It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.
What a day!
I recently finished collaborating with Chip Heath, coauthor of Switch and Made to Stick. Next year is Hilton’s centennial, and Chip and I just spent several months researching the company to write The Hilton Effect together. It was exciting to learn so much about its history and impact on the hospitality industry.
Why has the brand been so successful? Social psychology came to the rescue with a compelling explanation. Travel is infinitely beneficial: it expands our worldview and self-efficacy, increases our cognitive flexibility, and can make us happier by giving us more memories and peak moments. But it’s also tiring. It’s exhausting having to constantly figure out what to do, which is why having extra comforts in your hotel room is so key.
I was also interviewed for Gretchen Rubin’s excellent website! We share a favored quote:
“One coin won’t make you rich, but the only way to get rich is by collecting coins.”
“All models are wrong, but some are useful.” – George Box
One of my favorite models explaining how we make decisions, evaluate things, and process information is the scale. When we have no opinion about something, the scale is empty, like so:
Learning about something is a process of collecting evidence. Each piece of information we get about something is like a marble: negative information goes on one side, and positive information goes on the other side. If we see a pile of free money, it’d be all positive information:
If we saw a quarter on the floor, that would be a piece of positive information, but not quite as positive, so you’d get a slight tilt:
“You’re collecting evidence for one option or another,” says Brown University’s Amitai Shenhav. “Marbles are collecting, more marbles are collecting, the more marbles come to mind, and the size of those marbles scales with the value of those attributes.”
When the scale is clearly leaning to one side, and we’ve accumulated enough information to come to a decision about what to do, or whether or not we like something. We’ve crossed the threshold needed to come to a conclusion:
When do we spend more time collecting information?
When the scale is already leaning over in one direction, we’ve started accumulating information that favors that thing. A leaning scale means that we’ve already started building up an implicit association, an evaluation that’s so subtle, we may not even realize it.
When the scale starts leaning to one side, information supporting that side becomes easier to process. We begin selectively collecting certain marbles—and pieces of evidence—that back up the side that’s already leaning over. This information is simply easier for us to process. It’s more fluent. It confirms and is consistent with our beliefs.
When people already have an unconscious belief—even if they don’t realize it—they selectively expose themselves to information or news that confirms their beliefs—giving them more ammunition to present those hunches as fact.
The more we’re exposed to certain kinds of information, the more practice we get processing that information; information that we process faster “feels” right. It’s what we’re used to. How easily we can process or understand information makes it easy for us to mistake it for the truth.
Our implicit beliefs are the things that we believe deep in our core, even when we don’t realize it; the famous Implicit Association Test is merely a test of how quickly we connect ideas, like “white/black/our ingroup” and “good.”
Information that is inline with our pre-existing beliefs becomes easier to process, so we begin actively seeking it out, and ignoring contradictory information. In other words, certain marbles are always easier for us to pick up. If we actively dislike “the Army/feminists/vanilla,” the second we see anything that reminds us of this information, we disregard it.
One key to overcoming your decision-making biases is to have a scout mindset rather than a soldier mindset (explained in this video): seek to learn, not to defend.
For example, people who hear entire terms and roll their eyes are probably much less informed about that entire field than they realize. I used to roll my eyes at “women’s studies,” “gender studies,” and anything related to weightlifting. Immediate emotional reactions are merely signs of someone’s bias.
It appears that in one of the final round of edits, I deleted my favorite bullet point from the book, in the chapter on self-control. I’ll put it in the paperback version, but in the meantime:
Compared to people who stick with the salad, those who repeatedly eat the brownies severely undervalue their future self in the skinny jeans. Compared to people who keep hammering away studying an idea that they don’t understand, people who get distracted and start playing a game on their phone are underestimating how good it would feel to finally understand that concept.
Every smart decision you make adds value to your future self. Books are read and written one page at a time, all pounds are lost one healthy decision at a time, all relationships are strengthened one kind deed at a time, all savings accounts are padded one dollar at a time, and all marathons are finished one step at a time. Every extra minute of reading, writing, brownie-skipping, gym-hitting, hugging, thanking, saving, and stepping adds up over time.
In the interest of transparency, and because I think it’s important to be honest about these kinds of things:
Depression is a bitch. Life is hard. You never know what’s going on in other people’s lives.
You are not alone.