Please do your own research. The information I share is only a catalyst to expanding ones confined consciousness. I have NO desire for anyone to blindly believe or agree with what I share. Seek the truth for yourself and put your own puzzle together that has been presented to you. I'm not here to teach, preach or lead, but rather assist in awakening the consciousness of the collective from its temporary dormancy.
In a time of disconnection, deep conversations can make all the difference.
David Brooks, the opinion columnist for The New York Times, wrote an article last month titled “Mental Health in the Age of the Coronavirus,” describing how the anxiety and isolation of the pandemic were impacting everyone in some way. He quoted Bonnie Badenoch, an expert in trauma, who felt one antidote to this stress was a need to have “deep reciprocal attunement (with others) that makes you feel viscerally safe,” and Martha Welch, a professor at Columbia University, who stressed the need to connect with others by having “vulnerable,” deep conversations.
Deep conversations may be an important way to connect with those we care about in these difficult times, but they are always a good idea. They are the foundation of strong intimate relationships — those “we talked all night” conversations when dating, or those seemingly rare but cherished, heartfelt times when you lowered your guard and spoke from your heart with someone you trust. They connect you to the human race, to those important in your life, in some way to yourself.
Good idea, but often easier said than done. Here are some tips of going deeper into your conversations:
Make sure it’s a good time to talk
This is a matter of logistics. It’s hard to have a deep conversation when someone is on their cell phone driving to the grocery store or when they are trying to get their three kids to bed. These times are for quick check-ins — how-you-doing, catch-you-later speed conversations. For those deeper conversations you need time; find out if the other person has some. Simple question: Is this a good time to talk?
Set the tone
Because you’re the one initiating this, you need to be the one to set the tone, the one to let the other person know that you’re interested in having more than a how-you-doing check-in. There are two ways of doing this.
One is to set the tone by talking about yourself more deeply than you usually do. You want to move beyond the standard, “I’m good,” to more honest statements about how you are really doing – I’ve been feeling down lately; I don’t know about you, but my kids are driving me crazy; I had been doing okay until Tom and I had this argument last night. This is about self-disclosure and revealing more of you and your feelings. With this introduction, you are letting the other person know what kind of conversation you want to have, what emotional level you are comfortable talking about. You can then turn the conversation towards them.
The other approach is to ask hard questions at the start: Not the “Doing okay?” but “Have you been having a hard time?” “Have you been feeling depressed or worried?” “Are your kids driving you crazy or struggling?” People only know what is safe to talk about based on what you talk about and what you ask. By drilling down into specific, more emotionally difficult conversations, you are letting the other person know that you are ready to hear what they have to say, that you are ready to go there.
Ask about details
Good therapists do this instinctively. They try to move from broad statements (“I’ve been feeling anxious“) to the details: What about, what thoughts have you had, how do you talk to yourself? You don’t need to be a therapist and try to deconstruct the other person’s psychology, but you want to ask about details (about an argument they had or about how the kids are driving them crazy) because emotions ride on content. Broad questions yield broad, bland emotions; detailed questions stir deeper, more poignant feelings. And expressing these deeper emotions and having them accepted glues people together.
Give space between emotions
And when these emotions arise, you only need to acknowledge them (“That must have been hurtful; that sounds so frustrating”) and then stop and be silent. This can be hard—our instincts are to repair, to fix, to make it better by saying the right thing right then to calm the waters. Don’t. Take a few deep breaths, allow room for you both to absorb what has been said (or for them to finish ranting or crying).
Slow down, focus on them
In the same vein, you want to slow the conversation overall. Move through the conversation like a turtle, not a jackrabbit. Keep the focus on them, give them the room and attention they need, and resist using their stories as launchpads to talk about your own. Only when they are done is it time to turn the conversation towards you.
You know if you are moving into more vulnerable and intimate territory if what you want to say makes you feel uncomfortable, you get those butterflies of anxiety. Intimacy is not about disclosing some big, dark secret, but saying anything that is, for you, difficult to say. Take that risk for yourself, and listen for it in the other person. They may say “I’ve never said this before or thought about this before,” or there may be a hesitation or an unfinished sentence and a sigh. Ask them to finish the sentence. Give them space to say what is hard to say.
Use your anxiety as a sign that you are emotionally plowing new ground. Go deeper to connect.
To accomplish a big goal, such as launching a new business, writing a novel or starting an exercise regime, productivity experts will often suggest getting up early. You can get a lot done in a quiet house with no distractions or interruptions. While this is sound advice, it’s easier said than done.
“You might think getting up earlier is just a matter of discipline, but it actually takes much more than that,” says Julie Morgenstern, time management expert and author of Never Check Email in the Morning (Touchstone; 2005). “The truth is, your entire ecosystem has been built around sleeping later.”
When you try to change your morning routine, several obstacles will stand in your way. It’s possible to overcome them, however; the key is to start the night before. Morgenstern offers six strategies to make getting up early work for you:
1. Change your mindset. Many people fight going to sleep because they want to get more done – they have separation anxiety from the day. But Morgenstern teaches her clients to think differently.
“Consider sleep the beginning of the next day,” she says, adding that this mind shift can change the way you look at sleep and make it exciting. “Sleep becomes an active element; you’re charging up your battery.”
2. Adjust your bedtime. Many of us are already sleep deprived, and stealing another hour of sleep will just set you up for failure. The only way to be successful is to go to bed earlier. Determine how many hours of sleep your body requires and count backwards from there.
“Getting up earlier requires a fundamental shift in your neuro-pathways,” she says. “While the change makes total sense to you the day before, actually doing it the next morning is hard work and requires you to break a lot of patterns.”
3. Adjust other nighttime activities. You’ll also have to adjust the time you eat dinner as well as after-dinner decompression activities, such as reading, says Morgenstern.
