. In a sense, a habit is just a memory of the steps you previously followed to solve a problem in the past.

The primary reason the brain remembers the past is to better predict what will work in the future.

The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.

As the psychologist Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

The Japanese railway system is regarded as one of the best in the world. If you ever find yourself riding a train in Tokyo, you’ll notice that the conductors have a peculiar habit. As each operator runs the train, they proceed through a ritual of pointing at different objects and calling out commands. When the train approaches a signal, the operator will point at it and say, “Signal is green.” As the train pulls into and out of each station, the operator will point at the speedometer and call out the exact speed. When it’s time to leave, the operator will point at the timetable and state the time. Out on the platform, other employees are performing similar actions. Before each train departs, staff members will point along the edge of the platform and declare, “All clear!” Every detail is identified, pointed at, and named aloud.fn1 This process, known as Pointing-and-Calling, is a safety system designed to reduce mistakes. It seems silly, but it works incredibly well. Pointing-and-Calling reduces errors by up to 85 percent and cuts accidents by 30 percent. The MTA subway system in New York City adopted a modified version that is “point-only,” and “within two years of implementation, incidents of incorrectly berthed subways fell 57 percent.” Pointing-and-Calling is so effective because it raises the level of awareness from a nonconscious habit to a more conscious level. Because the train operators must use their eyes, hands, mouth, and ears, they are more likely to notice problems before something goes wrong.

The sentence they filled out is what researchers refer to as an implementation intention, which is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. That is, how you intend to implement a particular habit.

The cues that can trigger a habit come in a wide range of forms—the feel of your phone buzzing in your pocket, the smell of chocolate chip cookies, the sound of ambulance sirens—but the two most common cues are time and location.

The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases. You can spot this pattern everywhere.

Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. Despite our unique personalities, certain behaviors tend to arise again and again under certain environmental conditions. In church, people tend to talk in whispers. On a dark street, people act wary and guarded. In this way, the most common form of change is not internal, but external: we are changed by the world around us. Every habit is context dependent.

In 1936, psychologist Kurt Lewin wrote a simple equation that makes a powerful statement: Behavior is a function of the Person in their Environment, or B = f (P,E).

The power of context also reveals an important strategy: habits can be easier to change in a new environment. It helps to escape the subtle triggers and cues that nudge you toward your current habits. Go to a new place—a different coffee shop, a bench in the park, a corner of your room you seldom use—and create a new routine there. It is easier to associate a new habit with a new context than to build a new habit in the face of competing cues.

A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is an environment where habits can easily form.

In 1971, as the Vietnam War was heading into its sixteenth year, congressmen Robert Steele from Connecticut and Morgan Murphy from Illinois made a discovery that stunned the American public. While visiting the troops, they had learned that over 15 percent of U.S. soldiers stationed there were heroin addicts. Follow-up research revealed that 35 percent of service members in Vietnam had tried heroin and as many as 20 percent were addicted—the problem was even worse than they had initially thought.In a finding that completely upended the accepted beliefs about addiction, Robins found that when soldiers who had been heroin users returned home, only 5 percent of them became re-addicted within a year, and just 12 percent relapsed within three years. In other words, approximately nine out of ten soldiers who used heroin in Vietnam eliminated their addiction nearly overnight.

This finding contradicted the prevailing view at the time, which considered heroin addiction to be a permanent and irreversible condition. Instead, Robins revealed that addictions could spontaneously dissolve if there was a radical change in the environment.

When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.

The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least. It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often. So, yes, perseverance, grit, and willpower are essential to success, but the way to improve these qualities is not by wishing you were a more disciplined person, but by creating a more disciplined environment.

Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself. They foster the feelings they try to numb. You feel bad, so you eat junk food. Because you eat junk food, you feel bad. Watching television makes you feel sluggish, so you watch more television because you don’t have the energy to do anything else.

Here’s the punch line: You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it. Once the mental grooves of habit have been carved into your brain, they are nearly impossible to remove entirely—even if they go unused for quite a while.

Scientists can track the precise moment a craving occurs by measuring a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

By implanting electrodes in the brains of rats, the researchers blocked the release of dopamine. To the surprise of the scientists, the rats lost all will to live. They wouldn’t eat. They wouldn’t have sex. They didn’t crave anything. Within a few days, the animals died of thirst.

Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. Every behavior that is highly habit-forming—taking drugs, eating junk food, playing video games, browsing social media—is associated with higher levels of dopamine.

When it comes to habits, the key takeaway is this: dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it.

Your brain has far more neural circuitry allocated for wanting rewards than for liking them. The wanting centers in the brain are large: the brain stem, the nucleus accumbens, the ventral tegmental area, the dorsal striatum, the amygdala, and portions of the prefrontal cortex. By comparison, the liking centers of the brain are much smaller. They are often referred to as “hedonic hot spots” and are distributed like tiny islands throughout the brain.

Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do. In Byrne’s case, he bundled watching Netflix (the thing he wanted to do) with riding his stationary bike (the thing he needed to do).

Temptation bundling is one way to apply a psychology theory known as Premack’s Principle. Named after the work of professor David Premack, the principle states that “more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.”

We imitate the habits of three groups in particular: The close. The many. The powerful.

Similarly, one study found that the higher your best friend’s IQ at age eleven or twelve, the higher your IQ would be at age fifteen, even after controlling for natural levels of intelligence. We soak up the qualities and practices of those around us.

Whenever we are unsure how to act, we look to the group to guide our behavior. We are constantly scanning our environment and wondering, “What is everyone else doing?” We check reviews on Amazon or Yelp or TripAdvisor because we want to imitate the “best” buying, eating, and travel habits. It’s usually a smart strategy. There is evidence in numbers.

You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience. Sometimes, all you need is a slight mind-set shift. For instance, we often talk about everything we have to do in a given day. You have to wake up early for work. You have to make another sales call for your business. You have to cook dinner for your family. Now, imagine changing just one word: You don’t “have” to. You “get” to. You get to wake up early for work. You get to make another sales call for your business. You get to cook dinner for your family. By simply changing one word, you shift the way you view each event.

I once heard a story about a man who uses a wheelchair. When asked if it was difficult being confined, he responded, “I’m not confined to my wheelchair—I am liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.” This shift in perspective completely transformed how he lived each day.

As Voltaire once wrote, “The best is the enemy of the good.”

