The Eureka Factor Summary

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The Eureka Factor lays out the history of so-called “aha moments” and explains what happens in your brain as you have them, where they come from and how you can train yourself to have more flashes of genius.

John Kounios and Mark Beeman both love creativity. So much in fact, that they both hold PhDs in psychology and have dedicated most of their lives to finding out how the right side of our brain works. The Eureka Factor is their 2015 book, detailing everything they’ve found out so far.

Ranging from Archimedes (the original eureka moment) to Columbus and Paul McCartney, it shares how many of history’s most important eureka moments came about and explains what goes on in your brain every time you exclaim “Aha!” in the shower, and, more importantly, what you can do to make it happen more often.

Here are 3 lessons from The Eureka Factor:

  • An idea is only obvious after someone else has told you about it.
  • Your best insights only come bubbling to the surface when distractions are under control.
  • Distant-future thinking can help you come up with more brilliant ideas.

Lesson 1: Every seemingly straightforward idea is only obvious after someone else has told you about it.

I’m sure you’ve uttered these six words before: “I could have thought of that!” Happens to me all the time. I look at some invention and say: “Wow, that’s actually quite obvious, why didn’t I think of that?” Even worse are the occasions where I did think of the idea, but didn’t implement it, but doing the work is a whole other topic.

If you have wonderful friends like me, who try to keep you grounded on earth all the time, they’ll kindly remind you: “Well, but you didn’t.” – and they’re right.

Most of the time when we point out how obvious something is in hindsight, it’s really just a mechanism for us to feel better about ourselves. In reality, any good idea only becomes obvious after someone else has told you about it.

Take Christopher Columbus, for example. After he had discovered the new world across the Atlantic and returned to Spain, many nobles claimed that it had been no great feat. In fact, if only they’d had a fleet, many of them claimed they’d have done it themselves. Instead of arguing, Columbus ordered a bunch of boiled eggs, giving the nobles one each and asked them if they could make their egg stand upright, without any tools or help. They all tried for a while, but eventually gave up.

Columbus took his egg, tapped its bottom on the table, so that it slightly broke, and set it upright on the dented end. The nobles were shocked and Columbus cunningly asked them: “If there was such a simple solution, why didn’t any of you think of it?”

He’d clearly made his point.

Lesson 2: You can only have your best insights when you keep your distractions under control – like in the shower.

Whenever you live with someone, please, please don’t rush them when they’re in the shower. Those few extra minutes of quiet might lead them to brilliant insights. But why is that?

Why do we always seem to come up with great stuff in the shower? It’s because your mind is entirely free to focus on important problems. In the shower, all distractions are under control. The white noise of the water takes away distracting sounds and the feel of the water keeps your entire sense of touch busy without new stimuli.

It is right then and there that all the concepts, thoughts and ideas you’ve had boiling in your subconscious come bubbling to the surface, combined in new ways and voilà: an entirely new perspective on a familiar problem leads to a breakthrough insight!

The only precondition to this is that you’ve previously given your brain some time to actually mull over everything subconsciously, for example by (literally) sleeping on it. When your mind plays with an idea while you’re sleeping, this is called sleep incubation and it’s said that this is how Paul McCartney came up with the melody of the song “Yesterday.” When he woke up in the morning, it was playing in his head.

Lesson 3: A good exercise to evoke more eureka moments is to practice distant-future thinking.

Your capacity to have eureka moments is to some extent set in your genes – some peoples’ right brain halves are just less inhibited as others’. But before you moan and think it’s all for nothing, there are several things you can do make yourself have more flashes of genius.

One is to abandon conformist thinking. Non-conformity is an art in itself, and the more you practice it, the better. You can start by simply imagining yourself as a rebel, a status-quo-breaker, a punk even, and your right brain half will lighten up.

Another good exercise is distant-future thinking. Just like you can imagine distant events as immediate to make better decisions in the now (like thinking your paper deadline is tomorrow, instead of three months away), you can also do the opposite to give yourself more room to be creative.

Imagine I told you that you’ve just won a trip to Hawaii, but in one case, the trip starts tomorrow, whereas in another, it starts a year from now. Scenario A likely makes you think of things like getting your visa, what to pack, how to get to the airport and whether you’ll lose your luggage. With plenty of time left in scenario B, however, chances are you’ll imagine lying at the beach, finding sea shells in the sand and maybe even bumping into surfing legend Kelly Slater.

Let your thoughts drift into the far-away future and you’ll be surprised at how creative you can be.

My personal take-aways

Wow, so many great stories and examples to share from this book. It’s really hard to contain myself to just three here. Lovely combination of storytelling and useful scientific insight, a hidden gem for sure. The Eureka Factor is definitely a recommended read!

The Chimp Paradox Summary

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The Chimp Paradox uses a simple analogy to help you take control of your emotions and act in your own, best interest, whether it’s in making decisions, communicating with others, or your health and happiness.

With even some of the world’s most renowned companies no longer requiring a college degree, it seems the concept of the classic CV gets more outdated by the day. But that doesn’t mean you can’t end up with an interesting career, even after starting on what most would think is a conventional path.

Steve Peters first studied and taught mathematics, before returning to university to attain a medical degree. Later, he added a psychiatrist’s training and was well on his way to become a distinguished doctor. Until, in 2001, one of his former students recommended him to the British cycling team. He eventually went to consult with them full-time and is now a performance coach, advisor to Olympians, and elite athlete himself.

And yet, despite completely changing careers, his success is still rooted in his conventional education. The Chimp Paradox is a simple analogy describing our brains he uses to help athletes deliver their absolute best. But it’s a universal tool, so it can help you live a better life too.

Here are 3 lessons that will help you exercise control over your emotions:

Your brain has two major pars, which often collide, so it’s important to observe them.

Humans have four modes of communication and knowing which one you’re in will help get your message across.

The chimp’s sneakiest trick is wanting more.

Ready to chase the monkey inside your brain? Let’s see if we can get it up the next tree!

If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.

Lesson 1: There are two competing forces in your brain, so learn to recognize them.

One of the easiest ways for us to learn is through analogy. That’s why, when Steve replaced two complex sounding names for parts of our brain with simpler images, he made a brilliant move as a teacher. He describes our prefrontal cortex as the human part of our brain and our limbic system as our inner chimp. The human acts rationally, based on facts, but the chimp only decides using emotions.

As you can imagine, this leads to problems whenever the two clash or the wrong one ends up in charge. Let’s say you got cut off in traffic and almost suffered a crash. You come home to your partner and share this disturbing event. Trying to calm you down, they tell you that, luckily, it all turned out fine.

If you’re still in monkey mode, you might take that as criticism and start an argument. Only if the human’s in charge can you see this fact clearly, calm down, and move on without harping on the situation.

Therefore, the most important thing is to start observing your own state of mind. When you start stressing out, ask yourself: “Who’s in charge here? Do I want to feel and act this way? Or is the chimp taking over?” Learning to observe this is the first, big step in mastering your inner monkey.

Lesson 2: We communicate in four distinct modes, which determine how to best say what you want to say.

In the scenario above, your partner can’t know what mental state you’re in before making a comment. It’s hard to guess sometimes, so it’s normal that you will often be wrong about others too. As a result, there are four communication scenarios:

You’re using your human brain and so is your conversation partner.

You are in human mode, but the person you’re talking to behaves like a chimp.

You’re the chimp, while the other person’s human is in charge.

Both of you behave like monkeys.

The first scenario is ideal, two and three are tough to figure out, but can be handled once you know what you’re dealing with. It’s the fourth scenario that’s to be avoided, because it most often ends in an ugly fight. Besides making an effort to recognize the modes of all participants, you should address problems immediately and directly.

Explaining your reasoning in an assertive, but respectful manner is the best way to avoid emotional responses and bring back others to the rational plane of thinking.

Lesson 3: Since the chimp always wants more, it can become a fundamental obstacle to your long-term happiness.

This is something I struggle with: We should celebrate and appreciate our achievements as they come. I always have goals, but when I achieve them, I tend to gloss over, not really take much of a break, and immediately dig in to the next challenge. That’s not healthy.

It’s also the chimp’s sneakiest trick. By always wanting more, he gets you to chase an illusionary, perfect state in which you can finally be happy – but only once you have the next thing. Of course, there’s always a next thing and that feeling of relief never comes. This is how people end up winning Olympic gold medals without being any happier for it.

So remember: Your inner monkey will always dangle the next reward in front of you. Don’t let it ruin your long-term happiness. When you achieve something you’re proud of, take a break, celebrate, and learn to appreciate what you have.

