Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’

Skills Needed for Success

April 28, 2017

Scott Adams listed skills that he thinks every adult should gain a working knowledge in his book “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big”  He writes that mastery isn’t necessary and that luck has a good chance of finding you if you become merely good in most of these areas.

Public speaking is a skill the need for which should be obvious.  Adams himself took a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking which he found quite useful.  Today he can make $100,000 for a single speaking engagement.

Business writing is another needed skill.  The emphasis here is not on business, but rather that good business writing is both concise and informative.  It provides a good model for effective writing in general.

Accounting is essential not only for businesses, but also for managing one’s household.  An understanding is also necessary for evaluating stocks.

Adams writes that in today’s world we’re all designers, whether we like it or not.  PowerPoint presentations, Web sites, or flyer’s for your child’s school events.  Furnishing you home, buying clothes to look nice to others, and so on are needed.  Design once was the exclusive domain of artists and other experts, but now we’re all expected to have a working understanding of design.

Adams notes that few people are skilled conversationalists.  Most people just talk, which is not the same thing as conversation.  The difference is that skilled conservationalists know techniques that are surprisingly non obvious to a lot of people.  Adams goes into some detail about effective conversations, and he also notes that it is a learnable skill.

Overcoming shyness is important to overcome for obvious reasons. He says that we can overcome shyness with a little practice.  It is worth the effort or one can find oneself socially drowning at every gathering or public talk. He provides examples regarding how to overcome shyness.  He writes that the single best tip for avoiding shyness is  to harness the power of acting interested in other people.

Learning a second language can qualify one for a large range of jobs and opportunities compared to monolingual peers.

He notes that the old cliche is that business gets done on the golf course.  As Adams enjoys golf, both business and enjoyment can be done at the same time.  However, HM likes to watch golf, but when he sees the difficulties and problems the best golfers in the world have, he has difficulty understanding how it can be enjoyed.  HM is in agreement with Mark Twain who said that “golf is a good walk spoiled.”

Proper grammar is important.  He provides examples of common grammar gaffes that can cause others to lower their opinions of you.

Today one also needs to have at least a working knowledge of technology at the hobby level.

He recommends having proper voice techniques noting that it’s helpful to have different vocal strategies for different situations.

Adams goes into considerable detail on each of these topics.

Two topics on his list, persuasion and psychology, will each have a post devoted to them.

The Perfect Storm of Dieting

April 16, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest  Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.   Some of the content will be related plus a few contributions from this blog’s author.

Baumeister and John Tierney write, “If you’re serious about controlling your weight, you need the discipline to follow these three rules:

Never go on a diet.
Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food.
Whether you’re judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower.

The reason for these rules can be attributed to “The Dieter’s Catch-22.”
In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower.
In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.

Oprah Winfree, along with the experience of others, and perhaps even your personal experience should be proof that diets do not work in the long term.  Although there may be short term effects, eventually we all seem to be able to find that weight that we thought we had lost.

In one experiment, using both dieters and non dieters, the participants arrived at the what researchers call a “food-deprived state.”   In other words they were hungry.  They had not eaten for several hours.  Some were given a small milkshake to take the edge off; others drank two giant milkshakes with enough calories to leave a normal person feeling stuffed.  Then both groups, along with other subjects who hadn’t even given any kind of milkshake, were asked to serve as food tasters.  Each one sat in a private cubicle with several bowls of crackers and cookies and a rating form.  As these people recorded their ratings, they could eat as many from  from each bowl as they wanted and if they finished them all, they could just tell themselves they were doing a thorough job as food testers.  Of course, their ratings didn’t matter.  The researchers were just interested inn how many cookies and crackers they ate, and how the dieters in the group compared with people who were not on a diet.

The non dieters reacted as expected.  Those who had just drunk two giant milkshakes nibbled at the crackers and quickly filled out their ratings.  Those who had drunk the small milkshake ate more crackers.  And those who were still hungry after not eating for hours went on to chomp through the better part of the cookies and crackers.

However, the dieters reacted in the opposite pattern.  The ones who had downed the giant milkshakes actually ate more cookies and crackers than the ones who’d had nothing to eat for hours.    These results have been replicated.  Finally the researchers began to see why self-control in eating can fail even amount people who are carefully regulating themselves.  The researchers gave this phenomenon the scientific term, counterregulaory eating, but this is commonly referred to as the what-the-hell effect.  So once dieters go off their diet they tend to say what-the-hell and behave like sailors on leave.

The key to successful dieting can be attributed to Mark Twain who wrote in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, “To promise not do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.”

Research has shown the effectiveness of a postponement strategy.  When offered something tempting, rather than denying it, tell yourself that you will enjoy it sometime later.  Apparently it takes less will power to postpone something rather then to deny it.  So rather than a “what the hell” effect,” there can be an “I never managed to get around to it effect.”

