Ditch Autopilot Mode – Think once a day

We are creatures of habit and habit is the “automation” centre of our brain. The moment an action becomes repetitive, our brain makes a habit out of it so we don’t need to both using mental resources for it. Most of our driving, walking to the train station, etc., are done in “autopilot” mode.

The problem with “autopilot” mode is that, if our daily work is repetitive, we subordinate most of our lives to a Monday-Friday monotony. Not much input required.

So, how do we ditch autopilot mode? Write everyday. Write in a journal if you’d like to keep it private. But, just write about an idea that pops into mind – a take on the world’s events, an idea that you’d like to see developed into a movie, or an observation about people. It doesn’t quite matter. Just write about one idea every day and write about it.

Writing everyday will push you to thinking. You might do okay for the first week but it’ll soon push your thinking beyond what you’ve imagined. Inspiration won’t strike every day so you’ll find yourself noting ideas down for no-inspiration days.

And, even after noting down tons of ideas, you might find it really hard to write one morning because you just don’t feel any of them are good enough. On those mornings, I suggest you write about writing or tell your readers to do what you do..

On Chloe Sunglasses, Wearing Fakes, and Cheating

This week’s book learning is part of an 8 part series from The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. (Parts 123, 4)

Dan Ariely and team enlisted many female MBA students for an experiment. They were divided into 3 groups with Chloe designer sunglasses.

This first group were told their sunglasses were authentic. The second were told they were counterfeit (even though they were real). And nothing was said to the third group about the authenticity.

The women were then directed to the hallway where they were asked to rate the quality and experience of looking through their sunglasses. Soon after, they were called back for the matrix/puzzle test with the “shredder” condition where they solved the matrices, shredded their answer sheet, and told the examiners how many they solved. (Ariely and team knew the average number of questions having performed this experiment many a time)

The results were fascinating as always –

– 42% of the participants in the “no information” condition cheated
– “Only” 30% of the authentic condition participants cheated
– As for the “fake” condition, a whopping 74% cheated


Real or fake?
Image credit

In Ariely’s words, “These results suggest that wearing a genuine product does not increase our honesty (or at least not by much). But once we knowingly put on a counterfeit product, moral constraints loosen to some degree, making it easier for us to take further steps down the path of dishonesty.

The moral of the story? If you, your friend, or someone you are dating wears counterfeit products, be careful! Another act of dishonesty may be closer than you expect.”

That leads us to the next question – are there any other downsides to wearing fakes?Coming up next week..

Wish you a happy weekend and happy week!

Finding great beaches

The easy-to-access beaches are always full of people. They’re nice fun places for a while thanks to the abundance of activity. They feel boring and crowded very soon though.

Great beaches are never easy-to-access. They have that 1 kilometre walk from the mainland amidst bushes and thickets. The wonderful thing about this additional “resistance” is that it eliminates pretty much everyone. That 1 kilometre of resistance is the difference between mainstream and niche paradise.

Exercise first thing in the morning is similar. The resistance in that case is getting out of bed, putting on exercise clothes, and getting out. Practicing your guitar requires you to tune it and reading a great book requires you to get past the “I’m too busy” mental illusion.  

Perhaps great beaches are a lesson for us. Get past the resistance… and the good stuff follows.

Are you doing it for the likes?

If you are building a business, it matters what your customer thinks. If you are rolling out a new feature, your customers ‘like’ matters. It’s not the case if you are making your art, though. The only ‘like’ that ought to matter is yours.

The likes of Facebook and Twitter threaten to make life an endless cycle of external affirmation (or concerns about the lack of it). So, is it business or art? If your cookery blog is your art, don’t worry about the view count. Just focus on making better food and sharing that with the world. Connect with ten genuine fans. And do it till the end of time..

In time, you may be able to convert your art into a business. Your taste might actually be good enough to guarantee success in the market. Then again, it might not.

It’s just worth remembering that, even if the odds are not great, there is some chance that your art may become a business and fund your lifestyle while continuing to feel like your art. The chances of a business, built on the basis of external affirmation, feeling like your art is unlikely.

