TIME Parenting

For Success at School, Personality May Beat Brains

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Intelligence isn't everything, says new study

When it comes to success in school, being smart isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Personality may have a lot more to do with academic success than just sheer intelligence, according to a new study.

Arthur Poropat, a lecturer in psychology at Australia’s Griffith University conducted the largest ever review of personality and academic performance. Porporat found that an individual’s personality traits are better indicators of academic success than a high score on an intelligence test, for students at both high school and college. Specifically, he suggests, students who are conscientious, open and emotionally stable have the best likelihood of succeeding at their studies.

“Conscientiousness reflects things like making and carrying out plans, striving to achieve, and self-control, and is linked with a factor of childhood temperament called Effort Regulation,” says Porporat. “But I found that two other personality factors were also important: Openness (also called openness to experience and intellect), encompassing being imaginative, curious, and artistic; and Emotional Stability, covering calmness and emotional adjustment (as opposed to being anxious, fearful or unstable).”

Students who had those traits were able to compete more effectively in an academic setting. “A student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard,” says Porporat, whose results have been published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences. “In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart.” (Interestingly, Porporat published a separate report on elementary students and found the effects are even stronger, although intelligence has a much bigger impact in primary education.)

How did he arrive at this counterintuitive conclusion? “My research was actually a series of meta-analyses, using similar procedures to those used in medical research,” says Poropat. (Meta analysis is a process of analyzing a wide swath of results of other studies, and correcting for errors).

So far he has completed two analyses: the first included nearly 140 studies and over 70,000 participants, and the most recent, which he spent the last eight years working on, looked at 22 studies with 5,514 participants and focused on links between personality traits and academic performance in secondary education.

Porporat examined five distinct personality traits (conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness, emotional stability and extraversion) and found that conscientiousness and openness have the biggest influence on academic success. His results fall in line with similar work by well-regarded educationalists such as Paul Tough, who regards “grit” as the most important quality in a student.

Could this could mean that intelligence tests are not as useful as they’ve been made out to be? “Intelligence tests have always been closely linked with education and grades and therefore relied upon to predict who would do well,” Porporat says. “The impact of personality on study is genuinely surprising for educational researchers, and for anyone who thinks they did well at school because they are ‘smart.'”

So how do educators measure and cultivate these personality traits? Well, they can’t just ask students if they have them; Porporat found that self-assessment only was only about as useful for predicting university success as intelligence tests. But when he had people who knew the students well assess their personality traits, the results were nearly four times more accurate for predicting grades.

“What I found was that when someone who knows the student well provides the personality rating, the correlation with academic performance is much stronger than if the student rates their own personality,” said Porporat. “In the case of conscientiousness, it is nearly four times as strong, but the effect for emotional stability is comparatively greater. Apparently, students don’t rate their levels of anxiousness at all accurately— not exactly surprising but the consequence is important.”

In the classroom, this could mean that teachers can assess a student’s personality and match educational activities to their dispositions. Porporat believes that understanding how personality affects academic achievement is vital to helping students reach future success.

This is good news for many parents and students. While intelligence can’t be taught, per se, conscientiousness and openness can be learned. “Personality does change, and some educators have trained aspects of students’ conscientiousness and openness, leading to greater learning capacity,” said Porporat. “By contrast, there is little evidence that intelligence can be ‘taught,’ despite the popularity of brain-training apps.”

Don’t rule the intelligence test out completely however; Porporat admits that the best students will be both bright and conscientiousness, open and emotionally stable.

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TIME psychology

5 Ways To Do Less And Give More This Holiday Season

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Nataly Kogan is the co-founder and CEO of Happier, a digital wellness company.

Forget fancy cards and skip the wrapping

When you look at your holiday to-do list, do you start to hyperventilate or break out in hives?

I have been. For the past few weeks as my list grew–presents! trips! cards! teacher gifts for my daughter’s school! Hanukkah decorations! more presents! getting addresses to send presents!–so has my stress level. It reached a point where I started to secretly wish that we could fast-forward to January 1st and skip the entire two weeks of holidays all together.

Which is a really ridiculous thought to have during the time of year that should be about celebrating and joy–a time during which we’re all doing a lot to give our friends and family our love and some smiles, and give things that we’ve decided have to come wrapped in nice paper or look beautiful as family holiday cards.

Maybe there is a better way.

Forget fancy cards

Instead of running around buying holiday cards or spending hours choosing the best photos for your family holiday card, send heartfelt, genuine emails or texts to your friends and family. Spend more time on your words than on the kind of paper they come on.

I had the chance to interview Deepak Chopra recently and I asked him what is the simplest thing I could do to feel happier right away. He told me to email or text a friend and tell them something I appreciate about them.

