Positives of Video Games

Anderson, C. A., Berkowitz, L., Donnerstein, E., Huesmann, L. R., Johnson, J. D., Linz, D., . . . Wartella, E. (2003). The influence of media violence on youth. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(3), 81-110.


Przybylski, A. K., Weinstein, N., Ryan, R. M., & Rigby, C. S. (2009). Having to versus wanting to play: Background and consequences of harmonious versus obsessive engagement in video games. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12, 485–492.


Ryan R., Rigby S., Przybylski A. (2006). The motivational pull of video games: a self-determination theory approach. Motiv. Emot. 30, 344–360


Griffiths M. (2002). The educational benefits of videogames. Educ. Health 20, 47–51.

Achtman R. L., Green C. S., Bavelier D. (2008). Video games as a tool to train visual skills. Restor. Neurol. Neurosci. 26, 435–446



It has been found that games have become more violent, graphic and realistic with the passing of time (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). This presents an alarming perspective

because the exposure to games is becoming increasingly more widespread, touching upon younger and younger audiences. Buchman and Funk (1996) came to a startling discovery when they asked fourth-graders about their favourite type of game; over half of girls and 73% of boys responded that violent games were their favourite.


Due to consumer demand the vast majority of games on the market – roughly

89% – revolve around violence and aggression (Carnagey & Anderson,2005). In comparison to Dietz’s (1998) findings, there has therefore been a 10% escalation in games containing violence.


With the passing of time, inevitable technological advances enable gaming industries to produce visually stunning video games comprising a virtual world depicted with sheer realism. The growing realistic and violent nature of games raises many concerns about their influence on gamer aggression. Video game-related violence is believed to have partly

contributed to the occurrence of many school shootings within the United States of America (Murphy, 2002; Woodruff & Schneider, 1999). For instance, the adolescent perpetrators of the notorious school shooting at Columbine High were keen fans and habitual players of the extremely graphic horror-action game Doom. Such occurrences therefore lead to much controversy on the matter of games and aggression, subsequently stimulating the inception of elaborate research.



The General Aggression Model (GAM) [largely based on theories developed over the past 30 years by scholars ranging from social psychology to developmental psychology] devised by Anderson and Bushman (2002) attempts to explain the link between aggression and violent video games.

This particular framework addresses exposure to violent video games in a behavioural (affect), cognitive (cognition), and biological (arousal) capacity



Cognitive aspect

The Cognitive Neoassociation Theory addresses the cognitive route of the framework and assumes that by viewing violence in games, our memory rehearses aggression-related concepts, stimulating aggressive thoughts/ideas. When playing games, these cognitive scripts are constantly being rehearsed, slowly ingraining them more and more in memory.

  • Marketing
    • Provenzo (1991) found that jacket covers on games very often portray a dominant male with a weapon in hand. These specific features are correlated with violence, eliciting aggressive feelings and activating the associative network responsible for aggressive responses.

These scripts can act as guidelines on how to behave in certain situations so rehearsing them frequently could give you a wrong idea on how to behave. Research has shown that by continuous exposure to lead to creating aggressive thhoughts, so there’s an increased likelihood of resulting to violence in real life (Bushman, 1998). but the theory assumes that aggression from these games can go away with time provided that these ideas aren’t activated. So the casual gamer is safe. What about those that play a lot?

one of the most comprehensive studies to date where the target population of the sample were young video game players aged 8 to 18, of which 8.5% of them were classified as pathological (Gentile, 2009).

By having an altered cognition, one may for instance experience hostile attribution bias, meaning that interpretations of situations/events may be inaccurately perceived as hostile leading to possible aggressive outcomes (Crick & Dodge, 1994).



Physiological/biological aspect

The Excitation Transfer Theory (Zillmann, 1971) addresses the biological route of the model which focuses on arousal from exposure to violent media. By viewing violent media, a temporary emotional reaction occurs. So if two equally arousing events happen, a cumulative emotional response can occur; so if provoked, someone may retaliate. This is why people that have viewed violence are more susceptible to aggressive response if provoked (Tannenbaum and Zillmann, 1975). If no provocation happens though, the increase in arousal will just disappear with time (Zillmann, 1983).