The chapter concludes, “So when it comes to food never say never.  When the dessert cart arrives, don’t gaze longingly at forbidden treats.  Know that you will eat them eventually, but just not tonight.”

Weight loss goals should be modest.  And all your willpower needs to be devoted to them.  Large weight losses rarely last.

The following strategies were not in the book, but HM finds them promising.
The book does mention trying to keep track of calories.  This can have the benefit of slowing down your eating.  And the slowing down itself can be quite effective.  Take time to savor each bite of food.  This can also increase your enjoyment of the meal as well as helping your lose weight.

Another tactic is to switch diets for a limited amount of time.  For example, you might become a vegetarian for a week.  This is a variant of the postponement strategy.  You postpone your regular food.  Over a period of a week you are filling up on new food.  And over this period, you might start to enjoy some foods.  You can do this periodically gradually increasing the length of time on the new diet.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Understanding Deeply

February 1, 2016

It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
It’s what you do know that ain’t so.
Mark Twain, Will Rogers, or Someone Else

Understanding deeply is the first of the 5 Elements of Effective Thinking written by Drs Burger and Starbird..  Here is a tip offered  to provoke effective thinking.  Ask what do you know and test yourself by opening a blank document on a computer.  Then without referring to any sources, write a detailed understanding of the fundamentals of the subject.  Does your knowledge have gaps?  Do you struggle to think of core examples?  Do you fail to see the overall picture that puts the pieces together?  Then compare your effort to external sources.  When you discover weakness of your own understanding of the basics, take action.  Methodically understand the fundamentals.  Make these new insights part of your knowledge and connect them to parts already understood.  Revise and rewrite your first draft.   Periodically repeat this exercise and see how this document grows.  Keep a record of your previous documents.

If the challenge is too great, then don’t do it.  George Polya wrote, “If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve:  find it.  When faced with a difficult problem, do something else.  Focus entirely on a subproblem you know you can successfully resolve.  Be confident that the work you invest on the subproblem will later be the guide that allows you to navigate through the complexities  of the larger issue.  Just shoot for the moon, don’t yet try to walk on it.

Here are two steps to uncovering the essence:
Step One:  Identify and ignore all distracting features to isolate the essential core.
Step Two:  Analyze the central issue and apply those insights to the larger whole.

Review your writing , try to read what you have literally written—not what you intended to communicate.  Read your actual words and pretend you don’t know the argument you are making.  Try to identify what’s confusing and what’s missing.  If you think you know the idea but haven’t expressed it clearly, then this process has identified a gap or vagueness in your understanding.  After we admit and address these weaknesses, our exposition will be clearer and more directed to the actual audience.  When delivering an address or making a presentation, apply the same process of deliberately listening to the actual words we are speaking rather than what we are imagining we are saying.  This can be extremely difficult to do, so a review by external parties, particularly reviews by representative of the target audience can be especially valuable.

Becoming aware of the basis of our opinions and beliefs is an important step toward a better understanding of ourselves and our world.   It is a good idea to try out alternative ideas hypothetically and temporarily.  We can pretend our opinions are the opposite of what we actually believe, and then see where these opinions take us.

Niels Bohr used this technique while trying to lead a group of scientists to understand quantum mechanics.

What is reviewed here is just a sample.  Reading the original work is strongly recommended.


December 23, 2014

Procrastination is a section of the chapter Organizing Our Time in Levitin’s The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. He begins this section by discussing the film producer Jake Eberts whose films have received sixty-six Oscar nominations, and seventeen Oscar wins. H said that he had a short attention span, very little patience, and was easily bored. He might well have been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder . Here is how he conquered his problem. He adopted a strict policy of “do it now.” If he had a number of calls to make or things to attend to piling up, he’d dive right in, even if it cut into leisure or socializing time. Moreover, he’d do the most unpleasant task early in the morning to get it out of the way. He called this, following Mark Twain, eating the frog: Do the most unpleasant thing first thing in the morning when gumption is highest, because willpower depletes as the day goes on.

At this point, nothing more needs to be written on procrastination. The preceding is the formula for dealing with it. Moreover, at bottom, procrastination is due to a lack of willpower, so it should be attacked when willpower has not yet been depleted, because exercising our willpower has the effect of depleting out willpower. We have finite amounts to spend that need to be replenished once they are depleted. So, if you have tasks you need to attend to, stop reading and attend to them now!

However, if you have nothing on your to-do list, or if your willpower has already been depleted, keep reading.

The brain region implicated in procrastination is the prefrontal cortex. People who suffer damage to the prefrontal cortex have problems with procrastination.