Skip wrapping anything

Growing up in Russia, we didn’t really have wrapping paper. So we either didn’t wrap gifts or wrapped them in newspaper. This didn’t make getting gifts any less special.

Giving gifts makes you happier than receiving them–which is true even for kids. But not a single piece of research has ever shown that lack of wrapping paper hurts the experience for you or person receiving the gift. So skip it and feel good about saving a few trees.

Give experiences, not things

Dozens of research studies have shown that experiences make us happier than material possessions. What’s even better, we are happier when we are anticipating experiences rather than buying something.

Instead of stressing over that perfect gift you need to find for someone in your family, how about taking a day or half a day to do something fun together. You can plan it in advance, include some activities they will enjoy, and have something to look forward to.

Uncomplicate your holiday menu

I love to cook and entertain but it’s a fine line between enjoying it and falling over under the stress of doing it. If you are hosting friends or family for dinner during the holidays, it’s easy to drown in thinking about what to cook, shopping, prepping, cooking, setting the table and hundreds of other little details.

Instead, how about finding a few simpler one-pot recipes to cook so that you can spend more time with people you love instead of slaving away in the kitchen. Or consider making your dinner a potluck, but instead of feeling guilty about doing that tell your friends and family that you’d rather spend more time together.

Start with gratitude

You can do a lot to trim your holiday to-do list, but there is just a lot to get done. No escaping it. Before you dive into your day, spend a few minutes thinking about what you are grateful for, all those people you care enough about to find gifts for, the anticipation of seeing someone you miss, and having warm memories of holiday traditions.

Starting your day with gratitude will make you happier and more productive. You’ll be in better spirits and get more of your holiday to-dos done. And if you take a minute to express gratitude to someone else–perhaps with just a simple but genuine “thank you” while buying gifts–you’ll be giving someone a pretty awesome gift without having to wrap it.

Nataly Kogan is the co-founder and CEO of Happier, a digital wellness company that combines bite-sized courses with digital tools and a community to help people learn and practice simple ways to be happier daily.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

This Body Language Makes You Look Like a Leader

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

It’s important to balance the appearance of power and warmth.

Via The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help–or Hurt–How You Lead:

When first introduced to a leader, we immediately and unconsciously assess him or her for warmth and authority. Obviously the most appealing leaders are seen to encompass both qualities, and the least effective leaders are those we regard as cold and inept. But as Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile described in an aptly titled article, “Brilliant but Cruel,” the problem is that we often see competence and warmth as being negatively related—warm leaders don’t appear as intelligent or skilled as those who are more negative and meaner, and tough leaders are judged far less likeable.

So the best leadership strategy is to embody both sets of traits—and to do so early and often. Let people see both sides of your leadership character. Let them know right from the beginning that you are caring and credible.

What shows authority and power?

Via The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help–or Hurt–How You Lead:

As a leader, you show authority and power by your erect posture, command of physical space, purposeful stride (like that of Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs as he moves across the stage during a presentation), and firm handshake, and through an array of hand signals including “steepling” and palm-down gestures that send nonverbal signals of authority.

And what communicates warmth?

Via The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help–or Hurt–How You Lead:

As a leader, you communicate warmth nonverbally with open body postures, palm-up hand gestures, a full-frontal body orientation, positive eye contact, synchronized movements, head nods, head tilts, and smiles.

This post originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Join over 145,000 readers and get a free weekly email update here.

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READ NEXT How to Be a Great Leader — 5 Insights From Research

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

8 Techniques Ready to Stop Bad Behaviors

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training explains the fundamentals of behavior change. And these methods are effective whether the subject is a dog, a dolphin or your neighbor, Larry.

The main lesson for getting people to do what you want is that positive reinforcement — rewarding behavior you like — is king. Whether it’s with a smile, a cookie or a bribe, rewards work.

But what about getting rid of behaviors you don’t like? This can be far trickier. Pryor lays out the 8 methods that you can use to stop bad behavior.

Method 1: “Shoot the animal.” In our case, we don’t mean that literally. It means firing an employee or dumping a partner. It works, but it’s extreme.

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“Firing an employee, divorcing a spouse, dealing with a messy roommate by changing roommates: all are Method 1… Fundamentally they eliminate the behavior by restraining the subject physically from the performance, or by eliminating the presence of the subject. The vital thing to understand about Method 1 is that it teaches the subject nothing.”

Method 2: Punishment. (Everybody’s favorite, in spite of the fact that it almost never really works.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“Punishment does not teach a child how to achieve a better report card. The most the punisher can hope for is that the child’s motivation will change: The child will try to alter future behavior in order to avoid future punishment.”

If punishment almost never works, why do we do it? We have an ulterior motive: “…establishing and maintaining dominance. The punisher may be primarily interested not in behavior but in being proved to be of higher status.”

