Unplug to Reconnect

I could really do with some me-time.

I want to just chill out.

I don’t have time for myself.

I just need to…get away.

Sound familiar?

These are the words of people who are most likely spreading themselves too thin.

Because to every yin, there must be a yang.

And if you’re feeling this way, then you may need to take some time to fully unplug.

By unplugging, you’re reconnecting.

People say they’ll unplug on holidays.

But how many times a year do you go on a holiday?

Twice?

We need this form of mental and physical escapism much more often than that.

In the bustling day to day where you’re bouncing around from errand to errand, meeting to meeting, you need to be able to switch off, to recharge, and centre yourself once again.

Go to your special place, if you have one. For me it’s a walk in a park or relaxing in a coffee shop I frequent.

Or even exercise. Exercise has always been a refuge where I do some of my best thinking.

Get in touch with yourself and your inner voice.

Relax. Think. Reflect. Meditate.

“Your soul needs to reset”

Filmmaker, artist, and founder of the Webby awards, Tiffany Shlain emphasises how important it is to unplug by drawing an analogy to the ritual of Shabbat:

“Shabbat is a very old idea. If you really look at what some of the scholars from a long time ago wrote about it, it’s as though they’re talking about today. The idea is that one day a week, you need to get your mind in a different mode, you need to not work. Every week, your brain – and your soul – needs to be reset.

Your soul needs to be reset. That’s a great metaphor. It’s like hitting the reset button on my sense of balance (…) Some people say, ‘oh, on vacations, I unplug.‘ But when do vacations happen? Once or twice a year. There’s something about the weekly practice of getting a different mode of experiencing the world back that’s really important.”

The importance of renewal

If you’re working in a stressful job or find yourself spending a lot of time in a stressful environment, your body will mirror this stress by producing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

These are the emergency hormones that keep you alert, get you going, and fuel you to get stuff done at work.

Sometimes though, I get back from a hectic day and I still feel activated, as if I haven’t “turned off” completely.

Scientists called this a state of prolonged activation.

I don’t know about you but other times, I’d come back from a busy day and I’d feel myself becoming deflated, as if these stress hormones were flushing themselves out of my system.

Deflated, I’d vegetate, operating at the lowest cycles, realising how low my baseline energy levels are without these stress hormones to carry me.

But this is where you realise how important it is to do something restorative, something that will reset and renew you.

This is crucial because our capacity is limited.

Tony Schwartz, author of the New York times bestseller Be Excellent at Anything and president and CEO of The Energy Project, writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind about this.

Here’s Tony:

“Your capacity is limited. The challenge is that the demand in our lives increasingly exceeds our capacity. Think of capacity as the fuel that makes it possible to bring your skill and talent fully to life (…).

Human beings aren’t meant to operate continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time. Rather, we’re designed to move rhythmically between spending and renewing our energy.

Our brains wave between high and low electrical frequencies. Our hearts beat at varying intervals. Our lungs expand and contract depending on demand (…) Instead, we live linear lives, progressively burning down our energy reservoirs throughout the day.

It’s the equivalent of withdrawing funds from a bank account without ever making a deposit. At some point, you go bankrupt.”

When you finally reset and unplug after a long time of not doing so

So you finally take a prolonged break from your usual hectic and stressful work environment.

During the first few days of your break from work will be you just realising how low your baseline energy is. You might realise that, in the productivity sense, these days are a complete write off.

You’ll realise you’re tired all the time and need some downtime where you can focus on nurturing your body through restorative exercise and nourishing yourself with clean healthy foods.

You’ll also be catching up on all that lost sleep. Throughout the weeks at work it’s normal to lose a lot of sleep. When you lose sleep, cortisol levels in your body increase because how else would you remain conscious.

People go back to work after a week off saying, semi-jokingly, “a week’s worth of holiday isn’t enough.”

Because it isn’t.

If you don’t unplug and recover frequently, you’ll accumulate too much stress and exhaustion and burnout will slowly creep up on you.

What you can do to unplug better

“Be mindful of who you let into your stream of consciousness”

Unplugging is as important as it is inevitable.

But it’s good advice to also just look out for the reasons that accelerate the need for unplugging.

Especially if it’s a toxic personality who drains you.

For this reason, Tiffany emphasises the importance of who you let into your mind.

Here’s Tiffany:

“You’re letting those people into your brain and they’re going to influence your thoughts. I find that I even dream about some of the people I follow [on social media]. We need to be really mindful of who we let into our stream of consciousness.”