Repeating a habit leads to clear physical changes in the brain. In musicians, the cerebellum—critical for physical movements like plucking a guitar string or pulling a violin bow—is larger than it is in nonmusicians. Mathematicians, meanwhile, have increased gray matter in the inferior parietal lobule, which plays a key role in computation and calculation. Its size is directly correlated with the amount of time spent in the field; the older and more experienced the mathematician, the greater the increase in gray matter. When scientists analyzed the brains of taxi drivers in London, they found that the hippocampus—a region of the brain involved in spatial memory—was significantly larger in their subjects than in non–taxi drivers. Even more fascinating, the hippocampus decreased in size when a driver retired. Like the muscles of the body responding to regular weight training, particular regions of the brain adapt as they are used and atrophy as they are abandoned.

One of the most common questions I hear is, “How long does it take to build a new habit?” But what people really should be asking is, “How many does it take to form a new habit?” That is, how many repetitions are required to make a habit automatic?

The purpose of resetting each room is not simply to clean up after the last action, but to prepare for the next action. “When I walk into a room everything is in its right place,” Nuckols wrote. “Because I do this every day in every room, stuff always stays in good shape …. People think I work hard but I’m actually really lazy. I’m just proactively lazy. It gives you so much time back.”

There are many ways to prime your environment so it’s ready for immediate use. If you want to cook a healthy breakfast, place the skillet on the stove, set the cooking spray on the counter, and lay out any plates and utensils you’ll need the night before. When you wake up, making breakfast will be easy.  Want to draw more? Put your pencils, pens, notebooks, and drawing tools on top of your desk, within easy reach. Want to exercise? Set out your workout clothes, shoes, gym bag, and water bottle ahead of

Even when you know you should start small, it’s easy to start too big. When you dream about making a change, excitement inevitably takes over and you end up trying to do too much too soon. The most effective way I know to counteract this tendency is to use the Two-Minute Rule, which states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”

Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis. You have to standardize before you can optimize.

IN THE LATE 1990s, a public health worker named Stephen Luby left his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, and bought a one-way ticket to Karachi, Pakistan.

Luby and his team realized that in an environment with poor sanitation, the simple habit of washing your hands could make a real difference in the health of the residents. But they soon discovered that many people were already aware that handwashing was important.

Everyone said handwashing was important, but few people made a habit out of it. The problem wasn’t knowledge. The problem was consistency. That was when Luby and his team partnered with Procter & Gamble to supply the neighborhood with Safeguard soap.

“In Pakistan, Safeguard was a premium soap,” Luby told me. “The study participants commonly mentioned how much they liked it.”

Within months, the researchers saw a rapid shift in the health of children in the neighborhood. The rate of diarrhea fell by 52 percent; pneumonia by 48 percent; and impetigo, a bacterial skin infection, by 35 percent. The long-term effects were even better.

Behavioral economists refer to this tendency as time inconsistency. That is, the way your brain evaluates rewards is inconsistent across time. You value the present more than the future. Usually, this tendency serves us well. A reward that is certain right now is typically worth more than one that is merely possible in the future. But occasionally, our bias toward instant gratification causes problems.

The French economist Frédéric Bastiat explained the problem clearly when he wrote, “It almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa …. Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits.”

Dyrsmid began each morning with two jars on his desk. One was filled with 120 paper clips. The other was empty. As soon as he settled in each day, he would make a sales call. Immediately after, he would move one paper clip from the full jar to the empty jar and the process would begin again.

I like to refer to this technique as the Paper Clip Strategy and, over the years, I’ve heard from readers who have employed it in a variety of ways. One woman shifted a hairpin from one container to another whenever she wrote a page of her book. Another man moved a marble from one bin to the next after each set of push-ups.

In summary, habit tracking (1) creates a visual cue that can remind you to act, (2) is inherently motivating because you see the progress you are making and don’t want to lose it, and (3) feels satisfying whenever you record another successful instance of your habit. Furthermore, habit tracking provides visual proof that you are casting votes for the type of person you wish to become, which is a delightful form of immediate and intrinsic gratification.

You don’t realize how valuable it is to just show up on your bad (or busy) days.

This is sometimes referred to as Goodhart’s Law. Named after the economist Charles Goodhart, the principle states, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

All five characteristics in the Big Five model have biological underpinnings. Extroversion, for instance, can be tracked from birth. If scientists play a loud noise in the nursing ward, some babies turn toward it while others turn away. When the researchers tracked these children through life, they found that the babies who turned toward the noise were more likely to grow up to be extroverts. Those who turned away were more likely to become introverts.

As you explore different options, there are a series of questions you can ask yourself to continually narrow in on the habits and areas that will be most satisfying to you: What feels like fun to me, but work to others? The mark of whether you are made for a task is not whether you love it but whether you can handle the pain of the task easier than most people.

What makes me lose track of time? Flow is the mental state you enter when you are so focused on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away. This blend of happiness and peak performance is what athletes and performers experience when they are “in the zone.”

What comes naturally to me? For just a moment, ignore what you have been taught. Ignore what society has told you. Ignore what others expect of you. Look inside yourself and ask, “What feels natural to me? When have I felt alive? When have I felt like the real me?”

The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.

As Machiavelli noted, “Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly.”

In psychology, this is known as a variable reward. Slot machines are the most common real-world example. A gambler hits the jackpot every now and then but not at any predictable interval. The pace of rewards varies. This variance leads to the greatest spike of dopamine, enhances memory recall, and accelerates habit formation.

I know of executives and investors who keep a “decision journal” in which they record the major decisions they make each week, why they made them, and what they expect the outcome to be. They review their choices at the end of each month or year to see where they were correct and where they went wrong.

Morality Philosophy Psychology

Sam Harris – Free Will

Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have. Free will is actually more than an illusion (or less), in that it cannot be made conceptually coherent. Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.

If a man’s choice to shoot the president is determined by a certain pattern of neural activity, which is in turn the product of prior causes—perhaps an unfortunate coincidence of bad genes, an unhappy childhood, lost sleep, and cosmic-ray bombardment—what can it possibly mean to say that his will is “free”?

The popular conception of free will seems to rest on two assumptions: (1) that each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past, and (2) that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present. As we are about to see, however, both of these assumptions are false. 

The intention to do one thing and not another does not originate in consciousness—rather, it appears in consciousness, as does any thought or impulse that might oppose it.

One fact now seems indisputable: Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next—a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please—your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this “decision” and believe that you are in the process of making it.

The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously used EEG to show that activity in the brain’s motor cortex can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move.

Another lab extended this work using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI): Subjects were asked to press one of two buttons while watching a “clock” composed of a random sequence of letters appearing on a screen. They reported which letter was visible at the moment they decided to press one button or the other. The experimenters found two brain regions that contained information about which button subjects would press a full 7 to 10 seconds before the decision was consciously made.

There is a distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions, of course, but it does nothing to support the common idea of free will (nor does it depend upon it). A voluntary action is accompanied by the felt intention to carry it out, whereas an involuntary action isn’t. Needless to say, this difference is reflected at the level of the brain. And what a person consciously intends to do says a lot about him. It makes sense to treat a man who enjoys murdering children differently from one who accidentally hit and killed a child with his car—because the conscious intentions of the former give us a lot of information about how he is likely to behave in the future.