Method 3: Negative reinforcement. (Removing something unpleasant when a desired behavior occurs.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“People use spontaneous negative reinforcers on each other all the time: the warning glance, the frown, the disapproving remark. Some children’s lives, and some spouse’s lives too, are filled with constant daily effort to behave in such a way as to avoid disapproval.”

Method 4: Extinction, letting the behavior go away by itself.

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“Extinction in human interactions best applies, it seems to me, to verbal behavior — whining, quarreling, teasing, bullying. If these kinds of behavior do not produce results, do not get a rise out of you, they extinguish.”

Method 5: Train an incompatible behavior. (This method is especially useful for athletes and pet owners.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“…training a dog to lie in the dining-room doorway when people are eating… Going away and lying down is incompatible with begging at the table; a dog cannot physically be in two places at once, and so begging is eliminated.”

Method 6: Put the behavior on cue. (Then you never give the cue. This is the dolphin trainer’s most elegant method of getting rid of unwanted behavior.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“…when the organism learns to offer the behavior in response to some kind of cue and only then — the behavior tends to extinguish in the absence of the cue. You can use this natural law to get rid of all kinds of things you don’t want, simply by bringing the behavior under the control of a cue… and then never giving the cue.”

Method 7: “Shape the absence”; reinforce anything and everything that is not the undesired behavior. (A kindly way to turn disagreeable relatives into agreeable relatives.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“I used Method 7 to change my mother’s behavior on the telephone… The conversations were usually, and sometimes excessively concerned with my mother’s problems… I deliberately let her complaints and tears extinguish – Method 4…I then reinforced anything and everything that was not a complaint… within two months the proportion of tears and distress to chat and laughter in our weekly phone calls became reversed.”

Method 8: Change the motivation. (This is the fundamental and most kindly method of all.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“Smokers quit when their motives for smoking are met in other ways or when motivations to stop – fear of cancer, say – outweighs the reinforcers of smoking.”

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Join over 145,000 readers and get a free weekly email update here.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

Living With Dying

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Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from UC Berkeley and is a career and personal coach.

An internal dialogue on how one might deal with a terminal diagnosis

Many people’s greatest fear is of getting a terminal disease with a likely long, painful ending. The following explores how one might successfully deal with it.

Imagine that you’ve just had a second opinion confirm that you have terminal cancer. Both doctors believe you have a few months to live, that surgery to remove the main tumor followed by aggressive chemotherapy and radiation would give you a 25% chance of living another year or two. Alternatively, you could opt to have just palliative care, which wouldn’t extend your life but would address pain issues and otherwise improve your quality of life.

Here is a fictional internal dialogue that such a person might have:

Person: I’m not going to have any treatment now. If I get bad pain, I’ll take the morphine, whatever.

Alter ego: Are you sure? You would have a 25% chance of another year or two.

Person: Surgery and then aggressive chemo and radiation means months of alternating among pain, puking, and exhaustion, all for just a 25% chance of a year or two, which would probably be a bad-quality year or two.

Alter ego: Don’t you want to increase your chances of seeing your child get married? They say they’re thinking about getting married next year.

Person: Who knows whether they actually will? And honestly, while seeing that would be great, I don’t think that’s worth the misery of surgery and aggressive radiation and chemo.

Alter ego: You’re not worried about the cost of treatment are you? It wouldn’t cost you a penny.

Person: It wouldn’t cost me a penny but when people opt for expensive, cost-ineffective treatment, it raises the cost of health care for everyone. If I’m dying, at least I want to die ethically. That will help give meaning to whatever time I have left.

Alter ego: You’ve tried to live ethically and so you want to die ethically.

Person: Yes.

Alter ego: What else are you going to do to die ethically?

Person: Mainly, I’m just going to try to be a nicer person. That’s what matters. When I’m gone, my legacy is in how I’ve benefited the living.

Alter ego: Are you going to keep working?

Person: Absolutely. Every customer I serve well contributes to my legacy. If I retire and just travel and watch movies, I’m squandering the precious time I have left.

Alter ego: What about the family?

Person: I’ll try to be kind to them. For example, I’ll try hard not to complain. I didn’t tell them when I was diagnosed with Stage 2 nor when I had the chemo. And I’m glad I didn’t—it spared them a lot, and having told them would have done me no good.

Alter ego: Isn’t it selfish not to tell them now? At least some of them would want to know, maybe to resolve old disputes.

Person: I really think, deep down, most or even all of them would rather I didn’t tell them until the very end.

Alter ego: But will you at least spend more time with the family now?