“You’re not being realistic if you say you’ll get up early but then don’t build everything else into your day” accordingly, she says. Also, eat dinner no less than two to three hours before bed, which is optimal for being able to fall asleep and sleep well.
4. Prepare for your morning activity. Sometimes what keeps us in bed isn’t fatigue, but the fact the morning task we’ve planned is overwhelming. To make these activities less daunting, prep the night before and organize your equipment. Set out your gym clothes, yoga mat or running shoes, if you’re planning to exercise. If you’re going to be on your computer, tidy your home office, and preprogram your coffee maker.
“Starting something new can feel complicated,” says Morgenstern. “Take the time to prepare and you’ll increase your chances for success.”
5. Turn off electronics. At least 90 minutes before bed pull the plug on electronic activities, such as watching television, checking email or social media or reading on an e-reader.
“Science says it’s a source of energy and over-stimulates us,” she says. “It’s like drinking a Red Bull before bed – there’s no way you’ll fall asleep.”
She suggests replacing it with something relaxing, such as listening to music, drawing, or prepping meals for next day.
6. Create a pre-bedtime routine. Give yourself peace of mind and time to unwind by creating a calming pre-bedtime routine. For example, make a ritual of checking the windows and locks. Dim the lights and stretch. Or take a leisurely walk.
“This routine will help you fall asleep quickly and easily,” she says. “It will also significantly increase your chances of getting up in morning.”
Improving your everyday involves making swaps to upgrade your experiences, ramp up your output and set you up for success and happiness.
A habit is defined as a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is considered to be difficult to give up. Which are the habits that don’t serve you? What are you doing that is making you feel tired, irritable and negative? It’s time to identify these habits and swap them out.
Consider that the first thing you do upon opening your laptop might put you in the wrong frame of mind. Your morning coffee might put you on edge more than it gives you focus. Even the way you always brush your teeth might be suboptimal. The same for the way you train for a marathon or how you unwind in an evening or how you shop for groceries. Doing the same things in the same way leads to the same results. If you want a different result, make a change.
It’s more effective to replace habits with new ones than stop old ones all together. It’s why vaping has helped many people quit smoking and why a change of scenery can spark an epiphany. Make a list of the habits you have that stop you living the best possible version of your life.
1. Fearful thinking
Worrying about the future is the opposite of contentment and, therefore, happiness. Reading into someone else’s actions or words and assuming the worst is a form of self-inflicted torture. Think of all those bad things you once worried might happen. Chances are that most of them never came to pass, and the ones that did you overcame heroically. Worrying is like visualizing a future that you don’t want. It’s a complete waste of time and energy.
Swap it for:
Negative visualisation. Write a list of all the worst possible things that could happen, and then write down how you’d handle each scenario. There’s always a plan you can make and there’s always a way through any problem. Back yourself to get through whatever is thrown at you and realise that worrying doesn’t make it any more or less likely, so there’s no point doing it.
Meditating. Worrying either means you’re anxious about something that happened in the past or something that might happen in the future. Either way, your head isn’t in the present. See if you can be present and focus on what’s actually happening in the room rather than in your head. Separate the two. Listening to guided meditations might help you see the difference and stay in the here and now.
Making a success plan. There are some things you can control and there are things you can’t. Out of your control: other people and what they say, do and think, the weather, and so on. In your control: what you say, what you think, how you act. Make a success plan along with daily, weekly and monthly actions you’re going to take and measure the inputs instead of the outputs. Focus firmly on what is in your control and let everything else go.
2. Checking your profiles
There’s always something to “check”; your inbox, social media or a forum, that might result in a dopamine hit that satisfies a short-term craving. The designers of apps and websites do so deliberately to keep you on them for longer. Notifications, endless scroll and candy-dispenser-like alerts keep you hooked and in a loop of checking that’s not conducive to happiness.
Swap it for:
Batching activities. Separate every action you take into big things and little things. The small, minor things are those tiny actions that overall make no difference. Things like checking emails, checking social media, checking bank accounts, invoices and Google Analytics. Batch them into less frequent actions and have a giant checkfest once a week, but no more.
Picking one thing to focus on. With the space you have found by batching little things, pick the big things that you can attack. The big things are those projects that really move the needle and get you where you want to be. The ones that seem daunting until they’re done. Set a pomodoro timer, close all your tabs, turn off notifications and get started. Keep going until you find yourself in a state of flow.
Producing. Turn your ideas and knowledge into articles, blogs, books and downloads. Instead of consuming, checking and scrolling, look to create and produce. What seems obvious to you can be groundbreaking to someone else. Write, record and create to inspire, inform and educate.
3. Watching TV
TV is a massive time-suck. No ifs, no buts. It’s not a good use of life. It can become the default option for an evening, meaning you end up watching stuff you don’t really care about that has zero value or bearing on your life. Those on the path to greatness don’t watch much TV, if any. You can watch TV on a treadmill but not on the racetrack.
Swap it for:
Journaling. Use the time to assess the day. Slow down to write in free form and assess how you’re feeling, what’s going right and what needs improvement. Keep a log of your thoughts and actions and understand the cause and effect of everything you do. It’s amazing how therapeutic this practice can be.
Learning a language. Open up new worlds and the chance to meet new people. Put your brain into something challenging in a different way to your regular work. Commit a certain time each day and attend classes or learn via an app or book. Do it with friends in the lead up to a trip you’ve booked together.
Meeting friends. Cultivating arms-length relationships via WhatsApp and Instagram doesn’t make for meaningful connections. Pay someone a visit, take a meal over, invite them round, at the very least call someone you haven’t seen in a while. Learn about their world whilst expanding yours.
For maximum happiness, find the habits that don’t serve you and replace them with ones that do. If applicable, start with watching television, needless checking and fearful thinking.
If you listen carefully, most conversations are one-sided.
Someone asks the questions. (A)
Someone talks a lot. (B)
And when the person who talks a lot does direct the conversation back at the other person, they do not ask them questions. Instead, they say statements.