My personal take-aways

What academics often struggle with is communicating their vast knowledge in ways people enjoy, like, and understand. But not Steve Peters. The Chimp Paradox is a brilliant, simple metaphor that will help you assess your own behavior, focus on the long-term, and communicate better with others.

The Art Of Learning by Josh Waitzkin : Notes

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The Art Of Learning explains the science of becoming a top performer, based on Josh Waitzkin’s personal rise to the top of the chess and Tai Chi world, by showing you the right mindset, proper ways to practice and how to build the habits of a professional.

The Art Of Learning Summary

Josh Waitzkin, the author of The Art of Learning, is a former child prodigy, a celebrated author, has won countless chess tournaments and holds a collection of martial arts titles! It’s safe to say you can trust this man with
teaching you the fundamentals of learning, which he does with marvelous cogency in The Art of Learning, showing you how to overcome even the toughest obstacles in pursuit of your goals.

I first learned about Josh Waitzkin from Tim Ferriss, who not only had him on his podcast a couple times, but also tried to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under his guidance in an episode of his TV show The Tim Ferriss Experiment.

Josh is incredibly passionate about learning itself, more so than about any particular skill field or industry. That also explains how he could just quit chess at the age of 23, in spite of being one of the most promising players of all time and jump straight into martial arts.

In 2008, he wrote this book to share what he’s learned about what it takes to become a top performer – regardless of whether you’re particularly talented, or not.

Here are 3 lessons about the secrets of top performance:

  • If you want to win, you have to lose first.
  • Don’t turn distractions into excuses – use them to getbetter.
  • Improve your recovery rate with HIIT.

Committed to kicking the world’s ass in something? Let’s look at the lessons from lead performers!

Lesson 1: Losing comes before winning (not just in the dictionary).

When Josh was 10 years old, he started to play in adult chess tournaments. For the first time, he started actually losing a bunch of matches. Of course, Josh was frustrated. But it was only through this frustration that he found a major flaw in his chess skills: he couldn’t concentrate long enough to compete in serious tournaments.

Adult chess matches are twice as long as the one in children’s leagues, so Josh started working on his endurance.

The only way to get better is to compete with people, who are better than you. But competing against better people always means losing.

This makes losing a necessary precursor of winning. However, especially when it comes to children, we’re very focused on a mindset of non-competition today. The answer is somewhere in the middle. Losing too much is bad, but so is not losing at all.

When you or your kid lose in something that’s important to you, do this:

Remember that it’s okay to be disappointed.

Be proud of yourself for showing up in the first place.

Identify where to improve in the short term.

Always use failure to set new short-term goals, which fuel a long-term goal, and you’ll never get discouraged from any particular loss.

Lesson 2: Stay in the soft zone to accept distractions and perform in spite of them.

Sometimes it gets really loud in the café I usually work in these days. Business meetings, students venting about their latest exam, loud coffeemakers. On some days it feels very distracting and I get annoyed, because it feels like the world won’t let me focus.

Josh would call this being in the hard zone. Our anger takes over and we can’t perform at the level we’re used to. But in reality, great performers can also deliver when conditions aren’t ideal. For example, soccer players have to be able to execute a free kick or penalty, even when thousands of people are raging in the stands around them.

If you embrace distractions instead, and learn to perform while they’re present, you get better at being in the soft zone. In this state, you can ignore or even use disruptions to build mental resilience and make your brain stronger.

For example, Josh once lost an important chess match, because he had a catchy song stuck in his head. Learning from the loss, he started practicing at home with music playing, eventually aligning his thoughts with the rhythm. This worked so well, that he start ed singing songs in his head before tournaments on purpose, so he could trigger this new flow state.

Lesson 3: High-intensity interval training will cut your recovery rate down fast.

If you’re a runner, or do cardio on a regular basis, you might have heard of HIIT before. It stands for high-intensity interval training – short bursts of very tough exercise, followed by a brief period of recovery time.

For example, if you’re running laps on a track, you could run one lap at your regular pace, then sprint as fast as you can for 10 seconds when you reach the start/finish line, and finish the rest of the lap at your normal pace again. The more you repeat this process, the quicker your heart rate returns to its base level and the longer it takes for it to reach really high levels.

Whether you’re big on sports or not, integrating some form of HIIT into your schedule will be well worth your time: Researchers at the Human Performance Institute have found that this skill translates from physical to mental and will help you reduce stress and recharge after exhausting your mental capacities.

My personal take-aways

A very cool glimpse into the world of high-performers. Screw talent, it’s all about practicing and practicing right. Whether you’re trying to become a writer, better manager or want to dominate in a sport, this book can give you a few valuable principles to make your practice more deliberate. Go Josh!

Buy this book

The Art Of Choosing Summary

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The Art Of Choosing extensively covers the scientific research made about human decision making, showing you what affects how you make choices, how the consequences of those choices affect you, as well as how you can adapt to these circumstances to make better decisions in the future.

The Paradox of Choice is one of my favorite books of all time. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a sucker for most books that, in one way or the other, tell us to go back to “the good old days,” when making choices was easier.

Sheena Iyengar thinks learning how to make choices is more important today than ever. She’s one of the world’s most prominent researchers in this field and conductor of the famous jam study, in which shoppers could sample either 6 or 24 different varieties of jam at a grocery store, which led to six times more purchases when less jams were available.

In this book, she explains what affects our choices, how those choices in turn affect us, and what we can do to choose better. Here are my 3 favorite lessons, one from each category:

  • How much choice you need is up to you to find out, but very important.
  • Having some choice is so important that even just thinking you do helps.
  • There are situations when it’s better for us not to choose ourselves, as long as the choice is communicated well to us.

Are you game to chop some complexity out of your choices? Let’s level up your inner decision-maker!

Lesson 1: You must find out how much choice you personally need, something that heavily depends on culture, for example.

There are innumerable factors that influence any given choice you make. When we think about how we can change these, we usually try to answer the question “How can I maximize the amount of choice I have?” – because we assume that more choice is better. At least that’s how I try to answer it, because I grew up in the Western civilization.

Here’s where it gets tricky: Not all of us need to maximize our freedom of choice to thrive. How much choice you need is highly individual.

One of the factors that determines how much choice you actually need is culture. It makes sense. Cultures that focus and promote individual freedom, as in Europe or the United States, produce people who thrive on being in charge. Eastern cultures are usually more focused on their collective entity, in which it feels more natural to have others make decisions for you.

In a study where Asian-American and Anglo-American children were either given a toy to play with by their mothers or allowed to select a toy to play with themselves, the Asian kids played longer when their mom selected the toy, whereas the American kids enjoyed playing longer if they self-selected.

What might seem trivial when looking at kid’s playing behaviors is not when it comes to life: In another study, the same two ethnic groups were given a math test before and after playing Space Quest, a game designed to improve their math skills. One group could choose their spaceship’s color and name, another was given the most popular settings among the class.

The American kids improved by 18% when they were allowed to choose themselves and not at all when they were denied the choice, whereas the Asian kids improved by 18% when they were given the settings, and only 11% if they had to decide.

How much freedom of choice you need is not an easy one to answer for yourself, but you can bet that it’s an important one to find out.

Lesson 2: Some choice is better than none, and even the illusion of it makes us happier.

Two famous studies among over 10,000 British civil servants, called the Whitehall studies, showed that employees with a higher salary tended to be healthier, in spite of having more stressful jobs. Those with the lowest pay grade had the highest likelihood of dying from heart disease. However, nobody who works for their government in a Western country lives a life close to the poverty line, so what’s the deal?

As it turned out, health wasn’t a matter of money, but a matter of choice. With higher pay comes higher responsibility, but also more freedom to structure your work and tasks – and this makes people happier and healthier.

Feeling like you’re in charge is (to some extent, remember lesson 1) so important that even the perception of choice matters a great deal, regardless of how much you actually end up having.

For example, when new residents of a nursing home were given a suggested schedule of activities, along with being told they were “allowed” to visit other floors, they felt like their health was the staff’s responsibility, and they gave up on it. Telling a second group that everything was their choice made them much happier, even though technically both groups were free to do as they pleased.

Lesson 3: Sometimes it’s better to have others choose for you, but only if you’re properly informed.

Sometimes in life, we have to make really, really hard choices.

For example, in the extreme situation of parents having to decide whether to keep their terminally ill children alive or not, parents can deal better with the decision to cease palliative care if it’s initiated by the doctor – it puts less of a burden on their shoulders.

