The Starr Report: The One Simple Trick to Writing a Book

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 baskets we use to store our self-esteem eggs: contingencies of self-worth

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.

The most influential information that we ever learn is about ourselves.
In a series of studies, Duke’s Mark Leary demonstrated how much exclusion affected subjects’ self-esteem.
“We were measuring emotional variables [and] slipped in a measure of how people felt about themselves at the time. No matter what other experiences people were having, when they felt rejected, their own judgements of themselves were going down.
“Why is our self-image so tied to what other people think of us?”
How we feel about ourselves depends on our perception of being accepted or rejected by others. Feeling rejected adds a marble to the “we’re not worthy!” side of our scale.
We start processing information about whether we feel accepted or rejected at birth. How much we feel unconditionally loved by our family sets the stage for those initial marbles that we add to the scale, the ones signaling “I am worthy of love and everything is going to be okay!”
But even if we start the day with a head full of promise, we might return home, slouching and defeated.
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:
  • If classmates bullied you during gym class—but wanted your help during social studies—you might think of your self-worth as devalued during physical activities, and valued during academics.
  • If you were praised for being “pretty,” you might tie your self-worth to your physical appearance.
  • If you were shown more love when you helped others, you might think that being of service is a requirement for love.
  • Did you get more attention from a parent when you won something? You might devote more time to achieving things.
Feeling like we have to meet certain conditions to receive love or prevent bad things (abandonment, being made fun of) causes people to develop contingencies of self-worth, beliefs about what we have to do or who have to be in order to have value; they’re the different buckets of life into which we put our self-esteem eggs.
These contingencies can be an asset because they can motivate us to accomplish great things. But they come at a cost.
The more compartmentalized our self-concept is, the more our self-esteem depends on external feedback, like achievement or applause. We spend our life in pursuit of fragile “I am worthy!” eggs, rather than carrying a backpack of resilient markers signaling “I am worthy.”

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.

What is global self-esteem?

Evaluating anything is a process of gathering information about its positive and negative qualities, until one of those outweighs the other. Once the scale starts leaning towards one side (say, we get lots of information from a friend that going to Mexico would be nice), processing information that aligns with that particular view gets easier. We spend more time researching resorts in Cabo than Australia.  
When we get a hunch / opinion, we start thinking that we know all there is to know—so we selectively pay attention to the things that back us up, even when we’re not aware of it. This information fits into the filing system that our brain already has in place, so it grabs our attention more easily. That’s why the first pieces of information we get about something have such a stronghold: they set the stage for everything else we learn.
The most important thing we ever learn about is how much other people seem to value us.
Are we worthy? Are we good? Are we going to be loved no matter what happens, or do we have to do something in particular to be loved?
In the fundamental paper, The Need to Belong,” Leary and co-author Roy Baumeister suggest that belonging to groups is the most fundamental human motivation. Even people who prioritize achievement and power tend to do so in order to be acknowledged and respected by others. 
Having a secure, stable high self-esteem is like constantly wearing a protective backpack against the inevitable ups and downs of life, signaling “I’m a good person, and things are going to be okay.”
How does this play out in interactions?
157 students made a three-minute video introducing themselves that they were told was for a dating service, and took tests measuring their self-esteem and personality traits. After recording the intros, seven research assistants (who had no idea what their test scores were) rated the students’ videos.
The only tests that reliably predicted how the raters ultimately rated the students’ introductions—warm, likely to generate interest—were self-esteem and extraversion.
In a follow-up study, researchers recruited hundreds of students to take more personality and self-esteem tests. This time, they made those students recruit people they knew socially to answer a series of questions about those students: what’s your friend’s self-esteem like? Is he neurotic, conscientious? With this second test, the results got bigger: the correlation between the target’s self-esteem and how their self-esteem was rated by others was .44, a match so strong that researchers suggest that our self-esteem can be detected by others.
A healthy, stable self-esteem gives us permission to be ourselves.

What would you do if you knew that everyone in your life would still love you, and that others would still respect you, regardless of the outcome?

Why Your Friends Can’t Be Your Life Coach and Your Mom Can’t Be Your Therapist

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.


[1] Keise Izuma and Ralph Adolphs. “Social Manipulation of Preference in the Human Brain.” Neuron 78 (2013): 563–573.
[2] 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.
[3] 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.

Ready to get lucky?

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill

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Can You Learn to be Lucky: Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others by Karla Starr

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