A: “How are things going?”
B: “Honestly, really good. So much is going well for me! I just moved into a new place. I just started a new job. It’s all fantastic.”
A: “That’s great! Are you adjusting well?”
B: “Oh absolutely. By the way these tacos are great.”
A: “Yup, I love tacos.”
B: “No, they’re like really good. You know I’ve always been a fan of tacos. Tacos are the best.”
A: “I agree.”
B: “Yeah, if I could, I would always eat tacos.”
If you read the above, you have to listen closely to see how person A might feel, at some point in this conversation, unheard. Person B does not ask them directly, “What’s going on with you?” They just keep talking (usually about themselves) and saying things at the other person — instead of allowing them the opportunity to talk about themselves too.
This is one of the most common mistakes I have witnessed in human interactions, period.
This dynamic ruins relationships.
It causes unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding.
It stirs resentment.
Everyone wants to be able to share themselves — and if no one ever asks, they turn bitter.
Which makes them less likely to listen to someone else and ask them questions — and then that person turns bitter, etc.
It’s so simple.
When you’re with someone, ask them questions and actually listen.
What are the fundamental motivations that animate our lives, our deepest needs, the ultimate goals compelling our pursuits and desires? This is an old question in psychology, occasioning much debate.
In thinking about this question, it is useful to borrow a notion from evolutionary science, which distinguishes between proximal and ultimate causes. Proximal causes motivate behavior in the here and now. Ultimate causes are the underlying foundational forces that shape and direct our here-and-now attentions. So the proximal reason you find a woman attractive is her lush hair and smooth skin. But why are lush hair and smooth skin attractive? That’s an ultimate cause question. Proximally, you are excited by the newness of your purchase. But why is “new” exciting, ultimately?
Proximal causes are usually means to ultimate cause ends. In the examples above, lush hair and soft skin are a proxy for youth, which is a proxy for fertility, a winner in the evolutionary gene-spreading game. Novelty excites because new is change, and change requires adaptation if one wishes to survive and thrive; both danger (a predator looking to eat us up) and promise (prey we can catch and eat) lie in that which is new in the environment. Therefore tending to novelty is a winning strategy in the evolutionary game.
As you might have noticed, life is complicated. Thus, any outcome may have multiple, layered proximal and ultimate causes. The proximal causes of the sailboat gliding over the water include the fact that the wind catches the sail, and also that the sailor is proficient, and also that the boom is sturdy, etc. The ultimate causes may include the survival advantage conferred by our ability to get places fast over water, the benefits of territorial control and access to resources, our desire for an increased sense of security achieved through making something unknown known, etc.
Clearly, some ultimate motives are biological. We are biological systems and everything that is possible to us has to be biologically possible. Evolutionary psychology posits the survival and reproductive functions as the ultimate biological motivations. Reverse-engineer anything we do and you’ll find these motives at play underneath. There is truth and elegance to this claim. It’s quite easy to see how underneath all our varied efforts to distinguish ourselves, achieve, accrue fame or amass fortune, lie an effort to improve our access to resources, including protective ones (i.e. survive) and attract the attentions of quality mates (i.e. reproduce).
But human beings are not just the sum of their biological processes and structures. At least not in any way that’s interesting. We also have a characteristic human psychology, which is neither synonymous with nor reducible to biology. Reducing human behavior and experience to their biological functions provides an impoverished, not to say distorted, picture of humanity. It turns out that psychological motivations—perhaps in part because they are born of (and map onto) biological imperatives—are as enduring and fundamental (ultimate) as biological ones, at least insofar as one wants to understand people’s behavior and lived experience.
To wit, a thought experiment: Let’s say we brought a biblical figure—say, Moses—back to life right now. Despite easily passing for a Brooklyn hipster—sandals, beard and all, Moses would nevertheless be utterly perplexed at the sight of your iPhone. Yet he’d be quite familiar with your emotional and relational (that is, psychological) issues—family petulance, greed and lust, your conflict with your boss and rage at social injustice, etc. In other words, while our technology has changed dramatically from biblical times, our psychology has remained more or less the same. The proximal means by which we communicate have changed much; the ultimate need to communicate, not at all.
In psychology’s early days, human motivation was often attributed to inborn ‘instincts’—innate, fixed patterns of behavior that emerge fully formed in response to certain stimuli. Early theorists such as William James posited lists of human instincts including shyness, love, play, shame, anger, fear, etc. “Instinct leads,” said William James, “intelligence does but follow.” One problem with instinct theories is that they describe rather than explain motivation, and are tautological by nature (Q: Why am I doing x? A: because you have x instinct. Q: How do you know I have x instinct? A: Because you are doing x).
Given their limitations in advancing understanding and prediction, it’s no wonder that instinct theories soon gave way to drive theories. A drive can be defined as an excitatory state produced by an inner disturbance. In other words, when certain biological conditions are unmet (say, I haven’t eaten in a while), the body produces discomfort, which we are then motivated to eliminate (in this case, by eating).
Drive theories owed a debt to the work of Claude Bernard, a 19th century French physiologist who is considered the father of modern experimental physiology. Bernard discovered one of the fundamental principles of organic life, the concept of “homeostasis”—controlled stability of the internal milieu in the face of changing external conditions (think for example: body temperature), which he reasoned was, “the condition for free life.”
Freud, who developed the first influential drive theory in psychology, saw drives as internal forces that compel a movement toward restoring homeostasis. Freud believed that human behavior was motivated by two fundamental biologically-based drives, sex and aggression. These drives, appearing to us as “the psychical representative of the stimuli originating from within the organism” constitute, “the whole flux of our mental life and everything that finds expression in our thoughts.”
Clark Hull, an influential early 20th century American drive theorist, said it thus: “When survival is in jeopardy, the organism is in a state of need (when the biological requirements for survival are not being met) so the organism behaves in a fashion to reduce that need.” Hull believed that humans possessed four primary drives: hunger, thirst, sex and pain avoidance.
