TIME psychology

How You Can Counter the Inside View and Make Better Decisions

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Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

In his book Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition, Michael Mauboussin discusses how we can “fall victim to simplified mental routines that prevent us from coping with the complex realities inherent in important judgment calls.” One of those routines is the inside view, which we’re going to talk about in this article but first let’s get a bit of context.

No one wakes up thinking, “I am going to make bad decisions today.” Yet we all make them. What is particularly surprising is some of the biggest mistakes are made by people who are, by objective standards, very intelligent. Smart people make big, dumb, and consequential mistakes.

[…]

Mental flexibility, introspection, and the ability to properly calibrate evidence are at the core of rational thinking and are largely absent on IQ tests. Smart people make poor decisions because they have the same factory settings on their mental software as the rest of us, and that software isn’t designed to cope with many of today’s problems.

We don’t spend enough time thinking and learning from the process. Generally we’re pretty ambivalent about the process by which we make decisions.

… typical decision makers allocate only 25 percent of their time to thinking about the problem properly and learning from experience. Most spend their time gathering information, which feels like progress and appears diligent to superiors. But information without context is falsely empowering.

That reminds me of what Daniel Kahneman wrote in Thinking, Fast and Slow:

A remarkable aspect of your mental life is that you are rarely stumped … The normal state of your mind is that you have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes your way. You like or dislike people long before you know much about them; you trust or distrust strangers without knowing why; you feel that an enterprise is bound to succeed without analyzing it.

So we’re not really gathering information as much as trying to satisfice our existing intuition. The very thing a good decision process should help root out.

***
Ego Induced Blindness

One prevalent error we make is that we tend to favour the inside view over the outside view.

An inside view considers a problem by focusing on the specific task and by using information that is close at hand, and makes predictions based on that narrow and unique set of inputs. These inputs may include anecdotal evidence and fallacious perceptions. This is the approach that most people use in building models of the future and is indeed common for all forms of planning.

[…]

The outside view asks if there are similar situations that can provide a statistical basis for making a decision. Rather than seeing a problem as unique, the outside view wants to know if others have faced comparable problems and, if so, what happened. The outside view is an unnatural way to think, precisely because it forces people to set aside all the cherished information they have gathered.

When the inside view is more positive than the outside view you effectively have a base rate argument. You’re saying (knowingly or, more likely, unknowingly) that this time is different. Our brains are all too happy to help us construct this argument.

Mauboussin argues that we embrace the inside view for a few primary reasons. First, we’re optimistic by nature. Second, is the “illusion of optimism” (we see our future as brighter than that of others). Finally, is the illusion of control (we think that chance events are subject to our control).

One interesting point is that while we’re bad at looking at the outside view when it comes to ourselves, we’re better at it when it comes to other people.

In fact, the planning fallacy embodies a broader principle. When people are forced to look at similar situations and see the frequency of success, they tend to predict more accurately. If you want to know how something is going to turn out for you, look at how it turned out for others in the same situation. Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard University, ponders why people don’t rely more on the outside view, “Given the impressive power of this simple technique, we should expect people to go out of their way to use it. But they don’t.” The reason is most people think of themselves as different, and better, than those around them.

So it’s mostly ego. I’m better than the people tackling this problem before me. We see the differences between situations and use those as rationalizations as to why things are different this time.

Consider this:

We incorrectly think that differences are more valuable than similarities.

After all, anyone can see what’s the same but it takes true insight to see what’s different, right? We’re all so busy trying to find differences that we forget to pay attention to what is the same.

***
How to Incorporate the Outside View into your Decisions

In Think Twice, Mauboussin distills the work of Kahneman and Tversky into four steps and adds some commentary.

1. Select a Reference Class

Find a group of situations, or a reference class, that is broad enough to be statistically significant but narrow enough to be useful in analyzing the decision that you face. The task is generally as much art as science, and is certainly trickier for problems that few people have dealt with before. But for decisions that are common—even if they are not common for you— identifying a reference class is straightforward. Mind the details. Take the example of mergers and acquisitions. We know that the shareholders of acquiring companies lose money in most mergers and acquisitions. But a closer look at the data reveals that the market responds more favorably to cash deals and those done at small premiums than to deals financed with stock at large premiums. So companies can improve their chances of making money from an acquisition by knowing what deals tend to succeed.

2. Assess the distribution of outcomes.

Once you have a reference class, take a close look at the rate of success and failure. … Study the distribution and note the average outcome, the most common outcome, and extreme successes or failures.

[…]

Two other issues are worth mentioning. The statistical rate of success and failure must be reasonably stable over time for a reference class to be valid. If the properties of the system change, drawing inference from past data can be misleading. This is an important issue in personal finance, where advisers make asset allocation recommendations for their clients based on historical statistics. Because the statistical properties of markets shift over time, an investor can end up with the wrong mix of assets.

Also keep an eye out for systems where small perturbations can lead to large-scale change. Since cause and effect are difficult to pin down in these systems, drawing on past experiences is more difficult. Businesses driven by hit products, like movies or books, are good examples. Producers and publishers have a notoriously difficult time anticipating results, because success and failure is based largely on social influence, an inherently unpredictable phenomenon.

3. Make a prediction.

With the data from your reference class in hand, including an awareness of the distribution of outcomes, you are in a position to make a forecast. The idea is to estimate your chances of success and failure. For all the reasons that I’ve discussed, the chances are good that your prediction will be too optimistic.

Sometimes when you find the right reference class, you see the success rate is not very high. So to improve your chance of success, you have to do something different than everyone else.

4. Assess the reliability of your prediction and fine-tune.

How good we are at making decisions depends a great deal on what we are trying to predict. Weather forecasters, for instance, do a pretty good job of predicting what the temperature will be tomorrow. Book publishers, on the other hand, are poor at picking winners, with the exception of those books from a handful of best-selling authors. The worse the record of successful prediction is, the more you should adjust your prediction toward the mean (or other relevant statistical measure). When cause and effect is clear, you can have more confidence in your forecast.