  • Research
    • People playing Mortal Kombat with the blood mode-on had higher blood pressure than those playing with the mode off (Ballard and Wiest, 1996). So more violence à greater physiological response.
    • Brain activity patterns similar to aggressive cognition/behaviour appeared with every violent encounter in 1st person game. (Weber, Ritterfeld, and Mathiak, 2006)

If provoked after exposure to violent gameplay, such an individual is more prone to resulting to an aggressive response caused by emotional arousal or inaccurately attributed intent.


Following the argument of physiological arousal, there is reason to believe that violence in video games triggers a biological response in the human body in many ways. For one, the Desensitization Theory explains the biological effects of continuous exposure to violence in video games, suggesting that with repeated and prolonged exposure to media violence the negative inherent physiological and emotional responses humans endure when observing violence of any nature are reduced to insignificance and don’t occur (Rule & Ferguson, 1986). Anderson et al. (2003) argues that violence is then treated like a normal emotion and thus such an attitude may lead to an increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviours. On the other side however, there exists very limited empirical support with conclusive findings as of yet regarding the application of this theory to the realm of video games.






Questions and Answers


TV vs Video Games

Results obtained from studies regarding media violence on television and in video games are reasonably consistent and parallel, vast difference in the level of interactivity.

  • Interactivity
    • The main reason for this is that television may be viewed while completing other different tasks and isn’t as engrossing as avideo game experience where one has to concentrate at all times
    • gamers are more active participants in simulated violence as they drive the narrative and make decisions that affect the direction it takes.
    • game players tend to identify with the game character more than television viewers with a movie character (Zillmann, 1994).
      • Especially if 1st POV, the player identifies with the protagonist; feeling of strong involvement in the game (e.g. Anderson & Dill, 2000) whereas TV is a passive experience
    • Just by watching someone play can develop an increase in aggression (Cooper & Mackie, 1986), the active players tend to experience more aggressive thoughts (Calvert & Tan, 1994).



Possible positive effect of video games on players.

Despite the comprehensible amount of evidence supporting negative effects of video games, researchers also explore whether there are any positive aspects. Findings of studies show that video games can significantly increase spatial ability (e.g. De Lisi & Wolford, 2002). For instance, Linn and Petersen (1985) found that the three-dimensional visualization of games contribute to significant development of spatial skills, namely spatial rotation and perception. Research also shows that young audiences are most liable to this type of development, with elderly gamers experiencing little or no such change (Gagnon, 1985).


Furthermore, when we consider further the possible positive effects of video games, especially those of violent nature, it is necessary to mention the catharsis theory (Feshbach & Singer, 1971). According to Freud (1955), humans can endure catharsis by using direct aggression. Freud’s idea of emotional purification forms the foundation of the hydraulic model of anger which assumes that repressed negative emotions can build up within an individual like hydraulic pressure in a closed environment and one day be released in a fit of rage. He argued that by discovering a safe outlet of cleansing of negative emotions, one could avoid releasing aggression into the behavioural realm. Based on Freud’s assumption, the catharsis theory (Feshbach & Singer, 1971) suggests that violent video games may be treated as a simple outlet to aggressive impulses. For instance, Sparks and Sparks (2002) found that by engaging in a virtual world the player can discharge negative emotions in a safe way, resulting in psychological cleansing and relaxation. On the contrary however, research (e.g. Geen & Quanty, 1977; Bushman et al., 1999) also indicates that the idea of catharsis regarding media violence can backfire by only increasing aggression.


Another positive effect of video games on players is its ability to socially connect one another. Lucas and Sherry (2004) believe that games can act as a social bonding activity in which friends or family may participate together. For instance, in best-selling games such as the recent instalments of the Call of Duty or Gears of War franchises, the producers include two-player cooperation campaigns. Some games like those of the WWE Smackdown vs. Raw wrestling franchise can even involve up to four players. Moreover, the online multiplayer mode in modern video games has become one of the most popular forms of gameplay, where gamers have the opportunity to establish new friendships with people from all over the globe and play together. Video games can also promote prosocial behaviour, with relationships between characters in the virtual world setting the example.

Lastly, the future may hold a promising educational purpose for video games. Due to their interactive nature, games have the ability to immerse and focus a gamer’s full concentration. They are also capable of

Catharsis, from the greek word katharsis, means ‘cleansing’. It was first recorded in


Aristotle’s thousand year old Poetics.



creating a sense of challenge and achievement in meeting a goal. The fact that humans learn by observational learning and that rewarding behaviours is conducive to the process of acquiring knowledge add to the argument that video games could make a fun future educational tool instead of an incredibly realistic killing simulator.

