Change comes from the outside.

Over at Mashable, Aaron Orendorff has a great piece on behavior economics, so he obviously talks about my favorite expert on the subject, Dan Ariely:

Not to be a killjoy, but as the Washington Post found, roughly 25% of New Year resolutions fall apart within the first two weeks. And even when it comes to our work — where money’s on the line — “70% of [management-led] transformation efforts fail.”

So what works?

“Change,” in Ariely’s words, “comes not from the inside, but the outside. If you want people to lose weight, give them a smaller plate. You have to change the environment.”

This is why free market capitalism can be so dangerous and detrimental. If you have zero intervention from the government and just let the market decide everything, you’re ensuring the rich get richer, or to use the example above, you’re encouraging people to eat as much as they can.

We need to establish a fair environment because we can’t be trusted to be fair on our own. Remember, we’re just monkeys with iPhones.

I just started Ariely’s newest book, Payoff, and it’s great.

My Dream From Last Night

Conor Mcgregor wanted to print up his own money for his next fight. He was looking for a volunteer to do it. I said I could do it, and suggested we print it up with the face of his opponent, not his face. I told him, “You don’t want to spend your own money, spend his.” He looked around at his camp and asked who the fuck I was. I calmly sat down next to him and said, “I’m Mike Mulvey.”

He told everyone they had to get up and train with him at 6 AM every day. He said he understood that it wasn’t for everyone but they would become better people for it.

Categories:

Pyschology

The GIF Survey

Fucking genius survey conducted by the godfather of CSS, Eric Meyer:

The GIF Survey is complete. In just under a week, 1,457 people gave their answers on how they pronounce the acronym, and their perceptions of the rightness of that pronunciation. I thought that, today of all days, it made some sense to share the results of a far less momentous poll.

For those who missed, it, how this survey worked was that the first question was: “How do you pronounce GIF?” To this, the choices were:

  • The obviously correct way
  • The clearly incorrect way

Upon answering this, respondents moved on to a section that asked three optional demographic questions: age, gender, and race/ethnicity, all as open text fields. These had about a 16% skip rate, and about a 4% ‘faithless’ response rate; that is, answers that were clearly jokes, insults, or other explicit refusals to answer the question as intended.

Once the demographic questions were answered or skipped, there was a final question: “How do you pronounce GIF?”, exactly the same as the first question of the survey. Only this time, the options were:

  • Hard G (like “gift”)
  • Soft G (like “gin”)

For both pronunciation questions, the answer order was randomized so as to avoid any first-choice advantage. The demographic questions, being open entries, didn’t have options to randomize.

Spoiler: The obviously correct way to pronounce ‘GIF’ is with a Hard G.

Case closed, softies.

It might make you Limp-G people sleep better at night if you think of yourselves as ‘underdogs’, but deep down, you know you’re wrong.

Categories:

Community, Pyschology

Walking and Our Minds

Over at CNN Money, Matt McFarland looks into the the benefits of taking walks and why so many top execs take them:

Marc Berman, a University of Chicago psychology professor, has found that walking in nature can improve what’s called directed attention, when we force ourselves to focus on a task. With the other type of attention, involuntary attention, our interest is naturally captured and held, such as by a sunset.

“You don’t hear people say ‘Wow I’m so exhausted looking at that beautiful waterfall,'” Berman told CNNMoney.

When we’re in nature, our directed attention isn’t lost on distractions. You don’t waste brainpower focusing on the conference room you’re in, your chirping cell phone, or making sure a car won’t hit you. We only have so much attention to use, so saving every bit is an advantage.

I take walks all the time. I suppose the habit began during the 10 years I lived in Manhattan. When you live in New York you do a lot of walking. I walked everywhere and for different reasons. Sometimes I walked to clear my head, sometimes to take pictures, and sometimes just because the weather was nice.

I recommend everybody pick up this habit. There are no downsides, just don’t fall down a hole or get hit by a car.

Categories:

Pyschology

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Errors, Snap Judgements, and Manufactured Outrage

Last week, on August 26th, Facebook announced they were automating their Trending feature and phasing out the people who previously wrote the descriptions for the trending news items.

Then, earlier this week, things started getting screwy:

First, there were the hilarious mix-ups. Yesterday a video of a dog reacting to seeing its owner for the first time in two years went viral. The top headline, from something called iHeartViral.com, told people they just had to watch it. And yet the Trending Topics module put the video under the headline Watch Dogs 2 — an upcoming video game about hacking and cybersecurity.

Yesterday, a more serious error occurred: a fake news story about Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly’s supposed secret affinity for Hillary Clinton blew up on Facebook, landing it on top of the Trending list. Not only did the engineers (or algorithms) responsible for Trending fail to realize the story was false — it came from a partisan libertarian source called End the Fed — but Facebook also left it in the Trending module for hours to collect likes and comments. All the while, the company unwittingly gave enormous exposure to a damaging piece of false information.