***

The main lesson we can take from this is that we tend to focus on what’s different whereas the best decisions often focus on just the opposite: what’s the same. While this situation seems a little different, it’s almost always the same.

As Charlie Munger has said: “if you notice, the plots are very similar. The same plot comes back time after time.”

Particulars may vary but, unless those particulars are the variables that govern the outcome of the situation, the pattern remains. If we’re going to focus on what’s different rather than what’s the same, you’d best be sure the variables you’re clinging to matter.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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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 Books

4 Books That Will Make You Happy And Successful

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

What is the good life?

That’s the primary question I’m trying to answer with this blog.

Shortcuts and lifehacks are great. Surprising trivia is nice. But how can we really live great lives? I don’t have time for much less.

And I don’t like corny fluff. I want answers backed by research, expertise or deep insight.

Here are four books that really helped me. And I think they’ll help you too.

 

Find Direction In Life

What is it?

Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life?

What did I learn from it?

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen combines personal experience and MBA principles to provide a path for good life choices.

Confused about a rational but ethical way to find your life’s purpose? What your five year goals are? This is the book for you.

Video:

(Short on time? Just watch from 7:50-11:34 mins.)

Check it out here.

 

Be Happier

What is it?

Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want.

What did I learn from it?

5 hugs a day makes you a happier person. We often pick the easy, lazy choice but it’s the challenges in life that bring joy.

These and many other great insights you can use every day to increase your smile-to-frown ratio.

Video:

This one is a very thorough overview of happiness research. Settle in to cover all the big points. Need a quicker version? Read this.

Check it out here.

 

Be A Good Person Who Succeeds

What is it?

Wharton professor Adam Grant‘s Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

What did I learn from it?

People who give to others often get exploited and end up at the bottom of the heap. Not surprising.

But givers also come out at the top of the heap: happier, more successful and loved.

Adam Grant’s well-researched book provides a strategy for being the latter: a good person who succeeds due to their kindness.

Video:

(Short on time? Watch from 42 seconds in to 4:02.)

Check it out here.

 

Have A Happy Family

What is it?

Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More

What did I learn from it?

Feiler does an excellent job of rounding up the latest research on what makes loving families thrive.

He gives surprising insights (kids should decide their own punishments), supports things we know in our hearts (grandmothers make a huge difference) and provides strategies you never would have thought of (the project management system used at the office can also help at home.)

Video:

(Short on time? Watch from 5:38 to 8:28.)

Check it out here.

 

Sum Up

Again, they are:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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What are five books that can change your life?

Which books can teach you how to be the best you?

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TIME psychology

How to Be a Genius: 5 Secrets From Experts

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Want to know how to be a genius? There are five things you can learn from looking at those who are the very best.

 

1) Be Curious And Driven

For his book Creativity, noted professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did interviews with 91 groundbreaking individuals across a number of disciplines, including 14 Nobel Prize winners. In 50 Psychology Classics Tom Butler-Bowdon summed up many of Csikszentmihalyi’s findings including this one:

Successful creative people tend to have two things in abundance, curiosity and drive. They are absolutely fascinated by their subject, and while others may be more brilliant, their sheer desire for accomplishment is the decisive factor.

 

2) It’s Not About Formal Education. It’s Hours At Your Craft.

Do you need a sky-high IQ? Do great geniuses all have PhD’s? Nope. Most had about a college-dropout level of education.

Via Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

Dean Keith Simonton, a professor at the University of California at Davis, conducted a large-scale study of more than three hundred creative high achievers born between 1450 and 1850—Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Beethoven, Rembrandt, for example. He determined the amount of formal education each had received and measured each one’s level of eminence by the spaces devoted to them in an array of reference works. He found that the relation between education and eminence, when plotted on a graph, looked like an inverted U: The most eminent creators were those who had received a moderate amount of education, equal to about the middle of college. Less education than that—or more—corresponded to reduced eminence for creativity.

But they all work their butts off in their field of expertise. That’s how to be a genius.

Those interested in the 10,000-hour theory of deliberate practice won’t be surprised. As detailed in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, the vast majority of them are workaholics.

Via Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

“Sooner or later,” Pritchett writes, “the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.”

In fact, you really can’t work too much.

Via Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

If we’re looking for evidence that too much knowledge of the domain or familiarity with its problems might be a hindrance in creative achievement, we have not found it in the research.

Instead, all evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. The most eminent creators are consistently those who have immersed themselves utterly in their chosen field, have devoted their lives to it, amassed tremendous knowledge of it, and continually pushed themselves to the front of it.

 

3) Test Your Ideas

Howard Gardner studied geniuses like Picasso, Freud and Stravinsky and found a similar pattern of analyzing, testing and feedback used by all of them:

Via Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi:

…Creative individuals spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on what they are trying to accomplish, whether or not they are achieving success (and, if not, what they might do differently).

Does testing sound like something scientific and uncreative? Wrong. The more creative an artist is the more likely they are to use this method:

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

In a study of thirty-five artists, Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi found that the most creative in their sample were more open to experimentation and to reformulating their ideas for projects than their less creative counterparts.

 

4) You Must Sacrifice

10,000 hours is a hell of a lot of hours. It means many other things (some important) will need to be ignored.

In fact, geniuses are notably less likely to be popular in high school. Why?

The deliberate practice that will one day make them famous alienates them from their peers in adolesence.

Via Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:

…the single-minded focus on what would turn out to be a lifelong passion, is typical for highly creative people. According to the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who between 1990 and 1995 studied the lives of ninety-one exceptionally creative people in the arts, sciences, business, and government, many of his subjects were on the social margins during adolescence, partly because “intense curiosity or focused interest seems odd to their peers.” Teens who are too gregarious to spend time alone often fail to cultivate their talents “because practicing music or studying math requires a solitude they dread.”

At the extremes, the amount of practice and devotion required can pass into the realm of the pathological. If hours alone determine genius then it is inevitable that reaching the greatest heights will require, quite literally, obsession.