Anderson, C.A., Bushman, B.J. (2001), Effects of violent video games on aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behaviour: a meta-analytic review of scientific literature, Psychological science 12, pp.353-359


Bandura, A. (1971). Social learning theory of aggression. In J.G. Knutson (Ed.), Control of aggression: Implications from basic research (pp. 201–250). Chicago: Aldine-Atherton.

Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A social learning analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Berkowitz, L. (1993). Aggression: Its causes, consequences, and control. New York: McGraw Hill.

Buchman, D.D., & Funk, J.B. (1996). Video and computer games in the ’90s: Children’s time commitment and game preference. Children Today, 24, 12–16.

Cooper, J., & Mackie, D. (1986). Video games and aggression in children. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 16, 726-744.

Crick, N.R., & Dodge, K.A. (1994). A review and reformulation of social information-pro- cessing mechanisms in children’s social adjustment. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 74–101.

Zillmann, D. (1983). Cognition-excitation interdependencies in aggressive behavior. Aggressive Behavior, 14, 51–64.

Feshbach, S., & Singer, R. D. (1971). Television and aggression : An experiment ®eld study. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Bushman, B.J. (2002), Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? Catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger, and aggressive responding, pp.724-731.

Carnagey, N.L, Anderson, C.A (2004), Violent video games exposure and aggression: A literature review, Minerva Psychiatrica 45, pp.1-18.

Carnagey, N.L, Anderson, C.A, Bushman, B.J (2007), The effect of video game violence on physiological desensitization to real-life violence, Journal of experimental social psychology 43, pp.489-496.

Bryant, J., Roskos-Ewoldsen, D.R., Cantor, J. (2003), Communication and emotion: essays in honor of Dolf Zillmann, pp.203-207.

Weber, R., Rittefeld, U., Mathiak, K. (2006), Does playing violent video games induce aggression? Empirical evidence of a functional magnetic resonance imagining study. Media psychology, vol. 8(1), pp.39-60.



Why You Crave

It’s interesting how your body talks to you.

A friend of mine just came back from a alcohol-fuelled weekend at Lake District.

And ever since he got back, he’s been talking about how he’s been craving some chocolate.

“But not fake chocolate, I mean like real, real dark chocolate. Do you have some?”

I found this interesting because:

  • Alcohol flushes out magnesium from your body,
  • Dark chocolate has a lot of magnesium.

On a very subconscious level, his magnesium-deprived body craved cocoa/chocolate because it had exactly what his body was looking for.

Without that explicit, rational knowledge he unwittingly reached for chocolate and felt immediately better once having eaten it.

He also enjoyed it more than usual.

It’s amazing how your body can crave certain nutrients and tell you to unconsciously look for foods that are rich in the nutrients it craves.

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How to Get Over Your Fear of Flying

I had one bad experience.

For me, flying had become a very stressful experience after that one time.

We had a lot of turbulence to the point where even the flight attendant was telling us through what I’ll call the plane phone to remain calm, but she said this in a super panicky and shaky voice that it convinced no one.

The plane was so cold I thought I was on the verge of frostbite in that flying fridge, it was a really bad flight, I could easily complain some more but that’s not the point.

Coming to terms with the idea of dying on every flight and being okay with it shouldn’t be in a passenger’s standard cognitive repertoire.

Worrying about how my family will cope after the plane crashes or ruminating about how I will be remembered on this Earth once I’ve departed prematurely isn’t adaptive at all.

The goods new is though – I got over it. I got over my fear of flying.

Maybe it’ll help you, too.

In this post, we’ll look at some really good tips that helped me get over my fear of flying.

Things that helped me overcome my fear of flying

1. Learn some facts about aerotravel

It’s easy to think that you are a little chemical spec in a metal tube and the only thing below the floor you or separating you is a big drop.

But if you take the time to read about flying and learn how aviation works, you’ll realise that flying by plane is safest form of transport.

Turbulence will always occur in aviation, no matter what. It is as natural as experiencing bumps on the road while travelling by car. There’s nothing to be alarmed about.

