I haven’t been able to post recently because school is literally kicking my ass with work. This is turning out to be my hardest semester yet.
I’ve recently realized that I want to study success, and that my next few projects will focus on the science of success.
First though, what is success? Everyone defines it differently, so what overarching definition can I place on this important aspect of life?
What separates a world-class concert pianist from your aunt Jane who’s been playing for 15 years? Where is the divide between an expert oncologist who can catch lung cancer 95 % of the time, and a rookie who only averages a 50% success rate?
Similar to “get rich quick” schemes, there are plenty of programs out there that claim they can help you become an expert. Some claim they have the key, while others boast their “knowledge” of the steps it takes to become an expert.
I do not claim that becoming an expert in any field is easy, but I will tell you that it is a hell of a lot simpler than you might think. So what is the big secret? Research has consistently showed that expertise can be achieved by practicing for 10,000 hours. This may seem like an overwhelming number, but if it were easy, everyone would do it. Setting aside 5 hours a day, 6 days a week, could lead a person to be an expert in a little over 8 years.
So how many experts are there in our country? tons actually. We send our children to school for at least 5 hours a day, 5 days a week for 12 years; this puts them just above the 10k hour rule. Add in homework and one can assume that most successful high school seniors are experts, at the very least, at reading.
As I said before, becoming an expert by no means is easy, but by understanding the 10k hour rule we now have something to strive for. A seemingly impossible task is all of a sudden in our reach. All one needs to do is set enough time aside, and stay focused on the dream.
“Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before” -Edgar Allan Poe
As I’ve mentioned tons of times already, analyzing dreams is how I became interested in psychology. I know what some of you are thinking, “Analyzing dreams is pop psych not actual psychology”, but you are wrong, and I’ll show you why.
Someone new to reading dreams will most likely do what I did and buy a book like Cloud Nine: A Dreamer’s Dictionary. Although your intentions are good, this is a great way to be led astray. If you go to Barns and Nobel, you will find shelves filled with books trying to help you “decode your dreams”. Unfortunately a lot of these books take a very spiritual spin on analysis; they are often dictionaries that contain common dream symbols that try to help you figure out what the universe is telling you. Now, I am not saying that dreams cannot be spiritual creations, or your link to another world, but I am a psychologist and I will tell you what I know about dream analysis from a psychological point of view.
Step 1: Disregard any books you might have on dream analysis.
I started becoming good at analyzing dreams after realizing that the books offered some good insight, but were hit or miss when I tried looking up symbols. Furthermore many of the explained symbols found in these books are very general (like horoscopes) and thus seem right but really don’t help much. Everyone has some fear of death, dreams are usually more specific.
Step 2: Know the person you’re analyzing
You won’t get anywhere if you don’t know enough about the dreamer. When it comes to dreams, very few things are universal. If they have a dream about a clown, you need to know what clowns mean to them. Are they scared of clowns? Was their uncle a clown? Does someone in their life wear too much makeup? All these things are relevant, so if you don’t know enough about the particular person you need to ask enough questions before you can even begin to analyze them.
Step 3: Stay relative
Dreams are a way for our minds to unwind, to think about what has happened to us recently and to connect it to our past. A great place to start is to connect dream elements with recent events. However, don’t limit yourself to just what has happened recently because elements of our subconscious are also present in our dreams, and they can go as far back as our memory allows.
Step 4: Pay attention to detail
Everything in a dream is there for a reason, some are more important than others, but everything none the less has a purpose. Try to focus on a handful of elements that the dreamer seems to talk about most (no matter how seemingly insignificant) and try to draw connections between them and current events.
Other than these 4 tips, keep in mind that almost everything in a dream is a symbol and needs to be “figured out” before true meaning can arise. A person may dream about being chased by a saber toothed tiger, does this mean that he has a fear of large cats? maybe. But it is more likely that the act of being chased is more significant, what is he running from? What in his life could be metaphorically chasing him around? Why is he so desperate to escape?