However, while it ultimately is better to have someone make such a tough decision for you, it only makes you feel better if you’re well-informed about it.

In a study where participants read about the following three variations of such a scenario, the group that didn’t have to make the decision but was well-informed felt best about it:

The parents aren’t informed about their child’s survival chances, the doctors stop the treatment and the child dies.

The parents are told there’s a 60% survival chance, but with severe neurological disabilities, before the doctors stop the treatment and the child dies.

The parents are told the chances and have to decide themselves.

Groups 1 and 3 felt equally as bad, either for being robbed the choice and the information or for having to deal with both, while group 2 felt glad to know what was going on and that the choice was inevitable.

My personal take-aways There were so many good things to share from this summary, I had a tough time choosing – ironic huh? Highly recommended read

Buy this book

Rewire Summary

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Rewire explains why we keep engaging in addictive and self-destructive behavior, how our brains justify it and where you can get started on breaking your bad habits by becoming more mindful and disciplined.

Dr. Richard O’Connor is a psychotherapist, who spent over 20 years working in the fields of addiction, depression and mental illness.

He believes his own struggles with depression, both in his 40s and his 20s – his mother committed suicide when he was 15 – give him a unique and strong perspective on it, which he shares in this book.

Explaining plenty of reasons for why we engage in self-destructive behavior, the book also gives you valuable starting points to get better, so if you want to finally stop smoking, quit munching chips in front of the TV and not kick yourself so much if you fail, this is for you.

Here are 3 great lessons from the book:

  • You have two selves that influence your actions – a conscious one and an automatic one.
  • Repressing your emotions can cause you to become self-destructive.
  • You can start breaking your bad habits by faking it and training mindfulness.

Have a bad habit you want to kick? Let’s do it!

Lesson 1: You have two selves that influence your actions – a conscious one and an automatic one.

Which one is it going to be after work – gym or TV?

The moment I ask you that question you know which answer is the right one.

Yet, we’ve all faced this or similar decision countless times, but still ended up on the couch with a bag of chips.


Dr. O’Connor says it’s because we have two selves, a conscious one and an automatic one.

The conscious self relies a lot on rational arguments, it’s when you reason yourself into doing things, for example going to the library early to get a good spot, because it’ll be crowded later on.

The automatic self is in charge when you eat your entire popcorn before the movie starts. Your conscious self isn’t there to think about the consequences and only when it reactivates again later do you regret your actions.

Whenever you perform a bad habit, your automatic self is running the show, after all you’d never choose to do a bad habit consciously.

There are two ways then, to break bad habits:

Strengthening your conscious self, so it becomes the dominant force.

Training your automatic self to just stop slipping up.

Both work, but in the long run, training your automatic self is a lot less effort, because once the neural pathways have been established, they work on autopilot.

Lesson 2: Repressing your emotions can cause you to become self-destructive.

Have you ever wished to yell at someone at the top of your lungs, because they really pissed you off?

Chances are more often than not, when you wanted to, you didn’t.

Dr. O’Connor says you should have.

Emotions are chemical reactions in your body. They build up over time and eventually break, which is when we have to let them out.

Like water in an overflowing bathtub, they’ll find a way.

You not yelling when someone harasses you in the morning might lead you to eat a whole pie by yourself in the afternoon, just because you bottled up those feelings.

Emotions are never right or wrong, it’s not for you to judge, they’re feelings and therefore not even meant to be based on reason and common sense.

When you’re trying to rationally pick your feelings, you’ll create a communication gap between your conscious and your automatic self.

Your automatic self really tells you to yell at your co-worker for deleting all that data, but your rational you steps in and says you shouldn’t cause a scene in the office.

Eventually, this conflicting advice might lead you to engage in self-destructive behavior, like drinking way too much coffee, so listen to your gut.

Lesson 3: You can start breaking your bad habits by faking it and training mindfulness.

Rewiring your brain is never easy, but it’s easy to get started.

Alcoholics Anonymous use the saying “Fake it till you make it” a lot, and it helps a lot of recovering addicts get started.

It focuses on being dedicated to getting better, and giving it your best, even when you end up caving and having a drink after a week or two.

If you constantly beat yourself up every time you have another drink, you’ll keep sabotaging yourself, because you’re repressing those emotions, remember?

Instead, focus on continuing your efforts and “fake it” until you eventually make not drinking a habit – it’ll get easier to control yourself over time.

Note: Speaking of not drinking, check out what my friends Ruari and Andy are doing over at One Year No Beer – a tremendous program!

Another great starting point is training your mindfulness through meditation.

Just by sitting down for 30 minutes every day and focusing and re-focusing your attention on your breath, you can substantially increase your awareness for when you’re about to do a bad habit.

Don’t worry about being perfect, it’s normal to have other thoughts as you meditate. Gently push them aside and re-focus your attention.

That’s what meditation is all about, but, you know, fake it till you make it 😉

My personal take-aways

This summary on Blinkist reminded me a bit of The Upside Of Your Dark Side. It shows you not all unwanted behaviors are bad and really digs into why you’re engaging in them in the first place.

I think we all break bad habits differently at different times (I’ve even created a quiz to show you which type you are for what situation), but it’s important to know the roots and basics, so you don’t slide down a slippery slope into addiction.

Very good summary, short, but packed with information – highly recommend.

Note: I recently published a very practical 3-step guide to breaking bad habits, along with a mini course, which will also be a good starting point to get going today.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely: Notes

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Predictably Irrational explains the hidden forces that really drive how we make decisions, which are far less rational than we think, but can help us stay on top of our finances, interact better with others and live happier lives, once we know about them.

Dan is  a professor of psychology and behavioral economics and researches on how we make choices. How we decide what things are worth to us, what influences the way we experience the world and how we tackle long-term goals are all shockingly irrational, and this book sheds some light on just how incoherent we are, so you can be more reasonable in the future.

#3 lessons

  • We compare whatever we can, so give others easy comparisonsto pick you.
  • Free is really just another price, but a powerful one.
  • You overvalue what you own.

Lesson 1: Give others easy comparisons, so they’ll value you more highly.

Imagine you’re trying to buy a new lawnmower, one of those fancy ones you can sit on and drive around. The local brick and mortar store around the corner has some, but just one model, and it’s priced at $3,000. Is that good or bad?

It’s really tough to say, isn’t it, without having something to compare it against to?

Let’s say you walk down the street and find another store, which has two different models, the first one you saw at the first store, and another one, which has slightly better functionality and looks better, but costs more than double, $7,000! This makes it a lot easier to pick the first one, doesn’t it?

We’re wired to compare things, and our brains do so in the easiest way possible.

We compare what’s right in front of us, not necessarily what we should think about or look at that might not be around at the time.

So if you give people options to compare yourself or your products to, which are slightly worse, they’ll pick you more often.

For example, if you’re single, and you show up at the club with a friend, who looks similar, but slightly less attractive than you, people will always compare the two of you against one another. It’s a lot easier to compare you two than to compare one of you with all the other, different looking people, or people they saw a week ago at another club, so if you can get people to think you’re hotter than your friend, they’ll likely even think you’re the prettiest person at the club!

Offering comparisons means selling, and while experiments like the one above are fun, you shouldn’t abuse this. Plus, for the sake of your own happiness, it’s best to try and stop comparing altogether.

Lesson 2: Free is just another kind of price, but a very powerful one.

When people hear something is free they go insane. Do you have a box at home with free gifts you’ve collected over the years, that you never use, but still keep? Or do you always go for the “buy one, get one free” deal when it’s offered to you?

Dan Ariely says free is a powerful emotional trigger, but at its core, it’s just another price – the price of zero dollars.

However, the difference between $0 and even just $0.01 is huge. When Dan did a study offering people to buy a Lindt truffle for $0.26 or a Hershey’s kiss for $0.01, the groups were split evenly (40% for each of the chocolates, with 20% of people buying nothing). But when they reduced both prices by one cent, making the cost of the truffle $0.25, but the cost of the Hershey’s kisses $0.00 (=free), 90% decided to go for the Hershey’s kisses, even though the difference in price was the same.

This has to do with our incredibly strong tendency to avoid losses wherever possible. If we buy something and it’s bad, we lose money. But if we get something for free, the potential downside is zero, but it still might be good for us, so we value free items disproportionately high.

Lesson 3: The endowment effect causes you to overvalue what you own.

In a funny video of one of his shows, famous stand up comedian George Carlin says about how we look at other people’s possessions: “Have you ever noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?”