But how does one find the behaviors that serve to effectively reduce the drive? Well, mostly we do so by trial and error, reward and punishment. In other words, we learn from experience how to respond effectively to disruptions in homeostasis.
This idea had by the 1950s worked its way into the behaviorist theory of BF Skinner, according to which we select from a repertoire of behaviors those that produce reinforcements. Skinner, however, had little patience for the notion of internal motivation. While recognizing the existence of inner drives, Skinner nevertheless argued that they did not explain behavior. Rather, the causes of behaviors earlier theorists had attributed to internal drives were actually environmental events, like deprivation and aversive stimulation, not internal states such as thirst or anger.
Drives, as de facto effects of deprivation and aversive conditions, are linked to the probability of certain behaviors, but in a corollary, not causal, manner. For Skinner, internal states like emotion and intention do exist within the brain, but as contingencies, not behavioral causes.
Either way, both classic ‘push’ drive theories and the newer ‘pull’ behaviorist ideas, while useful in their focus on the interplay between our biological make up and the environment, proved wanting as explanations of complex human behavior. For example, why do some behaviors continue long after the biological needs from which they ostensibly emerged are satisfied? People, after all, eat when they are not hungry, and well past the point of satiation. Second, what’s reinforcing, or tension reducing, about a prisoner refusing to divulge secrets under conditions of continued torture?
It turns out that in terms of the human experience, internal psychological processes matter greatly. If you run over me with your car, I’d be interested to know whether you did so intentionally. The court would want to know, as would your friends, and mine, and God at the pearly gates.
The 1960’s, the emergence of the civil rights and human potential movements—and with them the humanist school in psychology—saw psychology’s attentions shift from a focus on drives to a consideration of psychological needs, defined as psychological conditions in which something is required or wanted.
“Lists of drives will get us nowhere” wrote the prominent humanist theorist Abraham Maslow, opting instead to create his famous hierarchy of needs, in which biological needs must be adequately satisfied before we may pursue the higher, more delicate self-actualization needs. In Maslow’s words: “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”
The humanistic emphasis on identifying those parts of human experience that made us unique has also provided fertile grounds for the contemplation of the idea of meaning. The psychologist Victor Frankl famously wrote that searching for meaning is ‘‘the primary motivational force in man.” Existentialist psychologists such as Rollo May in particular spoke of the motivation to find meaning, to make sense of one’s existence, as a defining feature of humanity, separating it from all other living creatures. We are aware that we will die, and we are also aware that we are not dead now. So there is a space for us to be—but how? And what? “He who has a why to live for,” said Nietzsche, “can bear almost any how.” Indeed, research has shown that a sense of meaning predicts health and wellbeing.
The interest in needs and goals has thus replaced the interest in instincts and drives, and, with psychology’s more recent turn toward the study of cognition, the discussion of what needs could be considered fundamental, or ‘ultimate,’ has expanded.
For example, the late Harvard psychologist David McClelland has proposed three such fundamental motivators: the need for achievement (N-Ach) is the extent to which an individual desires to perform difficult and challenging tasks successfully; the need for affiliation, (N-Affil) is the desire for harmonious relationships with other people; the need for power (N-Pow) is a desire for authority, to be in charge.
Looking to integrate research findings on the dual roles of both extrinsic (pull) and intrinsic (push) motivations in shaping behavior, the psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan proposed the influential self-determination theory, according to which human beings are motivated by three basic, innate goals: competence, affiliation, and autonomy. Competence refers to a desire to control outcome, gain mastery, and become skilled. Affiliation refers to the desire to “interact with, be connected to, and experience caring for other people.” Autonomy concerns the urge to be causal agents and to act in harmony with our integrated self.
The diverse work on motivation is not easy to summarize. Yet two threads appear (to me) to weave vividly through all or most of the theorizing in this area.
One is the affiliation need, the need to belong. Human beings can survive and thrive only in well-organized groups, and so our search for belonging is foundational, and urgent. Many psychological theories (beyond those mentioned above) allude to this notion in varying forms.
For example, Freud’s brilliant contemporary Alfred Adler argued that our “social interest”—an orientation to live cooperatively with others, value the common good, show interest in the welfare of humankind, and empathically identify with others—was an innate and foundational component of our psychic architecture. A failure on the part of parents and schools to protect and nurture children’s innate social interest was, according to Adler, the source of much individual suffering and social turmoil.
John Bowlby’s influential attachment theory emphasizes the importance of healthy caregiver-child bonds—the so-called ‘secure attachment’—for later emotional health and adaptation. The seminal Russian developmental theorist Lev Vygotsky has written about how development entails a process of “apprenticeship in culture,” where more expert and competent individuals teach children through assisted (‘scaffolded’) interactions how to achieve social competence. More recently, psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary, in arguing for the existence of a universal ‘need to belong,’ summarized their case thusly:
“People form social attachments readily under most conditions and resist the dissolution of existing bonds. Belongingness appears to have multiple and strong effects on emotional patterns and on cognitive processes. Lack of attachments is linked to a variety of ill effects on health, adjustment, and well-being…Existing evidence supports the hypothesis that the need to belong is a powerful, fundamental, and extremely pervasive motivation.”
A second dominant thread weaving through psychological theorizing and research on motivation is that individual human beings move invariably to develop a unique and coherent identity, a psychological sense of self to match the embodied physical self. In fact, the need to belong implicitly presupposes the existence of someone to do the belonging. When the Beatles sang, “all you need is love” they were correct insofar as implying that all love also needs a ‘you.’
The American psychologist Gordon Allport argued that it is this innate sense of individual coherence, agency, and continuity that allows us to wake up every morning with the deep certainty that we are the same person who went to sleep last night.
