There was a time where psychology didn’t align with our modern day common sense.
A time where almost any affection transferred from parent to child through physical touch was considered ‘coddling’.
There was a genuine fear that if you comforted a child during a time where they hadn’t ‘earned’ positive enforcement, you would be taking an active and sinister role in weakening the child’s psychological state.
Of course, this science has now been widely debunked.
But we wouldn’t be there without the brilliant and horrifying work of Harry Harlow.
After personally building his own laboratory, Harlow conducted an array of studies which revolved around the isolation and maternal deprivation of rhesus monkeys.
From a modern perspective, these studies almost seem like a barbaric way to prove a simple truth. But at the time, they were highly contested by the scientific community. Freud’s theory on attachment was widespread at the time.
Psychologists genuinely didn’t believe that children needed love, and Harlow proved otherwise. Albeit at the tragic expense of a group of rhesus monkeys.
We associate the quantity of choice a person has available to them with the amount of freedom that person possess.
Freedom is good. Therefore, we assume that choice must also be good – and to an extent, it is. However, there’s a turning point at which our freedom to choose from a growing list of options no longer increases our level of happiness. In fact, over saturation of choice can actually diminish our happiness.
In the early 2000s, a scientist name Barry Schwartz popularised this idea with a challenge western society’s obsession with generating freedom through an ever increasing number of options.
After conducting multiple studies, he wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice which argued that while abundance of choice provides some short term satisfaction in the moment (and keeps us coming back for more), the more options a person has available to them, the less likely they are to be satisfied with the result of their choice.
To demonstrate, imagine that you have to choose between two restaurants. You have no way to look at the menus, but you know that the first restaurant features a menu with four main courses, while the second has sixteen main courses on theirs.
Which restaurant are you more likely to try?
Statistically, you’d probably go with the second, and there’s a lot of sense in this; if there’s four times as many main dishes at the second restaurant, there’s a better chance that they’ll have a meal perfectly suited to your taste.
At first glance, it makes logical sense to give yourself as many options as possible. We are hardwired not to limit ourselves, even when it comes to something as basic as dinner.
But when we take a closer look, Schwartz’s paradox of choice comes into play.
He discovered that in circumstances where people had to decide between an outlet with more choice versus an outlet with less, it was true that those who opted for more choice, the ones who went to the second restaurant and scoured over the ingredients in all sixteen dishes before finally making a decision, reported being more satisfied with their choice than those who limited their options and made a quick dinner selection. But only by a tiny margin.
What’s fascinating is that while the group who went to the first restaurant didn’t think about the choice again, when asked about their decision after the fact (once the meal was over) those who went to the second restaurant started to second guess the choice they made. Their satisfaction, despite being mildy higher at the time of consumption, took a hit once they started to consider all the options they opted not to choose.
As our options increase, so do our expectations that we’ll be able find the perfect option.
The more options we have to forgo when making a choice, the higher the possibility that we’ll make the wrong one.
More choice does not equate to more happiness because choice itself is a double edged sword.
When we are constantly saturated with choice, it’s not uncommon to experience choice paralysis. A sensation which often results in no choice being made at all.
While sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, we have a lot more control over the choices we present ourselves with than we feel like we do.
I have at times been perplexed by the amount of sneezing I do at seemingly random intervals, deducing that I probably just have allergies to something.
During a meeting today, I needed to walk from one building to another. It was a gorgeous sunny day in Fremantle, and as we approached the second building, I couldn’t help but let out three muffled but aggressive sneezes.
“Sorry about that!” I said, embarrassed. “I think I must be allergic to one of the trees or something around here, it gets me all the time.”
The woman I was meeting with didn’t miss a beat before responding, “No, it’s probably the sun.”
Apparently, this is an actual thing.
The Photic Sneeze Reflex is a legitimate medical condition which causes people to sneeze when exposed to a variety of stimuli, including looking at bright lights.
Strangely, the earliest know record of the Photic Sneeze Reflex lives in the writings of Aristotle.
‘Why is it that one sneezes more after one has looked at the sun? Is it because the sun engenders heat and so causes movement, just as does tickling the nose with a feather? For both have the same effect; by setting up movement they cause heat and create breath more quickly from the moisture; and it is the escape of this breath which causes sneezing.’
Aristotle thought that the sun might cause nose sweat, which could tickle the inside of the nose enough to illicit a sneeze. While the logic checks out, this isn’t actually how it works.
Scientist’s best guess at the moment is that the sneeze reaction has something to do with the overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve,
This nerve is the connection point for three other nerve branches including; the ophthalmic branch, which can be stimulated by rapid changes in light conditions; and the maxillary branch, which when stimulated, can cause sneezing.
The running theory is that when the opthalmic branch is overstimulated, it can cause other branches of the trigeminal nerve to become irritated.
A 2010 study discovered that if you’re amongst the 18-35% of people who report sneezing at the sun, you almost definitely have a very specific and seemingly pointless inheritable genetic mutation.