Via Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi:

My study reveals that, in one way or another, each of the creators became embedded in some kind of a bargain, deal, or Faustian arrangement, executed as a means of ensuring the preservation of his or her unusual gifts. In general, the creators were so caught up in the pursuit of their work mission that they sacrificed all, especially the possibility of a rounded personal existence. The nature of this arrangement differs: In some cases (Freud, Eliot, Gandhi), it involves the decision to undertake an ascetic existence; in some cases, it involves a self-imposed isolation from other individuals (Einstein, Graham); in Picasso’s case, as a consequence of a bargain that was rejected, it involves an outrageous exploitation of other individuals; and in the case of Stravinsky, it involves a constant combative relationship with others, even at the cost of fairness. What pervades these unusual arrangements is the conviction that unless this bargain has been compulsively adhered to, the talent may be compromised or even irretrievably lost. And, indeed, at times when the bargain is relaxed, there may well be negative consequences for the individual’s creative output.

 

5) Work because of passion, not money

Passion produces better art than desire for financial gain — and that leads to more success in the long run.

Via Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us:

“Those artists who pursued their painting and sculpture more for the pleasure of the activity itself than for extrinsic rewards have produced art that has been socially recognized as superior,” the study said. “It is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them.”

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Lessons on How to Hack Your Own Brain

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How you can make yourself more confident, more generous, and less likely to succumb to stress

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Would you like to be smarter, more confident, kinder, more resilient under stress, and more successful? Of course you would, and you can. In a fascinating series of TED Talks, social psychologists describe ways we can trick our own brains to make ourselves better in almost every way. Here are some of the most compelling.

1. Stop fearing stress.

A couple of years ago, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal made a disturbing discovery. For years she’d been warning people that stress kills. And it does, new research showed–but only if you expect it to. People who experienced a lot of stress and believed that stress was harmful were indeed much likelier to die than those who experienced little stress. But those who experienced great stress but believed itwasn’t harming them were in no more danger than the stress-free, she explains in atalk that may change your whole relationship with the stressors in your own life.

2. Recognize your own optimism.

How do I know that you’re an optimist? Because we all are, as cognitive neuroscientist Tali Sharot explains. Being optimistic makes us happier and more resilient–and without a heavy dose of optimism, no one would ever start a business. However, problems arise when we make bad decisions out of excessive optimism, as happened before the financial crisis, for example. The solution? Stay unreasonably optimistic–but keep in mind that you are.

3. Use body language to increase your own confidence.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains how in this moving talk. Besides communicating confidence to others, when we adopt confident body language we fool our own brains into actually being more confident. Something as simple as going someplace private and adopting a confident stance (legs apart, arms extended) for a few minutes before going into a meeting or making a presentation can make a big difference. Try it and see.

4. Remind yourself to be generous.

A rigged game of Monopoly shows what many have observed in life: The more fortunate and richer you are, the more entitled you feel, and the less likely you are to offer help to those who need it. But, social psychologist Paul Piff tells us, it doesn’t have to be that way. A small reminder, such as a 46-second video on child poverty, is enough to reverse that nasty piece of human nature. So provide yourself with those reminders and you’ll remain a good person, no matter how rich and successful you become.

5. Don’t put too much faith in your own memories.

The number of eyewitness accounts and identifications that have been proved wrong by DNA or other evidence is only one example of how unreliable human memory is, as psychologist Elizabeth Loftus describes in her TED Talk. Not only that, it’s surprisingly easy to implant false memories in people, as some psychologists have unintentionally done when they thought they were unearthing repressed memories. So think twice next time you’re “sure” about something you remember.

6. Surround yourself with people you want to emulate.

Everybody cheats, at least a little, at least some of the time. An elaborate series of experiments explores just how much and when, as described by behavioral economist Dan Ariely in a thought-provoking talk. One intriguing finding: People are more likely to cheat if they see someone doing it who they consider part of their own group, such as someone wearing a sweatshirt with their school’s logo. If the cheater is wearing a different school’s logo, it has no effect. On the other hand, people are less likely to cheat if they’ve been asked to recite the Ten Commandments–whether or not they are religious, and even if they can’t remember most of them.

Obviously, our ideas about right and wrong are not as fixed as we think they are. We’re highly suggestible, and easily influenced by the people around us. We should select those people carefully.

7. Learn to delay gratification.

In a Stanford experiment, 4-year-olds were left alone in a room with a marshmallow. If they could resist eating it for 15 minutes, they were told, they’d be given a second one as well, speaker and author Joachim de Posada tells the audience in this short and entertaining talk (complete with hidden-camera footage of the kids).

Only about a third of the kids had the self-discipline to resist. When researchers followed up more than a decade later, those who had were significantly more successful than those who had succumbed. There’s a lesson here for us all.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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TIME psychology

This Is the Power of Full Engagement

Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

"Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance”

In The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr argue that energy, not time, is the key to managing performance.

We live in a digital time which Schwartz and Loehr capture so eloquently:

We live in digital time. Our rhythms are rushed, rapid fire and relentless, our days carved up into bits and bytes. We celebrate breadth rather than depth, quick reaction more than considered reflection. We skim across the surface, alighting for brief moments at dozens of destinations but rarely remaining for long at any one. We race through our lives without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go. We’re wired up but we’re melting down.

Most of us are just trying to do the best that we can. When demand exceeds our capacity, we begin to make expedient choices that get us through our days and nights, but take a toll over time. We survive on too little sleep, wolf down fast foods on the run, fuel up with coffee and cool down with alcohol and sleeping pills. Faced with relentless demands at work, we become short-tempered and easily distracted. We return home from long days at work feeling exhausted and often experience our families not as a source of joy and renewal, but as one more demand in an already overburdened life.

We walk around with day planners and to-do lists, Palm Pilots and BlackBerries, instant pagers and pop-up reminders on our computers— all designed to help us manage our time better. We take pride in our ability to multitask, and we wear our willingness to put in long hours as a badge of honor. The term 24/ 7 describes a world in which work never ends.

Forever starved for time we try to fit everything into each day. But as we know, managing time by itself is not the answer. The energy you bring to the table matters too. Schwartz and Loehr argue that:

“Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.”

“Every one of our thoughts, emotions and behaviors has an energy consequence,” they write. “The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time that we have.”