Deci and Ryan put it thusly: “all individuals have natural, innate, and constructive tendencies to develop an ever more elaborated and unified sense of self. That is, we assume people have a primary propensity to forge interconnections among aspects of their own psyches as well as with other individuals and groups in their social worlds.”
It is true that the concept of self emerges in a social context. We define ourselves vis-a-vis other selves. Cultural norms and traditions heavily influence the kind of selves we construct. Yet it is also incontrovertibly true that there is a universal quality to the notion of self. Selfhood is recognized everywhere—everybody has a name—and many of its characteristics are common across cultures.
The individual body provides a universal framework. We are all embodied, and conscious of that fact. People everywhere develop an awareness of themselves as physically distinct and separable from others. We also share an awareness of our internal activity. “A purely disembodied human emotion,” wrote William James, “is a nonentity.”
We are aware of our stream of consciousness as manifested in thoughts and feelings and its common disruptions, as experienced in sleep and intoxication, for example. We are aware of the existence of a private realm of self, unknown to others.
My (invariably) astute readers will note readily that these two motivations, while entwined, are also in some fundamental way at odds with each other. For one, group functioning requires cohesion and conformity, which in turn involve a reduction in personal individual autonomy. Likewise, the need to define and express a coherent and unique self in part entails differentiating from the crowd in some meaningful way. Individual caprice is often at odds with communal goals and standards. As Rollo May has written: “Every human being must have a point at which he stands against the culture, where he says, this is me and the damned world can go to hell.”
The developmental psychologist Erik Erikson has alluded to this inherent tension in his developmental theory. According to Erikson, we develop in a sequence of stages, each involving a distinctive psychosocial ‘crisis,’ the resolution of which may have a positive or negative outcome for personality development. Erikson saw these crises as “psycho-social” in that they pit the individual psychological needs against the needs of society.
Yet I would argue that it is quite heuristically useful, and justified by much evidence, to think about human motivation on the psychological plain as the interplay of these two fundamental motivations: the ‘need to belong,’ to feel embraced and connected with other humans, loved, protected, accepted and understood, a member of a tribe; and the ‘need to be’—to define and assert a coherent, unique self. There is, it seems to me, a strong case to be made that all our consequential psychological machinations can be traced back to these two motives, our deepest needs: to belong somewhere and to be someone.
If we wish to go further with this model, we may imagine these two motives as dynamic continua: separation-connectedness, marking the ‘need to belong,’ and dependence-autonomy, representing the ‘need to be.’ Placed in a 2×2 table of the kind psychologists love, these categories yield four possible combinations:
Dependence + Connectedness, a state of affairs we may label ‘Infancy’
Dependence + Separation, a state of affairs we may label ‘Anxiety’
Autonomy + Separation, which we may label ‘Identity’
Autonomy + Connectedness—let’s call this state ‘Intimacy’
Connectedness Infancy Intimacy
These combinations describe, I think, with some elegance, the developmental path toward personality maturity, the journey of becoming.
The infant in the first years of life is both dependent entirely on others for survival and connected, as she posses no clear awareness of a separate self. As the child matures, she acquires an awareness of self that is distinct from others, yet remains thoroughly dependent on them, unfit for autonomous existence. Through adolescence and into young adulthood, one may reach autonomy (psychological, legal, geographical, financial, etc.). Yet, having left childhood and its ways of affiliating behind, must engage the search for adult connectivity—the partner(s), friends, and communal life that are chosen rather than assigned by birth. Later in adulthood, if all works well, one may get to be both genuinely connected (belonging somewhere) and confidently autonomous (being someone).
When I give talks demonstrating that we all have innate psychological predispositions—traits that influence our behavior across our lifetimes—I often get asked what implications this has for free will. If our behaviors are affected in some way by our genes or by the way our brains are wired, doesn’t that mean that we’re really not that free after all?
The answer depends, I think, on the kind of free will you’re after and on an understanding of the mechanisms by which we make choices. And let me say at the outset that we do make choices. The idea that neuroscience has somehow done away with free will altogether or proven that it is an illusion is nonsense. All neuroscience has shown is that when you are making decisions, things are happening in your brain.
This is, to put it mildly, not a surprise: Where else would things be happening? And it really has no implications for free will, unless you are a dualist. If you think of the mind as some kind of object that has an existence independent of the brain, then I suppose you might be upset to find that your decisions have a physical basis in brain activity. But if you think of “mind” not as an object but as an activity or process—the brain in action—then, well, seeing the brain in action as you make a decision is just what you’d expect.
So, yes, we make choices—really, really. But how free are those choices? How much are they constrained by other things over which we really have no control? How much are they affected by antecedent causes?
In particular, if I have some psychological traits over which I had (and continue to have) no control, and those traits influence my behavior (or at least my behavioral tendencies) then am I really fully in control of my own actions? If someone asks me to a party and I decide not to go, is that because I’m wired to be shy? Perhaps I could have chosen to go, and maybe sometimes I do, but maybe only because I happen to be in a sociable mood or feeling brave that day, and maybe I am not in control of that either.
Well, the first thing to say is that this problem arises no matter the origin of our psychological traits. In my book INNATE, I present the evidence that variation in genetics and in the processes of brain development lead to innate psychological differences between people, which affect the trajectory of their lives, influencing their experiences, the way they react to them, and the types of habitual behaviors they develop. But if you’d rather believe—in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence—that all such traits come completely from experience instead, the problem is just as acute.
If we each have real and stable characteristics of temperament and personality, then it doesn’t really matter for this question of free will whether they came from genetics and brain development, or our experiences and environment. In either situation, some antecedent causes have affected the physical structures of our brains in a way that influences our decisions, right now, at this moment. In which case, you could argue, that our will is not so free after all.
In one sense, this is trivial—our decisions, in any given situation, are of course affected by our prior experiences and our current goals. The whole point of having a brain is that it lets you learn from the results of actions you have taken in the past in various types of scenarios. That information is then used to predict the outcomes of a range of possible actions that could be taken when such a scenario is encountered again.
