I’m very happy to report that video #1 of The Starr Report is officially here! Every week, I’ll be uploading a new video. If you like it, subscribe and spread the word!
In the first episode, I reveal the one simple trick to writing a book and starting a video series.
The way we evaluate things is like a balancing scale: when we have no opinion about something, it’s empty. But once we start gathering positive and negative information, we start adding to the sides. If we’ve collected more positive information, eventually it starts leaning to one side:
If we hear a few negative comments about a brand, for example, it becomes easier to process negative information about that brand. Our brain is a lazy prediction-machine, and it gravitates towards information that confirms our hunches. It’s easy to back up our biases and hunches. Not only is it surprisingly difficult to change our mind, but it’s hard just to learn information that goes against our beliefs.
But even if we start the day with a head full of promise, we might
Eventually, bad things happen; at some point in our lives, we learn that we’re not the belle of the ball. Our self-concept gets shaped around what we think we have to do to be seen as worthy once again. For example:
beliefs about what we have to do or who have to be in order to have value; they’re
Needing external approval to feel good about yourself is a recipe for disaster.
Developing a solid sense of self requires us to get self-esteem from inside. Things will be okay if you lose, leave the house without makeup, spend more time on self-care, or fall short of your goals. Those things are all part of being human.
One problem I see often is that once people get an idea of what they have to do/who they have to be in order to stay in the good graces of others, they rarely question that belief. They often don’t even realize that they have it. It’s like learning that opening a door requires using a key and knocking. You never realize that you don’t have to knock because it’s simply what you’ve always done.
A lot of people sell themselves short because before they feel ready to venture out, they’re convinced that they have to do X in order for things to be okay: make a certain amount of money, spend hours making complicated holiday plans, look a certain way—unknowingly complicating their lives. They’re convinced that they have to succeed at everything they try.
You don’t have to do anything to be worthy of love and respect.
Things will be okay if you spend less time on basic life maintenance tasks.
Things will be okay if you fail, provided you get up afterwards.
Don’t base your self-esteem on outcomes.
Years ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with lymphoma. In addition to that, people in my family suffered from hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, anxiety, addictions, and many had a very hard time controlling their weight. But lymphoma was the last straw: I didn’t want to develop a chronic illness, so I decided to tackle things upstream and start taking better care of my health.
I thought that I’d just been dealt a pair of bad genes; no one in my family smoked or used drugs. We didn’t sit around all day eating. So our genes were causing all of these things to happen—right? Wasn’t that why so many people in my family developed chronic illnesses at a certain age?
When everyone around you is doing the same thing, it seems normal—but that doesn’t make it healthy.
A few years ago, researchers at Caltech asked a group of students to rate various t-shirt designs. Afterwards, the students were informed what other groups thought of the shirts: fellow students at Caltech and sex offenders. When asked what they thought of these groups on a scale of 1 to 14, subjects rated their fellow students at Caltech positively (9.23), and were less enthralled with the group of humans known as sex offenders (1.85).
Learning about other people’s opinions changed how the students rated the t-shirt designs: they aligned themselves and their scores with fellow students, and fled from anything resembling a link between themselves and the guy with the creepy white van.
As social creatures, we’re influenced by other people—but we’re very selective about who we actually learn from.
Finding out that you disagree with people you care about is aversive; agreeing with others whose opinions you care about actually makes things more rewarding. Think about it: if you all like the same song, “Baby Got Back” can become something greater than my song or your song: it becomes our song.
Other people in our lives have the power to turn the subjective into objective reality.
When we agree with others we like, it’s easy to get carried away with how right we are—how objectively awesome our food, hobbies, decisions, and lifestyle choices are. Sharing dessert with a loved one tastes better than shoving cake into your mouth alone in front of the fridge; this is scientific fact.
The more you agree with someone, the more you see the world through the same set of values, opinions, and beliefs; you lack perspective on where your views lie on the overall spectrum. When everyone around you is eating the same way that you are, it seems normal—regardless of whether or not it’s healthy.
Agreeing with people whose opinions you care about reinforces the idea that something is “right.” The problem is that you might all be wrong.
 Keise Izuma and Ralph Adolphs. “Social Manipulation of Preference in the Human Brain.” Neuron 78 (2013): 563–573.
 Daniel K. Campbell-Meiklejohn et al. “How the Opinion of Others Affects Our Valuation of Objects.” Current Biology 20 (2010): 1165–1170. Jean-François Gariépy et al. “Social Learning in Humans and Other Animals.” Frontiers in Neuroscience 8, no. 58 (2014): doi: 10.3389/fnins.2014.00058.
 cf. C.D. Hardin and E. Tory Higgins. “Shared Reality: How Social Verification Makes the Subjective Objective,” in Handbook of Motivation and Cognition, edited by R. M. Sorrentino and E. Tory Higgins. (New York, NY: Guilford Press, 1996): 28–84.
Here’s the most important thing I ever learned about the way we see the world and process information…. The brain is in charge of two very different goals:
1. Successfully move our bodies around through space and time (accomplish tasks needed for survival)
2. Use as little energy as possible. Even though it accounts for 2% of our weight, the brain uses about 20% of our body’s energy. Unless we’re really motivated—given extra rewards, or come across a mistake we can’t avoid—we conserve energy.
Ergo, the Law of Least Effort
In Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize-winning researcher Daniel Kahneman, here’s a primer: we do the “thinking fast” bit unless we really, really have to.
Thinking Fast = System 1, our automatic, intuitive mind that usually lets us navigate the world easily and successfully; habitual, model-free thinking (actions → outcome, regardless of where we are).
Thinking Slow = System 2, our controlled, deliberative, analytical mind; model-based and goal-directed (takes other things into account)
So, to repeat: our brain appears to view controlling itself—or thinking—as a cost: it will only use System 2 to think deeply, learn something new, and update itself when it has to, when there’s real value.
Another function of System 2 (slow) is to monitor System 1 (fast): we’ll learn when we have no choice but to confront a mistake, which means that it does a miraculous job of avoiding situations when it could be at fault. Why? From our brain’s perspective, finding out that we’ve made a mistake is tiring, because it means that we have to adjust the controls, and reconfigure how we make sense of the world.
The idea that thinking itself is a cost leads to the most common cognitive error, the focusing illusion, commonly referred to as WYSIATI: What You See Is All There Is.
We all view the world like a fisheye lens:
This makes sense from a survival standpoint: we have to focus on what’s right around us. From our perspective, we are always at the center of the world. Everything is right in front of us; thinking of anything else takes work.