Person: Somehow, knowing I’ll die soon, the old saw about “blood is thicker than water” doesn’t feel compelling. I was thrust into my family at random and I don’t like some of them. If I want to be with people, it’s mainly my close friends, and yes, my sister. But most of the family? I don’t think so.

Alter ego: What about your will? You’ve been procrastinating doing it forever.

Person: Yes, now is the time.

Alter ego: Are you going to leave your money to family?

Person: I’ll ask family to take whatever personal possessions mean something to them—like my sister has always loved my dining room table. But I’m going to give my money to charity.

Alter ego: Are you going to tell them you’re doing that?

Person: That serves no purpose. They’ll just pressure me not to, and I want to decide without pressure. I worked hard for my money. Shouldn’t I have the right to decide what the right thing to do with it is?

Alter ego: But what charity?

Person: I want to donate to something that otherwise would go unfunded. I’m very pro-choice but giving my money to NARAL would be just a drop in the ocean. These days, resources for school programs for gifted kids have almost completely been reallocated to the lowest achievers: “No Child Left Behind.” I believe that all kids are entitled to an appropriate-level education, especially gifted kids, who have so much potential to be wise leaders, bridge builders….

Alter ego: And find a cure for cancer.

Person: Yes, find a cure for cancer. So I’m going to leave the money to some organization that works on behalf of gifted kids–maybe a nearby school’s foundation, earmarking it specifically for gifted kids and their teachers.

Alter ego: You also need to make a living will and give it to the doctors, and when it comes time, tape it over your bed. You know you don’t want to be kept alive by extraordinary means.

Person: Right—a tube shoved down my throat when I’m already in bad pain and going to die soon anyway? Nope.

Alter ego: Right.

Person: And then there’s hospice. Dad spent his last six months in in-home hospice and it was a blessing. He wanted to die in his home and he was able to, with the hospice nurses making sure he died as comfortably as possible. That’s how I want to go.

Alter ego: You’ve done enough thinking about this crap for now. Do something fun.

Person: Somehow, what I feel like doing now is helping another customer. When I’m done working for the day, I’ll do something for myself, like maybe start writing my memoir.

Alter ego: Maybe with a glass of wine?

Person: I think champagne.

Alter ego: Champagne? You’re nuts!

Person: And I plan to be a little more nutty.

Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. specializing in education evaluation from U.C. Berkeley and subsequently taught there. He is the author of seven books and an award-winning career coach, writer, speaker and public radio host specializing in career/workplace issues and education reform. His writings and radio programs are archived on www.martynemko.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME technology

People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Better Versions of Themselves

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A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product

There is the famous story about Steve Jobs when he invented the iPod and everyone in the news and the rest of the tech industry scratched their head a little. MP3 players had been around for quite a while, what was so different about the iPod?

Of course, people argued many things were different, but one of the key aspects was how Jobs marketed and presented it:

“1,000 songs in your pocket”

When everyone else was saying “1GB storage on your MP3 player”, telling people about the product, Apple went ahead and made you a better person, that has 1000 songs in your pocket.

Our friends over at User Onboarding wrote an incredible post and graphic, showcasing how this framework looks on a higher level.

In particular, the image itself proved to be popular—understandably. It’s a great way to describe clever marketing that focuses on benefits rather than features.

I’ve heard people talk about using benefits instead of features in marketing, but I’ve always struggled to understand the difference. For this post, I explored this in a bit more detail and dug up some examples of companies who do this well.

Features vs. benefits – how to grasp the difference

Here’s how our friends at User Onboarding explained features vs. benefits:

People don’t buy products; they buy better versions of themselves. When you’re trying to win customers, are you listing the attributes of the flower or describing how awesome it is to throw fireballs?

It also included this Tweet from Jason Fried on the topic:

When I read about this some more, I found some great blog posts that broke it down even further. One from the ideacrossing blog describes features as “what your product or service has or does” and benefits as “what the features mean and why they are important.” In fact, oftentimes products contain features, that are absolutely unused, which can be a big source of waste.

So, it seems like features are the “what” of your product or service, while benefits are the “why” behind it.

I also found a really neat, old marketing quote that’s often attributed to Theodore Levitt (he attributes it to Leo McGinneva in this paper), on why people buy quarter-inch drill bits:

They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.

So, the customer wants to make a quarter-inch hole for some reason. They buy a quarter-inch bit for their drill in order to achieve this. Marketing the drill bit based on its features (it fits into your drill) wouldn’t be as successful in this case as marketing it based on the benefits (you can create a quarter-inch hole).

So after all of this reading, I finally distilled the difference into a sentence that I think makes it easy to distinguish between features and benefits:

A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product.

