Tag motivation

{ Empathy Is a Choice …* } Research Says: Empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be

{ Empathy Is a Choice ...* } Research Says: Empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be | rethinked.org

“Arguments against empathy rely on an outdated view of emotion as a capricious beast that needs to yield to sober reason. Yes, there are many situations in which empathy appears to be limited in its scope, but this is not a deficiency in the emotion itself. In our view, empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be.” 

In a recently published article, psychologists Daryl CameronMichael Inzlicht, and William A. Cunningham dispute the notion that empathy is a limited commodity, making the much more compelling argument that empathy is a choice.

We believe that empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.

The co-authors highlight several studies which show that the absence of empathy is linked to extrinsic and context-specific factors. By disproving the idea that our failures of empathy are linked to inherent limits in our capacity for the emotion, these studies offer an inspiring and compelling case for choosing to empathize.

. . . * 

Two decades ago, the psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues conducted a study that showed that if people expected their empathy to cost them significant money or time, they would avoid situations that they believed would trigger it. More recently, one of us, Daryl Cameron, along with the psychologist Keith Payne, conducted an experiment to see if similar motivational factors could explain why we seem more empathetic to single victims than to large numbers of them.

Participants in this study read about either one or eight child refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan. Half of the participants were led to expect that they would be asked to make a donation to the refugee or refugees, whereas the other half were not. When there was no financial cost involved in feeling empathy, people felt more empathy for the eight children than for the one child, reversing the usual bias. If insensitivity to mass suffering stemmed from an intrinsic limit to empathy, such financial factors shouldn’t have made a difference.

. . . *

Some kinds of people seem generally less likely to feel empathy for others — for instance, powerful people. An experiment conducted by one of us, Michael Inzlicht, along with the researchers Jeremy Hogeveen and Sukhvinder Obhi, found that even people temporarily assigned to high-power roles showed brain activity consistent with lower empathy.

But such experimental manipulations surely cannot change a person’s underlying empathic capacity; something else must be to blame. And other research suggests that the blame lies with a simple change in motivation: People with a higher sense of power exhibit less empathy because they have less incentive to interact with others.

. . . *

Likewise, in another recent study, the psychologists Karina Schumann, Jamil Zaki and Carol S. Dweck found that when people learned that empathy was a skill that could be improved — as opposed to a fixed personality trait — they engaged in more effort to experience empathy for racial groups other than their own. Empathy for people unlike us can be expanded, it seems, just by modifying our views about empathy.

C H O O S E   E M P A T H Y   . . . *

Source: Empathy Is Actually a Choice via New York Times, published July 10, 2015

How Might We Ensure That Our Young People Thrive Rather Than Becoming Just Part of a Credentialing System?

“I remember David Levin, one of the founders of the KIPP charter schools in the United States and a co-founder of The Character Lab talk about dual-purpose teaching: the idea that you can teach “character skills” such as grit, optimism and self-control while one teaches disciplinary subject matter. Great teachers do this naturally. Most of us just have to plan more intentionally to foster good character simultaneously as we develop our students’ academic capacities. He represented this dual-purpose teaching as a double-helix, a double-helix that has become part of the icon of IPEN.

As we continue to work on implementing strategies and cultural experiences within our schools that have people develop character skills, I think it is a multi-purposed approach. We need to suffuse “character thinking” throughout schools. We need to change our school missions to explicitly focus on the development of character skills. Faculty members need to model these strengths in their own lives and their school lives. We need to understand how small moments and interactions, micro-moments, have such strong potential for learning about character, and we need to look at the system of school, the macro-structures, that support or diminish a focus on character skills development. This is important work. It is work that we have all done, but it demands more intentional focus and attention within all of our schools.”

Dominic Randolph

This excerpt is taken from a recent article, Butter Late Than Never, that Dominic wrote for IPEN (International Positive Psychology Network). In the article, Dominic raises three critical “how might we” challenges that we should all be keeping front and center as we collectively rethink learning for the 21st century:

How can we ensure that our young people thrive rather than becoming just part of a credentialing system?

. . . *

How might we develop a sense of permission in our students that allow them to develop as engaged and motivated learners? 

. . . *

How might we reframe challenge positively for young people and have them understand that positive challenges lead to expertise, purpose and meaning? 