In a nutshell, this expresses the economic concept of the endowment effect – the fact that we value things more highly once we own them.

For example, if you bought that Lindt truffle in the above example for $0.26 cents, chances are you wouldn’t sell it to me at that price after you’ve had it for even just a minute. You’d likely quote me a price that’s somewhere around twice as high, maybe $0.50.

At Duke University, this phenomenon was investigated with baseball tickets. To get one you have to enter a lottery, so all participants are equally likely to get a ticket, or not. But once the tickets have been distributed, those who won them wouldn’t sell them for less than a staggering $2,400, while those who didn’t win any wouldn’t pay more than $170.

That’s the endowment effect at work and it’s based on three things:

We love what we own, simply because of our memories and fantasies about it (“I loved wearing this shirt at work/I’ll have so much fun at the game”).

We hate losing things we own, whereas we don’t mind missing out on something all that much.

We expect others to think highly of the same things we do (“If I like this carpet, I’m sure all my friends will like it too).

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

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Detailed Summary

Many of our behaviors are misguided.

But they’re not random; they’re systematic and predictable.

By recognizing our irrational patterns, we can make better decisions in life and business.

The Five Big Ideas

We tend to focus on what we may lose, rather than what we may gain.

With everything you do, you should train yourself to question your repeated behaviors.

We assume other people will see monetary transactions from the same perspective as we do.

People will work more for a cause than for cash.

Giving up on our long-term goals for immediate gratification is procrastination.

Predictably Irrational Summary

“Humans rarely choose things in absolute terms.”

We tend to focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly.

“Most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.”

Gregg Rapp, a restaurant consultant, discovered high-priced entrées on the menu boost revenue for the restaurant—even if no one buys them. Why? Because even though people generally won’t buy the most expensive dish on the menu, they will order the second most expensive dish.

“We are always looking at the things around us in relation to others.”

“We not only tend to compare things with one another but also tend to focus on comparing things that are easily comparable—and avoid comparing things that cannot be compared easily.”

“The more we have, the more we want. And the only cure is to break the cycle of relativity.”

“Once we buy a new product at a particular price, we become anchored to that price.”

“The basic idea of arbitrary coherence is this: although initial prices are ‘arbitrary,’ once those prices are established in our minds they will shape not only present prices but also future prices (this makes them ‘coherent’).”

“Initial prices are largely ‘arbitrary’ and can be influenced by responses to random questions; but once those prices are established in our minds, they shape not only what we are willing to pay for an item, but also how much we are willing to pay for related products (this makes them coherent).”

Price tags become anchors when we contemplate buying a product or service at that particular price.

“The first anchor influences not only the immediate buying decision but many others that follow.”

Herding happens when we assume that something is good (or bad) on the basis of other people’s previous behavior, and our own actions follow suit.

Self-herding happens when we believe something is good (or bad) on the basis of our own previous behavior.

To improve an irrational behavior, ask yourself, “How did it begin? Second, ask yourself, “What amount of pleasure will I be getting out of it. Is the pleasure as much as I thought I would get?”

With everything you do, you should train yourself to question your repeated behaviors.

Ariely on decision-making:

We should also pay particular attention to the first decision we make in what is going to be a long stream of decisions (about clothing, food, etc.). When we face such a decision, it might seem to us that this is just one decision, without large consequences; but in fact the power of the first decision can have such a long-lasting effect that it will percolate into our future decisions for years to come. Given this effect, the first decision is crucial, and we should give it an appropriate amount of attention.

“The sensitivity we show to price changes might in fact be largely a result of our memory for the prices we have paid in the past and our desire for coherence with our past decisions—not at all a reflection of our true preferences or our level of demand.”

According to Margaret Clark, Judson Mills, and Alan Fiske, we live simultaneously in two different worlds—one where social norms prevail, and the other where market norms make the rules.

People will work more for a cause than for cash.

“No one is offended by a small gift, because even small gifts keep us in the social exchange world and away from market norms.”

“When a social norm collides with a market norm, the social norm goes away for a long time.”

“To make informed decisions we need to somehow experience and understand the emotional state we will be in at the other side of the experience. Learning how to bridge this gap is essential to making some of the important decisions of our lives.”

Giving up on our long-term goals for immediate gratification is procrastination.

When Ariely offered his students a tool by which they could pre commit to deadlines, they achieved better grades.

A good course of action is to give people an opportunity to commit upfront to their preferred path of action.

The endowment effect is our tendency to value what we own more than other people do.

Our aversion to loss is a strong emotion and one that sometimes causes us to make bad decisions.

We assume other people will see monetary transactions from the same perspective as we do.

The more work you put into something, the more ownership you begin to feel for it.

We can begin to feel ownership even before we own something (this applies to points of view, too).

Given a simple setup and a clear goal, all of us are quite adept at pursuing the source of our satisfaction.

“Research on stereotypes shows not only that we react differently when we have a stereotype of a certain group of people, but also that stereotyped people themselves react differently when they are aware of the label that they are forced to wear (in psychological parlance, they are “primed” with this label).”

“Since people engage in a cost-benefit analysis with regard to honesty, they can also engage in a cost-benefit analysis to be dishonest.”

“When we are removed from any benchmarks of ethical thought, we tend to stray into dishonesty. But if we are reminded of morality at the moment we are tempted, then we are much more likely to be honest.”

“Cheating is a lot easier when it’s a step removed from money.”

“People are sometimes willing to sacrifice the pleasure they get from a particular consumption experience in order to project a certain image to others.”

Recommended Reading

If you like Predictably Irrational, you may also enjoy the following books:

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Persuading, Convincing, and Influencing Others by Daniel H Pink

Buy this book-

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Pre-Suasion Summary

Categories BehaviourPosted on

Pre-Suasion takes you through the latest social psychology research to explain how marketers, persuaders and our environment primes us to say certain things and take specific actions, as well as how you can harness the same ideas to master the art of persuasion.

33 years after Influence stormed into the hearts of business owners, marketers and managers and sold millions of copies, Robert Cialdini is back on the scene with his first solo book since then. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade isn’t about getting people to decide the way you want. It’s about setting the stage the right way, so they’ll automatically want to when the time comes.

This book shows you two sides of the same coin: the way we’re being pre-suaded in our everyday lives and how you and I can use those very same tactics to persuade others. If you’re a marketer, this’ll help you sell more stuff. If you’re a frequent shopper, you’ll learn to see why you buy things the way you do.

Here are 3 lessons about how we decide, before we decide:

  • So-called leading or pre-suasive questions elicit certain answers and prime us to decide in a specific way.
  • We put more relevance on what’s attention-grabbing, sobeware!
  • The words we use determine what we do – more than we think.

Ready to learn the art of pre-suasion? Let’s give this a go!

Lesson 1: Leading questions try to get you to respond with certain answers and influence your later decisions.

Last semester I took a statistics class, for which I had to create a survey about energy drinks. One of the first things we learned was that we must not ask leading questions. Leading questions are questions, which steer the respondent to answer in a certain way.

For example, if I ask you: “Given the recent terrorist attacks in London, how dangerous do you perceive the threat of terrorism to be?” then that question is loaded with pre-suasion. By reminding you of those attacks I draw your attention to the recency of the topic, and thus you’ll naturally evaluate it the danger as a lot realer.

But pre-suasive questions can be even simpler: “Are you unhappy?” gets you to start fishing for unhappiness in your life, whereas “Are you happy?” makes you look for the positives. In a 1993 study among students, those with the first question were 375% (!) more likely to report actually being unhappy.

What kind of answer you get highly depends on how you ask the question.

Lesson 2: Whatever grabs our attention, we think is relevant.

Have you been thinking about terrorism for the last minute or so? That’s because I planted something very attention-grabbing in your head. And the longer you think about it, the more relevant it’ll become in your mind.

What’s more, if we’re not giving our attention to something that grabs it already, we’ll just settle for whatever’s available right now. If I ask you whether you like cappuccino in a Starbucks, you’re a lot more likely to say yes – even if you don’t – just because you feel it’s the right response in this environment.

In the same vein, you will think 9/11 is historically less important two weeks before and after the anniversary date than the week of. When the news have been recycling it for days, the event is still fresh in your mind, it’s emotional and available.

So the next time someone tries to sell you an alarm system by citing all kinds of scary crime statistics, remember: they’re making things seem more relevant to you than they might actually be.

Lesson 3: Our word choices matter a lot more than we think, because words get us to do things.

