Tag Archives: thinking

What’s Your Most Fruitful Time for Thinking?

“Some of the most fruitful thinking times are when I wake after sleeping a few hours, and in the seamless time when nothing needs to be done, not even getting up, I meditate.”

–May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude

When is your most fruitful time for thinking — in the middle of the night, before you get out of bed, in the shower, during a run, walking the dog, in the car?

I have a friend who never misses his weekly massage, because that’s when he gets his best ideas for building his business.

 

A Little Happier: A Lucky Charm That Works Even If You Don’t Believe In It.

Back in episode 59 of our podcast, Elizabeth and I talked about the value of giving yourself a lucky charm.

Relying on lucky charms is superstitious, but in fact, it actually works. Researchers have found that people who believe they have luck on their side feel greater “self-efficacy”—the belief that we’re capable of doing what we set out to do—and this belief actually boosts mental and physical performance. Many elite athletes, for instance, are deeply superstitious, and in one study, people who were told that a golf ball “has turned out to be a lucky ball” did  better putting than people who weren’t told that.

Any discussion of superstition reminds me of this perhaps-apocryphal story, about physicist Niels Bohr. I love this story!

Most of us aren’t superstitious—but most of us are a littlestitious.

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Secret of Adulthood: Don’t Believe Everything You Think.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

 

Agree, disagree?

This reminds me of the ten categories of loopholes. With a lot of loopholes — especially those in the Questionable Assumptions category — if you look at them closely, you realize that you don’t really believe what you think.

I have a chapter on the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting in Better Than Before, my forthcoming book about habit formation. (Sign up here if you want to hear when the book goes on sale.)

I love all the habit-formation strategies, but I have to say, Loophole-Spotting is the funniest strategy. I get a real kick from identifying loopholes. There are a lot of loopholes.

Don’t Be Tricked by These 5 Common Mental Rules of Thumb.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.

This Wednesday: Beware of these five common heuristics.

One of my favorite topics within cognitive science is the concept of heuristics. Heuristics are the quick, commonsense principles we apply to solve a problem or make a decision.

Often, heuristics are very helpful rules of thumb, but they can also lead us to make dumb mistakes. Recognizing how heuristics operate can sometimes make it easier to be wary of the pitfalls.

Here are some common heuristics:

Recognition heuristic: if you’re faced with two items, and you recognize one but not the other, you assume that the recognized one is of higher value. If you’ve heard of Munich, Germany, but you’ve never heard of Minden, Germany, you assume that Munich is the bigger city. If you’ve heard of A Wrinkle in Time, but you haven’t heard of The Silver Crown, you assume that the first book is better than the second. When in fact they’re both outstanding children’s books!

Likelihood heuristic: you predict the likelihood of an event based on how easily you can think of an example. How worried should you be about child abduction by a stranger? What’s riskier, donating a kidney or having your gallbladder removed?

Anchor and adjust heuristic: you base an answer too heavily on some piece of first information. If someone says, “How old is Woody Allen? Twenty-five?” you’d probably guess his age to be younger than you would if someone said, “How old is Woody Allen? Ninety-five?” even though you know that both suggestions are incorrect.

Social proof: if you’re not sure about something, you assume that you should be guided by what other people are doing. You’re wondering whether to sign up for my monthly newsletter, which features highlights from the blog and Facebook. You’re not sure, but when I say, “157,000 people subscribe to it,” you think, “Yes, I do want to sign up!” You can sign up here. (End of blatant self-promotion.)

Fluency heuristic: if it’s easier to say or think something, it seems more valuable. For instance, an idea that’s expressed in a rhyming phrase seems more convincing than the same idea paraphrased in a non-rhyming phrase. When I decided to spend some time every weekend crossing long-delayed, horrible items off my to-do list,  I considered calling that time my To-Do List Time, but then switched the name to Power Hour. Much more compelling.

How about you? Do you have any examples of how you’ve used these heuristics, or other heuristics that you employ?

The Power of Re-Framing, or, Would a Ranunculus By Another Name Be As Beautiful?

The other night, it was my turn to host my children’s literature reading group — I’m now in three of these groups! Partly because I am in three of the groups, I keep the bar low, so I served take-out Chinese food and store-bought cookies, as I always do — but I did resolve to take the trouble to buy flowers for the table (though I must confess, I didn’t even go to a proper florist’s shop, but went to the deli around the corner from my house — lower the bar).

When I want to get the flowers, I was thrilled to see that one of my very favorite flowers was available. I hadn’t even known the name of this flower until a few years ago, and I’ve always been sorry that it has such an unlovely name: ranunculus.

I was moved to post this observation on Twitter (@gretchenrubin). I wrote: “My favorite flower is so beautiful, but cursed with a name that sounds more like a wart on the sole of your foot: Ranunculus.”

To my satisfaction, one person answered me with a comment that showed recognition of my allusion to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when Mr. Wonka says to the bratty little girl Veruca,”I always thought that a veruca was a sort of wart that you got on the sole of your foot.”

Even better, another person observed that “ranunculus” sounds like a spell from the world of Harry Potter. And it’s true, it sounds exactly like that. Instantly, my regret about the ugly name of ranunculus was transformed into delight. I imagined a bouquet of flowers springing into the air from a wand. Ranunculus!

Such is the power of re-framing. Now I love the name “ranunculus.” As Shakespeare observed, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Have you ever managed to re-frame something, to turn displeasure into pleasure?

* As I mentioned in the post about Cultivate good smells, I’ve become very interesting in the sense of smell. I came across a highly specialized, strangely fascinating blog, Now Smell This — a blog all about perfume. I love the internet!

* The Happiness Project is keeping its place on the New York Times paperback bestseller list, yay!
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