Welcome to the Front Street podcast called The Knowledge Project, I'm your host, Shane Parrish, the curator behind Farnam Street blog, which is an online community focused on mastering the best of what other people have already figured out. The knowledge project is where we talk with interesting people to uncover the frameworks you can use to learn more in less time, make better decisions and live a happier and more meaningful life. On this episode, I have Dan Ariely. Dan is the James B Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University.
He publishes widely in reading scholarly journals and economics, psychology and business. His work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. He's the author of numerous books, including Predictably Irrational and one of my favorites, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. I'm so happy to have Dan on the show. I hope you enjoy this conversation. Before I get started, here's a quick word from our sponsor.
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Let's start there. Daniel Kahneman, the famous psychologist, once said something like, I've been studying all these biases for my whole life, but I don't think I'm any better at avoiding them than studying these biases. And, er, how do you avoid it? Are you what are you due to a puzzle.
I don't think that Danny was truthful in his answer, but I certainly think that studying decision making helps and helps a lot. And you can think about kind of three categories of decisions. You can think about small decisions like when you go and buy coffee, are you influenced by a decoy effect or influenced by the fact that they are small, medium and large to get the medium and so on? And those things are very hard to override from time to time.
I can override them, but they are hard to override. So that's that's one category. There's another category of big decisions decision that we stop. And we think something like buying a house or buying a car or having kids buying a new computer are things that are you know, we don't we don't do in the spur of the moment and we think a little bit more. And there I think that we can actually make much better decisions and people who know decision making can do much better.
So so even Danny Danny Kahneman, he has some work on commuting. And one of the things that they show is commuting is a really miserable thing to do and people don't get used to it. Now, if you if you understand this, then you might buy a house that you don't have to commute as much. Right. So on big decisions, I think there's a lot of room for improvement. And knowing how people make decisions and what traps we fall into is helpful.
And then there's the decisions. Our habits and habits are small decisions, but we make them enough times that they become as important as big decisions. And this is also, I think, a place where if you understand decision making, you can once a year, maybe in the beginning of the year, at the end of the year, you can you can look at your decisions strategies. You can look at your habits and you could say all these habits, the kind of habits I would like to have or these habits, the kind of habits I don't want to have and and make a decision not on each one specifically, but but in general about decision making.
So that's that's one one thing. The second thing is that, you know, one of the big lessons in social science is that we make decisions as the function of the environment that we're in. And if we're in one environment, we make one decision. If we're not the one, we make a different decision. And if you understand this, it means that we have a lot of flexibility in deciding what our environment would be like. So imagine that you and I went right now to your kitchen and we said, let's reengineer your kitchen to to be a healthier place.
And we looked at how you organize your pantry and how you organize your refrigerator and where is your shopping list and all kinds of things. We could probably come up with quite a few little tricks that would get you to redesign new environment in a way that would make the healthy choice and also the easier one. And I think that people would truly understand the importance of the environment, spend a lot of time thinking about what environment would actually maximise better behaviour, and it's not too difficult to do.
What sort of environmental changes can we use in your organisation to improve our ability to make decisions?
So so depends on what what you want, so let's let's think about health first. So we said something about the refrigerator. The people who designed the refrigerator put the draw for fruits and vegetables at the bottom, and they made it opaque. And that makes sense to put in the bottom for humidity and temperature perspective. And it makes sense to make it opaque because it gets dirty. But it also means that people don't open it as much. And the most expensive food that we get, the most perishable is also usually goes rotten.
So so one thing that and that we do, for example, is we when we buy fruits and vegetables or we put them in front and center right, it's true that somebody designed a special drawer for them. And if we were a perfect human being and every time we open the refrigerator to think what we want to eat, we would bend all the way down and check it. But but we don't. So therefore, we need to design reuse the refrigerator in a way that makes it front and center the things we want to to work more on.
So that's that's on the health side. Let's think on spending side and credit cards and Apple Pay and Android pay are designed to get us to spend more and think less. And do we want to use them? Not necessarily a system that we have been using for a while and seems to make a lot of sense is to basically say, let's use a prepaid card and let's put on that card all of our discretionary spending, coffee, restaurants, theater and so on.
And not only that, we learn that it's not a good idea to put that money on a monthly basis because if you put on a monthly basis, you run out of three after three weeks, the right approach is to put it on a weekly basis. And even there, you want to start the week on Monday, because if you start the week on Friday, you'll end up spending too much on the on the weekend. So now you have a tool that basically reminds you how much discretionary spending you you have, how much you want to spend.