But hey, enough the theory, let’s dig up some amazing examples from some of the best companies out there:

Some great examples of companies making you a better version of yourself

To get a better idea of how this works in practice, I thought it would be useful to take a look at some well-known companies who use benefits in their marketing strategies. Here are a few that I found:

Evernote: Remember Everything

Evernote can’t remember everything for you. In fact, it can’t remember anything—it’s software. What it does is offer features to let you save and organize things. Remembering everything is what you can do with Evernote—the benefit!

Twitter: Start a conversation, explore your interests, and be in the know.

Twitter has used a few different benefits in their tag line on the homepage but they’re still focused on benefits. Each of these three things is something you can do with Twitter. Not a feature of the product. Of course, for saving time on Twitter with scheduling your Tweets and seeing analytics, I hope you’ll still find Buffer useful.

Nest Thermostat: Saving energy is a beautiful thing.

I love this one, because it’s so clever. In just six words, the Nest Thermostat tagline tells you what the biggest benefit is (you’ll save energy), and something about what makes the product unique (it’s well-designed; it’s “a beautiful thing”).

LinkedIn: Be great at what you do.

LinkedIn has gone even further by referencing the customer in their tagline. Saying “Be great at what you do” makes it clear that the idea is you’ll be great at what you do if you use LinkedIn. It’s very customer-focused, rather than pushing features of the product or company mottos front-and-center.

Github: Build software better, together.

Another super simple, but clear tagline. Github has a really obvious benefit to sell to customers, and features don’t even play a part in the tagline.

I’m sure there are lots more companies doing this well. Do you have a great example?

Oh and if you liked this post, you might also like 5 ways to get through writer’s block or content marketing fatigue and 6 Powerful Communication Tips From Some of the World’s Best Interviewers, which are right in the same direction of coming up with a better way to communicate with your customers.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

TIME psychology

How to Eat Healthy: 5 Easy New Tips From Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You know you should eat healthier. But it’s not easy. Temptation is all around and willpower, well, isn’t.

The solution is in making better choices. Psychology. But most of the answers we hear aren’t legit.

So I called a guy who knows the real deal: Brian Wansink.

He leads food psychology research at Cornell University and the White House chose him to revise US dietary guidelines.

He has a great website and is author of two smart books on the subject of tricking yourself into eating better:

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

I posted about his work before but this time I wanted answers straight from the man himself. And, man, did he ever deliver.

What you’re going to learn in this post:

  • The easy thing to do while shopping that prevents you from buying junk food.
  • How to not fall for the tricks and traps of restaurants.
  • The 2 secrets to not snacking too much at the office.
  • How to stay disciplined at events and holiday gatherings — without making the host feel bad.
  • How superheroes can help you make better food choices.

Yeah, I said superheroes can help you eat better. Seriously. In fact, let’s start there…

Ask “What Would Batman Eat?”

Cookies calling your name? Ask yourself “What would Batman eat?”

Brian’s research showed this got kids to pick apple slices over french fries. Here’s Brian:

We found we could get kids to choose the healthier food much more often if we simply asked what their favorite superhero or their favorite princess would do. Even if they responded “french fries”, half the time they took the apple slices. It simply causes an interruption in their thinking that causes them to pause, hit the reset button inside their head and think again.

Sound crazy? Research really does show that thinking about fictional characters we love can help us make better decisions.

In fact, thinking about superheroes can even make you physically stronger. (I’ll be asking “What would Batman lift?” at the gym tomorrow.)

But some of you might be thinking, “He said that works for kids, Eric.”

Doesn’t matter. It’ll work for you too. Here’s Brian:

The same thing works for adults. If you’re faced with a decision like, “Should I eat dessert?” think of an admired person in your life. Say to yourself, “What would my cool friend Steve do?” You’ll find that about a third of the time it will be easier for you to make healthier decisions.

Ladies, feel free to envision Wonder Woman — unless you’re more the Catwoman type. (Hey, I don’t judge.)

(For plenty more awesome tips from Brian’s books click here.)

Okay, so you’re thinking about Batman when you eat. (I’ll bet you look dashing in a cape.) But the food war is often won or lost at the supermarket.

So what can you do to make sure you’re buying the right food in the first place?

Chew Gum While You Shop

Crazy, right? Believe it or not, a stick of gum in your mouth prevents junk food from entering your shopping cart. Here’s Brian:

We found that when people popped sugarless gum in their mouth it made them less hungry. It soothed cravings and some people even reduced how many snack foods they bought by about 90%.

Here’s the important thing to remember: not all gum is created equal. Go for sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Other kinds can actually increase appetite. Here’s Brian:

But one of the things we also found is that it can’t be sugared gum or even flavored gum because that can work in the opposite direction. The stuff that works best is sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Those are the two craving killers.

(For more on how the magic of gum can change your life — including make you smarter — click here.)

With superheroes on your mind and gum in your mouth you’re well on your way. But what about when you’re in a restaurant?