For those of us with the mutation, the irritation passed on to our maxillary nerve from overstimulation of the ophthalmic nerve through bright light changes is just enough to send us over the edge and into a small fit of sneezes.
The condition is harmless unless you’re a brain surgeon, but one hell of a nuisance nonetheless.
You can test whether you’re affected quite easily. Just walk outside and look at the sun for a while (not directly, obviously). If after thirty seconds or so you wind up achoo-ing your head off, welcome to the Photic Sneeze Reflex Club. You’ll receive your card in the mail.
Today I realised that I didn’t really know what a carbohydrate was.
I knew they were delicious. I knew that I should try and eat complex ones instead of simple ones, and I had a vague understanding that carbs had something to do with sugar.
If you know what a monosaccharide is and how the glycemic index of the food you eat relates to your insulin resistance, now’s the time to stop reading.
Otherwise, here’s what I learnt today.
Carbohydrate is the food category for sugars, and molecules which your body breaks down into sugars.
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex.
Simple carbohydrates are broken up into two categories; monosaccharides which include glucose, fructose and galactose; and disaccharides including lactose, maltose and sucrose, each which are each a combination of two monosaccharides.
Complex carbohydrates have three or more of these simple carbohydrates strung together, and are broken down into to further categories; oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.
During digestion your body breaks down the linked sugars within complex carbohydrates into their simple parts so that they can be transferred into energy.
As these carbs are processed, your blood sugar rises. The simpler the carbohydrate, the faster your blood sugar spikes.
These complex polysaccharide carbohydrates are not all created equal either.
Starch and fibre are both polysaccharides sourced from plants, each contain hundred to thousands of monosaccharides connected together, but the way in which these monosaccharides are linked together varies greatly.
The linkages in starch (which is found in foods like white bread and pasta) are called alpha linkages. Alpha linkages are a weak bond which is easily cleaved by your digestive enzymes.
On the other hand, fibre (think green vegetables) is connected up by beta bonds, which cannot be broken down by your body.
As a result of this difference, starch and fibre have quite different effects on your body.
The way we measure this effect is by rating foods on their glycemic index.
Glycemic index refers to the amount that a certain food raises your blood sugar.
Starchy foods like crackers, white bread, pasta or soft drink have a high glycemic index.
Foods with indigestible beta bonds like fruit and vegetables have a low glycemic index.
The foods with the lowest glycemic index are proteins like meats, eggs and fish.
When blood sugar rises, our bodies release a hormone called insulin from our pancreas. Insulin serves as one of the body’s main tools for regulating blood sugar.
It prompts your muscle and fat cells to let glucose in, and jumpstarts the process of transforming sugar into energy.
The degree to which a unit of insulin lowers blood sugar informs your insulin sensitivity.
Basically, insulin tells your muscle cells to eat the sugar you’ve just consumed.
We can measure how well insulin does its job my measuring insulin sensitivity.
Insulin Sensitivity is the degree to which your blood sugar goes down in response to a unit of insulin being released into your system.
If your blood sugar drops dramatically in response to insulin being secreted, you have high insulin sensitivity.
The problem with eating too much junk (simple carbohydrates) is that it can cause your insulin sensitivity to decrease.
When insulin sensitivity falls too low, this is known as insulin resistance.
When carbs are introduced to an insulin resistant body, the pancreas continues to create insulin, but cells (especially muscle cells) are less and less receptive to it.
When insulin can’t do its job, it can’t help convert carbs into energy. Blood sugar fails to decrease and blood insulin levels continue to rise.
Insulin resistance leads to a condition called metabolic syndrome, which involves high blood pressure, high blood sugar and increased waist circumference, and also increases risk of type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Not fun stuff.
If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around that, check out this awesome illustrated video from TED-Ed which spelt it out for me.
They tend to be fun, nieche activities involving some form of social element. Our hobbies recharge us – in part because it doesn’t matter if we’re bad at them.
Pursuits are like hobbies, except for the fact that gradual improvement is at the core of our enjoyment of them.
Going bowling with your friends for a laugh once a fortnight is a hobby. After a few months, perhaps you’re a better bowler than average. Some nights you might even get lucky and put together an impressive score. But the vast majority of your time bowling would still be considered leisure time.
If you were treating bowling as a pursuit, while you might still have the same fun fortnightly game with your friends, the majority of the time you spent thinking about bowling would revolve around the question;
How can I be better?
You’d find time to practice on your technique, you’d probably invest in your own ball and shoes and you’d study footage of professional bowlers with awe.
You’d be obsessed with progressing and improving, because becoming a better bowler is the fun part of pursuing bowling.
All pursuits require the processing of feedback in order to innovate our approach to the activity.
In bowling, the feedback is clear; you either knocked the pins over or you didn’t.
Until you can score five perfect games in a row, there’s technique to work on.