It’s just the media that fuel our fear of flying by overemphasising very rare plane crashes. Because of the media, we overestimate the risks of plane crashes.

It’s also a fundamental psychological bias to overestimate the probability of unlikely events occurring.

2. Eat well before the flight

Worst thing to do is board a plane hungry.

When you’re hungry your prefrontal cortex (PFC; reasoning mind) isn’t functioning well due to low blood glucose.

In other words, if you are hungry, parts of your brain don’t perform up to scratch because it has no fuel to do so.

Hunger also affects your willpower as the PFC is responsible for that and you need willpower to retain composure.

Not only does hunger subdue your reasoning part of the brain but low sugar leads to an accentuation of the impulsive mind which will make your fear spiral out of control.

3. Practice some visualisation

Visualise that everything is going to be okay. The plane will land softly on the tarmac, your parents or whoever will pick you up, and will take you home so you can have a nice warm shower and will later cook you a nutritious, home cooked meal.

Be a specific as you can.

4. Reinterpret the situation to your benefit

Cognitive reappraisal is basically reinterpreting events for your benefit.

Something that really helped me was reinterpreting the plane ride as a car or train ride, or a limo ride and that the driver is just casually dropping me off somewhere.

Thinking of the plane ride as a train ride where I’m just travelling on stable train tracks which go up and down and are slightly bent to explain the turbulences made flights more bearable.

5. Deprive yourself of sleep the night before

Do that so that if you manage to fall asleep, you’ll hopefully sleep through the whole flight.

6. Get drunk

It works every time but there’s something strange about drinking on a morning flight… I’d drink as an absolutely last resort so that I relied more on adaptive coping mechanisms (like all of the above, for better or worse) rather than rely on a substance.


7. Keep flying – better yet, fly more

There’s a very effective treatment for anxiety called Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP).

Basically, the treatment revolves around you exposing yourself to the thing that makes you anxious (e.g. flying by plane) and making sure you don’t do things that would easily help you in reducing that anxiety (e.g. like drinking alcohol on a plane flight.)

The idea is to increase your anxiety to uncomfortable levels only for you to realise that nothing bad actually happens during this anxiety so there’s no point of experiencing it. 

Over time, increasing your anxiety threshold without any adverse consequences will desensitise you to this fear.

 With every next flight, your fear gets smaller and smaller.

In my case, I didn’t want fear to dictate my life and force me to miss out on the many adventures ahead of me. So I decided to travel to various places in Europe, flying each time. 

I even travelled for 12 hours straight from London to Hong Kong – this was a huge challenge which helped me overcome my fear. After all, if I can travel by plane for 12 hours, what’s a piddly 2- or 3 hour flight for me?

On the way back to London to Hong Kong I thought to myself – I did it once, I can do it again.

I’m so comfortable flying now that I even managed to write and finish this post on a plane flight.

Closing Thoughts

As humans we overestimate risk.

We have the special ability to be able to make future projections (i.e. imagine the future) in hypothetical, fictional scenarios to deduce probabilities of bad things happening.

For example, we’ll imagine the probability of getting hit by a car when thinking of crossing a red light. We’ll often overestimate the risk of getting run over which will result in just waiting at the zebra crossing.

Overstimating risk is good because it makes us vigilant and cautious. But this stems from fear.

Fear is the one of the most powerful emotions which we possess.

It is a powerful motivator that is designed to protect us and keep us alive.

Fear is knowing that breaking into your neighbours home in the middle of the night could result in arrest and fear is knowing that acting on your impulse to punch a stranger in the face could result in potentially serious injury.

In order to avoid those scenarios, fear works in your favour and is a life-preserving rational impulse. Again, it exists to keep you alive and for this reason it is an adaptive emotion.

But fear can also be an irrational emotion and can sometimes rule our lives in a way that isn’t healthy and can manifest in maladaptive ways like anxiety disorders and chronic stress.

It’s important to be aware that overestimating risk and experiencing fear are actually good things.

Above all else though, be aware that you as a human also tend to underestimate your ability to adapt and that you’ll be able to conquer your fear with a little bit of effort.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

How You Played “The Sims” Says A Lot About You

Remember playing “The Sims”?

What a game that was.

You got to build your very own characters and live their lives etc.

It was an insanely popular game and as a kid I’d talk about it with friends who also played it.