There are undeniably bad bosses, toxic work environments, difficult relationships and real life crises. Nonetheless, we have far more control over our energy than we ordinarily realize. The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not. It is our most precious resource. The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become. The more we blame others or external circumstances, the more negative and compromised our energy is likely to be.

To be fully engaged, we need to be fully present. To be fully present we must be “physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our own immediate self-interest.”

Conventional wisdom holds that if you find talented people and equip them with the right skills for the challenge at hand, they will perform at their best. In our experience that often isn’t so. Energy is the X factor that makes it possible to fully ignite talent and skill.

***
You Must Become Fully Engaged

Here are the four key energy management principles that drive performance.

Principle 1: Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Human beings are complex energy systems, and full engagement is not simply one-dimensional. The energy that pulses through us is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. All four dynamics are critical, none is sufficient by itself and each profoundly influences the others. To perform at our best, we must skillfully manage each of these interconnected dimensions of energy. Subtract any one from the equation and our capacity to fully ignite our talent and skill is diminished, much the way an engine sputters when one of its cylinders misfires.

Energy is the common denominator in all dimensions of our lives. Physical energy capacity is measured in terms of quantity (low to high) and emotional capacity in quality (negative to positive). These are our most fundamental sources of energy because without sufficient high-octane fuel no mission can be accomplished.

[…]

The importance of full engagement is most vivid in situations where the consequences of disengagement are profound. Imagine for a moment that you are facing open-heart surgery. Which energy quadrant do you want your surgeon to be in? How would you feel if he entered the operating room feeling angry, frustrated and anxious (high negative)? How about overworked, exhausted and depressed (low negative)? What if he was disengaged, laid back and slightly spacey (low positive)? Obviously, you want your surgeon energized, confident and upbeat (high positive).

Imagine that every time you yelled at someone in frustration or did sloppy work on a project or failed to focus your attention fully on the task at hand, you put someone’s life at risk. Very quickly, you would become less negative, reckless and sloppy in the way you manage your energy. We hold ourselves accountable for the ways that we manage our time, and for that matter our money. We must learn to hold ourselves at least equally accountable for how we manage our energy physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Principle 2: Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.

We rarely consider how much energy we are spending because we take it for granted that the energy available to us is limitless. … The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal. Instead, many of us live our lives as if we are running in an endless marathon, pushing ourselves far beyond healthy levels of exertion. … We, too, must learn to live our own lives as a series of sprints— fully engaging for periods of time, and then fully disengaging and seeking renewal before jumping back into the fray to face whatever challenges confront us.

Principle 3: To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do.

Stress is not the enemy in our lives. Paradoxically, it is the key to growth. In order to build strength in a muscle we must systematically stress it, expending energy beyond normal levels. … We build emotional, mental and spiritual capacity in precisely the same way that we build physical capacity.

Principle 4: Positive energy rituals—highly specific routines for managing energy— are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.

Change is difficult. We are creatures of habit. Most of what we do is automatic and nonconscious. What we did yesterday is what we are likely to do today. The problem with most efforts at change is that conscious effort can’t be sustained over the long haul. Will and discipline are far more limited resources than most of us realize. If you have to think about something each time you do it, the likelihood is that you won’t keep doing it for very long. The status quo has a magnetic pull on us.

[…]

Look at any part of your life in which you are consistently effective and you will find that certain habits help make that possible. If you eat in a healthy way, it is probably because you have built routines around the food you buy and what you are willing to order at restaurants. If you are fit, it is probably because you have regular days and times for working out. If you are successful in a sales job, you probably have a ritual of mental preparation for calls and ways that you talk to yourself to stay positive in the face of rejection. If you manage others effectively, you likely have a style of giving feedback that leaves people feeling challenged rather than threatened. If you are closely connected to your spouse and your children, you probably have rituals around spending time with them. If you sustain high positive energy despite an extremely demanding job, you almost certainly have predictable ways of insuring that you get intermittent recovery. Creating positive rituals is the most powerful means we have found to effectively manage energy in the service of full engagement.

The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal is worth your time and energy.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME psychology

Get Better Sleep: 5 Powerful New Tips From Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Ever have trouble getting to sleep? Or staying asleep? Or you get plenty of shut-eye but you’re not refreshed? Everyone wants to get better sleep. But sleep trouble is incredibly common.

And feeling tired the next day isn’t the half of it. By not getting enough sleep you’re reducing your IQ.

Via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School:

Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals.

And losing “beauty sleep” really does make you less attractive. Seriously.

Want to be miserable? Being tired actually makes it harder to be happy.

Via NurtureShock:

The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

And if that’s not enough, lack of sleep could contribute to an early death.

Via Night School:

The results, published in 2007, revealed that participants who obtained two hours less sleep a night than they required nearly doubled their risk of death.

We need answers before sundown. So I figured I’d call somebody who has them.

Richard Wiseman is professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and the bestselling author of many books including: Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep.

On his YouTube channel he has a number of great videos including this one on sleep tips.

Richard is going to tell you the #1 mistake you make when it comes to sleep, how to take awesome naps, how to get more quality sleep and the surprising secret to why you wake up in the middle of the night. And much more.

If you’re not too tired to keep reading, let’s get to it…

 

The #1 Mistake That’s Screwing Up Your Sleep

If you’re already exhausted, here’s the main takeaway you need from this interview:

Your smartphone is the devil. Your iPad is Lucifer. Your TV cackles with glee when you have insomnia.

They all give off blue light that your brain mistakes for sunshine. And that tells your grey blob it’s time to wake up, not go to bed.

Stay away from them during the hour before you try to nod off. Here’s Richard:

Ten minutes of a smartphone in front of your nose is about the equivalent of an hour long walk in bright daylight. Imagine going for an hour long walk in bright daylight and then thinking, “Now I’ll get some sleep.” It ain’t going to happen. In the middle of the night you wake up and think, “Aw, I’ll just check Twitter, email or Facebook,” and, of course, you’re being flooded with that blue light. You’re not going to be getting back to sleep very easily for the next hour or so.

So your smartphone is the devil? Okay, not really. In fact, sometimes it can be the best friend your sleep schedule has. Huh?