Of course, this insight does not make social and political freedom any less important. The freedom to do what one intends, and not to do otherwise, is no less valuable than it ever was.

You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.

In the philosophical literature, one finds three main approaches to the problem: determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism.

Today, the only philosophically respectable way to endorse free will is to be a compatibilist—because we know that determinism, in every sense relevant to human behavior, is true. Unconscious neural events determine our thoughts and actions—and are themselves determined by prior causes of which we are subjectively unaware.

However, the “free will” that compatibilists defend is not the free will that most people feel they have.

Compatibilists generally claim that a person is free as long as he is free from any outer or inner compulsions that would prevent him from acting on his actual desires and intentions.

If you want a second scoop of ice cream and no one is forcing you to eat it, then eating a second scoop is fully demonstrative of your freedom of will. The truth, however, is that people claim greater autonomy than this. Our moral intuitions and sense of personal agency are anchored to a felt sense that we are the conscious source of our thoughts and actions.

My mental life is simply given to me by the cosmos. Why didn’t I decide to drink a glass of juice? The thought never occurred to me. Am I free to do that which does not occur to me to do? Of course not.

And there is no way I can influence my desires—for what tools of influence would I use? Other desires? To say that I would have done otherwise had I wanted to is simply to say that I would have lived in a different universe had I been in a different universe. Compatibilism amounts to nothing more than an assertion of the following creed: A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.

At this moment, you are making countless unconscious “decisions” with organs other than your brain—but these are not events for which you feel responsible. Are you producing red blood cells and digestive enzymes at this moment?

Your body is doing these things, of course, but if it “decided” to do otherwise, you would be the victim of these changes, rather than their cause. To say that you are responsible for everything that goes on inside your skin because it’s all “you” is to make a claim that bears absolutely no relationship to the feelings of agency and moral responsibility that have made the idea of free will an enduring problem for philosophy.

We know, in fact, that we sometimes feel responsible for events over which we have no causal influence. Given the right experimental manipulations, people can be led to believe that they consciously intended an action when they neither chose it nor had control over their movements. In one experiment, subjects were asked to select pictures on a screen using a computer’s cursor. They tended to believe that they had intentionally guided the cursor to a specific image even when it was under the full control of another person, as long as they heard the name of the image just before the cursor stopped.12 People who are susceptible to hypnosis can be given elaborate suggestions to perform odd tasks, and when asked why they have done these things, many will confabulate—giving reasons for their behavior that have nothing to do with its actual cause.

How can we be “free” as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware? We can’t. To say that “my brain” decided to think or act in a particular way, whether consciously or not, and that this is the basis for my freedom, is to ignore the very source of our belief in free will: the feeling of conscious agency. People feel that they are the authors of their thoughts and actions, and this is the only reason why there seems to be a problem of free will worth talking about.

Consequently, some scientists and philosophers hope that chance or quantum uncertainty can make room for free will.

The sound of the leaf blower intrudes, but I can seize the spotlight of my attention in the next moment and aim it elsewhere. This difference between nonvolitional and volitional states of mind is reflected at the level of the brain—for they are governed by different systems. And the difference between them must, in part, produce the felt sense that there is a conscious self endowed with freedom of will.

The phrase “free will” describes what it feels like to identify with certain mental states as they arise in consciousness. Thoughts like “What should I get my daughter for her birthday? I know—I’ll take her to a pet store and have her pick out some tropical fish” convey the apparent reality of choices, freely made. But from a deeper perspective (speaking both objectively and subjectively), thoughts simply arise unauthored and yet author our actions.

And we know that the brain systems that allow us to reflect upon our experience are different from those involved when we automatically react to stimuli. So consciousness, in this sense, is not inconsequential

As Dan Dennett and many others have pointed out, people generally confuse determinism with fatalism. This gives rise to questions like “If everything is determined, why should I do anything? Why not just sit back and see what happens?” This is pure confusion. To sit back and see what happens is itself a choice that will produce its own consequences. It is also extremely difficult to do: Just try staying in bed all day waiting for something to happen;

Decisions, intentions, efforts, goals, willpower, etc., are causal states of the brain, leading to specific behaviors, and behaviors lead to outcomes in the world. Human choice, therefore, is as important as fanciers of free will believe. But the next choice you make will come out of the darkness of prior causes that you, the conscious witness of your experience, did not bring into being.

You are not in control of your mind—because you, as a conscious agent, are only part of your mind, living at the mercy of other parts. You can do what you decide to do—but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.

Many people worry that free will is a necessary illusion—and that without it we will fail to live creative and fulfilling lives. This concern isn’t entirely unjustified. One study found that having subjects read an argument against the existence of free will made them more likely to cheat on a subsequent exam.Another found such subjects to be less helpful and more aggressive.

Speaking from personal experience, I think that losing the sense of free will has only improved my ethics—by increasing my feelings of compassion and forgiveness, and diminishing my sense of entitlement to the fruits of my own good luck.

Our interests in life are not always served by viewing people and things as collections of atoms—but this doesn’t negate the truth or utility of physics.

Becoming sensitive to the background causes of one’s thoughts and feelings can—paradoxically—allow for greater creative control over one’s life. It is one thing to bicker with your wife because you are in a bad mood; it is another to realize that your mood and behavior have been caused by low blood sugar. This understanding reveals you to be a biochemical puppet, of course, but it also allows you to grab hold of one of your strings: A bite of food may be all that your personality requires. Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).

The great worry, of course, is that an honest discussion of the underlying causes of human behavior appears to leave no room for moral responsibility. If we view people as neuronal weather patterns, how can we coherently speak about right and wrong or good and evil?

To say that I was responsible for my behavior is simply to say that what I did was sufficiently in keeping with my thoughts, intentions, beliefs, and desires to be considered an extension of them. If I had found myself standing in the market naked, intent upon stealing as many tins of anchovies as I could carry, my behavior would be totally out of character; I would feel that I was not in my right mind, or that I was otherwise not responsible for my actions.

And it works this miracle even if the man’s subjective experience was identical to that of the psychopath in case 4—for the moment we understand that his feelings had a physical cause, a brain tumor, we cannot help seeing him as a victim of his own biology.

What we condemn most in another person is the conscious intention to do harm. Degrees of guilt can still be judged by reference to the facts of a case: the personality of the accused, his prior offenses, his patterns of association with others, his use of intoxicants, his confessed motives with regard to the victim, etc. If a person’s actions seem to have been entirely out of character, this might influence our view of the risk he now poses to others. If the accused appears unrepentant and eager to kill again, we need entertain no notions of free will to consider him a danger to society.

