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Write / Speak / Code 2019: "Why we worry about all the wrong things"

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Write / Speak / Code 2019: "Why we worry about all the wrong things"

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Modern humans aren't great at risk assessment. We often blithely ignore things that could harm us, and are intimidated instead by things that are factually quite safe. This has vast implications for all aspects of our lives, including our careers. In this talk, we'll explore root causes of fear and anxiety, and discover how we can work to deliberately rewrite our "instincts", redirect our worry toward what actually matters, and channel it into productive outcomes that make us safer, happier and less stressed.

Modern humans aren't great at risk assessment. We often blithely ignore things that could harm us, and are intimidated instead by things that are factually quite safe. This has vast implications for all aspects of our lives, including our careers. In this talk, we'll explore root causes of fear and anxiety, and discover how we can work to deliberately rewrite our "instincts", redirect our worry toward what actually matters, and channel it into productive outcomes that make us safer, happier and less stressed.

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Write / Speak / Code 2019: "Why we worry about all the wrong things"

  1. 1. Why we worry about all the wrong things
  2. 2. Hello! I’m Hilary Stohs-Krause. Lieutenant software developer and crew & culture champion, Ten Forward Consulting ▫ Puns, feminism & tech at @hilarysk ▫ Coding bootcamp grad ▫ Has a Sindarin Elvish tattoo
  3. 3. Content warning This talk touches on mental health, including anxiety and depression; several images of common fears are included toward the beginning that may be upsetting.
  4. 4. Disclaimers 1. I am not a therapist or a scientist. 2. I owe a debt of gratitude to these two books, in particular: ▫ “Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions” ▫ “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts”
  5. 5. 1. Common misplaced fears Things many of us worry about unnecessarily
  6. 6. Spiders
  7. 7. SPIDERS ▫ 12 out of 40,000 = 0.0003%1 ▫ Only 2 can kill in U.S.2 ▫ You’re more likely to be killed by3 ...
  8. 8. Flying
  9. 9. FLYING ▫ One major accident for every 5.4 million flights4 ▫ No fatal commercial airline flights in U.S. since 20095 ▫ You’re much more likely to be killed by ...6,7
  10. 10. “ Some neuroscientists claim that humans are the most fearful creatures on the planet because of our ability to learn, think, and create fear in our minds.11
  11. 11. Ok, fine. So what?
  12. 12. 2. Implications for your life The harmful impact of those misplaced fears
  13. 13. Health concerns ▫ Weakened immune system, damage to our hearts, ulcers, decreased fertility9 ▫ Accelerated aging, even premature death9 ▫ Impairs formation of long-term memories9 ▫ Interrupts processes that help us act ethically9
  14. 14. Workplace issues ▫ Self-selecting out of opportunities19 ▫ Tension between “perfect” and “done”20 ▫ Gaslighting
  15. 15. 3. Where fear and anxiety come from We aren’t born afraid … are we?
  16. 16. The process in our brains10 First: Amygdala Second: Hippocampus Third: Prefrontal Cortex
  17. 17. Three main types of fear11 Lived experience Anticipatory Biological
  18. 18. Fear amplifiers Certain themes Three recurring themes in films that most scare people12
  19. 19. Fear amplifiers Certain themes Three recurring themes in films that most scare people12 Other people ▫ Called “emotional contagion” or “cultural cognition”13,14 ▫ Signs of physiological component, not just social13,15,16
  20. 20. Fear amplifiers Certain themes Three recurring themes in films that most scare people12 Other people ▫ Called “emotional contagion” or “cultural cognition”13,14 ▫ Signs of physiological component, not just social13,15,16 Fear, itself The more scared you feel, the scarier things will seem.17
  21. 21. What factors cause us to overestimate risk?17 Catastrophic potential Familiarity Understanding Personal control Voluntariness Children Victim identity Origin
  22. 22. Our risk assessment process is outdated.18 ▫ Evolved in natural environment ▫ Concrete vs. abstract ▫ Vague rewards
  23. 23. 4. Strategies for adapting Tools to lessen fear & make better risk assessments