. . . *

{ The Neurochemistry of Flow States } Boosting Creativity, Learning & Motivation …*

The state of flow doesn’t just feel good, it produces quite a powerful cocktail of performance-enhancing neurochemicals. Watch the Big Think video below to find out how flow facilitates and enhances learning, creativity and motivation.

. . . *

{ Rethinking Engagement } Cultivating the Rage to Master, Job Crafting & the Impact of Our Environments on Motivation …*

This week had me thinking about motivation and engagement: how do we trigger, cultivate and enhance our level of engagement and that of our students. It started a few weeks ago when reading 7 Secrets Top Athletes Can Teach You About Being The Best At Anything, I learned of a fascinating term coined by psychologist Ellen Winner: RAGE TO MASTER. The rage to master is a term that Winner coined to describe a common trait found amongst child prodigies– an obsessive and insatiable desire to become better at something. I found fairly little more information on this concept and would really appreciate it if any of you could point me to an article or other online resource that gives a bit more context around the term.

Anyway, the reason engagement and motivation emerged as a theme for me this week, is because as I was walking around thinking about the rage to master, I walked past a public school which stopped me dead in my tracks. The building looked so dreadful: square, brown, with heavy meshed bars on the windows, that at first I thought I had stumbled upon a prison. I happened to be thinking about Winner’s Rage to Master at that precise moment, wondering what strategies and influences might help children develop this insatiable desire for improvement, and the contrast between what I was thinking about and this building where students go to learn and flourish every day really took me aback.

I understand that there are issues of safety, especially in places such as Manhattan and that funding is limited, but there must be accessible alternatives to this block of brown and grills that would be more conducive to cultivating passionate engaged students, obsessed with learning and mastery.

. . . *

So how might we go about starting to hack our way to creating more opportunities for increased motivation and engagement? Well, the Association for Psychological Science highlights new research that suggests that Just Feeling Like Part of A Team Increases Motivation on Challenging Tasks

Across five experiments Stanford psychological scientists Priyanka B. Carr and Gregory M. Walton concluded that even subtle suggestions of being part of a team dramatically increased people’s motivation and enjoyment in relation to difficult tasks, leading to greater perseverance and engagement and even higher levels of performance.

“Simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges,” says Walton.

Carr and Walton hypothesized that a sense of working together would fuel intrinsic motivation by turning a tedious task from work into play.

 . . . * 

Earlier this week, my father gave me some interesting prompts for job crafting from the School of Life — Roman Krznaric’s How To Find Fulfilling Work and the 100 Questions: Work Edition Kit:

100 carefully composed questions designed to help you start a conversation about you and your working life. Use them to sharpen your understanding of who you are and what you should be asking of the world of work.

I haven’t gotten around to reading the book yet, but each morning this week I’ve spent about a half hour picking out some cards and thinking about my answers to the questions. I’ve really enjoyed the exercise, finding that it allows me to think about my work life from completely new angles that I would not have considered on my own. For example, all of the cards are broken up into several categories, and this morning I was reflecting on a prompt about what I would have to do in my working life to make my children proud. Because I’m not at all thinking about any potential future children, this is not a question I would have asked myself nor is it an angle I would have considered when thinking about how to craft my career. Yet, after spending some time with the question this morning, I found it was quite a productive prompt that allowed me to expand how I frame and approach the concept of a meaningful career.

FullSizeRender

 

IMG_1109

{ A Methodology for Accelerated Learning } Five Easy Steps For Learning Anything In 20 Hours …*

{ A Methodology for Accelerated Learning } Five Easy Steps For Learning Anything In 20 Hours ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

“We treat, in our culture now, learning as a very academic exercise—the objective is to suck in a ton of information about this thing whether or not you’re going to use it. And I think education in our culture now has been seen in the academic sense and less in the sense of practicing something with the eye of using it to do some particular cool thing.”  – Josh Kaufman

I loved this observation about the need to rethink the aims of learning outside (and inside!) an academic context. So much of the ends we pursue and the strategies we employ in our lives, work and learning all too often depend on unexamined and often limiting assumptions. It’s important to pause, examine and articulate our stance about learning so that we may rethink it. What are our fundamental beliefs about learning? As access to information becomes ever more present, easy, and democratized–in the age of Google–what should be the aims of learning–both for school-children and for ongoing learning as adults and knowmads?

In the video below, Josh Kaufman highlights the five step process to learning anything in twenty hours which he details in his book, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast!  These five principles of accelerated learning apply to all quality of skills you may be trying to acquire, whether motor of cognitive.

