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Holistic wellbeing involves intense awareness of our physical bodies, our spirituality, our mind (emotions, personality, thought processes) and its connection with the world around us (both in nature and society). We have a responsibility to secure balance and wellbeing, first within ourselves, so that we can be equipped to assist those around us in such a way that the world can survive, that society can thrive and that life will be much more fulfilling for those that follow in our footsteps. The future of the world is in our hands and change begins with each individual.
Suppose you are facing a willpower challenge. For instance, suppose you are a regular drinker and you have decided that you will no longer drink every day, but will drink only on Friday evenings from now on.
If I said to you:
“There is only one way to succeed, and there are many ways to fail.”
you could probably make sense of that.
The only way to succeed is to make it all the way to Friday without having a drink. But there are many ways to fail. You could have a drink on Saturday. You could have a drink on Sunday. You could have a drink on Monday. You get the point.
But here’s the thing. I if I said to you:
“There is only one way to fail, and there are many ways to succeed.”
you could probably make sense of that, too.
The only way to fail is to have an alcoholic beverage at the wrong time. But when facing temptation, there are many ways to succeed. There are many alternative activities you can do instead of drinking. You can take a bath. You can go play basketball. You can have a bottle of sparkling water. You can go for a walk. Etc.
So which is it? Is there just one way to succeed with many ways to fail? Or is there one way to fail with many ways to succeed?
The truth is, neither of those claims is true or false full stop, but each becomes true or false depending on how you tell the story — how you lump things together and split them apart.
So it’s entirely up to you how you frame your challenge.
The subadditivity effect is the tendency to judge probability of the whole to be less than the probabilities of the parts. Here is an example pulled from the Wikipedia page:
. . . [S]ubjects in one experiment judged the probability of death from cancer in the United States was 18 percent, the probability from heart attack was 22 percent, and the probability of death from “other natural causes” was 33 percent. Other participants judged the probability of death from a natural cause was 58 percent. Natural causes are made up of precisely cancer, heart attack, and “other natural causes,” however, the sum of the latter three probabilities was 73 percent, and not 58%. According to Tversky and Koehler (1994) this kind of result is observed consistently.
So, when we estimate our chances of success, we can do it two ways. We can consider just one success condition:
A. I will resist drinking alcohol when next tempted.
Or we can consider many success conditions:
B. I will go for a walk instead of drinking.
C. I will take a bath instead of drinking.
D. I will talk with a friend instead of drinking.
E. I will find some other activity to do instead of drinking.
Now suppose we estimate probabilities for A-E. If the subadditivity effect holds, then our estimates will bear this relationship to each other:
P(A) < P(B) + P(C) + P(D) + P(E)
For instance, we might assign probabilities like this:
P(A) = .6
P(B) = .2
P(C) = .2
P(D) = .2
P(E) = .2
So we might give ourselves a 60 percent chance of success if we consider only one success condition, but an 80 percent chance if we consider multiple success conditions.
Now it’s important that we don’t explicitly make all of the above estimates and compare them in a live situation. If we do, we might break the spell. We might notice the inequality and start revising our estimates so they add up. We don’t want that. We want to take advantage of the fact that our vague and fuzzy probability judgments will be higher if we don’t look at things too closely.
What we’re looking for here is a way to increase our optimism. And to do that it’s sufficient to take our single success condition and break it into multiple success conditions, while doing the opposite with our conditions for failure.
And the reason we want to increase our optimism is because . . .
Increasing optimism increases willpower
You might be tempted to protest that using this tactic will produce false optimism, that we’re tricking ourselves into being more optimistic than we objectively should be. But the thing about optimistic probability judgments is that, when you mix them with willpower, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. And that’s not just positive thinking mumbo-jumbo. It’s game theory.
George Ainslie showed us in Breakdown of Will how our tendency to overcome a temptation at one point in time depends on how likely we think it is that we will also overcome similar temptations in the future.
If we think it more likely that we will overcome those temptations in the future, then we will be more likely to overcome the temptation now.