I think you should watch Entourage. It’s a hilariously funny TV show, has great guest stars, awesome actors, and a superb soundtrack, especially for people who like hip-hop.

Does this make you want to watch the show? If so, what do you think sold you on it? The fun? The actors? The soundtrack? Chances are, it’s none of those things. Most likely, if you now feel compelled to watch this show, it’s because I used words that reminded you of some of your favorite things. Maybe you thought of a funny actor you like, a hip-hop song you love, or even just something random you think is awesome.

One of the psychologists Cialdini cites in the book says the primary purpose of speech is to direct the attention of listeners to certain aspects of reality. Use the right words, get people to focus on certain things and thus, to take certain actions.

For example, in a study where participants had to assemble sentences from scrambled words, those with aggressive words like “blood,” “rage,” “angry,” or “kill” set intensity levels of electric shocks in a follow-up test 50% higher than the control group. Similarly, after reading a long text about old people with triggering words, participants of another study actually walked slower.

What you say matters. It changes what you do. More than you think.

My personal take-aways

You have to be bold to come back after 30 years and say: “Look, I wrote another book!” Especially when your first one was so successful. I have nothing but respect for that. And I think Robert Cialdini actually pulled it off. The book’s getting great reviews, the blinks make a lot of sense to me and this adds a fresh and new perspective to a topic that’s been talked so much about. Bravo!

Buy this book

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson: Notes

Categories BehaviourPosted on

Peak accumulates everything the pioneer researcher on deliberate practice has learned about expert performance through decades of exploration and analysis of what separates those, who are average, from those, who are world-class at what they do.

If you’ve spent a little bit of time on this site, you’ll likely have come across a phrase that’s dropped often in popular science: deliberate practice. This idea represents an alternative to the long-prevailing notion that world-class performance is the result of mere talent and innate ability. Bounce, Deep Work and The Art of Learning are just a few of numerous bestsellers discussing this topic you’ll find on Four Minute Books.

What we haven’t done so far is trace this powerful concept back to its humble beginnings. Anders Ericsson is the true pioneer in this field. It’s his research that the 10,0000-hour rule is based on and he’s been investigating peak performance for decades. Only in 2016 did he finally wrap everything he’s learned so far into this book, called Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

Here are my 3 favorite lessons about how the idea has developed and transformed over the years and why it puts an end to the talent vs. skill debate:

The path professionals take is called ‘purposeful practice’ and it consists of four parts.

When you practice in a mature field of expertise and have someone to guide you, purposeful practice becomes deliberate.

True genius isn’t an innate talent – but the mere result of years of deliberate practice.

Are you sick and tired of believing you can’t become who you want because you weren’t built to? Then this is for you.

Lesson 1: Professionals practice with purpose, which is a 4-part approach.

Way back in the 1970s, Anders Ericsson did a study with one of his undergraduate students, named Steve. The goal was to see if Steve could significantly improve his ability to remember a sequence of numbers. When they began working together, Steve could remember the average length most people have no trouble with – seven digits in a row. Steve hadn’t had any memory training before and he wasn’t particularly good with numbers either.

At the end of the study, several months later, Steve could remember number sequences up to 82 digits long.

What happened in between? Four things, specifically, which shaped Steve’s practice environment:

He had a clear, specific goal: memorize more numbers.

Steve was focused during practice. A researcher recited the numbers to him in one-second intervals. There were no distractions.

Ericsson constantly pushed him to achieve more. When he pulled off 32 numbers, they’d start again with 32 the next session, then shoot for 33.

Lastly, Steve received feedback after every attempt, telling him exactly how he had done.

These four things combined create a training environment Ericsson calls purposeful practice. However, purposeful practice is just a stepping stone. For the real deal, two more things must happen.

Lesson 2: Purposeful practice becomes deliberate when it’s guided and within a well-developed field.

Going from an average to a world-class performer is like climbing a ladder with an infinite number of rungs. The difference between good and great is in how fast you can get to the next rung, including how many you can skip altogether.

This happens when your practice turns from purposeful to deliberate, for which two elements must come together:

Your practice must take place in a field that’s well-established. The longer it’s been around and the more seasoned experts you can potentially access, the better. If there’s a clear gap in performance between beginners and pros, that’s a good sign.

Your practice must be guided by a trainer, coach or mentor, who can instruct you in the activities necessary to improve.

Take music, for example. It’s been around forever and hundreds of training techniques for all kinds of instruments have been refined and crafted until today. By having a violin teacher, who shows you how to play scales the best way, you skip a lot of steps and frustrating attempts.

Leveraging the guidance of someone with access to a big share of the resources and strategies in your field takes your practice from purposeful to informed – and that’s what makes it deliberate.

Lesson 3: Even the world’s greatest talents are really the result of years of deliberate practice.

But what about child prodigies Nik? When did they practice?

Ericsson argues there is no evidence to prove something such as innate talent exists and that even the most gifted among us are the result of lots and lots of deliberate practice.

Even Mozart was trained, not just talented. He just happened to receive excellent training, particularly from his father, starting before he was four years old. Contrary to popular belief, Mozart likely only started composing “proper” music in his teenage years – by when he had put in a decade’s worth of deliberate practice already.

Plus, even if you consider others to be “more of a natural” than you, it wouldn’t change the fact that you too can become world-class, thanks to deliberate practice. Whether our starting points differ or not becomes moot: he who practices the most and does so deliberately, wins.

So get off the complain train and start calling potential mentors!

My personal take-aways

Given Anders Ericsson’s background and his pioneer status when it comes to human performance, it’d be foolish to skip Peak for other books about the subject. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise should be your number one, go-to book about deliberate practice. If you’re interested in learning about this topic, make it your first stop, not your last.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson

The Book in Three Sentences

Anders Ericsson has made a career studying top performers.

We all have the seeds of excellence within us; —it’s just a question of nurturing them properly.

In Peak, Ericsson shows you how to get better at the things you care about.

The Five Big Ideas

People aren’t born with fixed reserves of potential; instead, potential is an expandable vessel, shaped by the various things we do throughout our lives.

The right sort of practice carried out over a sufficient period of time leads to improvement. Nothing else.

Once you reach a level of “acceptable” performance and automaticity, the additional years of “practice” don’t lead to improvement.

The goal, with deliberate practice, is not just to reach your potential but to build it, to make things possible that were not possible before.

Much of deliberate practice involves developing ever more efficient mental representations that you can use in whatever activity you are practicing.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Power of Purposeful Practice

Chapter 2: Harnessing Adaptability

Chapter 3: Mental Representations

Chapter 4: The Gold Standard

Chapter 5: Principles of Deliberate Practice on The Job

Chapter 6: Principles of Deliberate Practice in Everyday Life

Chapter 7: The Road to Extraordinary

Chapter 8: But What About Natural Talent?

Chapter 9: Where Do We Go From Here?

Peak Summary

No matter what role innate genetic endowment may play in the achievements of “gifted” people, the main gift that these people have is the same one we all have—the adaptability of the human brain and body, which they have taken advantage of more than the rest of us.

People aren’t born with fixed reserves of potential; instead, potential is an expandable vessel, shaped by the various things we do throughout our lives.

Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it. We can create our own potential.

The right sort of practice carried out over a sufficient period of time leads to improvement. Nothing else.

Chapter 1: The Power of Purposeful Practice

The following are the basic types of practice—the sorts of practice that most people have already experienced in one way or another.

1. The Usual Approach (A.K.A. “Naive Practice”)

Once you reach a satisfactory skill level and automate your performance, you stop improving.

According to Ericsson, once a person reaches a level of “acceptable” performance and automaticity, the additional years of “practice” don’t lead to improvement. If anything, people who have been at it for twenty years are likely to be a bit worse than the one who’s been doing it for only five. Why? Because automated abilities gradually deteriorate in the absence of deliberate efforts to improve.

2. Purposeful Practice

Purposeful practice has several characteristics that set it apart from what we might call “naive practice,” which is essentially just doing something repeatedly, and expecting that the repetition alone will improve your performance.

Purposeful practice is, as the term implies, much more purposeful, thoughtful, and focused than naive practice. In particular, it has the following characteristics:

Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals

Purposeful practice is all about putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a longer-term goal

Purposeful practice is focused

You seldom improve much without giving the task your full attention

Purposeful practice involves feedback

You have to know whether you are doing something right and, if not, how you’re going wrong.

Generally speaking, no matter what you’re trying to do, you need feedback to identify exactly where and how you are falling short. Without feedback—either from yourself or from outside observers—you can’t figure out what you need to improve on or how close you are to achieving your goals.

Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone. Why? Because if you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve. To get out of your comfort zone, you need to try something you couldn’t do before.

Often, the goal isn’t to “try harder”; it’s to “try differently.”

The best way to get past any barrier is to come at it from a different direction, which is one reason it is useful to work with a teacher or coach. Someone who is already familiar with the sorts of obstacles you’re likely to encounter can suggest ways to overcome them.

Sometimes it turns out that a barrier is more psychological than anything else.

Whenever you’re trying to improve at something, you will run into such obstacles—points at which it seems impossible to progress, or at least where you have no idea what you should do in order to improve. This is natural. What is not natural is a true dead-stop obstacle, one that is impossible to get around, over, or through.

In all of his years of research, Ericsson has found it is surprisingly rare to get clear evidence in any field that a person has reached some immutable limit on performance. Instead, he’s found that people more often just give up and stop trying to improve.

While it is always possible to keep going and keep improving, it is not always easy. Maintaining the focus and the effort required by purposeful practice is hard work, and it is generally not fun.

Meaningful positive feedback is one of the crucial factors in maintaining motivation. It can be internal feedback, such as the satisfaction of seeing yourself improve at something, or external feedback provided by others, but it makes a huge difference in whether a person will be able to maintain the consistent effort necessary to improve through purposeful practice.

Purposeful practice in a nutshell: Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Finally, figure out a way to maintain your motivation.

Although it is generally possible to improve to a certain degree with focused practice and staying out of your comfort zone, that’s not all there is to it. Trying hard isn’t enough. Pushing yourself to your limits isn’t enough. There are other, equally important aspects of practice and training that are often overlooked.

Chapter 2: Harnessing Adaptability

There is a growing body of evidence that both the structure and the function of the brain change in response to various sorts of mental training, in much the same way as your muscles and cardiovascular system respond to physical training.

The hippocampus is the horse-shaped part of our brain that is involved in the development of memory.

In one study, Ellenor McGuire, a neuroscientist at University College London, studied a group of people training to become licensed taxi drivers in London.

McGuire found that the volume of the posterior hippocampi had gotten significantly larger in the group of trainees who had continued their training and had become licensed taxi drivers. By contrast, there was no change in the size of the posterior hippocampi among the prospective taxi drivers who had failed to become licensed (either because they simply stopped training or because they could not pass the tests) or among the subjects who had never had anything to do with the taxi training program.

You need to continually push to keep the body’s compensatory changes coming, but if you push too far outside your comfort zone, you risk injuring yourself and actually setting yourself back.

Recent studies have shown that learning a new skill is much more effective at triggering structural changes in the brain than simply continuing to practice a skill that one has already learned.

Musical training modifies the structure and function of the brain in various ways that result in an increased capacity for playing music.

The most effective forms of practice do more than help you learn to play a musical instrument; they actually increase your ability to play.

Long-term training results in changes in those parts of the brain that are relevant to the particular skill being developed.

Regular training leads to changes in the parts of the brain that are challenged by the training. The brain adapts to these challenges by rewiring itself in ways that increase its ability to carry out the functions required by the challenges.

The effects of training on the brain can vary with age in several ways. The most important way is that younger brains—those of children and adolescents — are more adaptable than adult brains are, so training can have larger effects on younger people. Because the young brain is developing in various ways, training at early ages can actually shape the course of later development, leading to significant changes.

“The Bent-Twig Effect”: If you push a small twig slightly away from its normal pattern of growth, you can cause a major change in the ultimate location of the branch that grows from that twig; pushing on a branch that is already developed has much less effect.

In many cases people who, have developed one skill or ability to an extraordinary degree seem to have regressed in another area.

The cognitive and physical changes caused by training require upkeep. Stop training, and they start to go away.

When Maguire studied a group of retired London taxi drivers, she found that they had less gray matter in their posterior hippocampi than did active taxi drivers, although they still had more than retired subjects who had never been taxi drivers.

The reason that most people don’t possess these extraordinary physical capabilities isn’t because they don’t have the capacity for them, but rather because they’re satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it. They live in the world of “good enough.”

The traditional approach to learning is not designed to challenge homeostasis. It assumes, consciously or not, that learning is all about fulfilling your innate potential and that you can develop a particular skill or ability without getting too far out of your comfort zone. In this view, all that you are doing with practice—indeed, all that you can do—is to reach a fixed potential.

The goal, with deliberate practice, is not just to reach your potential but to build it, to make things possible that were not possible before. This requires challenging homeostasis—getting out of your comfort zone—and forcing your brain or your body to adapt. But once you do this, learning is no longer just a way of fulfilling some genetic destiny; it becomes a way of taking control of your destiny and shaping your potential in ways that you choose.

Chapter 3: Mental Representations

Research has shown that the amount of time spent analyzing positions—not the amount of time spent playing chess with others—is the single most important predictor of a chess player’s ability. It generally takes about ten years of this sort of practice to reach the level of grandmaster.

A mental representation is a mental structure that corresponds to an object, an idea, a collection of information, or anything else, concrete or abstract, that the brain is thinking about.

Much of deliberate practice involves developing ever more efficient mental representations that you can use in whatever activity you are practicing.

The thing all mental representations have in common is that they make it possible to process large amounts of information quickly, despite the limitations of short-term memory.

What sets expert performers apart from everyone else is the quality and quantity of their mental representations. Through years of practice, they develop highly complex and sophisticated representations of the various situations they are likely to encounter in their fields. These representations allow them to make faster, more accurate decisions and respond more quickly and effectively in a given situation.

The main thing that sets experts apart from the rest of us is that their years of practice have changed the neural circuitry in their brains to produce highly specialized mental representations, which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem-solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities needed to excel in their particular specialties.

The best way to understand exactly what these mental representations are and how they work is to develop a good mental representation of the concept mental representation.

The more you study a subject, the more detailed your mental representations of it become, and the better you get at assimilating new information.

To write well, for example, develop a mental representation ahead of time to guide your efforts. Then monitor and evaluate your efforts and modify that representation as necessary.

The more skilled you become, the better your mental representations are, and the better your mental representations are, the more effectively you can practice honing your skill.

As you push yourself to do something new—to develop a new skill or sharpen an old one—you are also expanding and sharpening your mental representations, which will, in turn, make it possible for you to do more than you could before.

Chapter 4: The Gold Standard

In one study, Ericsson interviewed violin students from Berlin University of The Arts. One of his most significant findings was that most factors the students had identified as being important to improvement were also seen as labor-intensive and not much fun; the only exceptions were listening to music and sleeping.

Everyone from the very top students to the future music teachers agreed: improvement was hard, and they didn’t enjoy the work they did to improve. In short, there were no students who just loved to practice and thus needed less motivation than the others. These students were motivated to practice intensely and with full concentration because they saw such practice as essential to improving their performance.

First, to become an excellent violinist requires several thousand hours of practice. Ericsson found no shortcuts and no “prodigies” who reached an expert level with relatively little practice. And, second, even among these gifted musicians—all of whom had been admitted to the best music academy in Germany—the violinists who had spent significantly more hours practicing their craft were on average more accomplished than those who had spent less time practicing.

Nobody develops extraordinary abilities without putting in tremendous amounts of practice.

Deliberate practice is different from other sorts of purposeful practice in two important ways: First, it requires a field that is already reasonably well developed—that is, a field in which the best performers have attained a level of performance that clearly sets them apart from people who are just entering the field.

Second, deliberate practice requires a teacher who can provide practice activities designed to help a student improve his or her performance.

Deliberate practice is informed and guided by the best performers’ accomplishments and by an understanding of what these expert performers do to excel. Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.

Deliberate practice is characterized by the following traits:

Deliberate practice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established. The practice regimen should be designed and overseen by a teacher or coach who is familiar with the abilities of expert performers and with how those abilities can best be developed.

Deliberate practice takes place outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.

Deliberate practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance; it is not aimed at some vague overall improvement. Once an overall goal has been set, a teacher or coach will develop a plan for making a series of small changes that will add up to the desired larger change. Improving some aspect of the target performance allows a performer to see that his or her performance has been improved by the training.

Deliberate practice is deliberate, that is, it requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions. It isn’t enough to simply follow a teacher’s or coach’s directions. The student must concentrate on the specific goal for his or her practice activity so that adjustments can be made to control practice.

Deliberate practice involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback. Early in the training process much of the feedback will come from the teacher or coach, who will monitor progress, point out problems, and offer ways to address those problems. With time and experience, students must learn to monitor themselves, spot mistakes, and adjust accordingly.