What will you learn? 

1. SET A PERFORMANCE TARGET LEVEL 

The first step in this process, and this is something that applies to every skill—could be a motor skill like learning how to fly an airplane, or skateboard, or something like that; could be a cognitive skill like language or programming— so the first step is deciding exactly what it is you want. If you’re able to really clearly define what it is you’re trying to get—it’s called setting a target performance level—the more clearly you can define that, the easier it is for you to look out into the world and find ways to get there in the most direct way possible. So for example, one of the things I wanted to be able to do was programming. And so, instead of just saying, “I want to be a programmer,” —right, doesn’t give you any information whatsoever—it’s: “here is this idea of a program that I would like to sit down and create from nothing; and it looks like A, B, C, D, E, F, G. When I make this thing, I’ll have developed the skills that are necessary in order to get the particular result. So instead of learning everything in the world about programming, I decided this is the sub-segment of that skill I’m interested in first so that’s what I’m going to focus on.

So what is it going to look like when you’re done? What are you going to be able to see or experience that will let you know you’ve reached the level that you were going for?
2. DECONSTRUCT THE SKILL INTO SMALLER SUB SKILLS 
After you decide what you want, you do what’s called deconstructing the skill. And the idea behind that is a lot of the things that we think of as skills, like for example playing golf, or speaking French, or learning how to program, those aren’t exactly skills; they’re really kind of general topics that contain lots of smaller sub-skills. So it’s really hard to practice being a good golfer. It’s way easier to practice hitting off of the tee with the driver. So you take the global skill and you break it up into much smaller parts. And if you’re clear about what you want, it becomes very easy to find what are those sub skills, what are those smaller parts that are actually going to help you get to that target performance level as quickly as possible.
3. RESEARCH SMARTER & TRANSITION TO ACTION FASTER
Go out into the world and find sources of information that help you do this deconstruction. If you, for example, pick up five books on whatever it is you’re trying to learn how to do, don’t read them cover to cover, skim all of them one right after the other. And what you’ll see are the two or three sub-skills that you’re going to be using most of the time are the ones that come up over and over again. So you just practice those first. And if you spend your time practicing those things and avoid a lot of the distractions or things that aren’t going to help you, you save a lot of time and energy as you’re practicing.
You know the whole idea of researching the topic is something that I had to actively train myself out of. I love doing research. Programming was a good example of this for me. It’s like, “I want to learn how to program: I’m going to get ten books; I have these courses; I’m going to go through all of this stuff and then I’m going to sit down and write a program. It’s like no, you use the research to do just enough research to help you do the deconstruction and find the most important sub-skills first and then get out of research mode and into practice mode as quickly as you can. When you start practicing what it is you’re actually trying to do, that’s when you see the performance improvement.
4.  HACK YOUR ENVIRONMENT FOR BETTER ENERGY MANAGEMENT & INCREASED MOTIVATION
This is where the behavioral psychology elements of this come in —it’s how can you make it easier to do the thing that you want to be doing instead of getting distracted by some shiny object and then going and doing something else. So instead of relying on exerting a lot of willpower to force yourself to do this thing that you’ve decided you want to do, you spend a little bit of willpower, a little bit of time and energy, altering the structure of the environment around you, just to make it easy as possible to do the thing that you want to do.
Removing barriers to practice, so things that are preventing you from doing work. Sometimes those things are environmental distractions, like turning off the TV or blocking the Internet, or closing the door—you know all the things  you can do to make sure that in those early hours of practice, which are frustrating, you don’t get so frustrated that it’s easy to stop focusing on whatever it is you’re doing and start to pay attention to something else. Likewise, anything that you can do to make sure it takes as little energy as possible to start practicing is super helpful at that point. So, you know, instead of keeping your guitar in the case in the back of the closet on the other side of your house, take the guitar out of the case, get a stand and put it right next to your couch—anything that you can do  to make it easier on yourself to get those early hours of practice, the better
5. PRE-COMMIT TO PRACTICING AT LEAST 20 HOURS
So all the things that we’ve talked about so far is getting set up to sit down and do the work of actually practicing. The pre-comittment and the idea of practicing at least 20 hours, there’s a lot of behavioral psychology behind that. The two big things is, first it’s a really important check on your reasons for learning this thing in the first place. Is it worthwhile for me to rearrange my schedule and stop doing other things? Is this something that I’m expecting to get enough benefit from to make the effort worth it? If it’s not, don’t do it. So if you’re willing to set aside at least 20 hours, what the pre-commitment does is make sure that you practice long enough to push through that early frustration to actually start seeing results.
So 20 hours is roughly forty minutes every day for a month–give or take–and I usually break my practice sessions into about 20 minutes a piece so two twenty minutes practice sessions every day for about a month can get you there. And so, if you’re able and willing to do that, pre-committing the time makes sure that you practice long enough to see that really good result but it’s also, psychologically, it doesn’t feel like that big of a hurdle to say, “ok, this is important to me, I can set aside at least that amount of time.” So it’s just enough that you’re going to see dramatic results but not so much that it prevents you from making the pre-comittment in the first place.