Once we recognize that even the most terrifying predators are, in a very real sense, unlucky to be who they are, the logic of hating (as opposed to fearing) them begins to unravel. Once again, even if you believe that every human being harbors an immortal soul, the picture does not change: Anyone born with the soul of a psychopath has been profoundly unlucky. 

Our system of justice should reflect an understanding that any of us could have been dealt a very different hand in life. In fact, it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved in morality itself.

The urge for retribution depends upon our not seeing the underlying causes of human behavior.

Viewing human beings as natural phenomena need not damage our system of criminal justice. If we could incarcerate earthquakes and hurricanes for their crimes, we would build prisons for them as well. We fight emerging epidemics—and even the occasional wild animal—without attributing free will to them.

Clearly, vengeance answers to a powerful psychological need in many of us. We are deeply disposed to perceive people as the authors of their actions, to hold them responsible for the wrongs they do us, and to feel that these transgressions must be punished.

However, it may be that a sham form of retribution would still be moral—even necessary—if it led people to behave better than they otherwise would.

Even if you have struggled to make the most of what nature gave you, you must still admit that your ability and inclination to struggle is part of your inheritance. How much credit does a person deserve for not being lazy? None at all. Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condition. Of course, conservatives are right to think that we must encourage people to work to the best of their abilities and discourage free riders wherever we can. And it is wise to hold people responsible for their actions when doing so influences their behavior and brings benefit to society. But this does not mean that we must be taken in by the illusion of free will.

We need only acknowledge that efforts matter and that people can change. We do not change ourselves, precisely—because we have only ourselves with which to do the changing—but we continually influence, and are influenced by, the world around us and the world within us. It may seem paradoxical to hold people responsible for what happens in their corner of the universe, but once we break the spell of free will, we can do this precisely to the degree that it is useful.

Not only are we not as free as we think we are—we do not feel as free as we think we do. Our sense of our own freedom results from our not paying close attention to what it is like to be us. The moment we pay attention, it is possible to see that free will is nowhere to be found, and our experience is perfectly compatible with this truth.

Mental Health Personal Growth Philosophy Psychology

Our Fight For Validation

After 35,000 interviews in 37 years on TV,  Oprah Winfrey states the following in her speech at Harvard graduates : 

“The common denominator that I’ve found in every single interview is that we want to be validated. We want to be understood. […][A]s soon as that camera shuts off, everyone always turns to me and, inevitably, in their own way, asks this question: ‘Was that okay?’ I heard it from President Bush. I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives.” 

This, I believe, is one of the most fundamental insights there is into our nature as human beings. Our striving for validation doesn’t only occur during and after an interview on TV but also in our everyday working environment, when building relationships, or even when meeting complete strangers. We all want to feel heard and understood. For itself, this isn’t a problem. At least not more than any other evolutionary entailed tendency such as our striving for pleasing endless desires. It does however become a major obstacle to our happiness if seeking validation arises from an uncontrolled need to fulfill other people’s expectations. Sadly enough, this is ever more the case with social media being omnipresent. Let us call this kind of validation default validation. It is contradictory to what Oprah describes as the reason we are here:

“Your real work is to figure out where your power base is and to work on that alignment of your personality, your gifts you have to give, with the real reason why you are here. Align your personality with your purpose, and no one can touch you.”

What she describes in essence is authenticity and our journey of becoming our true selves without caring much about what other people want us to be. And although this might sound like just another most likely true but sort of naive and hardly applicable life advice, it is worth taking this to heart. Life’s most profound realizations, stripped away from our own experience and personal reflection, remain often not much more than empty shells, whose importance is yet to be recognized. 

The process of understanding and accepting, the courage to fight against our approval-seeking nature, the daily practice, and regular reflection certainly are a long journey to undertake and require hard work. The reward, however, will be freedom and validation from carefully chosen peers. Let’s call this type of validation courageous validation. To make this very clear: Even while striving towards authenticity and overcoming our approval-seeking behaviour, we as human beings still need to be validated just as a fish needs water. What changes, however, is that this validation no longer stems from our attempt to fulfilling external expectations. Instead, it comes from being recognized for the person you are by people you care about. The journey, therefore, is not so much about overcoming your need for validation (which is impossible) but changing its source. 

The goal of this essay is to lay out a case for our validation-seeking nature, to discuss specific and applicable methods that make others feel recognized and understood as well as elaborating on the steps of our journey towards our authentic selves. 

A Universal Desire For Validation
In order to survive in their harsh natural environment, collaboration with their in-group members was essential for our prehistoric ancestors. Anything that facilitated this collaboration was therefore favoured by evolution. Being complex social animals that operate in social hierarchies, our ancestors for example used gossip to exchange information and determine which of their group members were reliable and trustworthy. Our approval-seeking nature ties in with this behaviour since attempting to please other group members was a reasonably safe way to become and remain an accepted part of the group while ensuring cooperation from an evolutionary perspective. 

Nowadays, however, our need for validation comes at a cost: our freedom and happiness. Because how can we be any less free than when constantly trying to please everybody else? Since this seems obvious, we should simply stop caring about what others think. Yet it takes courage to accept this (accepting is not the same as mere understanding) and even more courage to free yourself from this. In his book “The Courage To Be Disliked”, Ichiro Kishimi emphasizes exactly this point as part of the Adlerian psychology, writing:

“Unless one is unconcerned by other people’s judgments, has no fear of being disliked by other people, and pays the cost that one might never be recognized, one will never be able to follow through in one’s own way of living. That is to say, one will not be able to be free.”

Throughout our different stages of life, we can find examples to illustrate our often very unhealthy desire for validation. Assume a child that not long ago got a younger brother. From being the only child and the center of his parent’s attention it suddenly becomes what feels like an unrecognized side note to its parents. The child now develops all kinds of provocative, attention-seeking behaviour to foster the feeling of being recognized. Of course, attention might cause the feeling of being seen, but it doesn’t please its parents (on the contrary). It’s therefore just a weak, unsatisfying form of validation, but better than the feeling of being unnoticed.

For the sake of another example, let’s look at unhealthy perfectionism whose implications become apparent in the working environment. It refers to a tendency to set up excessively high standards for yourself while being preoccupied with past mistakes, afraid of any future mistakes, and concerned about the expectations of others, such as parents or employers. Being highly focused on tasks and others’ expectations, you use accomplishment as a way to feel validated. Yet, as the last accomplishment fades, new pressure assumes itself, and any success is discounted. 