Oops. Looks like those algorithms need some fine-tuning, right? That’s not how The Verge framed the problem in their headline the above quote is from. Their headline is, “Facebook’s editorial purge has completely backfired”.

Wow. Ok. That’s another way of looking at things, but I think this is part of a bigger problem in our modern world: immediate reactions without contemplation. Online services like Twitter and Facebook have helped expedite and amplify snap decisions. Many people would rather be first and wrong in 140 characters than last and well-read in 800 words.

I think the Facebook Trending bump — and that is all is truly is, a tiny, fucking bump — is something we’re all going to forget about in 4 days when the next thing to get outraged over happens.

This brings me to the other problem in our modern world: manufactured outrage. The term has been around at least since 2012, but I first started hearing it used regularly this year on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Right now the big one is Colin Kapernick sitting down during the National Anthem. The correct response to this bullshit is “who gives a fuck?” But news sites and idiots in my Facebook feed are fueling the fire and making this trivial event into a story. It’s not.

You can’t have an informed opinion about something if you don’t have information about that something (see that word “informed” that comes before “opinion”?).

We have an ever-increasing number of world events thrown in our faces every second of every day of every year, but our time is still finite, so we need to be very careful what we choose to focus our attention, time, and energy on.

Has Facebook’s replacement of people with algorithms “completely backfired”? I have no fucking idea, and neither does anyone else. It’s hasn’t even been a week.

Give it some time. I swear everything will be ok.

Narcissistic Injury

Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, posted a great series of tweets delving into the mind of Donald Trump and what he could be expected to do if he faces defeat this fall.

What a crazy year 2016 is turning out to be.

Categories:

Politics, Pyschology

“Sitting around waiting for an idea is the worst thing you can do. All ideas come out of the work itself.”

That title is a quote from a great profile over at The New York Times by Wil S. Hylton on one of my favorite artists of all time, Chuck Close. It’s titled, The Mysterious Metamorphosis of Chuck Close:

he has recently set about leaving much of his old life behind: filing for divorce from his wife, Leslie, after 43 years of marriage, disappearing for the winter to live virtually alone in a new apartment on Miami Beach and retreating from his summer friends to the crowded isolation of Long Beach.

His painting style has dramatically changed too:

It’s difficult to know how to describe that painting, or the series of new work it was part of, except to say that it was a radical departure from the last 20 years of his art. Gone were all the swoops and swirls that he typically paints into each square of the grid. In their place, he had filled each cell with just one or two predominant colors, creating a clunky digital effect like the graphics of a Commodore 64. The colors themselves were harsh and glaring, blinding pink and gleaming blue, while the face in the portrait — his face — was cleaved right down the middle, with one side of the canvas painted in different shades from the other. To the left, his skin was peach, his shirt deep red and the background mint green; to the right, his skin was pink, his shirt sapphire and the backdrop orange. There was a sea-green splotch hovering over his neck, with a long tail that poked into his nose, and one ear was radioactive yellow; the nose was honking blue.

The dude is getting old. Cut him some slack. The systems inside his body are shutting down, possibly including his brain. It’s called aging. To Close’s defense, “blinding pink and gleaming blue” sound like the colors he would see around him in Miami Beach.

This bit about Jeff Koons resonated with me:

In Long Beach, exile had the sound of summer, and I spent a few more days with Close, watching the tides roll out. We would sit at the long table on the middle floor, eating Indian takeout and discussing the commercial compromise made by artists who rely on assistants to make their work. “I look at my friend Jeff Koons, and I think, Why in God’s name does he want to do that?” Close said. “Why would he give up the fun part to become the C.E.O. of an art-­manufacturing company?”

Seriously. Why would you give up the fun part? If I had to guess, I’d say Koons is more interested in being a businessman than being an artist.

The transformation in Close’s work reminds me of what happened to Willem De Kooning towards the end of his life. His works became more and more minimal to the point where they were barely recognizable as De Kooning paintings. There are allegations of De Kooning’s assistants taking away canvases when they considered them finished.

After reading the Close profile, Austin Kleon wondered how you tell the difference between symptoms of art-making and dementia. Great question. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

I’ll say this: even if Close is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, his work is still incredible. This isn’t a case where a once brilliant painter has forgotten his process and lost his craft and is finger painting (although Close could probably do a mean finger painting).

(Fifty-cent word from the Close profile: uroboric)

Categories:

Art, Pyschology

Clear Your Mind

Over at The New York Times, Moshe Bar on the benefits of a clear mind:

Recently, I discovered how much we overlook, not just about the world, but also about the full potential of our inner life, when our mind is cluttered. In a study published in this month’s Psychological Science, the graduate student Shira Baror and I demonstrate that the capacity for original and creative thinking is markedly stymied by stray thoughts, obsessive ruminations and other forms of “mental load.” Many psychologists assume that the mind, left to its own devices, is inclined to follow a well-worn path of familiar associations. But our findings suggest that innovative thinking, not routine ideation, is our default cognitive mode when our minds are clear.