{ Testing Commitment Contracts } [Mis]Adventures in Motivation, Integrity & Anti-Charities …*

{ Testing Commitment Contracts } [Mis]Adventures in Motivation, Integrity & Anti-Charities ...* |rethinked.org

stickK.com homepage screen shot

Sometime last month, I read an article in the New York Times about StickK–an “online Commitment Store,” which helps you set and achieve your goals by enabling you to create a commitment contract with yourself.

The Commitment Contract concept is based on two well known principles of behavioral economics:

1.People don’t always do what they claim they want to do, and
2.Incentives get people to do things

[ …]

A Commitment Contract is a binding agreement you sign with yourself to ensure that you follow through with your intentions—and it does this by utilizing the psychological power of loss aversion and accountability to drive behavior change.
By asking our users to sign Commitment Contracts, stickK helps users define their goal (whatever it may be), acknowledge what it’ll take to accomplish it, and leverage the power of putting money on the line to turn that goal into a reality.

I was intrigued by the idea and since my last mostly self-devised motivation strategy (eating one (or several) donuts as a reward for each time I went running) had completely backfired and turned me into a bona fide sugar addict, I decided to give StickK a try. The service is very simple to use– you create an account on StickK.com; select a commitment; decide how much money you will pay each week if you fail to fulfill your commitment; select either a charity or anti-charity for your money to be donated to; add friends to your network of supporters and are given the option of nominating a referee to report your progress. A referee is someone who will report whether you have indeed fulfilled your commitment each week, but since I couldn’t think of who could reliably vouch for me, I opted to self-report on the honor system. Finally, you pick a day of the week to report whether you’ve met your goal for that reporting period and each week StickK sends you an email prompt to remind you to report your performance. That’s pretty much it, all that’s left is to actually go out and fulfill your commitment.

You can set as many commitments as you like but I decided to try this out with a single goal: to exercise three times a week. I like this goal, it’s achievable, has big payoffs for mental, emotional and physical well-being but it’s also one of those things that I tend to forgo when I feel stressed or overwhelmed by other commitments. I figured StickK would help me reframe this goal as a top priority and give me the little nudge I needed to transform this goal into a lifelong habit. I selected an anti-charity that I despise and set my weekly fee at $10. It’s not much, but the thought of giving so much as a penny to this organization makes my skin crawl with disgust.

It all went well for the first two weeks, and riding the high of new resolve, I fulfilled my weekly commitment with gusto. It all went well, until it didn’t, and I failed to meet my goal one particularly busy week. Sunday afternoon (my reporting day) arrived and I realized with horror that I had only exercised once that week. All those “tomorrows” on which I’d promised myself to exercise had flown by unnoticed and I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment. I considered exercising twice that day. And yes, I considered lying. What if I said I’d met my goal, and then promised myself to exercise six times next week and never again mess up? What would be worse? Lying or donating to this organization that stands so directly against what I believe in and value. This wouldn’t be a big lie, no one would be harmed by it and in fact no one would ever know that I lied, other than me. The problem with integrity, of course, is that you can’t opt out when doing the right thing is inconvenient. After having spent most of the day going over this, (time I probably could have used to exercise twice…however shady a strategy that may have been), I finally decided I wouldn’t lie on my report, it just felt too dishonest. And so I reported that I had failed and $10 went to that dreadful organization.