What might help when evaluating your own attitude towards this is a differentiation between a goal-oriented focus and a process-oriented one. The former is only about collecting one’s achievement and is thereby symptomatic of unhealthy perfectionism driven by the urge to please. The latter considers the work as a means in itself, is open to learning from mistakes and failure, and is therefore a healthier, more sustainable way of approaching things. I hope that you can bear another generic yet true cliché, but in the grander scheme of things, the purpose of life is a process-oriented focus. You don’t live to accomplish certain goals but to savour every moment of your journey towards them. Like a dance, where we don’t dance to get anywhere but simply for the sake of dancing. 

With regards to romantic relationships, the psychologist and author Dr. Sue Johnson breaks it down to three universal questions that every partner consciously or unconsciously keeps asking: “Are you there for me? Do I matter to you? Will you come when I need you, when I call?”. According to her, all problems in distressed couples arise because one partner feels neglected, unrecognized, and misunderstood. Assuming this is true, the question then is what kind of methods can we use to make others feel validated? 

The Secret of Empathy-Driven Communication
Probably, none of the following concepts are entirely new to you. Nevertheless, they are of astonishing potency and can be applied in almost any situation. And frankly, knowing them almost doesn’t matter at all. Instead, conscious application is what counts and this requires just one thing: practice.

Creating validation, no matter if it’s a parent with her child, a boss with an employee, or you with your partner, starts with Active Listening. This is much more difficult than it might sound but there are a few things that can help. Lean back and take a relaxed body position. When your counterpart is talking, don’t make any assumptions and listen until he is finished. Since we all have the tendency to start pre-configuring our answer while the other person is still talking, we need to work on actively suppressing this. Also, if the context is right, take notes (you probably wouldn’t want to do this when in a loaded conversation with your partner about whose turn it is to wash the dishes). This forces you to pay closer attention and makes the other person feel listened to. 

When reacting to your counterpart, use Paraphrasing to repeat what she said in your own words focusing on the essence of what she feels (emotions) and what is important to her (content). While this too is difficult to do since it requires extremely careful listening, few tools are as suitable as this one to make the other person feel truly recognized. It’s also one of the most effective ways for debates since it forces you to actually understand your counterpart’s argument. 

Further, use Labeling, that is verbalizing your counterpart’s emotions, to create a feeling of connection and understanding. Several studies underline the effectiveness of this tool on a neurological basis. In a brain imaging study, psychology professor Matthew Lieberman of the University of California found that people react with fear to photos of faces expressing strong emotions. If this emotion is, however, labeled, the brain activity moves from the amygdala (the part that generates fear) to other areas that govern rational thinking. In other words, labeling emotions decreases their intensity. These labels usually start with expressions such as It seems, It sounds like or It looks like. Try to avoid the word “I” because it creates the impression that you are more interested in yourself than in the other person.

Finally, asking the right questions matters a lot as well. Instead of formulating close-ended, verb-led questions (such as Can you do XYZ?), use open-ended questions that don’t allow for a static, yes or no answer (such as How can we solve this?). Asking these kinds of questions lets the other person talk and creates the feeling of being safe and in control which is a primary need we all have. 

Striving for Authenticity 
Until now, we discussed several examples concerning our validation-seeking behaviour and looked at tools and methods to make our counterpart feel understood. In the beginning, we differentiated between default validation as part of our attempt to please everybody’s expectations and courageous validation which we defined as bringing up the courage to let go of other people’s expectations, striving to become the person you really are, and being validated for exactly this. According to Adlerian psychology, we argued that only by being disliked (i.e. ignoring other people’s expectations) we can be truly free. And only once we are free will we be able to, as Oprah puts it, “align our personality with our purpose” and gain lasting happiness. 

Even if that was something that we would all agree on, the question remains how to get there. Of course “getting there” is incredibly difficult. We are social animals and wired to care about other people’s opinions. Our journey, therefore, becomes a fight against our own nature and most likely one where we never fully succeed (who really is completely free of other people’s expectations?). 

It starts with understanding the journey’s profundity and becoming conscious of our uncontrolled need to please others as a means of validation. This is not to say, however, that we should be judgemental of this behaviour. The key is accepting it and, more importantly, accepting that we are good enough just the way we are. 

Wisdom therefore consists in accepting what we are rather than in struggling fruitlessly to be something else, as if it were possible to run away from one’s own feet.” (Alan Watts)

Much of our default validation-seeking behaviour stems from our own feeling of inadequacy and our fear that the real us won’t be liked. Our approval-seeking behaviour is the easy way out, one without many risks. Therefore, beyond consciousness and acceptance, it takes courage and hard work to arrive at a state of courageous validation. What might help the most on a daily basis is building up habits of contemplation where you question your acting and reflect on it. Write down your thoughts, commit to goals, and recognize and celebrate successes. In the process of authenticity, things will change. Friends will leave, new ones will come, old jobs will be quit and new ones will be found, and couples will change to make room for something new. Eventually, you will end up with peers that appreciate you for the person you really are. 

Philosophy Psychology Relationships

A World Of Stories


Imagine a loving husband that is being cheated on. One evening for no specific reason he looks at his wife’s phone and his world collapses. I can’t believe this is happening might be one of the thoughts that cross his mind. He means it literally.  Picture a high-performer who continued climbing the career ladder until he slipped and fell all the way to the bottom. Being fired and without a goal he now wavers somewhere between overwhelming self-doubt and complete bewilderment. How could that be me he might wonder while indeed not being able to grasp it. These are examples of events that contradict our narrative of who we are so fundamentally that we question the core of our identity. Even though you may not experience these specific scenarios, you’re unlikely to go through your life without something that will shake the sense of your identity. These instances of incompatibility between experience and personal narrative point to the essential idea of this essay. Our identity as human beings is packed in one grand narrative that we tell ourselves. It frames every experience we make, every memory we form, and every relationship we engage in. Our narrative, however, is not static. On the very contrary, it is subject to constant change as the two examples drastically point out. No matter how these two people process their traumas, they won’t be the same after that.  

So why does this matter? Understanding and actively reflecting on our own stories puts us in the driver’s seat instead of just being steered by external influences. Since others follow the same principle, comprehending their personal narrative builds empathy and mutual understanding. It allows us to engage with each other on a much deeper level. The goals of this essay are to a) share a new framework, b) encourage active reflection and deliberate authoring of one’s own narratives, and c) emphasize the importance of recognizing other people’s narratives. In order to accomplish this, we will observe the power of narratives in regards to ideas, memories, and relationships that ultimately add up to our identity as a whole. 

Our Ideas

We are currently living through a Cambrian explosion of information. Ideas are everywhere. But why do they spread? While the reasons for this are diverse, there is one thing for sure. It’s never the best, most thought-through idea that is the most convincing or memorable one. It’s the best story that is. 