Years later, I still keep in touch with these friends and made an interesting observation about them.

The way they played “The Sims” says a lot about who they are today.

And this kind of makes sense. After all, by creating Sims you’re projecting your own life on to these characters.

I’ll talk about my two close friends Jane and John who played the game a certain way and how their style gave a lot of signs about their interests and future occupations.

Jane the Architect

How Jane would play “The Sims” always amused me.

The moment she started playing she’d put in cheat codes to get as much money as she wanted so that she could put it to good use to built the most aesthetically pleasing house possible.

She’d be very detailed in how she designed the house and had a knack for designing a chic interior.

Jane would love to build these houses.

And once she’d finish her house – she was done.

She didn’t care about being the puppeteer to her own Sim-minions. She didn’t want to play the actual game.

“The Sims”, for her, was just about building houses. That was it.

As a young teenager, this is how she’d play the game.

Many years later, she enrolled at university as a student in Architecture and finished her degree three years after that.

John the Psychologist

John, on the other hand, didn’t really care about houses.

In fact, he wanted to start with as little as possible, so that he could work his way up and build the house of his dreams.

His very first house in “The Sims” was basically a square which had only the most essential things – a fridge, a few beds, a shower, and a toilet (there wasn’t enough room for the toilet to go inside so it was placed outside, against a single wall).

The interesting thing about John was that he’d choose to play with as many “Sims” as possible (I think at the time you could have a max. of 6 people in your family).

Not only did he love building relationships within the family, but also enjoyed building relationships with other Sims.

He was always fascinated about the dynamics and interactions between these people.

But also, he enjoyed the ‘rags to riches’ journey and investing in oneself to maximize their potential in all areas of life – social life, career, love, you name it.

And once he reached the top, he simply stopped playing altogether.

Years later, things clicked for me about John.

In real life, John was always social and built strong meaningful relationships with many people over the years that I’ve known him for.

Always caring and a great listener, he was always considerate of other people and I can imagine this was why he was so liked and popular with many.

Though he had many friends, a lot of these friends were very different from each other and hailed from different walks of life. He managed to get along with a wide range of people.

John actually went on to study Psychology at university which is quite curious when we piece all of these things together.

Is “The Sims” a sophisticated personality test?

Growing up as a teenager, you don’t know who you are or who you want to become.

It’s natural to feel a bit lost as a teenager because you’re just trying to figure things out.

It’s funny how some of those answers for Jane and John were hidden in the way they played “The Sims.”

After all, the Sims is a proto-life.

A projection of your current values and life as you know it onto these proto-characters.

So maybe The Sims is one big personality test.

By playing The Sims you will learn interesting things about yourself that you’ll only be able to make sense of in hindsight. 

Only over time have I managed to meaningfully connect these dots about some of my closest friends. And this makes sense, especially when we consider Steve Jobs’ words:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
– Steve Jobs

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Review: “The Art of Work” by Jeff Goins

In this review I will basically talk about the most interesting things in the book and add my own thoughts and analysis.

“The Art of Work”

This book tackles the topic of finding our true calling. That is, finding out what we were put on this Earth to do.

Jeff mentions that everybody has their own unique strengths and it is up to us to figure out how we can use these strengths to add value to society and the world at large.

However, a significant portion if not most of the book talks about how to figure out what we were meant to do in the first place as many people may feel lost and directionless.

Here are the four main themes in this book to find out what your calling is.

1. Choose to act

By choosing to act, you immediately do three things.

One, you expose yourself to experience. This way, you try different things and figure out what you like and what you dislike, what’s for you and what’s not for you.

With action comes clarity.

“Practice can teach you what you are and are not meant to do.” – Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

This ties in with what Thomas Jefferson once said:

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”

Two – by proactively choosing to act and figuring how you want to contribute to this world, you’re not leaving your destiny up to circumstance.

“But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” – Hunter S. Thompson

And finally three – by choosing to act, you expose yourself to possibility and opportunity.

“And if you are paying attention, you will recognise them [opportunities] for what they  are – chances to hear the call.” – Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

But Jeff also touches upon in his book how people tend to dissociate from others who they deem special to justify their own inertia. As Jeff puts it:

“We’d rather believe the fairy tale that says some people are just special. That way, we don’t have a responsibility to act.”

