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How to actually do the thing.
Spoiler alert: it's not all about will power... Interview with Ayelet Fishbach and book giveaway
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Ok, so I am a person who was brought up on the idea that all one needed was willpower to get things done. Like, for example, if you didn’t get good grades, you needed to study more, and maybe not watch so much TV. It was your personal fault if there was a disconnect with the person you knew you were inside your mind with the person that other people recognized you as. You just needed to work harder.
The older I get the more dubious I am of how much control we actually have over our lives. And question if the systems of knowledge are actually serving us. This is depressing on some level because feeling a sense of agency and control is somewhat equivocal to having hope. I think the reason I am drawn to behavioral psychology is because it offers some form of science-backed understanding of the ways things are that makes sense to me.
Take the above example of feeling like a failure because you know you need to study more but you often find yourself in front of the TV. You blame yourself. But you still cannot figure out how to change the pattern. You think you just should be able to make better choices.
From my understanding, people are out there seriously questioning if this is actually possible without changing your environment. The idea that one day you might just wake up and be able to resist temptation is in serious question.
This week, I am talking to Ayelet Fishbach, the Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She is an expert on motivation and decision-making and the author of Get it Done: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation.
We talk about how there is actually a lot of data that suggests that to make our goals happen, we need to make changes in our environment. We need to make the things that help us move towards our goals exciting, easy, and fun, and the things that move us away from our goals out of our minds.
A few quick notes:
It’s important to set your own goals for yourself (they are more effective than goals from other people)
It is sometimes easier to learn from other people’s failures - this was a big surprise to me.
Often people get stuck in the middle of a project. If you make the middle of the project shorter, this can help you get through it. For example, if your goal is to finish a novel in a year, breaking it down into weekly benchmarks will help you keep moving.
People often think that you have one major goal in life. But that is not how life works, most of the time you have competing goals. Ayelet talks about managing multiple goals and how to “prioritize” and “compromise.” Her motto: Learn to Pick Your Battles. (This has been something I have been using in my marriage for years now….)
When is positive or negative feedback the most effective? Ayelet uses the metaphor of a glass half full to illustrate this concept. This made the most sense to me in dating. If you want to find a lasting relationship, if there is a bad first date, chances are you are not going to want to stick with it. However, if you have a good first 6 months or so, if you have some setbacks, you are more committed to the goal of making it work than you would be before you committed.
Most of the research on this is done on the individual level, with personal changes that you can make to make your goals more achievable. But none of us live in a bubble. The people we are around and exposed to matter a lot. We are drawn to people who help us with our goals, naturally. And Ayelet looks at this with a non-judgmental lens. I was always grossed out by the idea of liking people because they could help me in some ways. But this is just a fact of life, in some ways, that humans help each other out in ways that benefit everyone in the long run (hopefully).
I really hope you enjoy the interview. If you would be interested in a copy of the book, comment here with something that you really want to do but somehow can’t seem to make it happen:
Lastly, I have been working on a set of drawings to help me personally deal with the crushing anxiety that being alive produces. This week, I have found myself spiraling about the climate, earthquake aid, and world peace. Here is this week’s exercise (I hope it helps):
As always, I love doing this with you. Thanks for reading, and I really hope that something in these emails helps you feel a little more comfortable being with reality in this strange moment. Next week, we are talking to Grace Chang of Kintsugi Health. I met Grace at a book fair last year and was soooo interested in her research. Kintsugi is developing novel voice biomarker infrastructure to detect signs of depression and anxiety from short clips of free form speech. This software is better at detecting mental health issues than doctors. Helping people who might need it but are unable to express it.
Much love and acceptance, Carissa