If I run across some interesting dreams I’ll post them and their analysis relatively soon.
Good luck! and always feel free to email me with questions.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I first became interested in psychology by analyzing dreams (post coming soon). Everything changed once I got my hands on a copy of Malcolm Gladwell‘s Blink.
Gladwell is not a psychologist, but he is the best at explaining complicated concepts and drawing links between psychology, economics, fashion and much more.
Blink is all about the snap judgments we all subconsciously make. How can an expert tell a piece of art is fake within seconds of viewing it? How is racism processed in our minds? Can we trust our gut instincts? All these questions are not only answered but linked together by Gladwell.
Anyone who is even remotely interested in psychology (especially social psych) will not be able to put this book down. Gladwell outlines many of the most interesting studies ever conducted and really shows how it all applies to everyday life.
Humans like consistency, and when something comes along that challenges that consistency, they freak out.
This is most clearly seem by a study conducted by Leon Festinger and Merrill Carlsmith. Participants entered the experiment with the idea that the study was on performance, little did they know what they were getting into. Placed in front of a wooden structure, participants were told to turn 48 wooden pegs a quarter turn clockwise. Once finished, they were told to repeat the process all over again. After the participants were sufficiently bored to death, they were allowed to stop.
After the experiment, each participant was approached by the experimenter. He asked that they spoke to the next participant (who was an actor working for the experiment) and tell them that the experiment was enjoyable. Some were paid $1 to lie and others $20 ( keep in mind this was the 50’s so it was more like $8 and $150 by today’s standards)
After telling their lie, participants were asked to rate how interesting they found the task, the results were very interesting. Those who were paid $20 rated the task as very boring, however those who were paid $1 actually rated the experiment as somewhat interesting! why?
We can all agree that turning wooden pegs clockwise is mind numbingly boring, the inconsistency comes from the lie. Those paid $20 felt that they were given enough money for lying. Those who were only given $1 did not feel that they were given enough money to tell such lies, therefore they themselves must be lairs. Most people don’t consider themselves to be liars, and thus this causes anxiety; to combat this, participants subconsciously convinced themselves that they were not lying, but actually enjoyed the task! This is called cognitive dissonance.
This can be seen all the time in the real world. Ask a smoker why he or she smokes. Some will tell you they are self destructive, is this true? Perhaps they know that they are hurting themselves by smoking, yet they still smoke for whatever the reason. There is an inconsistency between smoking and not wanting to hurt oneself, so they convince themselves that they are self destructive.
There are many things we hold true that are only created to diminish our cognitive dissonance.
Whether you are an avid video gamer, a compulsive Facebooker, or none of the above, Jesse Schell’s talk on how technology will soon affect our lives is both inspiring and utterly terrifying.
The easiest way to hook technology and psychology together is to think about Pavlov’s experiments with dogs (Because I couldn’t resist and because it’s a good learning tool, here’s a small video game on conditioned responses).
Think about credit cards, flying in airplanes, and only grabbing coffee from one vendor. What do they all have in common? They all offer points, and they all give us rewards for choosing them over comparators.
Thinking of life as a nothing more than seeking out rewards and avoiding punishments is a very simple way to view it all, none the less, these ideas do pang at our very core. Think back to the last time you received a good grade in school, how nice it felt to earn that high mark; how nice it is to get a check every two weeks for your hard work at your job? The same idea applies to coffee, you buy one cup and they give you a card with the numbers 1 through 5 on it. Every time you go back to that coffee stand they stamp a cute little coffee cup over the next number. After five cups, your sixth one is free.
Of course, this is just a way to get you to buy more coffee, getting that sixth one free is enough incentive to buy the first five right? It’s not that simple, and the card they give you plays a crucial role in all this. Every time you buy a new cup of coffee, you track your progress, and getting a little closer feels good. When you have only one more stamp to go, you almost make excuses to buy that last cup, to complete your task of filling a card with stamps. It feels good and it drives our behavior.