I don’t think anyone sees that as undermining our free will—indeed, you could say that choosing between those options, based on what we have learned of the world, in order to further our own goals, is the process of free will in action.
It is the idea that the options open to us are constrained somehow by our underlying psychological predispositions that seems to threaten our freedom.
And this does seem to be the case. In the first instance, the range of options that even occur to us—that somehow arise in our brains for consideration—is limited by our personality traits and experiences. Two different people in ostensibly the same situation, with the same primary goal, may nevertheless be choosing from a very different set of possible actions. This is because the interplay of their underlying traits and their experiences across their lives will have created a very different set of additional goals, constraints, and heuristics.
For example, two people in a meeting may share a goal of advancing their ideas on some topic under discussion. But one of them may have a conflicting goal—avoid social embarrassment at all costs. This may be due to a natural inclination towards shyness, reinforced by a lifetime of experience, where social interaction is not as intrinsically rewarding as it is for other people, and where the subjective feeling of embarrassment is more acutely felt.
Even if it is not consciously perceived, that goal of avoiding embarrassment may act as a powerful constraint on the person’s behavior. They may come home and complain to their partner how they’d wished they’d been brave enough to speak up—instead, stupid Gary who never shuts up dominated the meeting as usual and ended up getting his way. “I wish I had more confidence,” they might say, conceding that their conscious desires were somehow thwarted by their underlying psychological make-up.
This seems to be the type of thing people are worrying about when confronted with the evidence that we really do have lasting psychological traits that influence our behavior. And this worry appears to be more keenly felt when such traits are shown to have a physical basis in the way our brains are wired. It seems to threaten the primacy of our conscious selves in the decision-making process.
Perhaps we’re like a puppet president—making “decisions” about what to do, but only from the highly limited set of options presented to us by the generals and civil servants—limited based on criteria we are never aware of. Or maybe we’re not even really making the decisions at all—perhaps even that stage of the process is dominated by subconscious factors. Maybe we’re like a magician’s stooge, impelled to make certain decisions through influences beyond our apprehension, with only an illusion of control.
Personally, I think this goes too far. It can certainly be demonstrated that many of the decisions we make are affected by things of which we are not aware. That does not mean that all the decisions we make are like that. Even if we’re on cognitive autopilot most of the time, that doesn’t mean we can’t ever take the controls. And anyway, being on cognitive autopilot most of the time is not necessarily a bad thing—quite the opposite, in fact.
The last thing we would want is to have to make decisions from first principles every time we are doing something. If we had to consciously weigh up every aspect of every decision in every situation we find ourselves in we’d be paralyzed by indecision. And we’d quickly be some other critter’s lunch. Life comes at you fast: Vacillate and die.
Habits and heuristics
Instead, most of our behavior is effectively habitual. We learn from experience over our lifetimes that certain behaviors are profitable or appropriate in certain situations—these are the heuristics that subconsciously guide most of our actions. And our behavior is even shaped by our ancestor’s experiences, in the sense that we have inherited a suite of genetically determined behavioral tendencies that were adaptive in the environments and scenarios that our ancestors tended to find themselves in in the past.
Now, some people argue that if we can’t make decisions that are completely divorced from any preceding events, effects, or causes, that we are not really completely free at all. But why would we want to do that? Totally free decisions, uninformed by any prior events, would be essentially random and pointless (and highly likely to get you killed sooner or later).
Being free—to my mind at least—doesn’t mean making decisions for no reasons, it means making them for your reasons. Indeed, I would argue that this is exactly what is required to allow any kind of continuity of the self. If you were just doing things on a whim all the time, what would it mean to be you? We accrue our habits and beliefs and intentions and goals over our lifetime, and they collectively affect how actions are suggested and evaluated.
Whether we are conscious of that is another question. Most of our reasons for doing things are tacit and implicit—they’ve been wired into our nervous systems without our even being aware of them. But they’re still part of us – you could argue they’re precisely what makes us us. Even if most of that decision-making happens subconsciously, it’s still you doing it.
Ultimately, whether you think you have free will or not may depend less on the definition of “free will” and more on the definition of “you.” If you identify just as the president does—the decider-in-chief—then maybe you’ll be dismayed at how little control you seem to have or how rarely you really exercise it. (Not never, but maybe less often than your ego might like to think).
But that brings us back to a very dualist position, identifying you with only your conscious mind, as if it can somehow be separated from all the underlying workings of your brain. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to think that you really comprise all of the machinery of government, even the bits that the president never sees or is not even aware exists.
That machinery is shaped by our shared evolutionary past, by each individual’s genetic heritage, by the particular trajectories of development of their brain, and by their accumulated experiences over their lifetime. Those things all shape the way we tend to behave in any given circumstance. That doesn’t mean we can never exercise deliberative and conscious control over our decisions—just that most of the time we don’t (in part because most of the time we don’t need to).
Can we choose not to be a certain way? No, probably not. But can we choose to act in a certain way despite having opposing tendencies? Yes, absolutely—in some circumstances at least. This may be effortful—it may require habits of introspection and a high degree of self-awareness and discipline—but it can clearly be done. In fact, one of the strongest pieces of evidence that we really do have free will is that some people seem to have more of it than others.
You’re having a conversation with your co-worker, employee, boss, customer, or maybe even your spouse. There’s something you want the other person to do, or agree to, or remember. It turns out there are a few simple psychological maneuvers that will increase the odds of your getting what you want.
That insight comes from Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and president of Talent Smart. In an article on CNBC.com that’s a couple of years old but has surged in popularity recently, Bradberry shares 10 harmless manipulations you can use to better understand the person or people you’re speaking with or influence them toward your point of view. [Disclosure: I’m also a CNBC.com contributor.]