Well, if you want your willpower to be stronger, it will help if you raise your expectation of success. If you want to raise your expectation of success, you can take advantage of the Subadditivity Effect for probability judgments. And that means you should frame your challenge so there is just one way to fail, and there are many ways to succeed.
So go ahead, pick your most pressing willpower challenge. Remind yourself that there is only one way to fail. And then ask yourself, “What are all the ways I can succeed?” See what you come up with.
Jim Stone, Ph.D. is a philosopher, avid student of Motivational Psychology, and developer of personal productivity software and workshops.
We often focus on appearance as the key to impression formation, but the way you sound may also play a crucial role in determining what other people think of you. Consider this: How many times have you formed a visual image of customer service agents on the phone? Depending on their vocal cues, you’ll either regard them as helpful and interested in you, or aloof and impersonal. You also know that the way you sound affects how others will regard you in the absence of visual cues about your personality, skills, or suitability for a particular job or relationship. Controlling your voice is just as important in those situations as managing the way you look when you want someone to hire or date you.
But when your voice, and not your eyes, is the window to your soul, you’re faced with a decision: Would you rather be regarded as friendly or knowledgeable?
When it comes to being perceived as nice or smart, we’ve learned, many people opt for nice. For example, we know that likability ratings of presidential candidates play an important role in determining who wins national elections. Teachers perceived as nice tend to get higher student evaluation ratings as well. Perhaps intelligence is a quality you can reliably, and separately, infer from a person’s achievements, ability to solve problems, and the fact that they just know a lot. It’s much harder to determine whether someone is nice until you get a better sense of his or her personality.
If you’re from the United States, though, your accent may be the key factor in the image you project to others. Researchers who study dialects provide fascinating insights into the many variations in speech intonation and mannerisms within the country. Such investigations of paralinguistics(literally, “around” the language) are fascinating for what they reveal about the way our speech adapts to the region in which we live. Such studies can become highly technical; true experts are able to use your dialect to pinpoint where you come from within a few hundred miles, or even within a single city, such as New York. You may also enjoy engaging in dialect identification in your own interactions with others as you travel or encounter people from other regions.
But there’s more to dialect than just indicating where you’re from. In a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, University of Chicago psychologists Katherine Kinzler and Jasmine DeJesus (2013) found that children as young as 9 years old were already forming stereotypes about speakers’ characteristics from hearing their accents. If we’re forming impressions that early in life, it suggests that there may be something deep-seated and enduring about dialect that until now has only been the subject of jokes and teasing.
What might account for the association many of us have between niceness and a Southern accent? It can’t just be the use of the inclusive “y’all” as other dialects use similar phrases; and it’s that the people are necessarily nicer as a group—you might know some people with strong Southern accents who say things are aren’t nice at all. It’s possible, Kinzler and DeJesus propose, that Southern accents are just more aesthetically pleasing than, say, Northern ones. When people are forming impressions based on stereotypes, the process isn’t particularly rational. (Of course, if the content of what you’re saying, in any dialect, is offensive or hurtful, it doesn’t matter how you sound.)
Because likability matters so much in the way you’re perceived by others, what can you do if you’re not blessed with a sonically pleasing accent? Knowing that the Southern accent does appear to give one an edge in judgments of niceness, here are 5 tips from the study:
Soften your tone of voice. A voice that is pleasing to the ear tends to resonate with the listener. If your voice tends to get shrill or hard-edged, make a conscious effort to soften it—particularly if you’re sharing bad news with someone.
Put a “smile” in your speech. Even if someone can’t see you, when you smile, even slightly, you’ll naturally say things in a more civil manner. People who smile are definitely perceived as nicer, so the effect of a smile in your voice will buy you some likeability points.
Don’t try to fake it. The worst thing a Northerner can do is start to talk like a Southerner. Unless you’re acting in a Tennessee Williams play (and even then only after working with a dialect coach), you will sound fake to most ears—and you’ll be regarded as insincere.