So, before you get started on your next initiative, ask yourself that question – is this business? or is it art? If it’s a business, check for potential revenue and focus on making it work with customers of your choice (or make sure you’re doing what keeps your boss happy). If it’s art, don’t bother with the ‘likes.’ Do it because it helps you express yourself and do it safe in the knowledge that it might not work, and that’s okay..

3 questions to ask when you face jerk behavior

1) Is he/she a jerk or just someone in “jerk mode”?

2) If it’s a case of someone in “jerk mode”, why is he/she in jerk mode?

3) How can I make sure I never do to someone else what he/she is doing to me?

The Rationale: We are all more than capable of being jerks. Extreme emotions (manic highs and depressive lows) tend to switch us into “jerk mode.”

The Focus: These questions take the focus away from the “what an idiot” reaction. The focus here is to empathize and understand why the other person might be behaving that way.

Action: No action is required at the moment as the act of attempting to empathize and understand changes the way we look at the situation.

The only action required is to file the experience in our memory bank for a situation in the future when we might find ourselves in a similar situation. And, given life’s tendency of bringing things back a full circle, the chances are high.

Work Hacks Wednesdays: Taking good notes..

Note taking is a useful skill for recording interviews and meetings. A simple way to take better notes is to not write/type while the other person is talking. Once the person finishes speaking, give yourself a moment to think, synthesize in your own words, and take it down.

This way, you actually think about what you are writing about and you get to the essence of the conversation much quicker. The biggest benefit is that you have concise meaningful notes versus a lengthy transcription of every word spoken during the meeting.

Taking notes while the other person is talking has a built in feature – you can afford to switch off and yet type word-for-word. It’s the easier thing to do.

The ‘good notes’ method has no built in shortcuts. Paying attention and then using your brain are minimum requirements.

Tough process. Good outcome. And not easy.

Embracing the Counter Intuitive

Our brain took no chances with our lymbic system – the centre that controls our most basic responses such as fight, flight, or fright – and nestled it deep in our brains. Evolution also endowed us with the pre-frontal cortex that has the ability to override the lymbic system from time to time aided by willpower and habit.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt simplified this into the analogy of the elephant (or the very powerful lymbic system) and the rider (or the logical, decisive pre-frontal cortex that can guide the elephant, but not fight it).

Faced with a situation our body doesn’t recognize, we are wired to do what’s ‘intuitive’ e.g. if we are lying down and someone we don’t recognize walks into the room, we immediately attempt to straighten up – a gesture of self defence rooted in our ancient distrust of other mammals as a part of a fight for survival. The trouble now is that we are in less need of lymbic system than ever before. Yes, there is still a lot of crime. But, compared to the minute-by-minute dangers we faced 2,000 years ago, we are comparatively much safer.

Progress requires us to get comfortable with the counter intuitive i.e. to develop willpower and strength enough to overrule the lymbic system from time to time. Making friends and connecting with people calls for vulnerability. By doing so, we leave ourselves exposed but there isn’t any reward without risk. 2,000 years ago, the act of getting out of bed was risky. That’s no longer the case (thank god).

A personal fitness trainer remarked recently that gyms are filled with men trying to beef up their biceps and chests. It feels like the obvious things to do – they want to look “big armed” and buff after all. But, looking “big armed” and buff is best achieved by working on triceps and the back. The triceps form 1/3rd of the arm while strengthening the back makes us look taller and has a much better overall effect on our look. Counter intuitive.

More examples of counter intuitive?

The best football managers invest most after they win a trophy to ensure their players continue to hustle and avoid complacency.

The more the chaos and uncertainty, the more we require stillness.

The bigger the downturn, the more open our outlook needs to be.

The more we feel the need to scream at the person opposite us, the bigger the need for us to sit down and listen.

We live in a great time with different rules from times when our ancestors lived. We just need to make sure we give ourselves the necessary software updates from time to time.