There are two types of procrastination. Some of us procrastinate in order to pursue restful activities. Some of us procrastinate certain difficult or unpleasant tasks in favor of those that are more fun or that have an immediate reward. Of course, many of us engage in both types of procrastination.

The organizational psychologist Piers Steel says that there are two underlying factors that lead us to procrastinate. One of those factors is our low tolerance for frustration. When choosing what tasks to undertake or activities to pursue, we tend to choose not the most rewarding activity, but the easiest. Consequently unpleasant or difficult matters get put off. The second factor is an ego protective mechanism. We tend to evaluate our self-worth in terms of our achievements. If we lack self-confidence in general or confidence that a particular project will not turn out well, we procrastinate because that allow us to delay putting our reputation on the line until later. In this context it is important to disconnect one’s sense of self-worth from the outcome of a task. Most successful people have had a long track record or failure, yet they persevered and succeeded. And even if you’re successful, part of the reason is likely a matter of luck, the cards happened to play your way this time.

There are also some people who have no problem starting tasks, but do not seem to be able to complete them. This situation is not necessarily bad, and technically this is not procrastination. If you find that starting a task was a mistake, there is no requirement to finish it. Indeed, it might be some type of compulsive neurosis to complete everything you have started. Of course, too many abandoned tasks might indicate that more consideration should have been given before starting it. However, some people do not finish tasks because they are perfectionists. Now striving for perfection is not necessarily bad, but striving to achieve the unattainable is. And the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

Solutions and Good Practices for Misinformation

October 10, 2012

The preceding three blog posts, “Misinformation,” “The Origins of Misinformation,”, and “Cognitive Processing of Information,” have painted a pessimistic view of the problem of misinformation. This post will propose some solutions to the problem. All four posts draw heavily on a review article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.1 This post also draws on Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman‘s two system view of human cognition.2 According to Kahneman, we have two systems for processing information. System 1, called Intuition, is very fast, and seems to work effortlessly. System 2, called reasoning, is slow and effortful. System 1 is the default system that we use when we are walking, driving, conversing, engaging in any type of skilled performance. System 2 is what we might term conscious thinking. One of the reasons that System 1 is so fast is that it employs heuristics and biases in its processing. Although most of the time they are correct, occasionally they are wrong. System 2 is supposed to monitor System 1 processing and should step in and do some thinking to assure that nothing is wrong. (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “The Two System View of Cognition.”)

It is System 1, which facilitates the processing of good information, that inadvertently processes misinformation. System 2 is supposed to monitor and correct these mistakes, but it is a very difficult task. A person’s worldview, what the person already believes, has an enormous effect on what is regarded as misinformation. One person’s information can be another’s misinformation. Skepticism reduces susceptibility to misinformation effects when it prompts people to question the origins of information that may later turn out to be false. One way of dealing with this worldview is by framing solutions to a problem in worldview-consonant terms. For example, people who might oppose nanotechnology because they have an “eco-centric” outlook might be less likely to dismiss evidence of its safety if the use of nanotechnology is presented as part of an effort to protect the environment.

There is a danger one needs to recognize when trying to correct the effects of misinformation, particularly misinformation about complex real-world issues. People will refer more to misinformation that is in line with their attitudes and will be relatively immune to corrections. Retractions might even backfire and strengthen the initially held beliefs.

So much for the difficulties. Four common misinformation problems follow along with associated solutions and good practices.

Continued Influence Effect. Despite a retraction, people continue to believe the misinformation. The solution is to provide an alternative explanation that fills the gap left by retracting the misinformation without reiterating the misinformation. Then continue to strengthen the retraction through repetition (without reinforcing the myth).

Familiarity Backfire Effect. Repeating the myth increases familiarity reinforcing it. The solution is to avoid repetition of the myth by reinforcing the correct facts instead. When possible provide a pre-exposure warning that misleading information is coming.

Overkill Backfire Effect. Simple myths are more cognitively attractive than complicated refutations. The solution is to provide a simple, brief, rebuttal that uses fewer arguments in refuting the myth—less is more. Try to foster healthy skepticism. Skepticism about information source reduces the influence of misinformation.

Worldview Backfire Effect. Evidence that threatens worldview can strengthen initially held beliefs. The solution is to affirm worldview by framing evidence in a worldview-affirming manner by endorsing the values of the audience. Self-affirmation of personal values increases receptivity to evidence.

It should be clear that correcting the effects of misinformation is not easy. Moreover, the effects are likely to be modest. Nevertheless, correcting misinformation is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Clearly more research is needed.

We also need to be aware that our own worldviews influence System 1 processing and the failure to reject misinformation. Here I am reminded of something Mark Twain said. “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

1Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U.K.H., Seifert, C.M., , Schwarz, N., & Cook, J. (2012). Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13, 106-131.

2Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.