Watch the sarcasm. You can be funny without being sarcastic, and since sarcasm is associated with the Northeast in many people’s minds, this attitude combined with a Northern tone of voice may only add to your being perceived as not nice. The pride that “Seinfeld” characters took in being unlikeable worked for a sitcom but would not fly in real life.
Actually act nicely.If you’re stuck with a brusque Northern tone, work to show by your your actions and the content of your speech that you’re a nice person. Through politeness, respect, and putting other people’s needs before your own, your actions can negate the impression made by an all-business Northern tone. Researchers have found benefits to acting altruistically. Fern Lin-Healy of Auburn University and Deborah Small of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (2013) showed that there’s some truth to the saying “nice guys finish last.” Acting on behalf of others can win you their positive regard, but this status must be earned, and will not be given just because you sound like you deserve to be liked.
The effect of dialect cuts both ways: If you’re a Southerner who wants to be regarded as smart, you may have your own speech patterns you’ll need to monitor, perhaps by editing out some of the excess drawl or phrases associated with your accent and showing by your content just how quick-witted you are. And of course, your deeds can also show your true merits regardless of how you sound when you discuss them.
I’ve only focused on the contrast between Northern and Southern dialects. But as the research on niceness and impression formation shows, the way you talk plays an important role in the way others regard you. Focusing on how you sound will enhance the image you create and allow your true virtues to shine through.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her latest book is The Search for Fulfillment.
Kinzler, K. D., & DeJesus, J. M. (2013). Northern = smart and Southern = nice: The development of accent attitudes in the United States. The Quarterly Journal Of Experimental Psychology, 66(6), 1146-1158. doi:10.1080/17470218.2012.731695
Lin-Healy, F., & Small, D. A. (2013). Nice guys finish last and guys in last are nice: The clash between doing well and doing good. Social Psychological And Personality Science, 4(6), 692-698. doi:10.1177/1948550613476308
Be honest: Do you draw conclusions about someone based on his or her online profile photo?
Whether it’s on a dating website, Facebook, or any other social-media venue, the power of that single photo is immense. Looking at a person’s profile picture, we develop first impressions that frame the rest of what we see and read.
But psychology researchers want us to know something about our profile photo-centrism—it’s a lie, and it’s leading us to draw conclusions that have virtually zero basis in reality.
“Our findings suggest that impressions from still photos of individuals could be deeply misleading,” says Princeton University psychologistAlexander Todorov of Princeton University, author of a new study on thepersonality dynamics underlying first impressions.
Todorov and his team conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate how easily swayed we are by profile photos, and how even slight variations in such photos can significantly change our opinions of a person’s personality.
Researchers asked participants in an online survey to view and rate headshots on personality characteristics including attractiveness, competence, creativity, cunning, extraversion, meanness, trustworthiness, and intelligence. The photos were all taken in similar lighting, but some of the headshots were varied to show slightly different facial expressions.
The results showed that participants’ personality ratings of these slightly changed profile photos varied just as much as their ratings of different people. In other words, virtually any change in photos of the same person altered participants’ impressions of their personality just as as much as viewing photos of different people altogether.
In another study, the researchers asked participants to rate headshots shown in different contexts. The results in this case showed that participants’ ratings changed solely based on which context the photo appeared in. According to the team, participants “tended to prefer one shot of an individual when they were told the photo was for an online dating profile, but they preferred another shot when they were told the individual was auditioning to play a movie villain, and yet another shot when they were told he was running for political office.”
The studies also examined how long it took for someone to make a personality judgment based on a profile photo, and found that strong preferences for specific images developed even when photos were shown for a fraction of a second—a result that underscores just how sure we are that a profile photo tells a true story.
The takeaway from these studies: The impressions we form by looking at profile photos are extremely malleable, no matter how sure we are that the photos are telling us something accurate about someone’s personality.
That’s worth keeping in mind, especially on dating sites where we’re tempted to draw sweeping personality conclusions based on a passing glance at a single photo.