Now you need to think like a real estate agent: location, location, location.

Navigating The Treacherous World Of Restaurants

Watch where you sit. Did you choose a booth? You’re 80% more likely to order dessert and 80% less likely to order salad.

Sitting by the TV? You’re much more likely to order BBQ. Sitting closer to the bar? Guess who’s going to be drinking more than they thought?

Where are you safe? Head for a window seat. Here’s Brian:

People who sat in booths were about 80% more likely to order dessert than people sitting in a normal table and you’re about 80% less likely to order salad. People sitting near windows were much more likely to order salads. People sitting at tall tables were almost two to three times as likely to order chicken or fish. If you’re sitting within ten feet of a TV set you’re much, much more likely to order barbecue than not. If you are seated at a table close to the bar, on average, your table’s going to be ordering three more beers than the table that’s farther from the bar.

And those menus aren’t haphazardly thrown together. They are often marvels of psychological trickery.

Anything highlighted, in a box or a different font is going to catch your eye and you’ll be more likely to order it.

Be careful when reading the descriptions. Clever names and appealing adjectives make you 28% more likely to pick something. Here’s Brian:

Anything that’s in the corners or in a box or highlighted or in a different font or has an icon next to it has a huge leg up in its likelihood of being chosen. The description of a menu item has a tremendous impact not only on whether we’re going to order the item but also on how much we’re going to like it. In our research we found a real difference between calling something “Succulent Italian Seafood Fillet” instead of just “seafood fillet.” People are about 28% more likely to take it. And they’re also willing to pay about fifteen to twenty percent more for it.

So how do you find something that’s healthy and tasty? Ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” Here’s Brian:

If you want to get something a little bit healthier ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” You don’t want to say “What are your healthiest things?” because all she’s going to do is point at salads.

(For more of Brian’s advice on how to eat smart at restaurants, click here.)

So you’re good in the supermarket and at restaurants. But what about all that eating you do at work?

How To Stop Snacking At The Office

Keep two words in mind: distance and happiness.

As we’ve talked about before, distance is a big, big deal. You eat less when food is farther away and more when it’s closer. Here’s Brian:

People ate half as much if we simply moved the candy dish off their desk and placed it six feet away.

Simple barriers have the same effect.

As Dan Ariely said in my interview with him, when Google’s New York office put M&M’s in containers people ate 3 million less of them in one month:

Here’s an experiment that Google did recently. The M&Ms in their New York office used to be in baskets. So instead they put them in bowls with lids. The lid doesn’t require a lot of effort to lift but it reduced the number of M&Ms consumed in their New York office by 3 million a month.

So that’s distance. What about happiness? It’s important to understand the psychology of workplace eating.

When you aren’t having fun at work you often tell yourself you deserve to eat more because you’re working hard.

If you enjoy your job more (or have fun going out to eat with colleagues at lunch) you’ll find this happens less. Here’s Brian:

You see food as a reward you deserve because you’re doing something you don’t want to do. “I’ve been working all day so I deserve a snack” or “I deserve more to eat tonight at dinner.”

(For more on how to be happier at work, click here.)

And now we come to the most sinister and dangerous of all the scenarios: get-togethers, dinner parties and holiday gatherings.

Say “no” to food and you could insult the host… and that often turns into an excuse to binge. What to do? Brian has answers.

How To Avoid Gorging At Events And Holiday Gatherings

Here are the two tricks:

  1. Only eat the food the host prepared themselves. No chips, pretzels or stuff out of a box or bag.
  2. Take a tiny amount of what they prepared — but make sure to ask for seconds. You don’t eat much, but the host knows you liked it.

Here’s Brian:

Our research found that people ate 11% of their calories at Thanksgiving before they even eat dinner. The peanuts, the Chex Mix and stuff like that. One of the biggest reasons that people say they overeat at Thanksgiving is they don’t want to offend their host. So the easiest way to not offend your host and eat 10% less is just don’t eat the stuff that she bought at the store. And the second thing is that nobody remembers how much you take of something but they do remember whether you asked for seconds. So just take a little bit the first time but make sure you ask for seconds and that she hears you. All she’s going to remember is that you really appreciated what she made and asked for more.

(For more tips on how to handle eating at gatherings, click here.)

Armed with these tips you should be ready for anything. Let’s round them up and get more insight from Brian.

Sum Up

Brian’s great tips for healthy eating are:

  1. Ask “What would Batman do?” (Fill in the name of anyone you admire… though Batman is an excellent choice, in my utterly biased opinion.)
  2. Chew sugarless bubble gum or mint gum while you shop for groceries.
  3. At restaurants, be careful where you sit and watch out for menu tricks. Ask the server for popular lighter options.
  4. Enjoying your work and distance from food can prevent you from overeating at the office.
  5. At get-togethers only eat what your host actually prepared. Eat a small amount but ask for seconds.