This is a terrifying, debilitating psychological trap to fall into.

I touch upon this trap myself in an earlier post of mine called “Extraordinary Person” which I had written way before I had read Jeff’s book. I talk about how deeming over over-achievers as “special” or “extraordinary” is a convenient dissociative psychological mechanism that makes us feel better about our inertia and lack of progress.

It’s easy to perform such mental gymnastics and the worst thing about thinking this way is that you rob yourself of the opportunity to become this extraordinary person yourself.

It’s comfortable to dissociate yourself in this way in this way. But comfort isn’t necessarily a good thing. Here’s Jeff:

“In an era where we prize comfort above nearly every other virtue, we have overlooked an important truth: comfort never leads to excellence.”

Watch out, for your own sake.


2. Look at the commonalities in your life

Whatever the experience we’re going through and whatever skills we’re acquiring, there will be overarching commonalities that should be treated as clues as to what work we were born to do.

Jeff says that “previous experience is conspiring to lead you in the direction of your life’s work” and for this reason “you must listen for clues along the way, discovering what your life can tell you.”

As a result, certain commonalities in our lives will emerge.

“Take time to look back at all you’ve experienced, and listen to what your life is saying. (…) A calling is what you have when you look back at your life and make sense of what it’s been trying to teach you all along.”

– Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

You already have the answer to your problem. It’s deeply embedded in the unconscious part of your mind.

Elements of your deepest desires bleed into your everyday routine. They manifest themselves in your everyday of your life.

Maybe you enjoy writing? Or you have a penchant for communicating with others? Perhaps you are drawn to the thrill of public speaking?

You will naturally put yourself in the position to take advantage of these skills and use them on a daily basis. You will do it because you love doing it.

Look for the commonalities in your days. These are the clues your subconscious is giving you.

“Look at the major events of your life and write them down. Note everything significant you can remember, even the things that seem silly or irrelevant but come to mind for some reason. Don’t try to decode the meaning; just put down everything you can think of. As you reach the end of the list, look for a common thread, some recurring theme. (…) you will begin to see a theme, a surprisingly obvious thread that ties it all together.”

– Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

But if we manage to miss the subtle calls of what it is that we were meant to do – we can always look back on the commonalities and connect the dots in retrospect.

Interestingly, this is very similar to what Steve Jobs mentioned:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

3. Anything learnt or experienced will not be wasted

As you go through life, you go through different phases which offer their own unique types of experiences.

Going through these experiences, you gear up with new skills and acquire wisdom along the way.

With every opportunity, you gain knowledge and experience – each from a different source – all of which you will be able to use later in life.

Though perhaps at the time of building up these skills they don’t inspire much confidence as to what their use may be, they will somehow come in handy at some point down the line.

As long as you keep putting yourself out there, collecting experiences and building skills – if it hasn’t already, at one point it will all just click for you.

In short – anything learnt or experienced will not be wasted.

4. Painful practice

Lastly, a great way to determine your direction in life and what your “calling” might be is to observe what the activities that you can experience through painful practice.

“Pain is instructive to the person willing to learn.” – Jeff Goins

That is, if you can do something when it’s not fun, when you’re exhausted and maybe even bored, but no matter how painful the practice, somehow you still press on, forever motivated, forever curious regardless, that is a strong signal.

Picasso experienced painful practice with painting and through the highs and the lows, he’d paint relentlessly, whatever the cost. Picasso was simply passionate about painting:

“If they took away my paints I’d use pastels. If they took away my pastels I’d use crayons. If they took away my crayons I’d use pencils. If they stripped me naked and threw me in prison I’d spit on my finger and paint on the walls.” – Picasso

Closing thoughts

I will leave you with this final quote:

“Feelings are signposts to be trusted in your journey to your purpose. (…) Fear, indecision, not knowing – these are the obstacles that keep you from moving forward. And they never go away. But if you are going to find what you were meant to do, you will have to act anyway.” –  Jeff Goins.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

Ideas and Solutions on How to Save the Environment Using Science

I’m no environmentalist by any stretch of the imagination but here I am, writing my second post about the environment (my first one being about why recycling isn’t good for the environment.)

Science really changes people, doesn’t it? Or at the very least makes them more aware of how science can be used to benefit the world.

After all, there are two ways you can use psychology.