And you basically get it on a weekly basis. Every day you get a reminder, it tells you how much how much you have left and it's a much more valuable approach. And so that's why we said health. We said money. Let's let's think about work. And one of the things we know again is that people are productive in about the first two hours of the day. Almost everybody is productive for the first two hours of the day, not when you wake up, but kind of eight to 10, nine to 11.
And then we have a lull. And some people in the afternoon, in the evening have another little bit of a productivity. But but if you understand that, you understand that you don't want to have things that don't require your full capacity later on. So what I do is I come to the office and I make myself an espresso and I sit next to my computer and I don't open Facebook and I don't open email. And I basically think about what is the one thing today that I really want to achieve.
And I just start working on that. Right. So. So if you think about all of those examples, these are not examples about me saying I'm kind of can work on my personality in some way, it's basically saying, let me let me redesign the environment. In a way that would make it more likely that I'll take good actions. Does this transfer over to how we go about making more strategic decisions about whether to launch a new project or allocate resources to something so so, you know, deciding it's more about the execution than about the decision of what to do.
Right, but but the answer is basically yes, if you want to think about what your possibility of actually running it, an important component is, can you actually get to it? Will you actually be able to do it? So so those things are are important. So you basically in almost every product design, I find that the behavioral economics perspective is very useful. Right. Can I give you one example of something we just working on now?
Of course. So so we just started the company called Shaper, and the project started a few years ago when we said let's create something to help people lose weight. And then we said, OK, so how how would we help people? And the first insight was to say, let's do something that has a physical reminder. And when you look at your house, how many things remind you about being healthy? Basically nothing. So we said, let's look, let's start with the bathroom scale.
The bathroom scale is the one thing in your house that reminds you about being healthy. So we said, let's reinvasion the bathroom scale. And then we said, OK, what do we know about the bathroom scale? And we know three things about the bathroom scale. We know it's a good thing to step on the scale every morning and not so good to step on it in the evening. And it's good to step in to the in the morning, not because we weigh less than in the evening, but because in the morning when we step on it, it reminds us that we want to be healthy and that reminder ends up being important.
The next thing we know is that weight fluctuates a lot. Weight can fluctuate easily three or four pounds a day for people who are obese, it can fluctuate up to 10 pounds a day. And this fluctuation causes two things. The first one is gain aversion. So usually in behavioral economics, we think about loss aversion. Losses loom large, then gain. People suffer from losses, but with weight, it's the opposite, right? It's gaining weight.
That is miserable. Losing weight actually feels quite good. But imagine somebody who just their weight fluctuates. One day they lose a kilo or pounds one day to gain a kilo or pound. The overall effect is miserable, right? Just because of a gain of gain aversion. And then the last thing is that we expect changes to happen quickly. So people think that after a day or two of a diet, the weight you should go down. Well, in fact, that's not how the body reacts to weight.
Could you could go on a four day diet and nothing good would happen. In fact, your weight will just go up. It takes about 10 days to two weeks to to show up. So we said, OK, given that, what should we do? And we decide to create a scale with no display. And we said, let's separate the act of stepping on the scale from the act of getting feedback. So create a scale. We don't display that.
If you step on it in the morning, says congratulations, you've done the right thing. And then we do give people feedback, but we do give them the feedback in a five point feedback scale at you just the same. Nothing is happening within one cent deviation. Slightly better, slightly worse, much better, much worse. It's a running average of the last three weeks and that scale basically allow you that feedback mechanism, allow you to understand the relationship between cause and effect, what you do and what happens.
So we just finished a large study and some people got the regular scale and those people gained a little bit of weight every month. And some people got off scale and they lost zero point seven percent of their body weight every month for five months. The people with the regular skill gained about zero point three percent of their body weight every month or five months. So so think about what it means, right? It means we have this thing called a bathroom scale that many of us have, but we haven't really looked at it very carefully.
And if we look at it carefully from the perspective of social science, we can actually think about how we improve it, how do we make it better, how do we make it more effective?
How do we step out of that frame for ourselves and objectively look at ourselves through that lens? Like it seems to me that it would be easier to study other people and point out possibly what they're doing wrong.
Whereas when it comes to our own habits, we're not conscious about are there tips or tricks that we can use to become conscious of our own habits?
Yeah, so so it is hard because we don't know what influences on behavior then. We're not we're not aware of all of those things. So. So you remember the famous study on organ donation, right, to opt in and opt out. Right. So you you there are some people who get in there. Right. And the studies is it's amazing. Right. People who get opt in and basically they have to opt in. They don't opt in and they don't donate.