I felt guilty and disgusted with the idea that I had donated to this organization, and in an effort to assuage my guilt, I donated another $50 to the counter charity. Bringing my total that week for not exercising to $60 on top of my regular gym membership, plus about three hours of my Sunday trying to do mental (moral) gymnastics over how to resolve this issue, plus–and by far the heaviest cost–the sense that I had really let myself down. It wasn’t so much that I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment–I’m convinced exercise is good for me physically, mentally and emotionally and I hold it as a value, but I’m also not a fanatic about it and missing two work-outs is not catastrophic by any means. What made me feel really disappointed was the idea that I donated to this anti-charity even though avoiding that ‘punishment’ was really quite simple and only required exercising three times a week. Yet, that week, I somehow didn’t make what I value and believe in a priority, and as a result, I gave money to a cause I find abhorrent. It wasn’t the missed exercise, it was the ethical dissonance between what I believe in and my failure to act on it that I found crushing.

This all took place about three weeks ago, and I’m glad to report that since then, I have fulfilled—even exceeded—my commitment every single week. Whenever I try to find a way to talk myself out of exercising I Just remind myself how dreadful that Sunday felt and then I’m practically running to throw on my sneakers.

If you need a little nudge to keep you committed to your long-term goals, I’d definitely encourage you to give StickK a try. Have you tried it? What did you think? Let me know …*

Roadtrip Nation – Prompts & Advice For Individuals Who Want To Define Their Own Roads In Life …*

Roadtrip Nation - Prompts & Advice For Individuals Who Want To Define Their Own Roads In Life ...* | rethinked.org

Screen shot of the Roadtrip Nation website homepage

Roadtrip Nation is a brilliant and much needed movement that aims to “support, empower, and encourage individuals who want to define their own roads in life.” I think the last statistic I came across on the subject predicted that people of my generation would have up to fourteen jobs in the course of their career. Meanwhile, babies born today will likely be performing jobs we have not yet imagined. The old framework for success is crumbling and this massive paradigm shift is generating a lot of uncertainty about how to create authentic, salient and fulfilling futures for ourselves and our children. With this uncertainty comes great possibility but also great fear. Everything is being questioned, from what the university of the future might look like to whether or not college degrees are even relevant anymore? Is it possible to create a future which fulfills our financial needs as well as our existential needs for meaning, purpose and passion? What might that future look like? How might we begin to create it? What does the concept of a career mean in the twenty-first century? How might we rethink it?

Roadtrip Nation began in 2001 as an idea Mike, Nathan, Brian and Amanda, four friends fresh out of college, formed when they were not sure what to do with their lives. Initially, the scope of the plan was relatively small – climb aboard an old RV, paint it green, and traverse the country with the purpose of interviewing people who inspired them by living lives that centered around what was meaningful to them. Along the way, the four realized that the conversations that they were having on the road could not remain within the confines of their own RV, but held relevancy that could be shared with a world that was losing the know-how of living lives that pulse on personal passion rather than someone else’s expectations.

These days, Roadtrip Nation has grown into a full fledged movement whose continuing mission is “to get people to participate in the Movement by empowering them to find what they love, contacting people that live a life that inspires them, gather a team to interview those people in order to learn from their stories, and to share these experiences with others.” Their website is a veritable treasure trove of excellent resources for the seekers and uncertain amongst us. Head over to browse their blog posts, watch their video series, explore the interview archives with fascinating, inspiring  thinkers and doers and learn how to participate in the Roadtrip Nation movement.

Educators delight, Roadtrip Nation has a splendid (!) education initiative, The Roadtrip Nation Experience, which aims to empower students to map their interests to future pathways in life.

The Roadtrip Nation Experience was launched in 2008 to help students more effectively engage with their futures and view education as relevant and important in their lives. Developed through ethnographic study of thousands of hours of footage from the Roadtrip Nation television series and documentary film, this school-based program provides a framework for students to “define their own roads in life” through 12 online multimedia lessons, access to the web-based RTN Interview Archive, companion workbook activities, guided classroom discussions, and a culminating Roadtrip Project in which students work in groups to identify and interview leaders in their own communities. To date, over 100,000 students from 22 states have participated in the Roadtrip Nation Experience.

Also be sure to check out Roadtrip Nation’s upcoming book, Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life which will be available March 6th, 2015 and is now available for preorder.

This welcome antidote to the fusty, no-longer-relevant career guide answers an old question—”So, what are you going to do with your life?”—in a groundbreaking way. From the team behind the inspirational TV series and campus and online resource, it is presented in a motivational format that gets young people excited to think deeply about how they want to enter and thrive in the workforce by detailing how to take Roadtrip Nation’s interest-based approach and apply it to one’s life. Prompts for write-ins are interspersed throughout, making the reading process interactive and the discoveries personally impactful, and full-color charts and graphs offer a unique visual learning experience. With actionable, realworld wisdom on every page, it’s an essential tool for today’s young professionals and the parents, educators, and advisors seeking to inspire them.