When you’re dealing with jet lag, I encourage you to indulge in all the blue light device bliss you so urgently crave.

They can help shift your circadian rhythm forward. Awesome, right? Your phone has a new feature you didn’t even know about. Here’s Richard:

You can use that blue light to your advantage, because when you’re bathed in blue light you become more alert. To get your circadian rhythm where it needs to be in the new time zone you can stimulate yourself with the blue light from smartphones and iPads.

(To learn the 4 things astronauts can teach you about a good night’s sleep, click here.)

Okay, modern technology is a double-edged sword. What else are you doing wrong?

 

A Good Nightly Routine Is Key

Just like a good morning routine is incredibly powerful, one before bed is a game changer as well. First step?

No booze. It seems like it helps but it’s actually a big no-no. Here’s Richard:

Drinking alcohol an hour or two before you go to bed is not a good idea. You’ll fall asleep quicker, but it keeps you out of deep sleep. In the morning you wake up feeling pretty terrible.

Richard says thinking positive thoughts before you go to bed is helpful and can promote good dreams. One of the biggest things that causes insomnia is thatanxiety about getting to bed.

When those awful thoughts start running through your head at night, try this little game. Here’s Richard:

Just think about a country or a vegetable or a fruit for each letter of the alphabet. You just slowly work your way through and that can take your mind off negative thoughts.

Worrying keeping you awake? Richard says to keep a pad and pen by the bed and write those thoughts down to dismiss them. Mindfulness training can help with this too so give meditation a try. (Here’s how.)

Still can’t sleep? Get up. Don’t accidentally make a Pavlov-style association between your bed and *not* sleeping. Here’s Richard:

The issue is often they’re staying in bed awake for ten minutes or more and they start to associate bed with being awake instead of being asleep. Get up, do something which is not stimulating, and then get back to bed.

(For more science-backed tips on a nightly routine that will bring you amazing sleep, click here.)

So your winding down ritual is in order. What about naps? (Yes, I know they’re amazing.) How can you and I make them *more* amazing?

 

How To Nap Like A Pro

Don’t go down for more than an hour. 20-30 minutes is great — but even five minutes can give you a big boost. Here’s Richard:

Anything over an hour is probably not a great idea, but twenty or thirty minutes of napping is incredibly good for creativity and focus. Naps can make a massive, massive difference. Even five minutes increases reaction time and focus.

NASA found pilots who take a 25 minute nap are 35% more alert and twice as focused.

Via Night School:

Research by NASA revealed that pilots who take a twenty-five-minute nap in the cockpit – hopefully with a co-pilot taking over the controls – are subsequently 35 per cent more alert, and twice as focused, than their non-napping colleagues.

NASA found that naps made you smarter — even in the absence of a good night’s sleep.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

If you can’t get in a full night’s sleep, you can still improve the ability of your brain to synthesize new information by taking a nap. In a study funded by NASA, David Dinges, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers found that letting astronauts sleep for as little as fifteen minutes markedly improved their cognitive performance, even when the nap didn’t lead to an increase in alertness or the ability to pay more attention to a boring task.

Worried you won’t wake up in time for something important? Richard recommends drinking a cup of coffee immediately before laying down. The caffeine will kick in after about 25 minutes.

(To learn the 5 scientific secrets to naps that will make you smarter and happier, click here.)

All this is great for getting some sleep… but what about when you can’t stay asleep? Not a problem. Literally.

 

Waking Up In The Middle Of The Night Is Natural

Research shows we evolved to sleep in two distinct phases. So don’t worry. Do something for a little while and then head back to bed for round 2. Here’s Richard:

We’ve evolved to have what’s called segregated sleeping. If you wake up in the middle of the night that’s perfectly natural. Before electric light people would talk about “first sleep” and “second sleep.” In between they’d go and visit their friends or play games. So if you do wake up in the middle of the night, that’s fine. Get out of bed for twenty minutes and do something. Don’t lay there feeling anxious.

Is this fragmented sleep bad? Far from it. Bloodwork showed that the time between the two sleeping periods was incredibly relaxing and blissful.

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

The results showed that the hour humans once spent awake in the middle of the night was probably the most relaxing block of time in their lives. Chemically, the body was in a state equivalent to what you might feel after spending a day at a spa…

(For more on the science of why we sleep in two chunks, click here.)

But here’s a problem everyone has had: ever sleep for over eight hours and you still feel groggy and awful? Here’s why.

 

Want To Get Better Sleep? Remember “The 90 Minute Rule”

Your body goes through sleep cycles of 90 minutes. Wake up in the middle of one and you’ll feel lousy no matter how long you’ve been in bed. So plan your sleep schedule in increments of an hour and a half. Here’s Richard:

Sleep scientists all use the “90-minute rule” which is basically a sleep cycle which is moving from light sleep, to deep sleep to dreaming and repeating that again and again. That cycle is roughly ninety minutes. You’re best off waking up at the end of a cycle. Plan your sleep in ninety minute blocks to tell you the best time to be falling asleep. Then you go to bed about ten, twelve minutes before that because that’s how long it should be taking you to fall asleep.

(For more on how to have the best night’s sleep of your life, click here.)

I could use a nap now, frankly. But before any of us nod off, let’s round up what Richard had to say so tonight is a restful one. (And we’ll get one more tip that can help make sure your nighttime habits don’t backfire.)

 

Sum Up

Here’s what Richard had to say about getting more quality zzzzzzzz’s:

  • Avoid smartphones and devices at night. But they’re great when you’re dealing with jet lag.
  • A good nightly routine is key. No alcohol before bed, think positive thoughts and play the alphabet game.
  • Naps are awesome. Just keep them under 30 minutes. Drink a cup of coffee before you lay down.
  • Sleeping in two chunks is natural. Get up and do something for a little while and then go back to bed.
  • Remember the “90 minute rule.” Think about when you need to be up and count back in increments of 90 minutes so you wake up sharp.

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. We stay up surfing the net or watching Netflix. How can we behave better?