You can find the full list here. These are my favorites:
1. If you want someone to like you …
Ask the person for a favor. You may think that people will like you if you do them a favor. They may–or they may resent you because they feel beholden. But here’s what happens when someone does you a favor, according to Bradberry: They unconsciously tell themselves that they must like you or you must be their friend to explain to themselves why they just went out of their way to help you. Plus, by asking for a favor, you’ve expressed vulnerability and trust, which will also tend to make people like you.
Try to ask for something that you’re fairly sure they’ll agree to do–if they turn you down that could wind up harming your relationship. And for heaven’s sake if someone offers to do you a favor, don’t turn them down. And whatever happens, make sure to say thank you.
2. If you want someone to tell you more …
The other person has told you something, but you think he or she may be holding something back. Or you’ve asked a question and you aren’t getting a quick or complete answer. Here’s a surprisingly effective tactic: Don’t say anything at all for a few moments.
I’ve used this approach hundreds of times unintentionally when interviewing people as part of my research. I’ll ask a question, they’ll provide a short answer, and I’ll pause for a few moments, either because I haven’t finished writing down what they’re saying or I’m searching my notes for the next thing I want to ask about. Surprisingly often, that few seconds’ silence is too uncomfortable for the other person, and he or she winds up telling me something more. Sometimes, it’s the precise thing the other person was trying not to say.
3. If you want someone to agree with you …
Nod. “When you nod your head as you speak, you convey that what you’re saying is true and desirable, and people are more inclined to agree with you,” Bradberry writes. Not only that, but most people tend to unconsciously mirror the person they’re having a conversation with, which means that if you’re nodding, they’re more likely to nod as well.
Incidentally, you can use this mirroring business in other ways as well. For example, if you express enthusiasm and excitement about something, the person you’re talking with will tend to do the same.
Also, make sure you yourself are subtly mirroring the other person which will make that person like and trust you. In my favorite photograph of my mother and stepfather who were deeply in love with each other for more than 30 years, they are sitting and holding hands, and they are an exact mirror image of each other. His right leg is crossed over his left ankle while her left leg is crossed over her right ankle, and each is resting one hand near the top of the thigh. They didn’t plan this, it just naturally happened because of how connected they were, even though my mother had had Alzheimer’s for several years at the time.
4. If you want someone to remember something …
Cut yourself off before the end of it. Bradberry writes that some advertisers deliberately cut off their commercials before they end because that makes them more memorable, just as hearing just part of a song will make it stick in your head better than if you listen to the whole thing.
So make an important point, make a second important point, seem like you’re about to make a third one, but then interrupt yourself to go retrieve a forgotten item or some such. (Make sure that whatever you do isn’t rude.) That niggling feeling that there’s a missing third point will keep your first two points in the listener’s mind much better than completing all three would have. (See what I me–?)
Why must people wake up every morning and feel obligated to post a picture of their coffee and then after a few hours proceed to update their story on what we’re doing? What’s the purpose? What are people hoping to gain out of sharing every detailed aspect of their life with others on social media?
As humans we seek validation. We live in an era where people are actively seeking some sort of validation through social media. When one posts a selfie, they want some sort of flattering comments or a certain amount of likes. I mean, why else would you post a picture of yourself? In the race of getting more likes and comments, people keep posting more. “I want people to like my pictures because it gives me a sense of satisfaction”. “I want people to acknowledge and appreciate my presence on social media by following me”. this will be the type of response that people will give you if you asked them why the post so much nonsense in Social Media 24/7.
what if i told you that it was design this way to control and manipulate society?
Here are some of Facebook founders have to say abut it:
Facebook’s founders knew they were creating something addictive that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology” from the outset, according to the company’s founding president Sean Parker.
Parker, whose stake in Facebook made him a billionaire, criticized the social networking giant at an Axios event in Philadelphia this week. Now the founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Parker was there to speak about advances in cancer therapies. However, he took the time to provide some insight into the early thinking at Facebook at a time when social media companies face intense scrutiny from lawmakers over their power and influence.
Parker described how in the early days of Facebook people would tell him they weren’t on social media because they valued their real-life interactions.
“And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be,’” he said.
“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying,” he added, pointing to “unintended consequences” that arise when a network grows to have more than 2 billion users.
“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he said.
He explained that when Facebook was being developed the objective was: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” It was this mindset that led to the creation of features such as the “like” button that would give users “a little dopamine hit” to encourage them to upload more content.Advertisement
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
Parker, who previously founded the file-sharing site Napster, joined the Facebook team in 2004 five months after the site had launched as a student directory at Harvard. Parker saw the site’s potential and was, according to Zuckerberg, “pivotal in helping Facebook transform from a college project into a real company”.
In 2005, police found cocaine in a vacation home Parker was renting and he was arrested on suspicion of possession of a schedule 1 substance. He wasn’t charged, but the arrest rattled investors and he resigned shortly after.
Thanks mostly to his brief stint at Facebook, Parker’s net worth is estimated to be more than $2.6bn. He set up the Parker Foundation in June 2015 to use some of his wealth to support “large-scale systemic change” in life sciences, global public health and civic engagement.
“All of us are jacked into this system,” he said. “All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”
Former Facebook vice president of user growth Chamath Palihapitiya said that social media is “eroding the core foundations of how people behave” and that he feels “tremendous guilt” about creating tools that are “ripping apart the social fabric.”
During a talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in November, Palihapitiya echoed the words of other Facebook dissenters who have recently taken their guilt and grievances public. (h/t The Verge)
“You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed
“The things that you rely on, the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created, are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistrust,” he said.
His fear is that bad actors can manipulate large groups of people, and that as users, we compound the problem in our quest to create an idealized version of ourselves:
We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals—hearts, likes, thumbs up—and we conflate that with value, and we conflate it with truth. And instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and that leaves you even more—admit it—vacant and empty before you did it, because then it forces you into this vicious cycle where you’re like “What’s the next thing I need to do now because I need it back?”