People who have to opt out end up not doing anything also and then ending up donating. And it's a big it's a big effect. It's a shocking effect in terms of size. But imagine the next step of it. The next step is that you you go to the people at the DMV and some people have an opt in form and some people have the opt out form. And when they come out of the DMV, you say, can you explain to me why you did what you did, why you chose that to donate or don't donated not to donate in the in the opting on the opt in opt out, then what you would think is that people would have some insight about why they are doing what they're doing.
The answer is people have no. In fact, what they do is they have a tremendous a story about why what they did is the right thing, right? So people people who are we rationalize? That's right. Exactly. And we're so fast in rationalizing. So so people who are in the in the opt out condition basically say, you know, and my parents raised me to be a caring, wonderful, a human being. And I'm just following in the in their in their footsteps.
And I'm doing exactly what they wanted me to or something like that. Right. So they're basically creating an internal it's all internal. It's all about them people. And people in the opt in also say, oh, you know, I'm really worried about the health care system. I'm will somebody pulled the plug a little too early, something like that. And the thing is that we don't tell ourselves stories that say, I made this decision because of the default.
So so what happened is that we are so quick in telling ourselves stories about why what we did was actually the right thing, that we convince ourselves we kind of hide this, not just not just from other people, but from ourselves. And we end up thinking that we are making making the right decisions. That makes a lot of sense.
Can we go back to the notion of behavioral economics? So what is a behavioral economist?
So so the thing maybe the easiest way to think about is in contrast with standard economics. So standard economics is a study, an area of study that assumes that people are perfectly rational, but people always know what's the right thing. People examine all the options. People have no emotions. They all always, always, always made the right decision and so on. And that's a you know, it's a beautiful perspective on human life. Right. It's wonderful to wake up in the morning and say, oh, my goodness, people are just wonderful.
People are always making the right decision. That's so exciting. That's a wonderful and behavioral economics. It doesn't assume that people make the right decision. It's more of a of a science. It doesn't start with the assumption instead. And behavioral economics, you say let's just put people in a different situation and let's see what people do. And some people behave rationally, but often they behave irrationally. And and now there's a question of what you do with this data.
So one of the unique things about economics is a social science is that it's not just a descriptive study, it's a prescriptive study. Don't just tell us here is how the world here is how people behave. They also say and here's how we should create the economic system, hospitals, education systems and so on. And if you assume that people are rational, perfectly rational, you would come with different prescriptions on how to create a tax system, for example.
And if you look at how people actually behave, you would come up with very different recommendations of what systems you should build. So studying economics starts with some very strong assumptions. Behavioral economics doesn't. And then because of that, standard economics continues in having recommendations that are really good for people who are perfectly rational, whereas behavioral economics makes recommendations that are good for normal people.
How replicable are the behavioral economics studies in general? Do they transfer across time into the transfer across countries? Across cultures? So so depends.
Depends what it depends how basic the finding is. And so so, for example, if you think about visual illusion as a metaphor, visual illusions basically are the same everywhere. Right. And if you see the ponza illusion or the illusion with the circles surrounded by small circles or large circles, it doesn't matter how old you are, how young you are, where you are from. It's that's that's a that's that's the illusion you would get in some in some decision making are like that.
For example, the power of relativity. Right. If you have a cup of coffee next to a bigger cup of coffee, people would would value the smaller one is less valuable. And when it's next to a big one, compared to when it's next to a small one, we just our comparative creatures inherently and we do it we do it everywhere, that things become more sensitive in culture as we get to more complex behaviors. So when you get to you get to questions like how happy people are in their marriage.
And that's that's a very, very culturally in. Asked a question, how much do people want to give to charity? That, of course, has a very big cultural component of how much you care about your culture or not. I will tell you that most of my. Research is not cross-cultural, but I did do some of my research on dishonesty. I did it cross culturally and my research on dishonesty is very simple. I'll give you one example and I give people a die excited and say, please toss the dye and they'll pay you based on whatever it comes up on.
It comes on six. I'll give you six dollars. Five, I'll give you five dollars and so on and so forth. But I say you can get paid based on the top side or the bottom side, top or bottom. You decide, but don't tell me. So people get the deadeye and they toss it. And let's say it came with a five on the bottom and two on the top. And now that they they they had to toss and they see the results, I say, OK, and what did you pick up about them?