John Durant offers a piece of advice I follow: forget the morning alarm clock; set an alarm to remind you when to go to bed.

Via The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health:

A useful technique is setting an alarm clock—not to wake up, but to get ready for bed. Set an alarm for an hour before bedtime. When it goes off, finish up any work on the computer, turn off the TV, turn off any unnecessary lights, and start to wind down for the day.

I wish you great sleep and blissful dreams.

And as Anthony Burgess once said:

Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.

Join over 190,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Related posts:

5 Scientific Secrets To Naps That Will Make You Happier And Smarter

4 Things Astronauts Can Teach You About A Good Night’s Sleep

These Six Things Will Bring You A Great Night’s Sleep

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

Why You Spend Too Much Money and How to Stop

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

  • The word sale makes us less likely to comparison shop and yellow tags fool us into thinking we’re getting a discount even when we’re not.

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 health

Why I Decided to Have Plastic Surgery at Age 11

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

"Plastic surgery does not make you weak, or mean you’re avoiding your feelings"

xojane

As a kid, I had an unfortunately large, hairy mole on the side of my face.

By hairy, I do not mean a few strands poking through it. It grew its own lock of hair that had to be routinely trimmed. If I had ever let it grow long enough, I could have had a tiny pony tail on the side of my face.

The mass itself was about the size of a dime. As a young child, I found it amusing more than anything else and toddler me giggled at it in the mirror. It was just a thing that was there, not gross or weird or any of the other adjectives I would hear later.

It wasn’t until around fourth or fifth grade that the mole became a source of insecurity. Kids noticed it, and unsurprisingly, kids can be dicks. It was right at the edge of my hairline and I was able to successfully hide it in my chin length haircut as long as my hair stayed in place, but I lived in constant apprehension of who would discover it.

It turned from a quirky birthmark to a source of shame. From ages five through twelve, I never wore my hair up. No ponytails. No buns. Girls in my class got to change their hairstyles while I frantically hid my face behind my hair.

Even when I played soccer and basketball as a kid, my hair stayed down no matter how much it got in my face or how much I sweated into it.

Despite my growing apprehension about it, I still lived with my mole without much ridicule until the summer I went into junior high. There were isolated incidents that were mildly embarrassing, but the worst one happened when I went swimming with two friends.

I wasn’t even thinking about the mole until the water swept my hair back behind my ears. The two girls I was with immediately pointed out my hideous secret with some less-than-sensitive exclamations of “EW what is THAT?” directed at the side of my face. It was mortifying and I wanted to cry.

I had started to become slightly self-conscious about it, but that was definitely the defining moment that made me feel truly isolated by the otherwise harmless growth on my face.

I was about to be a teenager, some of the most superficial and judgmental years of a person’s life. My mother had several small moles on her face that I knew bothered her as well, and even though none were as prominent as mine, she understood what I was going through. It’s painful to know your daughter feels she needs to constantly hide part of her face.

Shortly after the swimming pool incident, she finally suggested the option of consulting with a dermatologist and plastic surgeon and seeing what could be done. We both knew it had to go.

My mole was classified as congenital, which allowed its removal to be covered by our insurance despite being benign.

So at age 11, after being reassured by the plastic surgeon that I would not be left with any major scarring, I went under the knife.

I wanted acceptance. I wanted to be pretty. I wanted to like myself. I didn’t see how any of the above were possible with what in my mind was something as disgusting as a second head growing out of my face. While my mother brought the idea up in the first place, I never felt pressured by her to make the call. It was superficial and yet also completely necessary to me.

It’s easy to look back now and say I should have gotten over it. That I would have grown out of it. That someone should have told me I was beautiful the way I was and I should just be myself. (For the record, my mother has always told me that.) That teasing should never be a reason to be anesthetized and wake up with a part of your body physically missing.

We can talk forever about how unfair beauty standards are and their negative impact on young girls, but none of that would have changed my opinion. At the time, I saw removal as the only solution. I know, even today, that no amount of kind words would have made me feel differently.

When you truly dislike something about yourself, compliments sound hollow and patronizing. I regret none of it. I don’t want to know what I would be like now if I still had my mole. I was (and still am) lanky and weird enough without any added help.

My scar is faded now, but when it was still fresh classmates frequently pointed it out and asked about it and even that was painful for me. It triggered my paranoia over someone discovering my mole all over again. I would lie and say it was a scratch or a birthmark just to avoid the conversation.

Nowadays, at 22, I almost forget the mole ever existed. Outside of doctors’ appointments where I have to supply my medical history, it doesn’t cross my mind. Occasionally I tell new friends about it and joke about how “I’ve had a little work done.”

My scar is virtually undetectable but on the off chance someone notices, I do not feel like I need to lie about where it came from. (Clearly, I’ll even tell strangers on the Internet all about it.)

I know cosmetic surgery sometimes has negative connotations, especially when offered to someone so young, but I hardly think I am any worse off. If anything, my life improved significantly and my personality flipped around entirely.

It also isn’t a slippery slope, like so many entertainment news specials reporting on celebrities addicted to plastic surgery imply. I had another mole removed roughly a year after the first one, but have had no procedures since then.

There are plenty of physical features I don’t like about myself, but I have no desire to change them. I also don’t harbor any hard feelings toward the people who picked on me. Kids can be jerks. I can think of situations where I was too. That’s just a fact. (Although I’ll offer some general life advice: If you’re grossed out by someone’s face, keep it to yourself instead of pointing it out loudly like an asshole.)

I don’t want anyone to take my story the wrong way. I’m not advocating slicing off everything you hate about yourself and then feeling perfect forever. I’m just saying that plastic surgery does not make you weak, or mean you’re avoiding your feelings, or taking an “easy way out,” and anyone who feels that way needs to butt out of your personal choices.

I can wonder what I would be like if I hadn’t gone through with the surgery, but I cannot imagine it would have been happier than I am now. I ended up choosing a college nearly thousand miles away from home where I knew no one, something I doubt I would have pulled off if I was still hiding behind my own hair.