Video games have utilized these techniques for years. Small observable victories lead to larger victories. Compile enough large victories and you have “beaten the game”, which many know, can be one of the most satisfying feelings of accomplishment. People are starting to catch on, diets and many other beneficial programs are now structured this way.
But this post is not about the positive. As seen in the video above, technology is evolving so rapidly, that we may soon have sensors everywhere. Soon it will be feasible for our insurance companies to give us “bones points” every time we take the stairs instead of the elevator. We may one day get rewarded for carpooling 5 times in a row instead of individually driving to work. If these actions are ever put into place, they will greatly shape the way we behave. Some argue that it will lead us to live better, healthier lives, however I fear that constantly having incentives looming over our head will make us mindlessly subservient to whoever holds the power to control the reward.
Knock on wood, I have never been in a car accident. Granted, I’ve only been driving for 4 years, but you’re first few years of driving are supposed to be the most dangerous. I attribute this stroke of good fortune to my fast reflexes and ability to quickly asses a dangerous situation — skills I picked up during my years of being a gamer.
I’ve always felt that the hours and hours I have spent playing video games as a child were not spent in vain. Well, it turns out that gaming can also save the world:
(First of all, if you have no idea what TED is, do yourself a favor and check it out. Anyone who watches at least 1 TED video a day will not only become smarter, but will undoubtedly become happier in the proses.)
There is this stigma in America today that gaming is sucking the productivity out of our youth. Instead of reading books or studying for a class, a good portion of today’s youth can be found playing video games — and yet many people still see it as a waste of time. It’s hard to see the positives behind gaming if you yourself have never spent a significant amount of time with a controller in your hands. I used to play a lot of video games and here are just a few things video games have taught me:
1) Critical Thinking Skills – It might look like we are just mindlessly blowing stuff up, however many games today need a large amount of critical thinking to complete levels.
2) Goal Setting – A popular genre in gaming today are RPGs, may of which require step by step completion of many tasks, which force the gamer to make plans and stick with them.
3) Running a Country – Surprisingly, I have learned a great deal about how societies are created and maintained by Sid Meier’s Civilization 4.
The list can go on for quite some time.
The truth is, video games really are a skill set on their own. In addition to all of these benefits, video games excite and motivate their players like nothing else and they also truly mastered the psychology of incentives and rewards. As seen in the video above, if we can manufacture video games to impact our real world (as opposed to some fictional game world) we may be able to solve many of the world’s biggest problems. Gamers may not be geniuses, but when put together to work on a task, they become our most valuable resource.
But what happens if these ideas get utilized by the wrong people? Well, you’ll have to wait until Wednesday to find that one out.
So as you know, I am new to this whole blogging thing. At first, I wanted to blog about psychology three times a week, if not more. Then, I realized how long it takes me just to write out one post, and I’ve since decided to publish new content every Monday and Wednesday (and I plan on sticking to that!). But there is just something, something about blogging that makes me want to write about life; my life, life in general and maybe even the lives of others. Sadly this doesn’t really “fit in” with the psychology theme I have going. So I have decided to start what I’m calling “Casual Fridays” , a post once a week that could be about anything. I hope you like it.
The Day Will and I Spit FIRE
Will and I went to high school together, and I consider him one of my few best friends. More than a best friend though, he is my partner in crime. Potato cannons, explosions, the police (not the band), -69.5 degrees Fahrenheit, science, shenanigans and of course fire can all be “tags” for our friendship. One day I will die, and it will most likely be his fault (that’s not true, it’ll be my fault, but he’ll be the one egging me on).
Anywho, this post is about the day we took pictures of us spitting fire.
But first, a public-safety announcement:
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME
(or anywhere else for that matter)
Especially at home though, because it’s breathing fire, and you’ll somehow catch your drapes on fire and everyone knows that once the drapes catch your house is done for.