Take some of the most successful startup pitches. They present to you a heroic story with a yet unsolved customer problem that needs to be overcome. And after outlining the changes in the world that now make it necessary to react, they name the painful complications that arise from it. These sales decks paint the customer’s pain as tangible as possible and show that there are winners and losers. They lay out the vision by teasing the promised land and show the features that allow the customer to get there. In sum, they make a good story.

Zuora serves as a vivid example, a sales deck often cited as a best practice. It proclaims the global shift towards the subscription economy, pointing out the inevitability of this change. The company names the winners of this change such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other incumbents like IBM, as well as the losers: the “52% of Fortune 500 companies that have disappeared” in the last 15 years. They tease the advantages of the subscription economy, the promised land, and introduce their solution as a way to get there. Now, is the story they tell always true? Certainly not, it’s just a story after all. Sometimes the rise of a startup is just purely serendipitous. A good idea, at the right time by smart people. These people then start looking at the global trends and what other external factors exist and stitch all these together into one coherent story. Confirmation Bias at its best. Granted, startup pitches, especially those that follow an ambitious growth path, are often a bit dramatic, almost by necessity. But it’s even true for the simplest business presentation. It’s not going to be convincing unless there is a clear story that is being told including the basic situation, the complication, and the solution of it. 

But the mechanic of the spread of ideas can be applied to other domains as well. How do we teach children basic ideas on what is good or bad? What to do and what not to do? We share these concepts in the form of stories that otherwise couldn’t be understood. Tales such as Snowhite teach them to be cautious with strangers. Legends such as Santa Claus encourage them to behave well and to fulfill their duties in order to be rewarded. And parables such as the Good Samaritan stress the importance of compassion, empathy, and generosity. 

There is one more crucial element to it. We need to make sure that the stories we share are told in the recipients’ world, so it fits into their own narrative. It doesn’t help if the intended solution addresses some pain point that they are not aware of. Zuora’s sales deck needs to paint the problem and describe the promised land in such a way that the customers can apply it to their own businesses. And the tales, legends, and parables need to be transferable to the children’s world in such a way that after the child finishes the story of Snowhite, it will indeed be more careful with strangers. 

In his book “Start with No” the negotiation expert Jim Camp emphasizes this as one of the most crucial factors of success, writing that “you want to inhabit the adversary’s world, because that is the world about which you need information, and that is the perspective from which the adversary makes decisions”. Therefore, if you want to pass an idea on to another person, tell a story. Turn it into a parable, a saying, a metaphor, a fable, or a legend that fits into the other person’s narrative and make them the hero of the story. Recall that this is how humans remember ideas – the better the story and the more closely the fit to the recipients’ narratives, the better it will be remembered. But what exactly is the relationship between stories and memories?

Our Memories

Just as ideas are communicated in stories, memories are stored and remembered as such. Whenever we recall a past event, it’s in the form of a narrative. In an experiment, psychologists asked women to select from among twelve pairs of nylon stockings the ones they preferred. The researchers then asked the women their reasons for their choices. All the pairs of stockings were, in fact, identical. Nonetheless, the women came up with backfit, post hoc explanations. One theory is that this helps us to make sense of a world that bombards us with information that we can’t possibly all memorize. Attributing a cause-and-effect chain to our knowledge of the past is called Narrative Fallacy. As the author Nassim Taleb describes in his book Black Swan: 

“The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.”

To view the power of narratives, consider the following statement: “The king died and then the queen died.” Compare it to “The king died, and then the queen died of grief.” Even though the latter expression incorporates more information rather than less, it seems to make more sense and can be easier remembered. Our brains are designed to detect patterns and assume that outcomes are based on preceding events. This ability evolved for good reasons. Our ancestors wouldn’t have lasted very long if they had assumed that a rustling bush was caused by the wind rather than a lion. In modern times, however, this survival adaptation leaves us wide open to misattributing effects to causes. 

But it’s not only that. A cause-and-effect chain could allow information to be stored at less cost. As Taleb states: 

“The more orderly, less random, patterned and narratized a series of words or symbols, the easier it is to store that series in one’s mind or jot it down in a book so your grandchildren can read it someday.”

This is the reason why stories, myths, parables, and tales are so powerful as pointed out in the beginning – they reduce complexity and create the impression of order and structure in an otherwise chaotic and random world.

What further adds to the idea of energy-efficient storage of information in the form of narratives is the process of memory formation itself. We take the peaks of our experience as well as the end, stitch them together, and derive a coherent narrative that in reality is only a rough approximation of the actual past. This process, first discovered by Behavioural Economics pioneers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, is known as the Peak-End-Rule. That way, even seemingly unpleasant experiences that made us suffer steadily along the way but were occasionally interrupted by an outburst of pride for what we accomplished, can make a great story in hindsight. Therefore, distortions of our reality not only arise by misattributing cause-and-effect relationships to non-existent patterns but further by being wrong about the experience itself. Not only could the suffering in an unpleasant experience appear much less severe in hindsight than it actually has been (Peak-End-Rule). But also, we might attach a meaning to it that is not justified (Narrative Fallacy)

Our Relationships

Our relationship narratives are formed by both, our and the other person’s narratives. Comparing ourselves to others and figuring out the domains in which we are better or worse off than others adds to our narrative and impacts every relationship that we are in. Maybe I am not as smart as she is, but I am much more athletic. We never focus on the absolute, but notice only the relative differences. However, it’s not only our opinion about how we compare to others that matters. Being the social animals that we are, we can’t stop wondering about what other people might think about us. Did they say they admire our working attitude? In that case, we are even more inclined to live up to this impression. 

Take romantic relationships as an example. What’s your story as a couple and why are you special? In one way or another, we are all striving for uniqueness and individuality. That might be one of the reasons why Tinder encounters sometimes feel uncomfortable when sharing the story of how they met. Simply, because it might not compare well to others and doesn’t fit into their narrative of a romantic relationship, which often is the result of unconscious socio-cultural influences. In simpler terms: It doesn’t keep up with Hollywood. When sharing her thoughts on the roots of desire in romantic relationships, the psychotherapist and author Esther Perel lists observing your partner engaging confidently in a new social context as one of the drivers of desire. Why? Because seeing your partner through the eyes of another person is new and exciting. It’s a different part of a story that you didn’t yet know about which adds to the existing and so well-known narrative of your partner. 