Deliberate practice both produces and depends on effective mental representations. Improving performance goes hand in hand with improving mental representations; as one’s performance improves, the representations become more detailed and effective, in turn making it possible to improve even more. Mental representations make it possible to monitor how one is doing, both in practice and in actual performance. They show the right way to do something and allow one to notice when doing something wrong to correct it.

Deliberate practice nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically; over time this step-by-step improvement will eventually lead to expert performance. Because of the way that new skills are built on top of existing skills, it is important for teachers to provide beginners with the correct fundamental skills in order to minimize the chances that the student will have to relearn those fundamental skills later when at a more advanced level.

Research has shown that the “experts” in many fields don’t perform reliably better than other, less highly regarded members of the profession—or sometimes even than people who have had no training at all.

Be careful when identifying expert performers. Ideally you want some objective measure of performance with which to compare people’s abilities. If no such measures exist, get as close as you can.

Another method is to seek out the persons that professionals themselves seek out when they need help with a particularly difficult situation. Talk to the people about who they think are the best performers in their field, but be certain that you ask them what type of experience and knowledge they have to be able to judge one professional as being better than another.

If you find that something works, keep doing it; if it doesn’t work, stop. The better you are able to tailor your training to mirror the best performers in your field, the more effective your training is likely to be.

Chapter 5: Principles of Deliberate Practice on the Job

The first step to enhancing performance in an organization is realizing that improvement is possible only if participants abandon business-as-usual practice. Doing so requires recognizing and rejecting three prevailing myths:

The belief that one’s abilities are limited by one’s genetically prescribed characteristics.

If you do something for long enough, you’re bound to get better at it.

All it takes to improve is effort. If you just try hard enough, you’ll get better.

The deliberate-practice mindset offers the following view: anyone can improve, but it requires the right approach. If you are not improving, it’s not because you lack innate talent; it’s because you’re not practicing the right way. Once you understand this, improvement becomes a matter of figuring out what the “right way” is.

When you look at how people are trained in the professional and business worlds, you find a tendency to focus on knowledge at the expense of skills. The main reasons are tradition and convenience: it is much easier to present knowledge to a large group of people than it is to set up conditions under which individuals can develop skills through practice.

Chapter 6 Principles of Deliberate Practice in Everyday Life

One of the most important things a teacher can do is to help you develop your own mental representations so that you can monitor and correct your own performance.

You may need to change teachers as you yourself change.

If you find yourself at a point where you are no longer improving quickly or at all, don’t be afraid to look for a new instructor. The most important thing is to keep moving forward.

If your mind is wandering or you’re relaxed and just having fun, you probably won’t improve.

Focus and concentration are crucial. Shorter training sessions with clearer goals are the best way to develop new skills faster.

To effectively practice a skill without a teacher, it helps to keep in mind three Fs: Focus. Feedback. Fix it. Break the skill down into components that you can do repeatedly and analyze effectively, determine your weaknesses, and figure out ways to address them.

When you first start learning something new, it is normal to see rapid — or at least steady—improvement, and when that improvement stops, it is natural to believe you’ve hit some sort of implacable limit. So you stop trying to move forward, and you settle down to life on that plateau. This is the major reason that people in every area stop improving.

The best way to move beyond it is to challenge your brain or your body in a new way.

Any reasonably complex skill will involve a variety of components, some of which you will be better at than others. Thus, when you reach a point at which you are having difficulty getting better, it will be just one or two of the components of that skill, not all of them, that are holding you back. To figure out which one, you need to find a way to push yourself a little—not a lot—harder than usual. This will often help you figure out where your sticking points are.

First, figure out exactly what is holding you back. What mistakes are you making, and when? Push yourself well outside of your comfort zone and see what breaks down first. Then design a practice technique aimed at improving that particular weakness. Once you’ve figured out what the problem is, you may be able to fix it yourself, or you may need to go to an experienced coach or teacher for suggestions. Either way, pay attention to what happens when you practice; if you are not improving, you will need to try something else.

Anyone who hopes to improve skill in a particular area should devote an hour or more each day to practice that can be done with full concentration.

Maintaining the motivation that enables the above regimen has two parts: reasons to keep going and reasons to stop. When you quit something that you had initially wanted to do, it’s because the reasons to stop eventually came to outweigh the reasons to continue. Thus, to maintain your motivation you can either strengthen the reasons to keep going or weaken the reasons to quit.

Good planning can help you avoid many of the things that might lead you to spend less time on practice than you wanted.

More generally, look for anything that might interfere with your training and find ways to minimize its influence.

Chapter 7: The Road to Extraordinary

In the first stage, children are introduced in a playful way to what will eventually become their field of interest.

In the beginning, a child’s parents play with their child at the child’s level, but gradually they turn the play toward the real purpose of the “toy.”

At this stage, the parents of children who are to become experts play a crucial role in the child’s development. For one thing, the parents give their children a great deal of time, attention, and encouragement. For another, the parents tend to be very achievement-oriented and teach their children such values as self-discipline, hard work, responsibility, and spending one’s time constructively.

One excellent supplement, particularly with smaller children, is praise. Another motivation is the satisfaction of having developed a certain skill, particularly if that achievement is acknowledged by a parent.

A child who sees an older sibling performing an activity and getting attention and praise from a parent will naturally want to join in and garner some attention and praise as well. For some children, competition with the sibling may itself be motivating, too.

In many of the cases that have been studied, children with talented siblings also had one or both parents encouraging them as well.

Once a future expert performer becomes interested and shows some promise in an area, the typical next step is to take lessons from a coach or teacher.

Helping children develop mental representations can also increase motivation by increasing their ability to appreciate the skill they are learning.

Finally, as the students continued to improve, they started to seek out better-qualified teachers and coaches who would take them to the next level.

Generally, when they’re in their early or mid teens, the future experts make a major commitment to becoming the best that they can be. This commitment is the third stage.

During this stage, the motivation lies solely with the student, but the family may still play an important support role.

This is the fourth stage of expert performance, where some people move beyond the existing knowledge in their field and make unique creative contributions.

Researchers who study how the creative geniuses in any field—science, art, music, sports, and so on—come up with their innovations have found that it is always a long, slow, iterative process.

Research on the most successful creative people in various fields, particularly science, finds that creativity goes hand in hand with the ability to work hard and maintain focus over long stretches of time—exactly the ingredients of deliberate practice that produced their expert abilities in the first place.

Even if the Pathfinder doesn’t share the particular technique, simply knowing that something is possible drives others to figure it out.

In short, in most cases—and this is especially true in any well-developed area—we must rely on the experts to move us forward.

Chapter 8: But What About Natural Talent?

Expert performers develop their extraordinary abilities through years and years of dedicated practice, improving step by step in a long, laborious process.

One of the major reasons that people believe in the power of innate talent is the apparent existence of natural prodigies,.

Ericsson has made it a hobby to investigate the stories of prodigies, and he reports with confidence that he has never found a convincing case for anyone developing extraordinary abilities without intense, extended practice.

Ericsson’s basic approach to understanding prodigies is the same as it is for understanding any expert performer. He asks two simple questions: What is the exact nature of the ability? and, What sorts of training made it possible? In thirty years of looking, he has never found an ability that could not be explained by answering these two questions.

People do not stop learning and improving because they have reached some innate limits on their performance; they stop learning and improving because, for whatever reasons, they stopped practicing—or never started.

In the long run, it is the ones who practice more who prevail, not the ones who had some initial advantage in intelligence or some other talent.

Chapter 9: Where Do We Go from Here?

When teaching a skill, break the lesson into a series of steps that the student can master one at a time, building from one to the next to reach the ultimate objective.

The redesigned physics class at the University of British Columbia offers a road map for redesigning instruction according to deliberate-practice principles:

Begin by identifying what students should learn how to do. The objectives should be skills, not knowledge.

In figuring out the particular way students should learn a skill, examine how the experts do it. In particular, understand as much as possible about the mental representations that experts use, and teach the skill so as to help students develop similar mental representations. This will involve teaching the skill step by step, with each step designed to keep students out of their comfort zone but not so far out that they cannot master that step.

Then give plenty of repetition and feedback; the regular cycle of try, fail, get feedback, try again, and so on is how the students will build their mental representations.

Recommended Reading

If you like Peak, you may also enjoy the following books:

Bounce by Matthew Syed

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Mindset by Carol Dweck

Buy The Book: Peak

Print | Hardcover | Audiobook

Payoff Summary

Categories BehaviourPosted on

Payoff unravels the complex construct that is human motivation and shows you how it consists of many more parts than money and recognition, such as meaning, effort and ownership, so you can motivate yourself not just today, but every day.