What we used:
Lighter Fluid (Rubbing Alcohol works too)
SOOOOO blowing fire is really easy, the hard part is getting it on film. All you do is wrap a sliver of the rag around the stick and tie it. Moisten the rag with the lighter fluid and set it ablaze. Word to the wise, always make sure your back is to the wind, even if it’s just a slight breeze (unless you want to lose your eyebrows). So all you have to do is take a big mouthful of the cornstarch hold the stick about a foot away and blow the powdery stuff into the flame. Don’t breath in trough your mouth, it’ll feel like you’re choking on cement. Also once your are done, the best way to get rid of the corn starch that has permanently stuck itself to the inside of your mouth is to gargle with seltzer.
But like I said, the hardest part is taking the picture.
This is Will by the way.
I took the picture a nano second too early, if you can time it out right, it should look like this:
Just do yourself a favor and don’t make an idiotic face when blowing the stuff out.
At least the fire looks cool.
This one is my favorite because of the fireball
SO that was my first Casual Friday post. I plan on having others, but of course if you’ve made it this far so, I do care about what you think.
Thanks for reading! More psych stuff to come on Monday.
I work for an organization at Rutgers called Dance Marathon, a student run philanthropy where we raise money for the non medical needs of children with cancers and blood disorders. Dance marathon quickly became the best thing I have ever gotten involved in, and you can check out my personal fund-raising page if you’d like =).
Anyway, one day it was my job to hand out flyers around the food court in our student center, notifying everyone that if they ordered from Wendy’s, 15% of their purchase would go toward kids with cancer. After an hour of bothering everyone that entered the food court, I started getting very frustrated. Some people would take my flyer and consider Wendy’s for dinner, others would say “no thank you” and walk away (I was OK with that), but some people would just walk right past me as if I was invisible, THAT got to me.
After 3 people passed me by with nothing more than a grunt, I started getting frustrated. A fourth guy (tall, looked like he just got back from the gym) unintentionally pushed me over my edge.
Me: “Eat at Wendy’s and help support kids with cancer!”
I point my flyer toward him, he brushes past me not saying a word.
Me: “It’s OK, its just kids with cancer”
He stops walking, turns around and says:
“That’s right, it’s just kids with cancer” and keeps walking.
I was dumbfounded, what a jerk.
Later that week I was texting a friend who also works for DM, telling her about the guy and how upset he made me. Then she said something that completely blew me away, “maybe he was just having a bad day”. I was taken aback, not because she came up with a brilliant solution to his grumpiness, I was amazed because she had overcome the fundamental attribution error, something I rarely see people do. Needless to say, I quickly changed my opinions on this guy.
“The tendency for observers to attribute other people’s behavior to internal or dispositional causes and to downplay situational causes”
In other words, you are more likely to come out of a situation thinking “He’s a grouch”, “she’s a really good person” or “He has a really bad temper”, without considering things like, she could be having a bad/good day or he might have just found his wife in bed with another man.
For example: You are waiting in line, in the hot sun, for Justin Bieber tickets (God only knows why you are doing this), and somewhere down the line you see a fellow fan turn around and scream at the person behind them. You think to yourself, “That person is a quick tempered lunatic”. However, when the guy behind you, with the big hairy arms, bumps into you FOR THE FIFTH TIME, you quickly turn around and start shouting at him. When asked why you did this, you will most likely complain about the heat and how you don’t like being touched by hairy armed Bieber fans. You attribute your behavior to the environment while attributing other people’s behaviors to their personality.
This is why I love Social Psych. You can take what you learn, and directly apply it to your life. Since learning about this phenomenon in Jussim’s Social Psych class, I try my hardest to bring it into the context of my daily life; I’ll admit that I didn’t in the story above, but I’m only human after all.
Still in the spirit of resolutions, I challenge everyone to try their hardest to stop making snap judgments on people we don’t know very well. Next time you witness someone act a certain way, before you label them as a drunk, a bitch or even a saint; realize that you are committing the FAE. Try to take the environment and their mood into consideration before you characterize their personality. We could all become better people because of it.