Now in this situation, if you picked bottom, you should say bottom and you get five dollars. If you picked up, you have a dilemma. If you say the truth, you get two dollars. But if you lie, you get five dollars. And and what we see is that, you know, lots of people lie a little bit, OK? Now, this experiment, A, I ran in all kinds of countries, so I grew up in Israel and the first place I went to test was in Israel.
And I was sure that the Israelis would would cheat more. But no, they cheated just the same. Then Francesca Gino, my friend, said, come to Italy, we'll show you what the Italians can do. And the Italians cheated just the same. We tried Turkey. We tried South Africa. Can Germany, Sweden. We try a Portugal, we tried the UK, we tried Canada because the Canadians always think that they're better. And we tried lots of places and we didn't find any difference with our DI task.
Now everybody who's traveled like have gone to Kenya, you know, you know that that cheating is very different in these places. Kenya is a very corrupt country. There's no question about it. And and but but here's the thing. Our task is it kind of general and abstract and it's not embedded in any cultural context. And because of that, it doesn't show any cultural differences. Now, that doesn't mean that cultural differences don't don't show up. Of course they show up, but they show up only for tasks that have the complexity that comes with with being embedded in the social context.
So, for example, when it comes to questions about would you bribe a policeman, huge cultural differences when it comes to questions about a changes in would you not pay your taxes, huge cultural differences. And my my kind of conclusion from all of this was that culture matters, but it matters in silos. What happens is that deep down inside, just because you grew up in Kenya and another corrupt country, it doesn't mean that you become corrupt as an individual.
It just means that culture comes and says there are some domains in life in which this is just how we behave. This is just how you do business, right? It's not it's not it you basically, as a society, take this domain and say this domain is not in the moral life. We have a social rule that overrides your instinct and how to deal with this.
The honest truth about dishonesty was one of my favorite books. How did that come about?
And so so it started with a first of all, thanks for the compliment. I hope you didn't say to that effect. And so so it started like many other things with the personal observation on my own. And I was a flight and they had the means, a test. And I looked at the question one, and I kind of thought I knew what the answer was. And I flip to page one thirty seven to see what the answer was.
And I caught myself that I wasn't just looking at the answer to the question I solved. I looked to the answer for the next question. And then when I got to the next question, I really solved it very easily. And at the end of this, at the end of this process, I proved to myself that I was very smart, but. I also realized I probably cheated myself, right, and I started thinking about cheating, and when I came back to the university, I got some of my students around and we started thinking about this and we designed the first experiment.
And this was a few months before Enron came about. And when Enron came about, if you remember that, the belief was that there were like three bad people and that was the the problem. And and on the other hand, we had this experiment we just completed when we saw that most of our students were cheating a little bit. Yeah. And we said, you know, what's going on here? Is it the case that there are a few bad apples or is we correct that there are lots and lots of little rotten apples?
And so that really was kind of a combination of a finding that happened at the right time and Enron. And because it wasn't just Enron, it was it was more companies that, you know, came came with the same approach. We realized it was an important social decision to to look at. It's an important social phenomena to look at. And, you know, unlike my other books, the rest of the books, I think it's relatively easy.
People people actually call me and they say, oh, we've read this, we want to implement something and so on with dishonesty. It's very tough. Like I would spend I would go to talk to the government every time they would have me just trying to get them to understand conflicts of interest and so on. It was the first time that I wrote the book and I felt like I was really I was trying to sell it to people and people were just not interested in.
People I mean, it's a lovely book and people enjoyed reading it and so on, but but not doing anything about it, right. Especially at the level of government and big banks. And, you know, you know, it's kind of interesting that when you talk about, you know, how to get people to save more, it's easier to get people to do something, how to get people to be healthier. But when you talk about honesty, almost no company is interested in taking like a real, real effort into try and improve it.
Why are we so dishonest with ourselves?
And I think part of it is the inability to see it in ourselves in a deeper way. And part of it it looks less human. I think, you know, saying, oh, this person, you know, they are tempted by cookies. We understand their humanity there. It's you know, it's human. But when you say somebody is or, you know, they never tell the truth about why they are late for a meeting, it feels like a more judgmental personality trait.
And I think people have a really hard time admitting that their friends, their significant others, their colleagues, their companies have have problems of this type.
Are we protecting our ego? What's at the core of this? Yes.
So so that's exactly the point, is that the amount of dishonesty that we exhibit ends up being a balance between wanting to benefit from this honesty, but not wanting to feel that we're thieves or dishonest people. So we cheat up to the level that we would feel uncomfortable about it. So so it's very much about us wanting to be dishonest, but look at the mirror and feel good about our actions. Is there a way you can test this if you're hiring people to figure out where that line is for them, like how dishonest with the assumption that everybody is dishonest?