Roadtrip Nation - Prompts & Advice For Individuals Who Want To Define Their Own Roads In Life ...* | rethinked.org

Screen shot from the Roadtrip Nation website

{ On Connection & Decision-Making } Thinking About Motivation, Empathy & Storytelling …*

{ On Connection & Decision-Making } Thinking About Motivation, Empathy & Storytelling ...* |rethinked.org - photograph: Elsa Fridman

 When researchers study the brains of people trying to predict the thoughts and feelings of others, they can actually see a difference in the brain activity depending on whether that person is trying to understand a friend versus a stranger. Even at the level of blood flowing through your brain, you treat people you know well differently than people you don’t. – Teens These Days, Always Changing Their Gray Matter

This week had me thinking about the role of connection and feelings of connectedness in decision-making processes. Some of the findings coming out of decision research, which I’ve featured below, raise some very intriguing and urgent questions about the role of empathy and the need to think more carefully about the types of narratives we craft when trying to motivate people to take action or trigger generous behaviors.

“It turns out that our engagement with a cause– it’s not about numbers, it’s not about classes of victims, it’s really about two things: First of all, it’s emotional and it’s with individuals. We have evolved, we are hardwired to feel a certain amount of empathy and connection but with one other person, whom we see, whom we can relate to, not with a hundred thousand people half a world away. The other thing is that we want to feel like we’re having an impact so we want some kind of a positive arch, we want to see a difference being made. And so when aid organizations talk about 5 million people at risk and make it sound terribly depressing, they’re precisely hitting the buttons that turn people off.”

In this Big Think video Nicholas Kristof explores the kinds of connections that link us to social and humanitarian causes and motivate us to give, participate and take action.

“Some of the research about our preference for helping individuals over classes of people comes from experiments where people were asked to contribute in some cases to this child–when it was used, was Rokia, a girl from West Africa–versus a large group of people, millions of people suffering malnutrition in Africa again. And of course, everybody wanted to contribute to Rokia, to that girl, they wanted to help that girl, they didn’t really care about the millions of people being malnourished. But what was striking is that even though we intellectually know that, “one death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic,” that the point at which we begin to be numbed, is when that number, is when N equals two. The moment you added not just Rokia but had a boy next to her and said, “you can help these two hungry kids,” then people were less likely to contribute than if it was just Rokia. Likewise, people are less likely to contribute to a fund to save kids from cancer if the same amount of money is going to save not one life but eight lives. There really is this bias to help an individual. So we have to figure out, obviously the needs are vast, so we have to figure out how to open these lines of communication to move people at an emotional level to help an individual; but then use that empathy then to broaden and to serve so many other people who need help.”

Kristof’s talk had me thinking about Brene Brown’s definition of empathy and how it compares in particular to sympathy: Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection. Since our ability to empathize with another person is so dependent on our ability to imagine what it must be like to experience a situation from that person’s point of view, I wonder if thinking about multiple people’s pain or needs makes the illusion that we can share in another’s subjective experience, that we can imagine what it feels like from their perspective, more fragile and difficult to buy into. Could it be that stories and aid campaigns that focus on a single individual drive empathy and consequently the necessary feelings of connection that trigger action while campaigns using groups of people drive sympathy and thus disconnection?

“One of the things that really struck me was there had been experiments that asked people to do some math equations, solve some math problems first, and it turns out that if you do that, that if you exercise the more rational parts of your brain, then you’re less empathetic, you’re less likely to contribute. Those of us who care about these issues, we need to figure out how to do a better job of storytelling about individuals and showing that there is a possibility of hope.”

I think Kristoff raises a very worthy challenge about the need to craft better stories. You may remember a video I shared on here last month that looked precisely at How Stories Can Change Our Behavior By Changing Our Brain Chemistry …* The short video examines the link between empathy, the narrative arc, neurochemistry and behavior by focusing on some of the findings emerging from Paul Zak‘s, a founding pioneer in the nascent field of neuroeconomics, research:

Monitoring the brain activity of hundreds of study subjects watching a video with a simple narrative, Zak found increases in the levels of the neurochemicals oxytocin and cortisol, which are associated with empathic responses. Most remarkable, however, was the discovery that this response also resulted in study subjects taking action, in this case through donating money they had just earned to a charitable cause related to the story they watched and even to fellow subjects. Zak’s conclusion that there could be a universal story structure that functions to connect us to each other might not be surprising to storytellers, but seeing it supported by neuroscience is a tale worth repeating. 