Sometimes, things go wrong and couples drift apart. In such cases, it might not be enough to learn new parts of your partner’s story. It takes a more deliberate effort to get things right. The approach of Narrative Therapy assists people to re-author the narratives of themselves and their relationships in a constructive and collaborative manner. In a podcast, sex therapist Dr. Suzanne Iasenza shares her approach to rewriting relationship narratives. At the very beginning of a session, she asks the couple to individually define the underlying problem. She normalizes and encourages different perspectives, saying that, by necessity, there will always be two different perspectives on the same problem. How couldn’t there be, if every partner has a different narrative to tell and thus, a different frame of experience? The next time you find yourself in a conflict with someone, remember that every disagreement has two stories to tell. Acknowledging this and working towards mutual understanding and eventually a joint story is core for achieving more meaningful relationships.  

Our identities

Our identity then is one overarching narrative that consists of all our stories around individual ideas, memories, and relationships. This narrative stands in an interdependency with all of our layers of experience. Every idea we come across, every decision we make, every situation we experience, and every new relationship we engage in, contributes to our narrative as an individual. Even more importantly, however, every experience will always be framed by our narrative. It fundamentally determines how we see the world. If your narrative is that of a playful optimist, all experiences will be framed accordingly. Even if things go sideways, you are much more likely to look at them as an opportunity for growth and improvement. Vice versa, a person that considers herself a cynical pessimist focuses on the problems instead of the chances. In this narrative, it’s easier to be stuck in negativity loops. Once you assume that bad things happen to you for a reason and that whatever did happen will get even worse, you enter a dangerously destructive loop. 

As the two examples of the betrayed husband and the fired high-performer, in the beginning, have pointed out, it is possible that events occur that fundamentally contradict our personal narrative of who we are. In her Ted Talk, Esther Perel further elaborates on the example of being cheated on by your partner. This experience is not only so incredibly painful due to the mere act of being cheated on, but especially because it violates the core of our narrative. Perel states that “Infidelity hurts because it threatens our sense of self.” We just didn’t see it coming. In our narrative, we had this beautiful relationship. And all of a sudden, this seems like one overwhelming lie. So if all of this turns out to be wrong, what’s left? The process of recovery is one where we fit these so strongly contradicting situations and events in our narrative, as painful as this might be. 

So what?

This essay has been much more informative than it has been action-oriented. The attempt of describing the “What” goes at the expense of answering the question of “How”. How to tell better stories, how to handle inaccurate memories, how to understand other people’s narratives, and, most importantly, how to change one’s own. These questions remain open to be answered and I hopefully circle back to them at some point. For now, I still want to conclude with some action-oriented key takeaways from this essay. 

  • Become aware of the underlying pattern of narratives in all our domains of life. 
  • When sharing ideas, put them into stories and use metaphors, analogies, fables, legends, and parables to be convincing.
  • When recalling memories, take the Peak-End-Rule and Narrative Fallacy into consideration and consider that your memories don’t recall the actual experience but serve as mere heuristics. 
  • When researching questions and making decisions, consider the implications of the Narrative Fallacy on all dimensions – ideas, memories, relationships, and your own narrative as a person – and be careful not to assume causal relationships by default. Focus on data instead of anecdotal evidence and on clinical knowledge in favor of overarching theories. 
  • In all kinds of relationships, try to understand other people’s narratives and how they frame their experiences to achieve better understanding, stronger empathy, and more meaningful connections. 
  • Actively reflect on your own narrative. Understand, that you are not stuck with the person that you are and that changing your narrative means also changing your experience of reality. 
Negotiations Psychology

Jim Camp – Start With No

My Opinion

Very useful book on the strategies and tools needed for successful negotiations. Jim Camp presents his system in a well-structured way with many example that make a practical application possible.

Reading Recommendation: 6/10

A negotiation is an agreement between two or more parties, with all parties having the right to veto.

The negotiation really does start with “no”. In any negotiation, this is the key word. Everything that precedes it is mere window dressing. “No” gets you past emotional issues and trivial issues to essential issues. 

“No” is a decision. An early “ yes” is probably a trick and “maybe” doesn’t lead anywhere. “No ” is a decision that gives everyone something to talk about, that helps you maintain control.

In a negotiation, decisions are 100 percent emotional.

Get your counterparts to say “No”. This might be difficult. We all want to be liked, we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings and we don’t want to come across as too blunt or surly or arrogant or demanding. Therefore, we often say “maybe” or even “yes”. We haven’t had to say the nasty word and our adversary hasn’t had to hear it. This is inefficient. We’re stuck in our emotions and don’t get to the core of the negotiation.

Control your neediness. You do NOT need this deal, because to be needy is to lose control and make bad decisions. Always ask “no-oriented questions”:

  • It’s not always the startup that is needy, investors can be too.  When talking to startups as an investor: “Bill, my name is Bob Jones. I’m not quite sure that we as a venture fund fit where you’re going. I just don’t know. What I’d like to do is meet with you so we can see where you’re going and you can look at where we’re going at our fund and see if there’s a fit. When’s the best time on your calendar?”
  • When asking for a sales appointment: “Well , Mary, I have no idea whether what we do has any relevance for your business. I just don’t know, maybe it doesn’t. If not, just tell me and I’ll be on my way, but if whoever handles your market research…”
  • When cold calling: “Pete, I’m not sure that anything I do fits with you. I don’t know. So if this doesn’t make any sense, just tell me and I’ll get off the phone. Is that fair?”

We use the word “need” much too casually. The only things we truly need are the basics of physical survival – air, water, food, clothing and shelter.

Talking can be an overt showing of need. Talking and showing need go hand in hand.

When emotions run hot and heavy in negotiations, the high – pitched voice is a sure sign of need. The rushed delivery is another sure sign. While needy negotiators raise their voices, negotiators under control lower their voices. So lower your voice in times of inner turmoil. Slow down.

Fear of rejection is a sign of neediness – specifically, the need to be liked.

Urgent closing betrays neediness on your own part. “No Closing” since you don’t need to close.

We compare ourselves to others in order to see how we stack up. When we are with people we think we are ahead of, we feel comfortable. Conversation comes easily and questions seem to have no risk. We feel okay. But in the presence of people to whom we feel inferior, whether culturally, socially, or intellectually, we feel unokay and can become defensive, aggressive or resentful or a lot of other emotions.

Therefore, only one person in a negotiation can feel okay and that person is the adversary. By letting your adversary be a little more okay, you start to bring down barriers.

Effective keynote and afterdinner speaker often tell a self-deprecating story in the first few minutes of his performance. His first implicit message to the audience: “You may be paying me ten grand to stand up here and my suit may be more expensive than yours, but I’m no better than you, I’m just folks.”

Example of a renegotiated contract (before it was due): “You have done such a great job negotiating and we are so incompetent and so weak in negotiating, that we have been a poor supplier. We have put you in a terrible position and we apologize for that. We take responsibility for our ineptness in negotiation.” This was the truth, but it also helped to disarm the adversary.