A little bit.
Yeah. So so you can probably do it. The question the thing about it all, you remember we talked a minute ago about the fact that there are different domains. So we did a study that we we never published it. We should we should go back to this was very heartbreaking. We gave MBAs resumes of potential job candidates. And in those resumes, those people were either told said that they were it was said about them that they were either dishonest in their personal lives, like the significant other.
They were dishonest at work. But for selfish reasons like embezzling, they exaggerate the expense reports, stuff like that, or they were dishonest at work, but for work. So they cheated, for example, a negotiation to get the company a better deal, and what happened was that the NBA did not care about the personal transgressions. And they didn't like the people who were cheating and were selfish, but they actually wanted to hire the people who were cheating for the company, which creates a culture of cheating.
That's a company. That's why that's so interesting to me.
I mean, what sort of things can we do to more accurately adapt to the feedback of the world? And so I guess by that I mean not not lying to ourselves as much or letting in more of reality than our ego might be comfortable with. Yeah, so so I don't know, I'll tell you, this is like more like personal anecdotes and then research. So I've been doing this research for 15 years, more or less. And with that, we also did a movie called Dishonesty the Truth about Lies that is on Netflix.
And I think it's quite good. And but but but thinking about this topic for 15 years has definitely changed my my own behavior. And I think that honesty is a little bit like dieting. It's not something that you read once and then you get to fix it. It's something that you have to fight with every day. Right. There's conflicts of interest and service providers. There's your own behavior. I mean, just just everywhere. And and what we need is we need a heightened awareness and vigilance.
And we also need to realize we're not going to solve it. Right. It's not something that will get rid of dishonesty, but it's something that we need to figure out. Where are the important points for society? And can we can we at least eliminate it or reduce it or at least reduce it? And and I can tell you that as someone who does this research all the time, it it's with me. Right. So I get the request to do X or to do Y or I got the request to be an expert witness or whatever it is.
I always think about my own my own conflicts of interest. Somebody asked me for a recommendation and so on. So so I think it's a it's something that we need to be reflective about and think about and just incorporate it into our thinking much more than we do right now. Right now, we're just assuming that we're honest people and that is enough to protect us.
Is there anything that you do specifically that allows you to step inside your ego a little bit that we can walk away with and well, so so one simple recommendation is to think about yourself as an adviser, not about your own interests. So. What would you advise somebody like you to do and when you advise somebody external, then you're not as influenced by your own biases? Right. And you could do you could do a better job. So you have more of an outside view than an inside track.
Another one is to is to think about something in the long term. Right. Is to say what would happen if you had to make a decision about a thousand of those things. Right. What decision would you make? Right. It's sometimes hard to say, oh, I'm making this just for one time. But you say, oh, what if this was the kind of standard decision that you would you would make? And then the third one is to say, what would happen if this was a larger decision?
Would you still make the same one? Right, so by by both thinking about it not as a one time, but as a multiple time and not as a small decision by a large decision you're bringing into context that is more more extensive and you're less likely to basically give yourself a discount and say we're just doing it for one for once.
And all of that is aimed to you basically switching a little bit from maybe your subconscious defaults to more of a conscious choice. And one of my favorite things that you ever did that I remember is pluralistic ignorance. Yes. Can you explain this to me?
So, so, so pluralistic ignorance is the idea that when we are in the company of other people and and we look at the behavior of other people is indicating what the right thing to do is and what other people are doing, and therefore we interpret their own behavior in that way. So here's the classic example. You put people in the room and you fill the room with smoke. And when there's one person in the room, you measure, how long does the smoke coming from the vents get the person to say, OK, time to leave, something bad is happening.
Yeah. And then you increase the number of people in the room. And what happened is that when you increase the number of people in the room, the smoke comes from the vents and people look at other people and they say, well, everybody else is sitting. I'm sitting, too, but I'm sitting because I don't know what to do. Other people are sitting probably because they know that nothing really bad is happening and therefore people just stay there for much, much longer.
So we look at the behavior of other people. We say we are confused. We're not sure what to do. Other people know what to do. Other people are not acting because they don't want to act. It must be that this is the right thing and therefore let's do the same. And I, I try to do this in the first day of my class. So when I teach a small class, there's no problem. But when I teach a large class and the problem is that people don't ask questions and you look at everybody else and you say nobody else is asking a question, it must be that other people understand this.