Palihapitiya agreed that “in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds” they knew something bad could happen.
Palihapitiya’s comments last month were made a day after Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, criticized the way that the company “exploit[s] a vulnerability in human psychology” by creating a “social-validation feedback loop” during an interview at an Axios event. Parker had said that he was “something of a conscientious objector” to using social media, a stance echoed by Palihapitiya who said that he was now hoping to use the money he made at Facebook to do good in the world. “I can’t control them,” Palihapitiya said of his former employer. “I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use that shit. I can control my kids’ decisions, which is that they’re not allowed to use that shit.” He also called on his audience to “soul-search” about their own relationship to social media. “Your behaviors, you don’t realize it, but you are being programmed,” he said. “It was unintentional, but now you gotta decide how much you’re going to give up, how much of your intellectual independence.”
Much has been written about the attributes of high-achieving adults, and what makes them different from everyone else. But if you’re a parent, a more compelling question may be: “What can I do to make sure my kids succeed in life?” Here’s what researchers say.
Researchers have previous found that children of older parents tend to have fewer externalizing behavior problems than children of younger parents. But common traits are being discovered in successful adults that appears to affect the way we interact with our children.
1. Don’t Tell Them They Can Be Anything They Want.
According a survey of 400 teenagers, conducted by market research agency C+R Research, young Americans aren’t interested in doing the work that will need to be done in the years to come. Instead, they aspire to be musicians, athletes, or video game designers, even though these kinds of jobs only comprise 1 percent of American occupations.
In reality, jobs in health care or in construction trades will be golden in future decades. Why not steer them into well-paying professions in which there will be a huge shortage of workers?
2. Eat Dinner As a Family.
According to a nonprofit organization operating out of Harvard University, kids who eat with their families roughly five days a week exhibit lower levels of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, obesity, and depression. They also have higher grade-point averages, better vocabularies, and more self-esteem.
3. Enforce No-Screen Time.
Researchers have found that the brains of little kids can be permanently altered when they spend too much time using tablets and smartphones. Specifically, the development of certain abilities is impeded, including focus and attention, vocabulary, and social skills.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says children younger than 18 months should have no screen time at all, other than video-chatting. For kids ages two to five, it recommends limiting screen time to one hour a day.
For older kids, it’s a matter of making sure media doesn’t take the place of adequate sleep, exercise, and social interaction. The AAP also says parents should make the dinner table, the car, and bedrooms media-free zones.
There are certainly familial benefits to having a stay-at-home mother, but researchers at Harvard Business School have found that when moms work outside the home, their daughters are more likely to be employed themselves, hold supervisory roles, and make more money than peers whose mothers did not have careers.
5. Make Them Work.
In a 2015 TED Talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult and the former dean of freshman at Stanford University, cites the Harvard Grant Study, which found that the participants who achieved the greatest professional success did chores as a child.
The classic Marshmallow Experiment of 1972 involved placing a marshmallow in front of a young child, with the promise of a second marshmallow if he or she could refrain from eating the squishy blob while a researcher stepped out of the room for 15 minutes.
Follow-up studies over the next 40 years found that the children who were able to resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow grew up to be people with better social skills, higher test scores, and a lower incidence of substance abuse.
They also turned out to be less obese and better able to deal with stress. To help kids build this skill, train them to have habits that must be accomplished every day — even when they don’t feel like doing them.
“Top performers in every field — athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists — are all more consistent than their peers,” writes James Clear, an author and speaker who studies the habits of successful people. “They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.”
7. Read to Them.
Researchers at the New York University School of Medicine have found that babies whose parents read to them have better language, literacy, and early reading skills four years later before starting elementary school. And kids who like books when they’re little grow into people who read for fun later on, which has its own set of benefits.
That’s according to Dr. Alice Sullivan, who uses the British Cohort Study to track various aspects of 17,000 people in the U.K.
“We compared children from the same social backgrounds who achieved similar tested abilities at ages five and 10, and discovered that those who frequently read books at age 10 and more than once a week when they were 16 had higher test results than those who read less,” she writes for The Guardian.
“In other words, reading for pleasure was linked to greater intellectual progress, in vocabulary, spelling, and mathematics.”
8. Encourage Them To Travel.
The Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA) surveyed 1,432 U.S. teachers who credit international travel, in particular, with affecting students in a myriad of good ways:
• Desire to travel more (76%) • Increased tolerance of other cultures and ethnicities (74%) • Increased willingness to know/ learn/ explore (73%) • Increased willingness to try different foods (70%)
• Increased independence, self-esteem, and confidence (69%) • More intellectual curiosity (69%) • Increased tolerance and respectfulness (66%) • Better adaptability and sensitivity (66%)
• Being more outgoing (51%) • Better self-expression (51%) • Increased attractiveness to college admissions (42%)
If sending your son or daughter abroad or bringing them with you overseas isn’t feasible, take heart. The survey also asked teachers about domestic travel and found similar benefits for students.
9. Let Them Fail.
While it may seem counterintuitive, it’s one of the best things a parent can do. According to Dr. Stephanie O’Leary, a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology and author of Parenting in the Real World: The Rules Have Changed, failure is good for kids on several levels.
First, experiencing failure helps your child learn to cope, a skill that’s certainly needed in the real world. It also provides him or her with the life experience needed to relate to peers in a genuine way. Being challenged also instills the need for hard work and sustained efforts, and also demonstrates that these traits are valuable even without the blue ribbon, gold star, or top score.
Over time, children who have experienced defeat will build resilience and be more willing to attempt difficult tasks and activities because they are not afraid to fail. And, she says, rescuing your child sends the message that you don’t trust him or her.
“Your willingness to see your child struggle communicates that you believe they are capable and that they can handle any outcome, even a negative one,” she says.