Did I do well?

One of the fascinating vestiges of growing up in education systems that focus on tests is our propensity to ask – “Did I do well?”

It is amazing how much progress we make when we replace that question with – “Did I give it my best shot?”

The power of placebos

When I was growing up, we went to an expensive Homeopathic doctor when I had issues with longer term ailments. It started with a bout of bronchitis that I had as a baby. His pills helped cure it in 6 months.

We restricted visits due to a rather expensive price tag of 500 rupees per month per treatment (translated to $8-$10 in the 1990s which was unusually expensive in India). But, we ended up visiting him once a year or so for the most challenging, often chronic, problems. While the usual issue was wheezing/breathing difficulties, there were some special cases like an ulcer that refused to go away. In all of these cases, his sugary pills seemed to solve the problem.

At some point in the last decade, I dug deeper into the science behind homeopathy and was shocked to realize it was mostly just a placebo effect.

“Just” a placebo.

I thought about that today as I listened to a powerful chapter on placebos in Rory Sutherland’s excellent book, Alchemy. One of the interesting ideas he shares is that the most important role placebos play is tricking our immune system into getting to work. Since our immune system was built for much harsher conditions, most pills (think: Tylenos) and visits to the GP’s office may be most effective because of the placebo effect that enables us to hack our immune response.

Placebos are powerful.

PS: I’ve stopped linking to Alchemy on Amazon as I’ve already shared notes from the book twice. It is one of the books of the decade in my opinion. I’m making slow progress through the book and attempting to digest the insights. So, more notes to follow in the coming days.

The Friday effect

A recent observation I’ve had after a bit of experimentation is on the effect Fridays have on our memory of the working week.

As we head into the weekend, a busy Friday filled with many meetings and constant activity remind us of a work week that left more to be desired – regardless of how the other four days went (!).

On the flip side, a calm Friday with enough space to reflect, problem-find, and feel on top of what we want to get done triggers the memory of a productive week – again, regardless of how the other four days went.

If that triggers any vague memories of “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, you’re likely remembering the insight he shared on our propensity to remember only the peaks and ends of experiences. That insight has many applications – the effect of Fridays on our memory of the working week is a powerful example.

Note to self: Plan that Friday schedule very intentionally.

Gold gab ich für Eisen

When Prussia was at war with France in the 19th century, the Princess appealed to all wealthy and aristocratic women to donate their gold ornaments to fund the war effort. In return, they were given iron replicas that were stamped with “Gold gab ich für Eisen” (“I gave gold for iron”).

At social events, thereafter, wearing these iron replicas became a bigger signal of status than gold jewelry. Not only did they signal that the wearer was rich, they were now also identified as patriotic and noble.

Gold and precious metals, more money, more new features in that product, are all valuable and, at least on the surface, logical things to try and pursue.

But, so is meaning – the addition of which tends to be far less expensive and, generally, far more memorable.

(H/T Alchemy by Rory Sutherland, Photo credit: Wikipedia)