The Science of Being Human


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How positive psychology and behavioral economics are the new frontiers of human achievement.

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The Science of Being Human

  1. The Science of Being Human Behavioral Economics, Positive Psychology, and Human Achievement
  2. The Question• 400 years from now, what will make people say, “What were they thinking?”• Almost 400 years ago, Galileo was branded a heretic by the Inquisition for his observations of the moon, which showed it was not a perfect sphere
  3. Hint: Not A Perfect Sphere
  4. The Human Frontier• How many people get excited about going to Mars or discovering the Higgs Boson?• The most important frontier today is our understanding of being human – Neuroscience – Positive Psychology – Behavioral Economics
  5. Today’s Talk• Background• Principles• Implications
  6. Who Is This Guy?• Alisha’s husband• Entrepreneur, investor, blogger• I’m not a scientist, I just read a lot of books and like to talk
  7. Positive Psychology• Founded in 1998 by Martin Seligman• The science of mental health, not illness• Has crossed over to the mainstream• Distinguished from self-help by scientific basis
  8. Happiness
  9. Optimism• As we’ve become more self-centered and less community-oriented, depression has increased• Optimists (despite being less realistic) are healthier, happier, and more successful – Bad events have specific, temporary, external causes – Good events have general, permanent, internal causes• Pessimists can employ the ABCDE model – Adversity, Belief, Consequences, Disputation, Energization
  10. Positivity• The positivity ratio is the # of positive statements to the # of negative statements• High performing teams average 6:1; low performing teams average 1:1• Flourishing marriages average 5:1; failed marriages fall below 1:1• The tipping point is 2.9013• Raise your ratio by decreasing negativity and increasing positivity
  11. Intrinsic Motivation• The 6 basic aspirations – Extrinsic • To be rich • To be famous • To be good-looking – Intrinsic • Satisfying personal relationships • Contribute to the community • Grow as an individual• People with extrinsic goals show more narcisissm, anxiety, and depression—even if achieved
  12. Surrogacy• We suck at knowing what will make us happy• Your best bet is to ask a surrogate who has undergone the experience how they feel• We resist surrogacy because we don’t like to see ourselves as average – 90% of drivers consider themselves above average
  13. The How of (Personal) Happiness• Express gratitude • Learn to forgive• Cultivate optimism • Increase flow• Avoid overthinking experiences• Practice acts of • Savor life’s joys kindness • Commit to goals• Nurture social relationships • Practice religion &• Develop strategies for spirituality coping • Take care of your body
  14. Happiness Policy• Happiness per country depends on 6 factors – Feeling you can trust other people – Belonging to social organizations – Divorce rate – Unemployment rate – Quality of government – Religious faith• The hedonic treadmill: Money can’t buy happiness because humans are so adaptable
  15. Achievement
  16. Flow• Clear goals every step of the way• Immediate feedback on actions• Balance between challenges and skills• Action and awareness are merged• Distractions are excluded from consciousness• No worry of failure• Self-consciousness disappears• Time “flies”• Activity becomes done for its own state
  17. Mindset• Growth vs. Fixed mindset• The mind is a muscle you can improve• Failure is a chance to grow• Just 2 50-minute interventions had a significant impact 4 years later
  18. Deliberate Practice• Break down skills into their components• Practice those components at the edge of your ability• Focus on immediate feedback and iteration• Work hard to put in your 10,000 hours
  19. Spirituality
  20. Sacredness• Self-transcendence is a basic part of being human—we want to be uplifted• The function of this instinct is to bind groups together• Most of us long to overcome pettiness and become part of something bigger
  21. Behavioral Economics• Human beings aren’t rational economic actors• Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for this work (partner Amos Tversky had passed away)• Focused on “cognitive biases”
  22. We are Predictably Irrational• Heuristics (“rules of thumb”)• Framing (“how information is presented”)• Anomalies (“Man, that’s some weird stuff!”)
  23. Heuristics• We focus on what we can lose, not what we can gain (loss aversion)• We make decisions based on relative, not absolute values (e.g. “the middle price”)• Zero/free is a source of irrational excitement
  24. Framing• Anchoring has a major long-term effect on our willingness to pay• Market norms drive out social norms – And consumers take offense if a relationship framed as a social exchange turns out to be a market one• We unconsciously act based on stereotypes (priming)• The placebo effect works, and people get more impact from an expensive placebo than a cheap one
  25. Anomalies• Humans procrastinate; using pre-commitment can help overcome it• We overvalue what we have (the endowment effect)• We hate to give up options—even if we should
  26. So what does all this mean?• The past 30 years have seen a revolution in the science of being human• We are moving beyond religion, philosophy, psychology, and self-help with evidence-based interventions• We can be healthier, happier, and more productive simply by changing our minds
  27. The Big Summary (Part 1)• Optimism is adaptive and can be learned• Positivity (> 3:1) helps everything from teams to marriages• Only intrinsic motivations (relationships, community, growth) can make you happy• Money can’t buy happiness for individuals or nations—trust, belonging, and faith matter• Surrogacy is the best way to estimate happiness
  28. The Big Summary (Part 2)• Flow is productive, pleasurable, and systematically achievable• The mind is a muscle and failure is a just chance to grow• Deliberate practice, not natural ability, produces talent• We long to transcend the self and become part of something bigger• We decide based on rules of thumb and framing, not just facts and figures• Only by admitting our irrationality can we take steps to outwit our wrong-headed instincts
  29. It all fits together• Knowing we’re Predictable Irrational gives us the humility to use tools like Surrogacy to find what makes us Happy• Happiness stems largely from Optimism• Optimism helps you achieve Positivity• Positivity is the secret to successful relationships• Relationships reflect a longing for Self-Transcendence• Self-Transcendence is the core of Intrinsic Motivation• Intrinsic Motivation reflects the desire to belong and grow• The Growth Mindset gives you failure tolerance to test your limits with Deliberate Practice• Deliberate Practice is designed to achieve Flow• Flow is one path to Self-Transcendence and Happiness
  30. And of course, Jeremy Lin • Deliberate practice trumps “natural ability” • Overcome failure with optimism and positivity • The predictably irrational decisions of college coaches and NBA GMs • Self-Transcendence and winning basketball
  31. Where do we go from here?• The science of being human is a growing industry – LifeHacker – The Quantified Self – TED – Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (Penn)• How can you tap these principles in your own work?
  32. Blatant Plugs• You can read my blogs – –• Follow me on Twitter –• Follow up on the source material –