So I start the class by taking a paragraph from some postmodern literature, a text generator, something crazy that you don't understand what's going on. Every sentence look like it's constructed appropriately, but there's no flow. There's fuko in the reader from time to time. And I just add some words about economics and behavioral economics. And in Bekker from time to time, and I just read this for five minutes and you know, it's the first class, first class people sit in five hundred students and I say, let me start by explain to you what behavioral economics is.
And then I just read this nonsense for five minutes and then I stop and they say, why didn't you stop me? And I said, how many of you would would have stopped me if there was only one person in the room? Right. If you were sitting with me in the room, everybody would stop me unsentenced. Do and say, what are you what are you thinking? And so anyway, so that's my attempt to teach them about pluralistic ignorance and to get them to ask me more questions.
And I say, you know, if you don't understand something, don't look at other people. Just assume that you'll help other people that other people don't then just as much as you do. So the moment you do understand something, just ask.
I feel like I live that when I worked at an organization at least once a day and a meeting where you would get out and everybody would go, I have no idea what just happened there. And everybody in the meeting is thinking the same thing. But nobody else has the guts to do this. Nobody has the guts to do it.
What would you say is a good tip or trick that we can use to prompt ourselves maybe to do that, or if you're facilitating a meeting to check in with people?
Yeah, so so a couple of things. So one is to say, and this is the trick I sometimes use, I say I try to blame it on my Israeli heritage and I basically say, sorry, maybe this is appropriate to say, but I'm from Israel. I don't know exactly the rules. And then I ask something. Right. So it's not me. It's it's a different it comes from a different reason. Don't don't blame me for doing this.
And another thing that I do this a very different situation. I like rules. I like having rules because rules make us not think about each case specifically. Right. And so one of my rules is when I see people in the party that have something green in their teeth, I tell them, like if somebody has spinach in their teeth, I tell them and, you know, I don't want this situation every time. Should I tell them? Should I not tell them?
I just said, let's have a rule and then always tell them. And I always tell them I have a rule. So I say, excuse me. I have a rule that when I see people with spinach in their teeth, I tell them that they have spinach in their teeth and you have something in your teeth. And and by the way, 100 percent of the time, people are happy with this with this comment because they prefer to know.
They're not to know, but but having rules actually protect us. I imagine you invited me to do something and I said, I'm sorry, I have a rule. I don't give more than ten talks a year or I don't do X, Y or Z. And you would not feel good saying, oh, would you please break your rules one once for me? Right. The moment you have a rule, you basically are elevating something for yourself and for other people.
You're creating a standard from it and it helps you protect yourself. So if you think about it, religions, right. Religions basically function like I mean, they create rules. And that's incredibly important for for the survival of the decision. So I think we do need we do need to think about the areas in our lives when we don't behave well and try to create rules for them.
Why rules and not habits? OK, so so habits. So actually you can think about habits, rules and rituals as a continuum and in habits of those things that we do without thinking. When you think about the standard definition of a habit is something you do without without thinking. So you. Bite your nails or, you know, slouch or whatever, whatever it is, and you can have a habit of running, right? You don't go running and then tell where I am.
I have no idea. I was I was running so. So for things that are deliberate and take actions you need, you need something more than a habit. But now you have rules and you have rituals and there are differences between them and rituals basically create a higher order, meaning and it's actually both rules and rituals have one nice feature, which is that violating them one time violates the principle. But imagine you have a rule that says I always recycle.
If you always recycle one day, not recycling is breaking your rule. Or think about somebody like a vegetarian. If you're a vegetarian, you know, you never eat meat. It's not that you say I mostly don't eat meat. You create this rule that says I never do. I always do. That helps you understand better where you are on this on this range. It helps you live according to your your standards. So if you said, for example, I'm going to eat dessert on only one out of every four days.
Odds are that you would cheat yourself, that you will end up eating more dessert that you wanted. But if you had the rule that says I never eat dessert or only dessert on Saturday, that will be easier for you to to keep it. Yeah. And then the most interesting one is rituals were rituals are it's not the behavior itself is becomes rewarding. So if you think about the ritualistic hand washing, for example, or whatever it is, and you don't have to wait for the outcome, but the ritual itself makes the behavior a better.
I think I've seen that with just anecdotally with friends who the difference between people who say, oh, I'm trying to eat healthier versus I don't eat dessert. And then so if you're saying you don't you know, you're trying to eat healthier than every time you have to make this decision to eat healthier. Whereas if your rule is I don't eat dessert, it's almost like the decision is made for you and then you're your default path changes and you have to make the exception to it.