Research shows we have a crazy relationship with food sometimes. But you can overcome a lot of this with simple deceit and trickery.

What makes this so much fun is that the person you need to trick is you.

Brian and I talked for a while so there are a number of other great tips that I’ll be including in my weekly email (including the one sentence that helps people stop overeating immediately.) Join now to learn more.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Parenting

From BFF to ‘Friend Divorce:’ The 5 Truths We Should Teach Our Girls About Friendship

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There's no such thing as a perfect friendship. It’s time to teach girls the truth about the complexities of BFFs.

Girls may love movies about fairytale princes, but their most captivating romance is with their friends. Every year, I stand on the stages of school auditoriums and ask thousands of girls this question: “How many of you have had a friend divorce?”

Instantly, a sea of hands shoot up in the air – this is not a term I need to define. The girls look around furtively, surprise spreading across their faces. They are astonished to discover they are not the only ones who have lost close friends.

That’s because girls receive unrealistic messages about how to have a friendship. Films and television see-saw between two extremes: mean girl-fests (think Real Housewives) and bestie love-fests (Sex and the City). Adults, meanwhile, aren’t always the perfect role models, either. The result is a steady diet of what I call “friendship myths”: find a best friend, and keep her forever. A good friendship is one where you never fight and are always happy. The more friends you have, the cooler you are.

These myths are all part of the pressure girls face to be “good girls”: liked by everyone, nice to all, and pleasing others before herself. It’s a subject I wrote an entire book on, and see often with my students.

Research has found that girls who are more authentic in their friendships – by being open and honest about their true feelings, and even having conflicts – have closer, happier connections with each other. Yet when a girls’ social life goes awry, they often blame themselves. Many interpret minor problems as catastrophes. Some may not even tell their parents out of embarrassment.

But there are things we can do to prepare girls for the gritty realities of real-life friendships. We can teach them that friendship challenges are a fact of life. That hiccups – a moody friend, fight over a love interest, or mean joke –- are simply par for the course. And when we do? They probably wouldn’t beat themselves up as much when conflicts happen. They’d be more willing to seek out support and move on when it did. Instead of expecting perfection all the time, they could adapt more easily to stress.

Here are five hard but important truths we can teach our girls about their relationships — perhaps sparing them that traumatizing “friend divorce” later on.

There is no such thing as a perfect friendship.

A healthy friendship is one where you share your true feelings without fearing the end of the relationship. It’s also one where you sometimes have to let things that bug you slide. The tough moments will make you wiser about yourself and each other. They will also make you stronger and closer as friends.

You will be left out or excluded.

It may happen because someone is being mean to you, or because someone forgot to include you. It will happen for a big reason or no clear reason at all; it will have everything or nothing to do with you. You will feel sad about it, and as your parent, I will be there to support you.

No matter how hard you try, your apology may not be accepted.

Some people just can’t move on from a conflict. You are only responsible for your own actions, not others’. You cannot make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. If you have done everything you can to make things right on your side, all you can do is wait. Yes, you may wait a long time, maybe even forever, but I will be there to support you.

Friend divorce happens.

Just like people date and break up, friends break up, too. “Best friends forever” rarely ever happens; it’s just that no one talks about it. Friend divorce is a sign that something was broken in your relationship, and it creates space in your life to let the next good friend in. You may be heartbroken by this experience, but your heart is strong, and you will find a new close friend again soon. I will be there to support you.

Friendships ebb and flow.

There are times in every friendship when you or your friend are too busy to call, or are more focused on other relationships. It will hurt, but it’s rarely personal. Making it personal usually makes things worse, and being too clingy or demanding can drive a friend even further away. Like people, friendships can get “overworked” and need to rest. In the meantime, let’s figure out other friends you can connect with.

I know plenty of grown-ups who still haven’t learned these truths – and they can be painful. But that’s all part of friendship: understanding just how hard – but at the same time, rewarding — it can be.

 

Rachel Simmons is the co-founder of Girls Leadership Institute and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls” and “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls With Courage and Confidence.” Follow her on Twitter @racheljsimmons.

TIME psychology

Does Your Mind Wander? Here’s Why That Can Be Your Greatest Asset

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Wandering minds are associated with creativity. Popular wisdom tells you to live in the moment.

Huh?

So is it better to be unfocused or focused?

Let’s look at the research.

The Upside of Mind Wandering

You spend up to 8 minutes of every hour daydreaming. Your mind will probably wander for 13% of the time it takes you to read this post. Some of us spend 30-40% of our time daydreaming.