You can either manipulate people for your own benefit like pretty much all companies do to make you buy their stuff.

Or you can manipulate people for their own benefit like building addictive but educational products or using our inherent psychological biases to change how we treat our planet.

Today we’ll be talking about the latter, shinier side of the coin.

Using science to save the planet

Psychologists and behavioural economists know all about our biases, our psychological tendencies, and the consistent errors that we make because of them.

And this is why science can be used to hack our minds and instigate change for the better good.

But the only way to hack our minds is by changing the things in our immediate environment.

After all, our environment shapes the way we think.

A wonderful Edge talk with Darwinian philosopher Helena Cronin has a telling excerpt on the topic:

Natural selection equipped us with the fixed rules — the rules that constitute our human nature. And it designed those rules to generate behaviour that’s sensitive to the environment.

So, the answer to ‘genetic determinism’ is simple. If you want to change behaviour, just change the environment. And, of course, to know which changes would be appropriate and effective, you have to know those Darwinian rules. You need only to understand human nature, not to change it.

So how do we save us from ourselves and help us change to ultimately save the environment?

Elke Weber from the Centre for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University has come up with a few solutions.

1. Gotta have faith in future benefits

Building anything that’s good for the environment or switching to more environmentally friendly solutions costs money.

And because of the costs, environmentally friendly actions seem terribly painful.

On top of that, the benefits of these solutions are uncertain, mostly because the benefits come over time and in dribbles. That, and also uncertainty snowballs into a greater and greater beast the more you look into the future.

But we also have an innate tendency of delay discounting in that we overvalue smaller, short-term rewards and undervalue larger, more long-term rewards.

But we just have got to have the faith that if we spend more now for eco-friendly stuff, we will most definitely see the future generations benefit for many many years.

Let’s just keep the faith.

2. Don’t guilt-trip

Guilt-focused messages are great to attract attention but are awful in maintaining that attention.

Though people might even feel some guilt, they just hide their head in the sand and pretend the messages aren’t there anymore. This is sort of behaviour is called the Ostrich Effect.

Nobody likes negative mood states so naturally such messages will be avoided.

3. Give architects the power

Let’s face it, architects and engineers play a huge part in what is in our environment and what it looks like.

They are the major influential decision makers and we should empower them even more.

Empower to do what exactly?

To design more sustainable infrastructure and buildings.

How would we go about doing this?

It’s no secret that humans respond well to incentives and the virtuosos behind pointy skyscrapers and modern glassy buildings are no different.

One way to incentivise architects, engineers, contractors and other groups who design and build infrastructure would be to grade and reward more environmentally friendly building projects.

For instance, projects that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve the habitats of wildlife would be rated higher than projects that emit toxic smoky plumes into our air.

So if architects and engineers are rewarded for their eco-friendly buildings on a particular rating system, it is likely that this would in turn lead to more prestigious tenants occupying these spaces which only perpetuates the prestige of such buildings.

Of course, planning tools such as the Envision rating system already takes care of this aspect. But three decades-worth of behavioural research suggests this system could be improved upon using scientific insight.

4. Play on architect’s aversion to loss

But the point is that humans are loss averse meaning that they want to limit experiencing loss as much as possible.

If we have a system in place that rewards architects and engineers to build eco-friendly buildings, then the architects and engineers that don’t do that will lose a lot of reputation and stature.

So they’ll avoid practices that will have a negative impact on their professional careers.

5. Careful labelling

We have a knee jerk reaction to certain labels.

For instance, we wouldn’t react positively to the label of ‘carbon taxes.’

But if we frame them as ‘carbon offset’ labels, then these labels seem more palpable.

More palpable labels are the way to go.

6. Nudge to use energy efficient light bulbs

Nudging is basically incentivising people to perform a new behaviour by using psychological sorcery.

One way to get people/tenants to choose and use CFL energy-saving light bulbs over less energy efficient lightbulbs would be for architects and engineers to build buildings that can only use eco-friendly lightbulbs.

Then you’re pretty much forced to use CFLs!

7. Shift attention to the future

As humans, we are by default pretty selfish.

We care most about our own present wants and needs and perhaps that’s the reason why we need these sort of environmental solutions in the first place.

But science has shown time and again that we do have other-regarding preferences, meaning that we can be quite selfless and look out for others.