Create windows of non-stimulation in your day

Scott Belsky, author of bestselling book Making Ideas Happen and co-founder and head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and creative work, writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind about the importance of being alone and creating windows of non-stimulation in your days

“Creates windows of non-stimulation in your day. Make this time sacred and use it to focus on a separate list of two or three things that are important to you over the long-term. Use this time to think, to digest what you’ve learned, and to plan.”

 

Ideas on How to Get Students to Return Overdue Library Books

When you borrow a ‘7-day loan’ book from the university library and fail to return it before the 7 days are up, you are forced to pay a fine of 50 pence for every day that the book is overdue.

The crux of the issue is exactly what we’ve been talking about a second ago.

If someone wanted to keep a book for longer that 7 days, all he had to do was pay a small, petty fine of 50p a day and v’oila! he bought himself some extra time.

And just like that, gone are the times of experiencing guilt for holding on to an eagerly sought out book at the expense of someone else’s intellectual enterprise and education.

The whole thing is ruled by market norms now.

50p isn’t much of a fine

But the thing with paying just 50p is misleading and takes advantage of an inherent psychological tendency that we all have.

This is how libraries earn their money for “new books”.

This natural tendency is called delay discounting which is the process of devaluing future outcomes. You can read more about that here.

Essentially, paying 50p a day is chickenfeed to most people.

But 50p on day 1 turns into £1 into £1.50 and so on…

Hold on to a book for 10 days and you have to pay £5. Then you’re thinking – where’d that fine come from?!

Funnily enough, £5 turns out to be 1/8 of the price of a new copy of that very book you’ve been nursing for ages.

We don’t care about other people, only about ourselves

Let’s face it, we’re egocentric and tend to be selfish.

On the other hand though, we’re not purely motivated by self-interest.

Behavioural research shows that we do exhibit other-regarding preferences in that we factor in other people’s interests in our decision-making.

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

Sad but true.

BUT!

There is a solution.

A solution that would make people focus on the needs of others…

And it’s been around for millenia.

That solution is to instil feelings of guilt.

People are egocentric and look for their benefit but guilt has always been able to inspire at least a modicum of regard in those who have strayed off the path of righteousness (getting carried away here but you get the point.)

So if libraries want to help a student out, it has to be better at instilling guilt in students that are taking the mick.

How?

 How to instil guilt back

Social norms

Norms are important because they’re unspoken promises we make to people in our immediate social circle.

In the good ol’ days, if someone was a deviant in the social circle, he’d be banished or killed.

So to make the student feel compelled to bring the book back (bring the bloody book back, Russell!), we need to make him realise he’s a deviant in accordance to the unspoken laws/norms that govern every student.

Sure, sure, he probably knows this already, but we need that thought to be in the forefront of his consciousness.

So send him an email which reads something along the lines of:

99% of people give the books back on time – would you like it if someone did that to you?

This informs the person of the norm (i.e. how the majority acts = norm) and plays on their emotions a bit…

This ties in with the second point:

Empathy

A big theme here is to introduce empathetic imagination by putting them in the shoes of the people that are worse of for someone not bringing an overdue library book back (damnit, Russell!)

Another example that would play on empathy would be:

Please return the book as overdue books disadvantage students in their revision.

What would be even better would be to put that sentence in red.

Red attract attention and assigns urgency.

By the same token though, a lot of students don’t check these library emails and give in to the ostrich effect. Basically, they hide their head in the sand and avoid the issue (don’t you dare, Russell…)

But if you include in the email that “you could save X amount of money for returning the book on time” in the subject line, you might just get them to open the email after all.

Higher fees

Students taking the mick oftentimes don’t mind paying 50 pence a day for an overdue book.

Let’s face it – it’s a small price to pay for being daft.

So what about compounding the fines over time?

On day 1, the fine is 50p but on day 2 the fine increases to £1 etc.

Another thought: what about exorbitant fees?

Nobody wants to pay super high fees for a measly, chewed-up, dog-earred, nineth-hand book, right?

But this could have some unintentional effects, like encouraging malpractice where the students with the overdue books wouldn’t even bother paying the fines, returning the books, and would just vanish from the face of the Earth.

 

Making them experience the negative experience of holding overdue books

What about giving deceiving them into thinking that the book was overdue so that they experience the negative affect and feel like a criminal before telling them that you were joking but also add “but seriously – don’t forget to bring the book back on time yeah.”