Exactly. And that and that's why it's so much easier. Right.
So so whenever whenever you can create a rule for behavior and even even if you give up some flexibility, it's probably a good idea.
What's your take on the field of evolutionary psychology, the group of ideas that try to derive an evolutionary understanding of why we do the things that we do and think the things that we think has been illuminating to you?
So? So I think the answer is absolutely, yes. I think, you know, there's there's no question that, you know, we've evolved. There's no question biology plays a big part in our psychology and our behavior in our drives. And so I think it's incredibly interesting and incredibly important that the challenges that some of the things are just really hard to study from an evolutionary psychology perspective. Right. So we can we can speculate. But, you know, for for finches, a Darwin had 16 types.
So he had the whole range of them. And you could evaluate them. If you look at the ratio between I don't know what testicle size and promiscuity, there's lots of animals. You can you can look at a lot of them. But when you look at behaviors that are uniquely human, we just don't have that variance. We just don't have the range. So it's much, much harder to add to to make any point in a satisfactory way.
So I would say that some of it is very convincing. Some of it is a really interesting source for hypotheses and ideas. But is science? It doesn't always excite me. Switching gears a little bit, just because I know we're a time constraint here, what what do you read yourself besides literature relevant to your work, what would I find on your nightstand?
So right now, I'm reading a book called Sex Before Dawn. Have you read this book? No, I highly recommend it. It's a it's a book that really talks about the evolution of humanity and the role of the agricultural revolution in our in our in our behavior. And what they're emphasizing a lot is sexual behavior. But the book basically says that before the Cultural Revolution, we didn't care so much if it was my kids or your kids or how it how it worked.
And then we got the agricultural revolution and then we had mine and yours. All of a sudden there was territory, there was property and property became incredibly important. And now we had men and women and kids and our kids and not kids. And I'm thinking about this with the new rules about inheritance. And, you know, so the way the reason this book has been important for me is to think about property. And, you know, we had this obsession with property.
Like if somebody is under the starving, they are not allowed to break and enter and steal something to eat. So somehow in the hierarchy of what we hold sacred, dying from hunger or being hungry is not as important as is keeping property. And, you know, and how did we how did we get there? That property is so, so central. And so so that that book has been really interesting for me in terms of kind of thinking about how we got to this world where property is so central and important.
And can we get out of this right? Is this the right? Is this the right approach? And I met with somebody recently who told me that, you know, our kids are our kids, but if we mistreat them, the state can come and take them away from us. But our house is our house and we can mistreated any way we want and nobody can take it away from us. And, you know, it's it's kind of interesting, you know, with kids, we don't view yourself as owners of the kids, with yourself as the caretakers of the kids.
But with property, we are the owners and rather than the caretakers. And should we should we think about, you know, think about people who come to great wealth? Are they the owners of that property or they're the caretakers and people who have, I don't know, an amazing estate with Woods and so on. Are they the owners or the caretakers where where the boundaries of those things are anyway? So that that's for me was a really interesting book and got me to think a lot about property.
And I'm not sure what I'll do with it, but I'm thinking a lot about it.
Did it change how you think of it? Intellectual property at all, huh?
I haven't I haven't thought about intellectual property, but an intellectual property is very tricky. I can see both. I can see both ways and. You know, I I personally don't mind so much when people download illegally stuff that I did, I did because, you know, I have an income as a university professor, but I think it's bad for society because less and less people are able to make a living based on the things they create as intellectual property.
So so I can see I can see both ways. I'm not sure on intellectual property. I'm not sure where the lines stand.
How do you juggle all of this? I mean, you're speaking. You're writing, you're teaching. You're doing research. You're running a lab. How do you how do you organize that? How do you keep that all together?
So one thing I don't I I work very hard. I don't necessarily keep it in order. And I have I work with amazing people. So one of my rules is to only work with people I love. And when I when I meet people I really like, I usually just hire them. And then I worry less about what to do with them. Like, you know, I don't I usually don't have a project unless I need somebody with Skill X, I usually meet somebody I really like.
I said, I really want to work with this person. Let's start working with them and we'll figure out what to do with them. And because of that, the group of people I work with are just incredible fit for me. I think they're incredible individuals and and it's a it's a joy. And there's never a day that I'm not happy to to see them. And they're also incredibly capable and getting better and better all the time. So I my style of running, for example, the research lab where about 40 people here at my style is to hire very good people and to tell them that I'm here when they need me, but I don't need to supervise them.