  24. 24. First things first22 ▫ “Reflexive” vs. “deliberative” mind ▫ Not a matter of willpower ▫ Not a matter of using “analytical” part of brain more
  25. 25. Don’t blame yourself22 ▫ “We are uncomfortable with the idea that luck plays a significant role in our lives.” ▫ Quality of outcome != quality of decision
  26. 26. Be prepared21 Americans who worry about natural disasters 63% 26% 78% Those who see value of emergency supply kit for survival People who have actually made effort to put together such a kit
  27. 27. Own what you do (and don’t!) know “Every decision is a kind of prediction … and every prediction, crucially, involves thinking about two distinct things: what you know and what you don’t.”23
  28. 28. To the algorithms!23
  29. 29. OPTIMAL STOPPING ▫ Threshold Rule: The more options, the longer you wait for the best ▫ We often pick too early. ▫ “As options dwindle, be prepared to hire anyone who’s simply better than average.”
  30. 30. EXPLORE / EXPLOIT ▫ “Provides fundamental insights into how our goals should change as we age” ▫ “Explore when you will have time to use the resulting knowledge, exploit when you’re ready to cash in.”
  31. 31. WIN STAY / LOST SHIFT ▫ Choose an option at random, and keep doing it as long as it works. ▫ Once it doesn’t work, switch to a different option. ▫ Performs reliably better than chance
  32. 32. LAST RECENTLY USED ▫ Junk drawers and piles are actually “one of the most well-designed and efficient structures available.” ▫ At library, the most likely to be desired books are the ones most recently checked out.
  33. 33. CONSTRAINT RELAXATION ▫ In an ideal world, what would you do? ▫ Slowly add the constraints back in
  34. 34. Ask for help. ▫ Sharing fear lessens it. ▫ Helps us gain perspective, and new information. ▫ Can help pull us out of our bubble.
  35. 35. Lessons from cognitive behavioral therapy22 ▫ Reframing: opportunity to grow instead of loss of control; challenges vs. obstacle ▫ Specific: Focuses on specific problems, using a goal-oriented approach.
  36. 36. CBT steps24 IDENTIFY ... … troubling situations or conditions in your life BE AWARE ... … of your associated thoughts, emotions, beliefs RECOGNIZE PATTERNS ... … that may be contributing to your fear or anxiety RESHAPE ... … your feelings, reactions and behaviors, with time and effort
  37. 37. “If we’re willing to accept solutions that are close enough, then even some of the hairiest problems can be tamed with the right techniques.23
  38. 38. Thanks! Any questions? You can find me at @hilarysk and hilarysk@tenforward.consulting
  39. 39. Citations & Sources 1. “Spider Bites: How Dangerous Are They?”, OnHealth 2. “Venomous Spiders”, CDC 3. “The animals that are most likely to kill you this summer”, Washington Post 4. “2018 Airline Safety Performance”, International Air Transport Association 5. “The last fatal US airline crash was a decade ago. Here's why our skies are safer,” CNBC 6. “Opioids, Car Crashes and Falling: The Odds of Dying in the U.S.”, The New York Times 7. “U.S. pedestrian, bicyclist deaths rise in 2018: report”, Reuters 8. “Risk Perception: It’s Personal”, Environmental Health Perspectives 9. “Impact of Fear and Anxiety”, University of Minnesota 10. “What Happens in the Brain When We Feel Fear”, Smithsonian Magazine 11. “7 Things You Need to Know About Fear”, Psychology Today 12. “ The science of fear: what makes us afraid?”, BBC Science Focus Magazine 13. “Humans Smell Fear, and It's Contagious”, Live Science 14. “Risk Perception: It’s Personal”, Environmental Health Perspectives 15. "Is Fear Contagious?", PBS 16."Dentists can smell your fear – and it may put your teeth at risk", New Scientist 17. “Why we're awful at assessing risk”, USA Today 18."The science of fear: what makes us afraid?", BBC Science Focus Magazine
  40. 40. Citations & Sources 19. "Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified", Harvard Business Review 20. "Why Do Women Need To Be Perfect?", Time Magazine 21. "Motivating Disaster Preparedness", Chapman University 22. “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts”, by Annie Duke, Penguin Random House 23. “Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions”, by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths, Picador 24."Cognitive behavioral therapy", Mayo Clinic

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