Roy Baumeister, Psychology Thought Leader – on Willpower, Habits, and the Human Mind

I read Roy Baumeister’s brilliant book “Willpower” just last month and reached out to him right after. Coincidentally, he was on his way to Australia on a business trip and we managed to find 20 minutes to speak while he was on transit in Sydney airport.

It was a really interesting chat with one of the titans of research into human behavior, specifically willpower.

I apologize in advance for the audio quality. We were in a noisy airport food court and we’ve done our best to ease the noise.

About Roy

Roy F. Baumeister (born May 16, 1953) is Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. He is a social psychologist who is known for his work on the self, social rejection, belongingness, sexuality, self-control, self-esteem, self-defeating behaviors, motivation, aggression, consciousness, and free will. He has authored 500 publications and has written, co-written, or edited almost 30 books. He earned his A.B. summa cum laude from Princeton University and his M.A. from Duke University. He returned to Princeton University with his mentor Edward E. Jones and earned his Ph.D. from the university’s Department of Psychology in 1978. He then taught at Case Western Reserve University for over two decades before transferring to Florida State.He is a fellow of both the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Association for Psychological Science. Baumeister was named an ISI highly cited researcher in 2003.


As always, we have the full transcript here on RealLeaders.tv.

My favorite quote from the interview –

“We think of using willpower for resisting temptation and for powerful acts of virtue. However, people who are successful in the long run seem to use their self-control to set up a smoothly running life – for creating good habits and good routines.”

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

On Creativity, Intelligence, and Dishonesty

This week’s book learning is part of an 8 part series from The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. (Parts 12, 3)

We ended last week’s learning with the big question – what is the relationship between creativity and dishonesty? So, Dan Ariely and team tested this with a set of interesting experiments over 4 weeks. Participants’ creativity and intelligence were first tested with 3 activities spread over 3 weeks.

In the first week, participants took a survey to test creativity and measure intelligence. In the second and third weeks, they were tested on their verbal skills, problem solving skills, and general knowledge.

They were then brought together for a multiple choice general knowledge test with a twist. When they were about to finish, the examiner said there had been a mistake with the “bubble” sheets. The only bubble sheets available were the ones with the correct answer shaded. So, would they please use this, erase the right answer, and copy in their answers?

This meant they saw the right answer as they tallied their scores. They would then have to shred the bubble sheets and tell the examiner how many they solved.

The results revealed a lot –
– Individuals who were more creative had higher levels of dishonesty
– There was no relationship between intelligence and dishonesty
– Science has gone on to find a link between gray matter (neurons) and white matter (links between neurons). More gray matter =>more intelligence. The hypothesis is that that more white matter could mean more creativity.
– Creativity, in turn, allows us to stretch the “fudge” factor and tell ourselves stories to rationalize it.


Sketch by EB

“I knew all along the capital of Switzerland was Berne. I chose Zurich without thinking about it” was probably what the participants were thinking as they copied their answers in.

This brings us to an interesting point in our studies on dishonesty. The next step is to explore the effects of “knock off”/fake goods that are sold in the market today. Is there a link between wearing fake goods and being dishonest? Coming up in part 5..

Wish you a happy weekend and happy week!


Today, you are as old and wise as you have ever been. You are also as young and naive as you have ever been.

Today also happens to be the day when we are as advanced as a civilization as we have ever been. And yet, we have a long road of advancement ahead, too.

Today, in short, is the perfect intersection. You at your wisest point and the world at it’s most advanced. Your life is good. Very good. Sure, it’s not perfect. But, you have a lot more than you need and thank god we get what we need, and not what we want. You have access to the sort of resources and tools most of our ancestors couldn’t even have dreamed of. Luckily, a few did. And, thanks to them we live at an incredible time.

So, what have you got planned today that might result in something the future generations might be thankful for?

What have you got planned that might make the lives of the people around you better?

Who are you planning to help today?

Yes, it’s the weekend (I hear you). Sure. Relax. Take stock. Start planning tomorrow. The new week will be here and our excuses for not making the world that bit better will run out..