However, these preferences aren’t at the forefront of our value hierarchy.

One way to tap into this selfless attitude would be to induce legacy motivations where it’s not about us anymore but about the future and leaving a sound legacy for the future generations.

Closing thoughts

A lot of money is invested into training experts, scientists, behavioural economists only for the main decision makers to ignore them in the end.

They have all the tools.

Listen to them.

It’ll do the world some good.

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Still curious? Check out some more resources here.

How to Stop Roommates From Using Your Stuff

I want to share a pretty cool psychology experiment with you, you’ll love it because the insight you’ll learn will be able to help you fend off your roommates or dormmates from using your stuff.

Your pans, your bowls, your stapler etc.

I know, infuriating when they use them without asking, even more so if they use them and don’t clean up and just leave them lying around dirty, the bowls and pans at least.

On to the experiment then.

The experiment

Dan Ariely, renowned behavioural economist and author of great books like Predictably Irrational, slipped in to the dorms at MIT as part of the experiment and, floor by floor, planted a six-pack of Coke in all of the shared refrigerators he could find.

Over the next few days he would return to the fridges and check on the cans, keeping a diary of how many of them remained in the fridge.

Within 72 hours, every one of the cans of Coke disappeared.

The money however remained untouched for 72 hours until Ariely removed the cast from the refrigerators.

Is there an explanation for this?


But before we delve into that, Ariely asks you to imagine the following to put things into perspective:

“Suppose there are no red pencils at work, but you can buy one downstairs for a dime. And the petty cash box in your office has been left open, and no one is around. Would you take 10 cents from the petty cash box to buy the red pencil? Suppose you didn’t have any change and needed the 10 cents. Would you feel comfortable taking it? Would that be OK?”

I’m not going to pretend that it wouldn’t be super easy to just take the red pencil and keep the 10 cents so let’s just skip to Dan’s conclusion:

“When we look at the world around us, much of the dishonesty we see involves cheating that is one step removed from cash. Companies cheat with their accounting practices; executives cheat by using backdated stock options; lobbyists cheat by underwriting parties for politicians; drug companies cheat by sending doctors and their wives off on posh vacations. To be sure, these people don’t cheat with cold cash (except occasionally). And that’s my points: cheating is a lot easier when it’s a step removed from money.

How you can use this insight to your advantage

In his other book Behavioural Economics Saved My Dog, Dan recounts how a reader of his, or rather a friend of that reader, used this scientific insight to his advantage:

“My friend said that in his workplace items such as staplers, tape dispensers, and so on used to be constantly taken from his desk. He then glued a coin onto each piece, and no one has taken anything with a coin on it in five years. Does this fit with your findings?”

Dan commented the following in response:

“This is exactly the point. It turns out that we can rationalise lots of our bad behaviours, and the more distant they are from cash the simpler it is for us to rationalise them. What your friend has done by sticking money to the items it to make it clear that borrowing the office supplies without returning them is not just about the office supplies, it is also about stealing cash. And with this reframing he made the action more morally questionable in the minds of the potential thieves.”

Closing thoughts

So you now know you can stick money on your personal belongings to keep people you live with from using your stuff.

Life is all about quick wins, isn’t it.

But I also hope that you’ve learnt something about the predictability of human psychology and how it can work in funny ways sometimes.

And that the explanations for the strange inner workings of our minds actually make a lot of sense, a lot of the time.

I just want to leave you with a final thought or two.

I realised that whenever I go to Sainsbury’s and use my Nectar card, I will always get a coupon with some sort of discount on some of my most frequent past purchases, like a discount for a bag of spinach I often buy, or triple Nectar points on my next shop, or £2 off when I spend £20 on my next shop.

A lot of the time though, I see people pay for their shopping but leave their freshly printed coupons behind…

I think you know where this is going.

Because sometimes these coupons are essentially free money (i.e. “£2 off on your next shop” coupon) – if you use someone else’s coupon to get a discount, are you stealing from Sainsbury’s?

Is it wrong to use that coupon and get £2 off your shop?

After all, it is one step removed from cash…

Well what if you had the opportunity to steal £2 in cash from a cashier in Sainsbury’s and used that to buy your shop?

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts…

Final thought with a different twist:

If you have a job and you’re getting paid X thousand pounds a year for your efforts – is that money just one step removed from slavery?

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.