Part 1 - Situation Support
I would love the fact that I told you about these studies would mean that immediately after this you would all go work out and sleep more and start meditating all that stuff. He runs Cornell's Food Lab, and he has this awesome new book called Slim By Design where he makes a strong case that willpower is completely overrated. One is it promotes the positive habits, but also increases kindness, social connection, all this other stuff that we think matters a lot.
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We went through these five things that we should want but don’t often. Things like promoting kindness, increasing social connection, finding time affluence, so opening up sometimes we have free time, finding ways to control our thoughts so that we stay in the here and now, and these healthy practices of sleep and exercise that we don’t get as much as we should. And the point of putting these up there is not to say that we never want these things, but how often are we prioritizing all those other things that we started with at the expense of this stuff. And if we could switch our ratio of what we’re investing in we could be a lot happier. And so we’ll end today with this idea of okay, but how do we know how to do that? What we’ve seen throughout the course is just knowing that all this stuff is good for you doesn’t mean you’re going to put it into place. I would love the fact that I told you about these studies would mean that immediately after this you would all go work out and sleep more and start meditating all that stuff. But my guess is that everything we know suggests that merely knowing that is not enough to put the stuff into practice. Reminder of this wonderful G.I. Joe fallacy, “We think that knowing is half the battle but it’s not.” And so what are some strategies we can use to put these habits into practice today? We’ve talked about some of the different strategies, but not necessarily strategies for putting those things into practice. And so how do we do that? Well, I’m going to give you two different strategies for creating these habits. Two things you can do to help put these into practice. And the first of these is paying attention to the situation. Finding situations that support you. What we’ve seen throughout the course is that situations are affecting us in lots of ways that we don’t expect. I’ll use the food example mostly just because their pictures are on the internet about these forms of temptation. But think about it in the context of like healthy eating or in the context of whether you want to stay off social media, or whether you want to have more social connection or not playing on your phone. The idea is that there are situational factors that we don’t realize that are affecting the extent to which we do this. So, if I had one of you guys in here on your phone and just typing and you guys saw that, my guess is your urge to go on social media and check your own forum would jump up, right? The fact that we have the cookies out there, at break makes your urge to eat a cookie and eat less healthily there just because they’re present. That’s why we have the grapes too. But the point is just the presence of the situation causes these behaviors. And so the question is what can we do to make the situation better? And what you find is that simple changes to the situation. Simply making these tempting bad behaviors go far away and these kind of good behaviors that we want to encourage at the forefront can change the way we interact, and can increase our good habits. And again, we know this more from the domain of food because that’s where folks have done the most work. And one of the main researchers in this domain is a researcher by the name Brian Wansink, who’s at Cornell. He runs Cornell’s Food Lab, and he has this awesome new book called Slim By Design where he makes a strong case that willpower is completely overrated. Merely changing your situation can affect the extent to which you eat. And his claim is that merely affecting the situation can change the extent to which we engage in all kinds of habits not just eating. Although his research is on eating. But here’s one of his famous papers about this. It’s changing the visibility of things that we don’t want to be doing. And so he did this by working with secretaries at Cornell and giving them a candy jar that was either on their desk or two meters away. These were people who were trying to eat healthier. And the question is, is the proximity of the candy going to affect them? And what you find is that, yes, it does. Secretaries consume about 48 percent more candies when the thing is on their desk than when it’s just a few feet away. The proximity of your goal to you is going to affect the extent to which you engage in it. Also the visibility of your goal helps too. And so he did this lovely thing where he made the secretary’s either keep their candy on their desk or at their desk, but just in the drawer. So it is just like you just don’t see it. And what you find is that even though it’s easy to reach for the candy here as it is to reach in the drawer, what you find is that secretaries consumed 25 percent less candies when they’re in the drawer. Okay. And the claim is that both the visibility and the convenience with which you can engage in your habits actually matters. And you can do this in negative ways like keeping the candy visible, but you can also do it in positive ways. And he’s looked at this just in people’s daily life like the big consequences of not paying attention to this stuff. And what is now a famous study on kitchen counters where he looked at just what’s on your kitchen counter and does that affect things like your healthiness and your weight. And so he did that by serving people just like what’s right now visible on your kitchen counter. And then he measured people’s weight in kilograms. And he tried to see just is what’s visible on your counter affecting your weight. And so he did that first with a bunch of unhealthy stuff. So cookies, chips, crackers, cereal, soda. If those are visible on your kitchen counter, you have in general across all these categories about a 10 kilogram increase in your weight right now. Merely by having those things visible. So this is controlling for whether they’re around your house, just having them out. And in fact, he talks about cereal as being the worst culprit. Apparently of all the different things, having cereal on your counter is the worst for your good eating habits. In contrast, if you do the positive things. If you put positive things and you make those visible, what you find is that that can have the opposite effect. So visible fruits and vegetables can actually decrease your weight by again like five to ten kilos on average. And so the point I’m telling you about the stuff in the food context wasn’t necessarily to focus on food. Although healthy nutrition is also a good thing to do. It was to think about how you can use this idea of changing the situation in all those domains that we’ve talked about for whichever of these habits you want to make seem better. And you can do that in both of the ways that Wansick has talked about. You can fix your bad environments. Get rid of the stuff that is tempting you. If you had the goal of getting off social media after all my negative comments about social media, you can delete it from your phone. You can put your phone away when you’re trying to work. You can do these kinds of things. You can make phone free lunches so that you have more social connection. You can force yourself to keep your phone in a deep pocket that you had to zip so it’s not visible. All those things you can do to increase this stuff. If you want to change around the bad environment of a place like this where you’re not getting enough sleep and you’re not exercising and so on, you can shape your environment to have less of those cues about grades that you’re worried about or less of those cues about workaholism or affluence. You can delete the e-mail messages from McKinsey. All that stuff. Right. You can shape your environment to have less of the bad cues that are causing you to value the wrong stuff. In addition and I think even more important, you can do small things to promote these healthy environments merely by having this stuff visible. What does the kitchen counter studies show? It just shows that just by having good things that promote these habits visible that they’re there that you’re going to do them more often. Right. What about having on your desk your gratitude journal so that when you wake up in the morning it’s just sitting there? Or just having a little note that tells you that you should be remembering to meditate every morning. Right. These kinds of notes and reminders, these simple things sound really dumb, but they capture our attention just like the candy bar on the counter and can make us do positive things. And you guys know all kinds of technological tricks for doing this. Phones are wonderful ways to do it. Where you can set up reminders to literally remind yourself ping you. So that becomes a positive habit that’s part of your environment. You can use those kinds of cues to do that. The other thing you can do is your social context because one of the most powerful environments that we have is the other social agents around us. So fill your lives with people who are trying to do this stuff too like recruit your suite mates to have a sleep fest. Like try to get people to help with you and to engage in all these healthy behaviors like start a sweet meditation group and so on. The point is that having others around you who are doing this stuff does two things. One is it promotes the positive habits, but also increases kindness, social connection, all this other stuff that we think matters a lot. This is one of the reasons that I’m forcing the whole college to do all these wellness weeks. Because if you see people around us that are learning about their strengths or engaging in exercise and all this stuff that I’m making everybody do, it means we’re all doing it together. So that was the strategy number one. Harness the situation to get some support.
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