Obviously this would raise “ethical questions” due to the deception used (still a thought, though…)

Make paying off fines a unpleasant experience

When paying off their library fines, sometimes people with overdue books rationalise that “well at least I’m helping the library with my money.”

It’s this rationalisation that doesn’t deter them from similar transgressions in the future.

So how would one go about making sure this rationalisation isn’t conjured up?

What about setting fire or shredding the money they use to pay for their fines?

Parting with hard, cold cash can be difficult, especially if you’re paying off library fees.

What if a student paying off his fines were to insert a note into a machine only to receive a fake shredded note in response?

They wouldn’t be able to rationalise that the money was going to a good cause (i.e. library) but rather was wasted because of someone’s laziness…

You could argue this puts a lot of undue stress on the student who is paying the fine. But once he’s parted with the money – what difference does it make what happens to the money?

After all – he’s parted with it and it’s no longer his.

But the downside is that no actual money is exchanged (i.e. it is taken off your student card).

I guess cash is slowly becoming archaic (not to mention unsanitary.)

Plus, now you’ve got machines where you can return your books back, so you aren’t able to experience any walk of shame as you would if you had to return the overdue books to a member of the library staff.

Trying to compromise and be on their side

Okay, the past two ideas were a bit “out there” so how about something that would be more ethically sound?

Like trying to be on their side and offer them an easy way out.

In the email remind him of the overdue book, you could write something like this in it:

“You can quietly come to school to give it back, no one will know…”

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

***

Thank you to S. Reimers for brainstorming these ideas with me. Obviously some were more on the jokey side while other more legitimate but overall it was a fun intellectual exercise I fondly look back on.

 

The Two Worlds We Live In

 

In his seminal book “Predictably Irrational”, behavioural economist Dan Ariely describes how we live in two worlds: one is governed by social exchanges and the other is characterised by market exchanges.

He emphasises that different rules apply to each of these two very different worlds.

For instance, imagine that your friend invites you to a party and you end up having so much fun that you decide to pay your friend for all the expenses it took to organise the thing.

How do you think your friend would react?

Such good deeds don’t come at a price.

The very act of offering to pay for them (i.e. placing a price tag on them) transitions the relationship with your friend from a social exchange to one governed by market norms.

In other words, by proposing such a thing, you’ve introduced market norms into a social exchange.

You’ve changed the dynamic of the social relationship and most likely even hurt it by negating the very foundation it was built upon in the first place i.e. intangible qualities such as trust, loyalty, kindness.

Social contract vs. market exchange

In his book, Ariely mentions an experiment conducted by researchers Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini where the long term effects of introducing market norms into a social relationship could be recognised.

The researchers studied a daycare centre in Israel where they imposed fines for parents who were late in picking up their children.

From a behaviourist standpoint, it makes sense: if you want to reduce the frequency of a behaviour, you have to impose some sort of punishment to do so.

After all, world-renowned behaviourist B.F Skinner would reduce a rat’s button-pressing behaviour by simply shocking it. This is called negative reinforcement and it reduces the frequency of an undesirable behaviour.

However, upon introducing these fines, the situation hadn’t got better. Parents continued to be late in picking up their children. In fact, they were even more late than ever before.

How could this be?

Well, before the fine was introduced, the relationship between the caretaker at the daycare centre and the parents of the children operated within a world based on social exchanges.

Whenever the parents were late, their sense of guilt was so great that it increased their compliance to avoid being late.

But now that the fines were introduced, the dynamic of the social relationship had changed. The parents began to interpret the social exchange in terms of market norms.

They could now choose to be either a) early and not pay, or b) late and pay, say £2. They could literally buy themselves some time by paying the fine, absolving themselves of any guilt in the process, living in the conviction that it’s okay to be late as long as you pay up.

The relationship had moved from an implicit social contract to one dictated by market norms.

No going back

What happened when the fines were removed? Did the relationship between caretaker and parent return to one that was based on a social norms?

Here’s what Dan says about that:

“The most interesting part occurred a few weeks later, when the day care center removed the fine. Now the center was back to the social norm.

Would the parents also return to the social norm? Would their guilt return as well? Not at all. Once the fine was removed, the behavior of the parents didn’t change.

They continued to pick up their kids late. In fact, when the fine was removed, there was a slight increase in the number of tardy pickups (after all, both the social norms and the fine had been removed).”

This experiment illustrates an unfortunate fact: when a social norm collides with a market norm, the social norm goes away for a long time. In other words, social relationships are not easy to reestablish.

Once the bloom is off the rose — once a social norm is trumped by a market norm — it will rarely return.”