Dan Ariely is awesome. He doesn’t take himself so seriously, plus he always finds creative ways to make what he wants to say accessible to everyone. This is the fourth of his five books to make it on Four Minute Books.

He’s primarily concerned with errors in human thinking, like how we can avoid making irrational errors, use them to our advantage or what causes us to lie.

Published in November 2016, this short book is part of TED’s series of books from their speakers. It’s called Payoff and explains why staying motivated isn’t as straightforward as dangling a promotion and pay raise in front of your nose year after year.

These are the 3 lessons I learned from it today:

As long as your work is meaningful, it doesn’t matter if it’s miserable sometimes.

You can give your work meaning by putting in more effort.

External motivators, like money, don’t work in the long run.

Zig Ziglar once said if motivation doesn’t last, that makes it no different from bathing: you have to do it daily. So here’s your dose for today (and hopefully many days after that)!

Lesson 1: Meaningful work can be miserable, yet still make you happy.

Do you like your job? I mean really like it? If your pay was cut in half, would you still do it?

Even if not, chances are you’re not doing it just for the monthly paycheck. There are other factors at play, right? Dan says reducing motivation to money and status is a huge mistake. It’s a complex construct, with variables such as happiness, achievement, pride, fulfillment and countless other intangibles factoring into the equation.

The number one factor though, is meaning.

If you find your work to be highly meaningful, it can be miserable, yet you’ll happily tolerate it. That’s because meaning and happiness aren’t the same thing.

Just think about careers, which include extremely excruciating work, whether that’s physical (ultra marathoners, sculptors, kitchen chefs) or mental (writers, therapists, poker players). These people don’t enjoy the task itself more than others, they just derive more meaning from it.

For most people, the best way to get a big sense of meaning from their work is to contribute to a bigger mission.

Sure, sipping pina coladas all day on a beach would be nice for a while, but the happiness from such pleasure activities is always short-lived. It can’t possibly compete with the prospect of proper meaning.

Lesson 2: Effort engenders meaning.

Dan’s next assumption lends further credibility to his last one: effort engenders meaning. The more work you put into something, the more meaningful it will seem to you. This principle piggybacks off one of the strongest biases in humans: the sunk cost fallacy.

Naturally, we hold on to something ever tighter, the more time and effort we invest into it. This often works against us, because it makes it hard to let go of things that aren’t working, but when it comes to motivation, this can be advantageous.

Here’s how Dan verified the idea: he took two groups of people and gave them the task of folding origamis. One group received well-written instructions and pictures with directional arrows, leading them step-by-step. The others were given minimal and even slightly confusing guidance.

As you would expect, the guided group’s origamis looked a lot better. But when asked how much they were willing to pay for what they’d made, the do-it-yourselfers outbid the first group by far. Clearly, putting in all this work had made their results more meaningful to them.

Lesson 3: External motivators aren’t sustainable.

Lastly, and I’m sure this won’t surprise you, Dan found that external motivators, such as money or (social) status, will work in the short run, but actually hurt your motivation long-term.

Many studies have been conducted in this field. Dan’s was done in 2013 at a semiconductor factory of Intel in Israel.

He promised workers a cash bonus they’d receive in the morning if they met a certain quota the day before. Many workers rallied and completed the task. However, the second the money was in their pocket, their productivity dropped not just back to normal levels, but even below them. So before offering extra cash, you’re better off not incentivizing at all.

Dan controlled this with a pizza group and a compliment group. It turned out the latter performed the best throughout the week, all thanks to a simple “Well done!” text they received from their boss in the morning.

Whatever comes from the inside is a lot more powerful than any carrot or stick could possibly be.

My personal take-aways

Short, to the point, enlightening, fun and entertaining. No fluff, no clutter. This is everything a book should be. Just yesterday I took a walk and thought: “Hmm, actually it hasn’t mattered much what I’ve done in life so far, I always had fun doing it.” My guess was that if you give everything you do your best shot, you’ll always consider it worth your while. Sure seems to be true for me. Hypothesis confirmed!

Buy this book

Nudge Summary

Categories BehaviourPosted on

Nudge shows you how you can unconsciously make better decisions by designing your environment so it nudges you in the right direction every time temptation becomes greatest and thus build your own choice architecture in advance.

This book was co-authored by two professors. One is Cass Sunstein, who taught law for 27 years and worked in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under Barack Obama from 2009 to 2012. He recently made his debut on Four Minute Books the wonderful, but totally unrelated The World According to Star Wars.

His partner in nudging, Richard Thaler, is a professor of behavioral economics at the University of Chicago, where Sunstein also taught. Thaler has worked with Nobel prize laureate Daniel Kahneman, and both have pushed the envelope of the science of decision-making quote a bit. He was even featured as himself in the Hollywood blockbuster The Big Short (great movie about finance).

What makes this choice-book different is its focus on environment design, rather than improving your inner strength, willpower, etc. to make better decisions.

Here are my 3 favorite lessons:

A nudge is a subtle cue or context change that pushes you to make a certain decision without forcing you to.

One of the most powerful nudges is the default.

When states use nudges well, they can improve entire countries.

Need a nudge in the right direction? This ought to do it!

Lesson 1: Nudges are tiny hints or changes, which push you in one direction, but leave all options open.

Have you ever been talked into going out by a friend, at first not wanting to go, but after she teased you a bit and you dressed up, you ended up having a really good time? That’s a nudge in action.

Used right, a nudge is a very small action or change in environment, which makes it easier for you to make the decision that’s best for you, without forcing you to decide a certain way.

For example, if the cafeteria put the fruits next to the registrar, and not the candy bars, you’d eat more bananas – simply because they’re easier to pick up. When the cashier at McDonald’s asks you “Do you want fries with that?” that’s also a nudge (but one in the wrong direction). The little flag some mailboxes have that turns up when mail is inside the box? Another nudge.

We’re being nudged all day, sometimes towards good decisions, sometimes towards bad ones. The cool thing is, you can design your environment in ways that more good nudges will happen, for example by installing blocking software to restrict access to distracting websites.

Lesson 2: A default is a very powerful nudge, as it requires you to actively object it for it not to work.

Sometimes, it’s possible to design situations where decisions need to be made in a way that if you decide automatically, you naturally make the right choice.

For example, if you send an email through Gmail and type something like “please find attached” or “I’ll attach the file” in the email’s body and you then forget to upload the actual attachment, Gmail automatically prompts you with the question “Did you want to send an attachment with this?” It’s a very situation-specific nudge, but it can save tons of time and frustration in the long run.

This particular type of nudge is called a default. Default nudges are set up in a way that if you do nothing, you’ll still do the right thing by sticking to the preset standard.

At scale, companies can use this by automatically enrolling their employees in their matching-retirement plan programs, unless they explicitly object to participating. This helps a lot of lazy people save for retirement, because they would never have enrolled if they’d had to actively do it themselves.

Similarly, gyms and magazines abuse this by automatically renewing your subscription, unless you cancel it. Again, nudges can be used both ways.

Lesson 3: States and other large institutions can use nudges to improve societies and countries as a whole.

Here’s a really basic way of describing how states work: if the majority of its members make good decisions, the welfare of the state grows. If the majority makes bad decisions, it declines.

For example, 75% of Americans make bad food choices and are therefore either obese or overweight. Imagine all of these people would eat healthier. Obesity would go away, and thus the expensive health problems that come with it. The country would save billions of dollars in treatments, surgery costs, health insurance expenses, etc. It’d be a win-win. Same with smoking.

Sure, a nudge at scale costs a bit to set up, but its effects usually kick in fast. For example, since it’s become mandatory to report carbon emissions, the emissions themselves have gone down significantly – just because companies have to be transparent. No law says they have to emit fewer carbon dioxide, yet because critics can point fingers, businesses naturally compete to be eco-friendlier.

Another cool state-side nudge is the dollar-a-day program, which gives teenage mothers $1 each day they don’t get pregnant again. $365 may sound like a lot, but is much cheaper than having to take care of a newborn or trying to relocate it to a good family.

If they use nudges right, governments and large institutions can spur wise decisions at scale and thus, make life better for everyone!

My personal take-aways

What a cool way of reframing the whole decision-making process. As I said in the introduction, this book really is different, just topically related to all the other decision-making books, which is precisely what makes it so powerful. Thumbs up!

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