When you find a pursuit you’re passionate about, there is an intense gratification which sprouts from putting in the work to improve. You bowl to get better at the bowling.
The fortnightly hobbyist has no interest in the intensity or focus required to pursue bowling.
When bowling is a hobby, the fun is showing up. The fun is the bowling.
When it’s a pursuit, the fun is the result of consistently showing up. The fun is the bowling because it’s making you better at the bowling.
Idenfying these patterns in the things you love to do and making clear decisions about what you’re willing to suck at is can liberating and quite valuable.
Pursuits demand tenacity and a refusal to fail. They’re high stakes and hard work, but far more gratifying tham hobbies long term. Pursuits are a commitment to growth.
Hobbies provide a special kind of short term satisfaction which we all crave. They’re low stakes and relaxing. Hobbies are the time where we can give ourselves permission to fail. The results don’t matter because taking part in the activity is it’s own result.
We should all have both hobbies and pursuits, but we should also know the difference.
Making the bed is usually the last thing on my mind in the morning.
If I’m not rushing to the gym, I’m usually calculating how long it will take to get changed and brush my teeth as I try to figure out whether or not I have enough time to scoff breakfast before leaving the house.
Obviously, this is far from an ideal morning routine.
(I’m working on it)
We should make our beds in the morning not just because it feels better to come home to at the end of the day, but because the feeling of accomplishment associated is one of the easiest ways to set yourself up for a productive morning; which can snowball all the way throughout your day.
“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
Making your bed is a low hanging fruit; you can enjoy significant benefit despite the fact it takes next to no time or energy.
When we’re able to build habits around these low hanging fruit, the little effort it does take to accomplish them reduces even further. So much so, that eventually you won’t even have to think about them.
Making your bed after you wake up should be as intuitive as washing your hands after you use the bathroom; if it’s not completely automatic, something is probably wrong.
Build habits around the small things you can do which provide the largest benefits, and you’ll be constantly generating your own wellbeing.
What’s your low hanging fruit?
Have you always kind of wanted to meditate, but never got around to it?
Ever wanted to exercise more often, but just couldn’t seem to muster the motivation?
Want to be a writer, but never find the time to write?
Treat yourself like a professional, and do the work. Then keep doing the work until it doesn’t feel like work anymore.
These things take ten minutes out of your morning. Unless you’re a parent to young children, (in which case, why are you even here? Go get some rest) there is really no excuse.
A doctor washes her hands before every surgery whether her hands are dirty or not.
It’s not something she thinks about doing, it’s something she does.
That’s what a professional does.
I don’t want an authentic surgeon who says, “I don’t really feel like doing knee surgery today.” I want a professional who shows up whatever they feel like.
We have to hold ourselves accountable to building these habits, especially around the things we care about.
I don’t yet make my bed every morning, but I will. Because I care about having good days.
I didn’t used to write every day, now I do. Because I care about my practice.
This stuff is simple, but far from easy. The ball is in your court.
Don’t ever stop striving to be a work in progress.
In fact, unless it’s an exceptional book, my attention span struggles to with written text. As most of the books I ‘read’ are audiobooks, reading quickly is just never a skill I’d invested in.
This was until a few days ago, when I stumbled across a ten minute Tim Ferris video which changed the game.
I’ve been trying out the techniques he describes for a few days, and I can’t believe nobody taught me how to do this sooner.
The tip which blew my mind has to do with taking advantage of your peripheral vision.
When we were first learning to read, we had to focus intently on the letters which made up each word. As we did this, our eyes were trained to jump from word to word as we read across the page.
Unfortunately, most of us didn’t adapt our reading style once we started to recognise words without needing to break them down letter by letter.
Now we can!
By progressively indenting your focal points further into the centre of the page, you can eventually end up only needing to focus on the central third of a chunk of text, as your peripherals allow you to read the first and last third of the page without needing to direct your focus away from the centre.
Never before had I considered that I could read words in my periphery.
I understand how strange this sounds, and I’ll admit that it does feel weird for the first few pages.
But once you adjust, you’ll find it hard to go back. My reading speed has more than doubled in less than a week.
There are a couple of other techniques to add to this one in the video below, which I highly recommend checking it out.
It’ll take ten minutes of your time, but has already saved me hours.
The research will centralise around psychedelic compounds such as psilocybin, which is the hallucinogenic compound found in ‘magic mushrooms’.
Researchers at the newly funded Johns Hopkins Centre for Psychedelic Research will assess the potential for psychedelic treatments for an array of medical conditions including depression, opiod addiction, anorexia and PTSD to name a few.
The perplexing thing is that these effects seem to last for months. This sustained improvement in mindset and increase in mental plasticity has massive theraputic implications if the research concludes that the compounds are safe for clinical use. Which, with this funding, could easily occur within the next decade.
Whether you’re invested and interested in this research, or you’ve never heard of psylocybin before, this announcement panel is worth a watch.