So I say, when you need me, I'm here. I I'm at your disposal, I'm at your service rather than you at my service. And when you need me, just let me know. But when you're able to do things without me, just go for it, as that always worked out. And not always, but I would say almost always, you know, you have a couple of glitches from time, from time to time, but but mostly mostly things are working incredibly well.
If I were to ask your best friend, what holds you back? How would they respond? What holds me back? Yeah. And they would probably say sleep. You're not a big sleeper. Well, you know, I'm not a big sleeper, but that's that's the I don't sleep a lot, but. Oh, you mean what do I need more of? Because, you know, if I had two more hours of work a day, I'm saying if I could reduce sleep.
And so I think what are the things that are holding me back? I think just really not not much. I, I would say that, you know, I gamble with my time a little bit. So, you know, I get lots of requests to do things today. I think I got four requests to give talks in different places. And in one of the things I do is I take risks. I do things that, you know, don't seem like they are the right thing to do, but that they don't maximize anything logical or rational or and so on.
And from time to time, those things turn out to be incredibly interesting and worthwhile. And and I get these positive feedback loop of gambling with my time and things are successful. And then I gamble with my time some more and and so on. So I think I think I take I take lots of risks with my time and mostly takes it mostly pans out.
Well, are those how do you think of it as risks. Are they time boxed or are they like how do you juggle opportunity cost.
Yeah, not not very well. So, so I do, I do play some wild cards. Next month somebody invited me to come in, paint me an artist I made so I met and she's going to make a painting of me and she's very, very creative artist in my, in my mind. Um, so, you know, it's not that I don't have anything to do and I don't have plans to be in L.A. that day. But, you know, I'm going to to try it out and see what I can learn about about art or, you know, in pay off.
In this little TED book I wrote, I wrote about all kinds of injured people who who write me. And, you know, in the last two years, I and I'm not just responding to people with injuries who write me, but I also went to spend the day with people with different injuries. Right. And it's not it didn't start with it's not the kind of research I know how to do. It's not small scale studies. But I went ahead and I spent a day with people with different injuries and I didn't know where exactly it would lead.
And it was a difficult and painful and some of it was inspiring. But I was on this journey on trying to learn understand what resilience is. So and I basically kind of take invitation's for four different things and see where where it leads me and. And I do have to say that in most cases it has been, you know, sometimes it's been just a day or flight or something, I say, OK, you know, that was it.
And sometimes it leads to something more interesting down the line.
What did you learn about developing resilience?
Say, that's a long story, but I'll give you the short version of it. The short version of it is that the people that I think are incredibly successful are people who create a short term goal that they can measure and see progress on. So, for example, there's a guy called Ryan, he became a quadriplegic after a bicycle accident. And he basically asked his caretaker to put his clothes on the floor and he kind of wiggles himself into his clothes and it could take him up to forty five minutes and it measures how long it takes him.
And when he makes it in below forty five minutes, he feels successful, and when he takes him longer, he feels unsuccessful. And then he reexamined his strategies and you could say, you know, couldn't he just get somebody else to dress him. And the answer is absolutely yes. But no, it's it's part of his daily challenge. It's how he defines his day and what he's able to do. And it's not just daily, but he gets to see a sense of progress and some some control.
So so that's that's a that's an example I want to end with.
What message would you like all of your students to take away if you can have one message they all walked away with and all thought about in the same way? Or what would that be? What would you tell them? What would you hope that they take away from your teachings?
Can I do can I do to cause. OK, so so the first one would be to to take this idea of redesign the environment very seriously. Right. Don't be a slave to the environment that somebody else created for you and redesign the environment is most likely to yield good, good results. And this includes productivity and health and money and so on. And and the second one would be to doubt your intuitions. You know, we often make decisions.
We have to admit that most of the decisions we make are not based on data. They are based on intuitions. And here's what I think would happen. And it's not healthy psychologically to doubt your intuitions all the time, but it's really important to have a sense of questioning your intuitions from time to time. And if you could do that, I think we could do we could do much better. So those would be my my two choices I love.
Thank you so much, Stan. That's been a great conversation. My pleasure. Lovely. And. Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find Schnitz from today's show at F-stop Blogs podcast. You can also find out information on how to get that transcript there. And if you'd like to receive a weekly email from me filled with all sorts of Brainfeeder, go to F-stop blogs, newsletter, the newsletters, all the good stuff I found on the Internet this week that I've read and shared with close friends, books and reading and so much more.
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