Paige Handley wrote this article for xoJane

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

The Difference Between Male and Female Serial Killers

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Female serial killers are more likely to murder family members than they are to murder strangers

Researchers including psychologist Marvin Zuckerman have long noted the morbid curiosity of humans: There’s just something about horror and terror that captures our attention.

Indeed, there may be nothing more horrifying – and fascinating – than murder. With my colleague Tom Bowers at Penn State Harrisburg, I’ve studied the crimes and characteristics of mass murderers for years, and still, I’m alarmed by every reread of each case.

But it wasn’t until last year when an undergraduate student, Erin Murphy, approached me about studying female serial killers (FSKs) that I realized how little scientific literature existed on this topic. Many routinely hear about male serial killers (MSKs) – the Jeffrey Dahmers and Ted Bundys of true crime lore – and one can indeed find volumes of literature analyzing their killing sprees.

On the other hand, few have heard of Belle Gunness and Nannie Doss, whose crimes were no less heinous: Gunness killed more than 25 people in the late 19th century, including her children and husbands. Doss killed 11 people in the first half of the 20th century, including her own mother and grandson.

After parsing the data, we found that female serial killers do tend to possess a number of unique characteristics.

Middle- and upper-class killers of kin

The research that did exist on FSKs provided some good insight. Fresno State criminologist Eric Hickey – author of Serial Murderers and their Victims – interviewed 64 FSKs in the US, yielding a disturbing portrait of women who poisoned, shot and stabbed countless men, women and children.

Most were white and typically killed between seven and 10 victims. They were more likely to murder family members than strangers. And even though the most prevalent motive for murder was money, most of the murderers were middle- and upper-class.

Other research used smaller samples, but had notable findings. For example, in a 2011 study, Amanda Farrell, Robert Keppel and Victoria Titterington reviewed newspaper reports of 10 American FSKs. They found that FSKs tended to operate for a substantially longer time than did MSKs, while 80% knew their victims. Farrell and her colleagues – along with Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, who interviewed eight FSKs in a 2000 study – pointed out that, ironically, nursing is an occupation that’s overrepresented among FSKs.

Fleshing out the profile

So when we decided to study FSKs, we approached the topic with two main goals.

First, we wanted to document the means, motives and histories of these criminals with a larger, more recent sample (the larger the sample size, the more likely the findings and patterns are to reflect true life). Moreover, being psychologists, we found a relative absence of research on the psychology of FSKs.

Like Farrell and her colleagues, we used the mass media approach to study female serial killers.

We found the internet site Murderpedia.org to be a valuable consolidation of media reports of murder, and we found it verifiable 100% of the time. In the end, we collected profiles of 64 female serial killers (the same number Hickey found) who committed their crimes in the US between 1821 and 2008.

Although our findings were limited to information that newspapers chose to include about these women and their crimes, our results lend validity to the mass media approach.

  • Along the lines of previous studies, we found that most FSKs were middle- and upper-class.
  • Almost all (92%) knew their victims, almost all were white, and their most common means to kill was poison, while the primary motive for murder was money.
  • Most of these women had earned college degrees or had attained at least some higher education. They held a wide variety of jobs, ranging from religious teacher to prostitute. Nearly 40% worked in health-related fields as nurses or aides, and about 22% worked in direct caregiving roles (mother and babysitter).
  • Most FSKs were married at some point. In fact, these serial killers were serial monogamists – married, on average, twice, and as many as seven times. Where we could ascertain appearance, most were reported to be average to above-average in attractiveness; where we could ascertain religion, 100% were Christian.
  • Nearly two-thirds were related to their victims, nearly one-third killed their significant others and about 44% killed their own biological children. More than half the sample killed children, and about one-quarter killed those who were elderly or infirm, those who had little chance of fighting back.

An aberration of unconscious drives?

From an evolutionary perspective, two important pictures emerged.

First, our data (in line with other studies) showed that female serial killers primarily kill for money. Previous research, such as Eric Hickey’s, has shown that male serial killers primarily kill for sex.

This aligns with evolutionary psychological theory. Robert Trivers’ 1972 work pointed out that due to their limited reproductive potential (relatively few ova), women have evolved to place a premium on securing resources (likely through wise mate choices in the ancestral environment). Conversely, virtually unlimited reproductive potential (relatively unlimited sperm) has likely predisposed men to seek a vast number of sexual opportunities.

Of course, I’m not saying we evolved to be serial killers. What I am saying is that an aberration of genetically mediated unconscious drives might explain some of the reasons for these crimes. These urges could also explain some of the differences between male serial killers and female serial killers.

Second, research has shown that male serial killers tend to stalk and kill strangers. But FSKs tend to kill people they know. It seems, then, that MSKs are hunters and FSKs are gatherers. Although aberrant, this evinces the psyche operating much like the conditions of our ancestral environment.

So, do we know for sure what makes a woman turn into a serial killer? Sadly, no. Even though brain imaging studies, such as psychologist Adrian Raine’s, do point to some trends, we can’t predict this with certainty.

Nonetheless, we’re clearly fascinated by murder, and perhaps morbid curiosity operates from an innate drive to pay attention to phenomena that can ultimately harm us. Creating an informed profile of the “typical” female serial killer will, we hope, lead to further analysis and, possibly, prevention.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

The Conversation

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

7 Ways to Be More Inclusive

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Stop saying 'Hey guys'

I believe in the power of women to build inspiring careers in all types of fields.

At least, that’s what I thought I believed. It’s what my conscious mind thinks, at least.

My unconscious mind, however, favors traditional Western gender roles: men focusing on careers while women focus on family.

I learned about this dichotomy from taking an implicit association test, a social psychology test designed to measure a person’s unconscious or automatic associations between types of people and specific concepts or ideas.

And I’m not alone: The results of more than one million tests suggest that most people have these unconscious associations.

So I thought I would search for a few ways I could begin to correct my implicit biases and bring my unconscious mind on board with what the rest of me believes.

The book Blindspot: The Hidden Biases of Good People (the authors are the inventors of the implicit association test) has a ton of fascinating science on this topic. One bit in particular stood out to me:

“Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University who received a Nobel Prize for his work on memory, was once pressed to say how much of the mind works unconsciously; he gave an estimate of 80 to 90 percent…

The actual number isn’t important or even possible to derive. The point is that experts agree that the ability to have conscious access to our minds is quite low.”