Via The Science of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good For You):

Do you remember what the previous paragraph was about? It’s OK, I’m not offended. Chances are that your mind will wander for up to eight minutes for every hour that you spend reading this book. About 13 percent of the time that people spend reading is spent not reading, but daydreaming or mind-wandering. But reading, by comparison to other things we do, isn’t so badly affected by daydreaming. Some estimates put the average amount of time spent daydreaming at 30 to 40 percent.

So why do we do it? It may be a form of problem-solving:

…the content of people’s daydreams reflected the kinds of coping strategies that they typically employed to solve problems. This suggests that the wandering mind might actually be off searching for ways to cope with the stresses of everyday life. You may not know exactly how to deal with your man troubles, but your wandering mind is working on it…One of the most interesting things about this slothful pastime is that it involves the same brain regions that are active when people are solving insight puzzles.

In fact, people whose minds wander a lot are more creative and better problem solvers.

Via 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People:

Mind-wandering allows one part of the brain to focus on the task at hand, and another part of the brain to keep a higher goal in mind. Christoff (2009) at the University of California, Santa Barbara has evidence that people whose minds wander a lot are more creative and better problem solvers. Their brains have them working on the task at hand but simultaneously processing other information and making connections.

In Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson makes it pretty clear that creativity is messy.

Ideas need to be sloshing around or crashing in to one another to produce breakthroughs:

Hold on though — this doesn’t mean daydreaming is all good.

The Downside of Mind Wandering

As Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, explained in the Harvard Gazette, a wandering mind is not a happy mind:

People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.

And:

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

And yes, it’s a cause, not an effect:

Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.

And recent research shows a wandering mind may be associated with poor health, perhaps due to that unhappiness and stress.

So What’s The Deal?

A wandering mind takes more in: good and bad. This leads to new ideas. But it can take you up — and it can take you down.

Focus doesn’t allow the noise in. But the noise is what allows creativity to spark.

What you want to do is spend most of your time focused but have rituals that allow your mind to wander on cue.

You have coffee in the morning and get ready to go. You unwind at night to get ready for bed.

You already have rituals that put you into a zone, you just may not realize it. What you want to do is use them deliberately.

This is the secret the pros know. Michael Jordan was able to do it during games.

And research shows these rituals are powerful for creativity too.

Via The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success:

A 2008 study by the University of Toronto’s Chen-Bo Zhong and his colleagues found that doing something habitual, such as going for a walk, washing the dishes, or taking a nap, enables you to unconsciously access peripheral information your brain may not readily consider during an intense state of Focus.

How do you get focused? How do you unwind?

Start using these more deliberately and you can make yourself happier as well as more creative when you need to be.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME mental health/psychiatry

Why Some Antidepressants Make You Feel Worse Before Better

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There’s a paradoxical period when a person first starts an antidepressant: they may actually begin to feel worse before feeling better. The underlying cause of this phenomenon is a bit of a mystery, but a new study from researchers at Otto-von-Guericke University in Germany explains why this might occur.

The gap between starting an antidepressant and feeling its positive effects—a time period that’s typically a couple weeks but may last up to a month—can sometimes be characterized by an increased risk for harmful behaviors. Researchers have previously speculated that when a person starts an antidepressant, they may suddenly have a surge of energy they didn’t have before. If that person is suicidal, the effect may provide enough energy to act upon their feelings.

The controversial idea caught on. A decade ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a “black box” warning—the most stringent of warnings—on all antidepressants warning of possible suicidal thoughts and behaviors. As TIME recently reported, many psychiatrists were (and still are) upset by the label, arguing that it’s led to a drop in antidepressant use among patients. Physicians, fearful of the risks, may also be deterred from prescribing them.

MORE: Do Depression Drugs Still Need Suicide Warnings?

In the new report, published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, the researchers reviewed several recent studies and found that the issue may stem from an effect of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs release two chemicals in the brain that kick in at different times, causing a period of negative effects on mental health, the authors report. The first chemical is serotonin, which is released very soon after an SSRI is taken but might not lessen depressive symptoms until after a couple of weeks. The second chemical is called glutamate, which can take a few days longer to be properly released. According to the new study, the serotonin neurons send off a dual signal to the two chemicals, causing the variant time frames for the chemicals, and therefore the problem period.

“There’s a lot you can do [in this period] and it’s important to let patients know that,” says Dr. Donald Malone, chair of the department of psychiatry and psychology at Cleveland Clinic. (Malone was not involved in the new study.) “It doesn’t typically last longer than the first week. But you may need to go down on the dose or switch medications. We’ve always prepared patients for how it can go, and that this was the beginning.”

Depression itself—not an antidepressant—is the greatest risk factor for suicide, and these new findings provide new insight for what patients can expect at the start of their treatment.

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