I always love the stories about how Steve Jobs would go on walks a lot, either to negotiate deals with other people or just by himself.

I do it a lot myself here in San Francisco, but I think the habit got formed in my 10+ years living in Manhattan because in New York, you have to walk everywhere (why wouldn’t you want to?).

It’s amazing the ideas that pop in my head when I’m walking. If you don’t do it, you should give it a try.

Categories:

Pyschology

Grit

David Brooks on grit:

Success is about being passionately good at one or two things, but students who want to get close to that 4.0 have to be prudentially balanced about every subject. In life we want independent thinking and risk-taking, but the G.P.A. system encourages students to be deferential and risk averse, giving their teachers what they want.

Creative people are good at asking new questions, but the G.P.A. rewards those who can answer other people’s questions. The modern economy rewards those who can think in ways computers can’t, but the G.P.A. rewards people who can grind away at mental tasks they find boring. People are happiest when motivated intrinsically, but the G.P.A. is the mother of all extrinsic motivations.

He also mentions Angela Duckworth’s new book, Grit.

Categories:

Pyschology

No One is Going to Steal Your Idea

Tony Larsson on why you shouldn’t worry about identity theft (via Life Hacker):

Bringing a product to market takes a huge investment of time, energy and money. This means that if a person wanted to capitalize on your idea, they would need to stop current endeavors and refocus their life on this new task.

It is highly unlikely that the person you are sharing your idea with would want to do that. Also the type of person that would completely change their life course on a whim, probably lacks the focus necessary for executing the idea in the first place.

Most people don’t execute their great ideas. Most of the time peoples’ ideas turn out to be shit anyway.

Actually, many of ideas of successful people start out crappy as well. The difference is the successful person has the grit and drive to iterate on an idea until it becomes something great.

While I generally agree with Larsson, I would be careful about who you share your great ideas with if you live in Silicon Valley or San Francisco. Don’t get what I call, “Zuckerberg’d”.

Categories:

Process, Product, Pyschology

McGregor Inside Your Head

Over at The 42, Paul Dollery on Conor McGregor’s 2012 fight with Dave Hill:

Since his subsequent rise to the top in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, much has been made of Conor McGregor’s apparent ability to break his opponents mentally before the fight has even begun. Not only is he an immensely talented fighter, but he’s an expert at mind games too.

One wonders how psychological warfare can become such a key component of a contest between two professional fighters. Regardless of whether mind games have been involved, the story always culminates with the athletes settling their differences by locking themselves in a cage and trading blows.

How do words and actions beforehand manage to make that a more intimidating prospect? Hill mentions that he felt “overwhelmed” by McGregor, both at the weigh-ins and during the fight, but how has McGregor managed to master that?

“I think it’s his inner confidence. He’s obviously such a confident bloke. I cleared my head after the weigh-ins but then during the fight he started talking again. He was saying: ‘I’ll go all day with you, you look soft, I’ll go five rounds if you need to.’ Then I started wondering if I should say something back, because I’d never been in that position before.

“So you start thinking of how you’re supposed to react and that kind of messes with your head as well. It’s definitely his confidence and that shows in the way he fights. He’s constantly moving forward, pushing you back and inflicting his game on you, so you don’t get a chance to inflict your game on him.”

Talk all you want about how much you may hate McGregor’s cockiness but he’s the champ and for good reason.

Categories:

Pyschology, Sports

The Majority Illusion

MIT Technology Review on the majority illusion:

One of the curious things about social networks is the way that some messages, pictures, or ideas can spread like wildfire while others that seem just as catchy or interesting barely register at all. The content itself cannot be the source of this difference. Instead, there must be some property of the network that changes to allow some ideas to spread but not others.

The definition:

This is the majority illusion—the local impression that a specific attribute is common when the global truth is entirely different.

And:

And the majority illusion can occur in all of them. “The effect is largest in the political blogs network, where as many as 60%–70% of nodes will have a majority active neighbours, even when only 20% of the nodes are active,” they say. In other words, the majority illusion can be used to trick the population into believing something that is not true.

That’s interesting work that immediately explains a number of interesting phenomena. For a start, it shows how some content can spread globally while other similar content does not—the key is to start with a small number of well-connected early adopters fooling the rest of the network into thinking it is common.

Stay vigilant.

via Noah Brier

“people that disagree with them are not stupid or evil”

On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.

I believe (and believe I can persuade you) that the more deeply a society cultivates this knowledge and mindset, the more it will flourish.

—Steven Pinker

via Twitter