So it’s especially important to focus on inclusivity in our conscious minds, because our unconscious has already put most of us (me included!) in quite a deficit.

Though this list is by no means exhaustive, here are a few things I discovered that might help us to counteract our own unconscious and get closer to the people we truly want to be.

1. Use inclusive language

One thing we’ve been working on lately in Buffer’s virtual workplace, where most communication is written, is to be mindful of the language we use and make sure it’s as inclusive as possible.

For example, many of us have been cracking down on our use of the colloquial “hey guys” greeting as we address the team. It was, of course, never meant to exclude the women on the team and has always been intended as a general greeting.

But we value clarity in communication at Buffer, and this greeting, friendly though its intentions might be, can be easily misconstrued.

Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou rightly gave us a little nudge on this recently, and we really appreciate it:

It’s a great reminder to keep going on this improvement, and being aware of all our language choices. Plus we occasionally get to reference this awesome flowchart from Tech Lady Mafia.

group-of-women-flowchart
Tech Lady Mafia

2. Expose yourself to counterstereotyping imagery (as simple as a screensaver)

Even the creators of the implicit association tests still “fail” them.

Blindspot co-author Mahzarin Banaji came up a simple and unique solution to combat some of her own “mindbugs:”

“She created a screensaver for her computer that displays images of a diverse array of humanity. She assumes that these images may do little more than keep her alerted to the actual range of diversity in the world, as opposed to that of the more limited set of humans she encounters in her daily experience. She also favored images that represent counterstereotypes. Short bald men who are senior executives is one of her favorite counterstereotyping images. Another is a drawing from a New Yorker magazine cover, of a construction worker with hard hat on, breast-feeding her baby.”

3. Consider your office furnishings

If you have a physical office that you want to make more inclusive for both genders, this study might be of interest.

At the University of Washington, Sapna Cheryan demonstrated that adding more feminine decor to computer science classrooms strengthened women’s associations of female gender with the possibility of computer science careers.

By changing out the objects in a computer science classroom from things like a Star Trek poster and video games to objects not considered stereotypical of computer science like a nature poster, the experiment boosted female study participant’s interest in computer science to the level of their male peers.

The study concluded:

“Environments can act like gatekeepers by preventing people who do not feel they fit into those environments from ever considering membership in the associated groups.”

4. Empower mentors for underrepresented groups

The researcher Buju Dasgupta has lots of interesting studies going on about implicit prejudice and stereotypes. One I really like is the Stereotype Inoculation Model.

This is her theory that successful people in your group who look like you, like teachers and peers, can function as a “social vaccine” that inoculates you from some of the self-doubt or alienation you might otherwise face in such a situation.

So far she has found a strengthening of “female = leader” and “female = math” associations in women college students after they received sustained exposure via their college courses to women faculty members.

“Results from several lab and field studies revealed that exposure to female STEM professors and experts enhanced women’s positive implicit attitudes toward STEM, increased their identification with STEM, their confidence in STEM, and effort on tests and exams.”

This could means that having even a few visible members of underrepresented groups on your team could have a compounding effect, if your organization can encourage and support mentoring relationships.

5. Use social media to amplify new voices

Did you know, in its analytics section, Twitter will tell you the gender split of your followers?

I was a bit surprised to discover my followers are majority male (though there is a bit of uncertainty about how Twitter figures out those genders).

 

I was even more surprised by my results from Twee-Q, a tool that analyzes the gender of the voices you amplify through retweets. I have a lot of work to do in amplifying smart female voices!

Of the 107,966 Twitter accounts that have been input into Twee-Q, there’s an immense tendency to amplify men more often than women:

twee-q-totals
Buffer

After discovering that he followed a nearly equal ratio of women and men, but retweeted men three times as often as women, the blogger and entrepreneur Anil Dash tried an experiment.

For a year he attempted to amplify different kinds of voices than he normally would by retweeting women exclusively. He ended up enjoying the experiment and recommending it to others:

“If you’re inclined, try being mindful of whose voices you share, amplify, validate and promote to others… we spend so very much of our time on these social networks, and there’s so much we can do to right the wrongs we’ve seen in other media, through simple, small actions. This one’s been a delightful and fun place to start.”

6. Find members of underrepresented groups that you admire

This is a really fun and simple one. What if you could fight your brain’s unconscious bias simply by admiring others?

Another study from the very busy Dr. Buju Dasgupta found that when people are exposed to admired members of disadvantaged groups (African Americans, gays and lesbians, elderly, women), they express less implicit bias against these groups.

In this study of racial implicit bias, participants revealed less bias after being shown “black examplars”—pictures of famous and admired people like Martin Luther King Jr., Colin Powell, Michael Jordan and Denzel Washington.

This means one easy way to work on unconscious bias could be to simply seek out more admired members of underrepresented groups and focus on those people’s work more often.

7. Use your imagination: Counterprogram your brain

Possibly the simplest way of all to retrain your unconscious mind? Use your imagination.

At the University of Colorado, researcher Irene Blair discovered that simple imagination exercises were enough to weaken some implicit stereotypes.

She asked a mixed-gender group of college students to “take a few minutes to imagine what a strong woman is like, why she is considered strong, what she is capable of doing, and what kinds of hobbies and activities she enjoys.”

The participants came up with all sort of images, from bosses to athletes:

srtrong-woman-study
Irene Blair/University of Colorado

No matter what their image was, participants who engaged in the mental imagery exercise produced “substantially weaker implicit stereotypes” compared with participants who engaged in neutral mental imagery or no mental energy.

So if you happen to be challenged by a particular implicit bias, discovered either through taking a test or your own intuition, you can try counterprogramming your brain with some simple visual exercises like this one.

Over to you

Being empathetic and inclusive to those of all walks of life is a skill it seems that most of us could work on for a lifetime.

I’m looking forward to putting these strategies into practice to see if I can move my unconscious mind in the right direction.

This article originally appeared on Buffer

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