Every negotiation always needs a mission and purpose. This is true for the whole negotiation and often breaks down into the individual sessions and even single emails or telephone calls. The mission and purpose must always be written. Example: To help [ the other company’s ] management at the very highest level see our company as a new and revitalized organization that is going to change its effectiveness to the benefit not only of their company but also to that of the whole industry by becoming a more effective and competent supplier to that industry.”

Stop trying to control the outcome. Control what you can control, forget the rest. What you can control is behavior and activity, what you cannot control is the result of this behavior and activity .

Goals you can control, objectives you cannot. By following your behavioral goals, you get to your objectives.

The single most important fuel that you have, the most important behavioral goal and habit you can develop, is your ability to ask questions.

The doctor is trying to understand her patient’s case, the lawyer is trying to find out as much as she can about the testifier’s knowledge of the case, and the negotiator must try to see and understand her adversary’s world.

Starting with M&P and going from there, you want to inhabit the adversary’s world, because that is the world about which you need information and that is the perspective from which the adversary makes decisions.

Make sure you explain where you are heading. What’s the vision? Obviously, this needs to be communicated in the world of the adversary. No vision, no real decision: this is a rule of human nature.

Questions not only serve the purpose of helping us control our own neediness and to be unokay. They also have the vital purpose to allow us to move around in the adversary’s world and see what they see and then lead them to a clear vision and decision as well.

Use open-ended questions as opposed to verb-lead questions to obtain further information:

  • “Is this the biggest issue we face?” versus “What is the biggest issue we face?”
  • “Is this proposal tight enough for you?” versus “How can I tighten this proposal?”
  • “Can we work on delivery dates tomorrow?” versus “When can we work on delivery dates?”

Asking good questions is key. Use the four fuels when formulating questions: nurturing, reversing, connecting, and 3+. 

Nurturing should be part of your body language. When you’re seated, refrain from a sudden forward movement, lean back, relax your neck, face and hands. 

The reverse is the behavioral tactic that answers a question with a question, the answer to which will do you some good. 

  • Question: “That was certainly well thought out. By the way, what are your cost constraints?”
    Answer: “We definitely have to talk about that, but before we go there …” 
  • Question: “Interesting. Really interesting. How soon will you be up against a deadline here?” 
  • Answer: “That’s something I hadn’t thought of. When could you deliver?” 

We have a tendency to want to save our adversary, to be liked. This instinct can impel us into these three common negotiating errors 

  • Never answer an unasked question
  • Don’t interpret a statement as a question
  • Never reply to random statements 
  • Example: “I don’t like what I see, Jim.” Many of us will feel an urge to reply in some way, to try to set things right. “Well, Damon, this isn’t written in concrete.” No! Instead ask further open-ended questions or use connectors like “Aaaaaand?” or simply remain silent (also an effective connectors, people don’t like silence)

The fuel “3+” is the ability to remain with a question until it is answered at least three times, or to repeat a statement at least three times 

  • Based on the saying “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.”
  • Important: You are not rushing to close three times but asking for “no” three times (e.g. “Are you really sure, you want to do this?”)

Don’t discuss the price in the early phase of a negotiation.  Example of a Novice negotiator: “It looks good. What’s going to be your discounted price?” The novice provides some number and there he is, locked in for the rest of the negotiation 

Note taking reinforces listening skills. As we take our notes, our concentration is automatically focused on what is being said. Also, as we take notes, we are also allowing the adversary to be more okay by making her feel more important because we are taking notes on what she has to say.

For preparation: Before a negotiation, see that negotiation unfolding in your mind. Picture yourself asking the questions, taking the notes and negotiating with perfect behavior. See yourself relaxed with no expectations, no need and no fear — a perfectly blank slate.

Often there is no more effective way to paint the adversary’s pain than by asking them to tell you “no.” When your adversary carefully considers exactly what this entails, their pain becomes very clear.

Budget breaks down into three budgets that help us account for and control this real price in a) time & energy, b) money and c) emotional investment. 

Be aware of sunk costs when making decisions and don’t be seduced into egregiously violating your mission and purpose.

Time intensifies pain. Build their energy budget. Increase the preparation required by the adversary to complete the deal (“This just doesn’t make sense to us . Can you redo it?”). 

A consumer may not be able to see value if the price of a given product is too low in his frame of reference. On the other hand, he will search for value if the price is deemed high.

Decision-making processes in an organization are driven by people’s need to feel okay. When we walk into a reception area, what is the receptionist fighting for? The feeling of being okay. 

A valid agenda or mini-agenda has five basic categories: 

  1. Problems 
  2. Our baggage 
  3. Their baggage 
  4. What we want 
  5. What happens next 

Any given agenda can include issues in some or all of the categories, but every issue you need to negotiate will fit into one of these five categories. 

Example for 1)

  • “George, I’m new in this business. If my inexperience is going to be a problem in this deal, let’s talk about it now.” 
  • “Yes, now’s a good time. John, the only problem I have with your being new is that if we come up against something you can’t handle with confidence, I want your assurance that you’ll call in someone to help. Someone who really knows how to handle that problem. If that’s okay with you, I’m comfortable.” 
  • “That’s fine with me. Are you sure it’s okay with you?” 
  • “Yes, John. It’s okay with me.” 
  • “All right, that will be our deal. If I can’t handle something with complete confidence, I’ll call my boss to help. That’s our deal. Agreed?”

Try to avoid presentations. By definition, it puts the adversary into the intellectual mode. This only serves to create objections, so you end up answering questions rather than asking them. Example:

  • “We need a presentation on your business.” 
  • “Well, I don’t have any idea how to do that. I really don’t. If I had an idea where you stand, what you need, what you’re interested in, then I’d be happy to address your concerns. That’s what I’m here for. What’s driving you to ask me for a presentation? I mean, why do you want my widget? You’ve been dealing with USA Widgets for seven years. You must have the best price in the world from them by now. How could we ever compete with USA Widgets? Why are you now interested in Widgets International?”
  • “But you called us.” 
  • “Yes, and I’m glad I did. I was interested in how it’s going with USA Widgets. There must be some reason why you invited me to this meeting. You must have some interest in something about Widgets International. I just need an idea what it is.”

Putting it all together:

  • First, you make certain you have a good, strong mission and purpose that’s set in the world of your adversary
  • Second, you make sure that you know the adversary’s real pain. You ask questions, you create vision 
  • Third, you assess all the budgets involved – time and energy, money, and emotional investment – for both you and your adversary. You never forget about these budgets, you monitor them at all times, and you see how they seem to be influencing the decisions on both sides 
  • Fourth, you make certain you’re dealing with the real decision makers 
  • Fifth, you don’t make a phone call, you don’t write an email, without writing down an agenda for that phone call or email