. . . *

Now for a different aspect of decision-making, on New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog, in her article 4 Steps to Making an Overwhelming Decision Easy, Melissa Dahl highlights a recent study on the best decision-making strategy to adopt when faced with multiple options that “all seem kind of okay, like when you’re choosing a health-care plan or looking for a new apartment.”

Tibor Besedes at the Georgia Institute of Technology led a study — published recently in The Review of Economics and Statistics — that pitted three decision-making strategies against each other, and the best strategy was the one that treated the process like a tournament, 
  1. Divide the options into piles of four
  2. Choose the best option from each pile
  3. Put the winners from the first round into a new finalist pile
  4. Choose the best option from winners of the earlier four selections

{ The Wisdom of the Simple Act } Activate Your Bias For Action Each Morning By Making Your Bed …*

As I noted in my post last Friday, I have decided to make 2015 a year of action. In that same post, I explored how Integrative Thinking can help create a strategic framework for focusing our actions and clarifying our playing field. Positive Psychology also has much to offer in terms of insights about doing–the importance of grit and cultivating a growth mindset, for example. Wanting to explore the three main tools of my rethinked*annex project, I started thinking about how I might harness Design Thinking to help me grow my bias for action muscle. I reflected on the design process and focused in on the common practice of looking at analogous situations when trying to properly frame and solve a challenge. Which is how I ended up watching a video of Naval Adm. William H. McRaven’s 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin. In his speech, McRaven translates what he learned while completing training for the U.S. Navy SEALs to broader lessons for positively changing the world. I was intrigued by the first lesson, what McRaven calls the ‘wisdom of the simple task’–

“It was a simple task, mundane at best, but every morning, we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that we were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs. But the wisdom of the simple act has been proven to me many times over. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. And by the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter–if you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made; that you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.” 

I’ve decided to test out the wisdom of the simple act for myself and have committed to making my bed every morning (yes, I’ll admit, I never make it otherwise–cue a recent article about the link between messiness and creativity). I made it this morning and did feel a small mental boost and eagerness to keep getting things done. Whether that’s from actually making my bed, or due to some sort of placebo effect because I anticipated that the act of making it would make me want to keep my action ‘cascade’ going, I do not know. I’ll see if I still find the act motivating in a month.

On a related note, in my search for finding ways to translate tools, mindsets and practices from analogous situations to my particular challenge–becoming better at executing–I’ve discovered Mark Divine. Divine is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL Commander and has built a number of businesses around translating the training and mindset of the SEALs to help civilians enhance and develop their leadership and performance levels. I’m currently reading his latest book, The Way of the Seal: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed, and I’ve signed up for the trial version of his Unbeatable Mind online training course. I’ll share more about Divine’s tools and ideas in a later post, for now, you can check out McRaven’s commencement speech below.

make your bed, & rethink …*

Adopt A Growth Mindset To Deal With Procrastination …*

“You get down to work when the fear of having done nothing finally exceeds the fear of doing it wrong.”

Okay, so I get that watching a video about procrastination may seem like, well, procrastination; but I found this lovely short from The School of Life quite insightful. It’s easy to grow frustrated with ourselves or others when things are not getting done, but rather than giving in to the labeling game (I’m/he/she is lazy, useless etc.) which, by the way, is a key characteristic of a (highly unproductive) fixed mindset, this video reminds us that a little (self) compassion and a growth mindset go a long way in helping us to get our work done. Often the reason we put off the work we know we should be doing is because we are afraid that it will be anything less than perfect (which, of course, it will be). So next time you find yourself putting off doing your work, remember this little girl, recognize the fears and anxieties that may be hindering your progress and rather than grow frustrated or discouraged, gently remind yourself that getting better at anything requires effort over time. And get started.

It seems like I’m lazy, that’s what everyone must say, I know. But in truth I do nothing, not because I’m lazy, but because I’m sacred. I’m terrified that if I start, what I do will be horrible. I want things to be so amazing and I know they can’t be so it seems best not even to begin. What helps me the most is when occasionally, it feels like it doesn’t matter, when it feels I can mess up and that would be okay. When the pressure isn’t so great. Like when I was younger and there was less at stake.

%d bloggers like this: