“Blink”, by Malcolm Gladwell

Via Wikipedia 

“The results from these experiments are, obviously quite disturbing. They suggest that what we think of as freewill is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on automatic pilot, and the way we think and act – and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment – are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize.” (Gladwell, 58)

I finally found the time to finish Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, and I’m glad I did. It’s an immensely helpful book to read, particularly if you’re the kind of person who has a hard time following their instinct. In essence, Blink shows you where your instincts come from, and it’s not from the sky above. Rather, they come from your subconscious, which operates without your awareness. This is why many times we have “a feeling” that “something’s just not right”, but we fail to give a rational reason for why we feel the way we do. Quite an interesting phenomenon, especially because it appears as though our minds are divided into two parts, that don’t do a good job communicating with one another.

Gladwell tries to show through this book, that sometimes we’re better off following the subconscious, because it is somehow trained to make lightning fast decisions. He doesn’t attempt to give his readers a glimpse of how this process takes place, because the truth is, no one really knows. What he does explain is that it appears that the subconscious has evolved to take into consideration many factors, and come up with an output, which is what gives us a certain feeling.

He also points out, quite justly, that this fast decision making can get us into trouble. Since our conscious (of which we also know very little), makes mistakes all the time, why wouldn’t our subconscious be liable to the same issue?

But let’s turn to the lessons Blink can teach its readers:

1)      Snap Judgments Aren’t All that Bad

As I said in the intro, Blink concentrates on defending the judgements that come from our subconscious. Yes, they’re hidden from our awareness, but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. Perhaps in our desire to control everything, we have forgotten that some things simply cannot be controlled. But Gladwell reminds us of this fact, and points out just how wonderful snap judgements can actually be.

2)      Tests Aren’t Always the Best Indicator of Knowledge

This issue is highly debated in the education system, for good reasons. Many claim that tests (exams, quizzes, and whatever else they might be called) only show the ability of a student to memorize information, which is quite different from knowing. Plus, there’s always the problem of too much pressure on one particular occasion. Many things can go wrong in one day, and so it is unfair to judge a student’s knowledge on his or her performance on one particular occasion. What if s/he was sick, or stressed that day?

Now, Malcolm Gladwell adds one more worry to the mixture (which, to be fair, is not a new one at all). Mainly, that we seem to be quite easily fooled into thinking we’re less smart than we are. For example, research has suggested that simply reminding girls of the fact that they’re girls causes them to perform worse on math tests than boys do. In this case, the general stereotype that girls are worse at math than boys are comes into play, sabotaging the females’ performance.

3)      The Subconscious Can Lead Us Astray

But so can our conscious. So where exactly is the problem? Well, the thing about our conscious is that we’re aware of its workings. This means that when it go wrong, we can rewind, analyze the process, and understand where we went wrong. With the subconscious, however, we cannot do that. Because the processes are hidden from us, this means that we can’t correct our thinking. Essentially, we could be making the same mistake over and over again without even realizing.

This is not to say that we should not listen to the subconscious at all. However, we do need to pay particular attention to when it goes wrong, and perhaps avoid allowing it to influence us in those circumstances. Prejudices are one great example of when the subconscious should not be listened to.

4)      We’re Remarkably Bad at Knowing What Drives Us

Once again, since the subconscious operates outside of conscious awareness, by definition it means that we are not aware of what factors it takes into calculating a certain outcome. This means that often times, we are extremely bad at trying to understand why we feel the way we feel. We can, of course, try to come up with explanations that fit our behaviours. We’re quite good at that. But having those explanations match the actual reasons for what we did…now that’s a different thing entirely.

5)      Without the “Subconscious”, We’d Be Unable to Make Decisions

Particularly, we’re talking here about emotions, which can easily be classified as part of the subconscious. This seems rather hard to believe at first, especially if you’re someone who thinks of themselves as highly rational. We often think that when we take important decisions, we are logical about them. This may be the case partially. However, emotions are the ones that have the last say in the matter, as they act as the final “push” towards a certain direction.

So, you may be asking yourself “When should I go with what the subconscious tells me to do?”. I’m asking myself the same question, and Blink hasn’t answered it. However, I don’t think that this is blameworthy. As I mentioned earlier, scientists don’t yet understand the conscious, which is quite open to us. Discussing the workings of the subconscious seems quite farfetched in this context.

Regardless, I would still recommend this book if you’re interested in scratching the surface of an amazing topic. It’s easy to follow, and it gives some fascinating insight.

/Larisa

 

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Memory Month Day 16: Am I Doing it Wrong?

Today I didn’t do much aside from writing and reading. I did, however, have an epiphany in connection to the way I’ve been visualizing.

DSCN0544

This is what happened: as I was reading “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, I ran into something I wanted to remember. Because I am undergoing this memory challenge, I appropriately decided to make use of my memory. Of course, I also wrote it down. You know, for good measure…

Before going into any more details, let me see if I can remember it: Ventromedian Prefrontal Cortex. Aaaand I just checked and guess what! I was off by one letter. In fact, it’s called ventromedial prefrontal cortex. I’m fine with that… 😀

As I was reading the book, I ran into a part where it spoke of this part of the brain, saying that it is important for emotional processing. Actually, it spoke a great deal more about it, and about its connection to the subconscious, but I won’t get into all that.

So, I see this, and I want to remember it. The technique I wanted to use was that of visualizing, since that’s what this week is about. Thankfully, Gladwell mentioned that this part of the brain is located behind the nose. So I imagined in my mind’s eye the part of the brain right behind the nose, with the words “ventromedial prefrontal cortex” written on it. By the way, the specific word I was having problems remembering was ventromedial…obviously, since this was the one I got wrong.

At first I was quite happy with the results, so I kept on reading. However, after a few hours, when I tried to remember it again, I realized all I could remember was “prefrontal cortex”. The first part, which was exactly the one I wanted to plant in my mind, was gone.

I started thinking about where I went wrong, because there must have been something that didn’t go right. After a few minutes of careful inspection I found it.

Visualizing is all about creating a rich mental picture of what you’re trying to remember. Of course, that’s not what I did. I created a mental picture, sure. But it was a lousy one. Having realized this, I went back to my notebook and tried it all over again. This time, I separated the word into two parts so that I could picture it in my head easier. The first part, “ventro”, I associated with “ventral”, which means abdominal. I have no clue whether these two are connected, but it doesn’t matter for my purposes. Then, “medial”, made me think of the middle. So, putting these two together, I imagined an abdomen with a line over its middle.

Was this more rich and vivid than the previous try? Yes! Was it by a lot? No, not really. However, I did have to play with the concepts a little more in my mind, in order to come up with it. As you’ve noticed, I wasn’t completely successful, because I still messed one letter up. Personally, I think it’s because of all the statistics that I’ve been doing (median, anyone?). However, I was a lot more successful at recalling a word I have never seen in my entire life after the second time.

/Larisa

  • Confused about what’s going on? Click here!
  • For the post that started this challenge, click here.
  • For yesterday’s entry, click here.

What Goes into Making You Happy?

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An emoticon with a smile. For more emoticons in Wikipedia, see Wikipedia:Emoticons. 32px|alt=W3C|link=http://validator.w3.org/✓ The source code of this SVG is valid. Category:Valid SVG (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The most important thing in life for many…actually, for most people is to be happy. This is pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t go into a long explanation for the reason why. However, I will just say this: happiness is one of the things that make life worthwhile, so it is natural that we seek it.

In the post about Outliers, I mentioned that Gladwell presented having a meaningful job as a very important part of success. Yet, a meaningful job and its components are also important for overall happiness.

In this post I’ll try to unpack some of the other elements that go into happiness. I will leave genetics out of this article, however, because I prefer to concentrate on the things you can do to ensure that you’re going to be happy.

There was an entire article in Psychology Today devoted to unveiling happiness’ secrets, and you can read it by clicking here.

Embracing the Feeling of Uneasiness

The most fascinating idea in there was that people who are happy have a tendency to pursue activities and events that make them feel uncomfortable. In other words, they try to get out of their comfort-zones, and undergo experiences that make them feel somewhat uneasy.

But why? It feels so counter-intuitive at first sight that seeking out uncertainty and even a little bit of stress can turn out to award you with a feeling of blissfulness.

It seems that this whole mystery is simply connected to the fact that after you’ve undergone a new experience, you’re left with the feeling of accomplishment, which is what gives you happiness.

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Experiencing Things that Make You Feel Good

There are experiences that you know will put you in a good mood. Examples include watching a good movie, reading your favorite book, or enjoying a good conversation with someone.

Wouldn’t those be a better choice? Well, it seems that the answer is both yes and no. The magic lies in finding the right balance between the two types of experiences. Sadly, there’s no easy way that will reveal the right combination or ratio between them. You have to go out there and practice until you’ve found the right mix.

Being Grateful

Yeah, yeah, you’ve probably heard this before. Well guess what? It actually works! Studies have shown that individuals who take the time every day to think (or write down) the things they’re grateful for, tend to be happier. (Click here to read more about those studies).

This makes sense, because thinking of the good things in your life helps you appreciate them more. Plus, you’ve got the added benefit of having some moments in which you will put your negative thoughts aside, and replace them with happy, pleasant ones.

Investing in Others

This goes for both time and money. Meaningful relationships are crucial to us as humans, because we are designed to be social beings. We thrive when we’re around others; though those “others” must be people we actually like.

As for spending money, there’s research that shows that people who spent money on someone else were happier after than people who spent money on themselves. Click here to read more about this topic.

Relaxing

This is important for your well-being, but also for your happiness. When you relax, you push away the negative thoughts that are eating away at your mind.

Livin’ the Moment

There are so many benefits you can get from appreciating the moment you’re in. You’ll worry less, because worries come with thinking about the future, and you’re going to feel regret less, because regret usually appears when thinking of the past.

If you’d like to read more about this, click here to be taken to a post I made about enjoying the present.

To wrap up, I want to mention that above everything, happiness is something that is different for everybody. Each one of us may have their own list of things that make them happy, and I’d love to hear what are some of the items in that list for you! 🙂

The Impact Wealth Makes on Your Life

money
money (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell points out those children born in wealthy families are taught something very important for their life: to be independent. As an attitude, being independent is crucial for success in society, because each individual has to stand up for him or herself. One must realize that in order to get what they want, they need to go out there and seek it for themselves.

Being born in a poor family, says Gladwell, means that children have less chances of being thought to question authority and defend themselves when they’re wronged. They learn to be submissive, which, thinking of how the world works, can act as a tremendous flaw.

In this post, I’ll go over a few things that result from being born wealthy and from being born poor. The thing I’d like you to keep in mind, however, is that there is variability, and the outcomes I outlined here are by no means the rule.

To Be Born Rich

Not Worrying about Money

That’s quite obvious, but how precisely is this helpful? Sadly, one of the biggest factors that cause arguments in any kind of relationship (ranging from child-parent relationships to partner-partner relationship) is money, and more precisely, their absence. When you have money, you have one less thing to argue about, generally speaking.

Making Choices

When you grow up in a wealthy family, making choices is like second nature to you. You’re asked from a very young age to pick what you want to eat, how you want to dress, what toys you want to play with, and the list goes on and on. This teaches you that you’re in control, and by the time you become an adult, you are completely used to what this feels like.

Forgetting to be Grateful

The problem with thinking that you’re entitled to choose is that you’re always going to think that way. Sometimes, however, the choice is not yours to make, or is simply not available at the time you want it. This can lead to frustration and that, in turn, can make you forget the good things you’re blessed to have.

Feeling Like You Don’t Have to Accomplish Anything

This is by no means always the case, but there are occasions in which children who were born in rich families don’t feel motivated to achieve anything in life. They already have it all, so why bother? This attitude tends to change in later years, but it does leave its mark by delaying achievement.

To Be Born Poor 

Understanding the People around You

When you’re born in a family with limited financial power, you quickly learn that you’re more depended upon your environment than not. Part of that environment are the people around you, from whom you might require help. This is why, coming from a poor family you learn to communicate with and understand people better.

  Awareness of the Small Things

When you don’t have money to spend on everything you’d like to have, you tend to turn your attention to things that don’t require money, and appreciate them more. In this manner, you learn to love nature and be grateful for the people around you.

  Fear

Lack of money can cause a state of constant fear, and instability. If your parents are not capable to make ends meet, their stressed will likely reflect on you as well. I have seen people who grew up during the Second World War in Europe, who were extremely poor during their childhood. Even after the war passed, and they were able to become richer, they still feared losing their money.

Desire to Blend In

Dependence upon the environment, and the people in it, might cause you to want to be the same as everyone. This desire is driven in part by wishing to reach the standards of society (for being poor means being below the standard). When that standard is reached many feel compelled to remain within its boundaries, even if that means forsaking some parts that make you…well, you.

Bottom Line 

Does it mean that what is written here should be treated as fixed and bound to happen? Absolutely not! Besides individual differences, there is always one tool that you must be aware of: once you’ve become conscious of a certain problem, or a certain pattern of behavior, you can fix it. The problem lies not in being a certain way, but in not being aware of it.  

The most important thing to remember is that you are not defined as the condition you were born in. You actions, and attitude towards life are the factors that define who you are. The rest is just part of your history.

Read More! Here are a few links to other articles on this topic:

Why Family Wealth Is A Curse (forbes.com)

Why Family Wealth Is A Blessing (forbes.com)

How the Rich are Different from the Poor I: Choice (psychologytoday.com)

How the Rich are Different from the Poor II: Empathy (psychologytoday.com)

These first four articles are the main sources I used for putting together this post. If you’re interested in this topic, be sure to read them.Finally, here are just two posts I found very interesting:

How Does It Feel To Be RICH? (luckisforlosers.wordpress.com)

21 Ways Rich People Think Differently (teremity.wordpress.com)

 

Outliers: The Story of Success

“We make rules that frustrate achievement. We prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail.” (Gladwell 24-25)

Outliers: The Story of Success”, by Malcom Gladwell is an outstanding book, which opens the eyes, and gives a better understanding of

Cover of "Outliers: The Story of Success&...
Cover of Outliers: The Story of Success

what it means to become successful. If I would have to recommend only one book from all the ones presented on this blog so far, it would certainly be this one; that’s how good it was!

The reason rests on the fact that it zooms in on a completely different angle of success than the one presented to us by fairy tales (both the ones told by mass-media and the ones from our childhood). It shows that success is a matter of hard-work (lots and lots of it) and sheer luck.

The idea of hard work sounds like such a cliché, that many readers might be reluctant to even try to understand why Gladwell would write an entire book on success, if he merely presents a belief that has already existed for centuries. The problem, however, is that more often than not, a story about success is presented to the public as a motivational story, where many important details are left aside. This has the great bonus of inspiring others, but you see, when the entire tale is not told, this inspiration becomes a mere jump start, but it fails to fuel individuals after the first step has been made.

It seems cruelly unfair that luck should be a component of something as crucial in life as success, but perhaps this is nature’s way of infiltrating its already-known habit of dealing cards at random. However, the more I think about this, the more I realize that the term “fairness” has no relevance in this context, for nature cannot foresee what is yet to happen. Of course, part of the reason for why it can’t see is because it lacks the ability to do so (unlike a human, it is mindless). Even if this weren’t the case, it would further lack the ability to decide who is deserving of success, and who is not until after a good chunk of their life has passed. Unless you believe in determinism, and in God. But I’m getting into philosophical territory here, and that’s slightly off track.

Here are some of the lessons one can learn from reading the book:

1)      “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good” (Gladwell 30) ;            Success= Practice + Opportunity

What this quote is getting at, is the fact that you can’t be good at anything unless you do it a lot. I’ve already discussed this lesson in the intro, but I want to highlight it here as well, because it is the most important idea that one should get out of reading the book (You might disagree with me, and if you do, let me know what you do consider to be most important). Gladwell approximates that one would need around 10, 000 hours put into a skill in order to master it. 10, 000!! That’s 10 years of 40 hours a week, every week.  Interestingly enough, there are other studies out there, pointing out that the idea of 10, 000 hours is wrong. If you’d like to read more about this, check out the last link in the ‘Related articles” section bellow.

Now, there’s another factor that goes into success, which is the most forgotten: opportunity. Again, I mentioned this before, but when I think

English: Drawing of Marshall's Mills, Holbeck ...
English: Drawing of Marshall’s Mills, Holbeck showing operators at their machines. From the Penny Magazine Supplement, December 1843 “A Day at a Leeds Flax Mill”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of how overlooked it is, I forgive myself for repeating it. It doesn’t matter if you’re great at what you’re doing, if the occasion does not arise for you to prove it. Let’s think of what happened during the Industrial Revolution. It would not matter during that time if you were an amazing craftsman, because you would not be able to compete with the large production and lower prices of the products made in factories. This illustrates just how much opportunity matters in matters of success.

2)      Being born in a wealthy family has more advantages than meets the eye

Of course, having money is terrific, but that’s not the entire story. As it turns out, children who come from well-to-do families benefit from having parents that stand up for them. Not only that, but they are also taught to do so by themselves when the time comes. This is important, because everyone is so concerned with their own problems, that it becomes impossible to watch out for all the others. Each individual has to speak up for themselves. Otherwise, their voice will get lost somewhere in the crowd.

3)      Meaningful job is the result of three factors: complexity, autonomy and connection between  effort and reward

Many tend to think that a simple job would be perfect, because it doesn’t require much mental and/or physical struggle.  However, research has shown that it is particularly that struggle that brings about happiness. Why? Well, because after a while of doing the same, repetitive task, the experience becomes boring. Boredom and happiness don’t quite go together. That’s where complexity comes in, making the person feel like they’re achieving something.

In addition to complexity, autonomy also brings about meaning in one’s work. This is pretty obvious, I believe, but we all need to be appreciated for our work. When this appreciation comes on an individual basis, it is maximized, and thus, so is the resulting pleasure.

Finally, there needs to exist a connection between the effort put in and the resulting reward. If this connection is created, the individual becomes motivated to put in more work so that the benefit grows accordingly.

I couldn’t help but think of communism while I was writing this. Perhaps part of the reason why it was doomed to failure as a regime in Europe was particularly because it lacked all of the components necessary for a job that feels worthwhile.

4)      Politeness isn’t always the best thing

This becomes apparent in the last part of the book, in which Gladwell discusses the importance of getting your point across. He gives the example of pilots and co-pilots as they work together to fly an airplane. Many times, he points out, the pilot is tired and does not notice when something is wrong. This is where the co-pilot should come in, but if he or she does not know how to get their point across, disaster can soon follow. Important to note is the fact that the issue at hand is much more complex than this, as cultural background also comes into play.The details can be gathered from the book, but for the purpose of this post I’ll stick to the bigger implications.

In day-to-day life, we often choose to be polite to others, partially in order to avoid conflict. Indeed, politeness is essential for a society like ours, where it acts as a contract of sorts between its citizens. Nevertheless, there are circumstances where being polite stands in the way of being honest and speaking one’s mind. In these cases, each individual needs to make the decision between the two courses of action, and choose the best one.  Just keep in mind that sometimes politeness blocks truthful communication and thus, can come in the way of meaningful interaction between individuals.

 

 

That’s about it for “The Story of Success”. The road to success, as it has been pointed out many times before, is not a straight one. It is a

Aristotle (1811) Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice
Aristotle (1811) Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

commitment that lasts a lifetime, but that is also what makes it so grand once it is achieved, and then, maintained. I’ll end with the words of the great Aristotle, as they capture quite a lot (but not all) of what it takes to succeed:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The last article is quite interesting, because it points out the flaws in the book, from a scientific perspective. Make sure to read it when you have time!