Tag Archives: Psychology

It’s Ok to Quit

5 Mar

I’ve wanted to learn how to knit since I was in high school. A friend started to teach me our senior year, but we never made it past the first few steps. For years, knitting was a “someday” hobby. Someday I’d learn, when I had the time, and when I had the chance. I held onto my needles and yarn and partially knitted scarf, planning to finish it whenever I could.

I got my chance this January, after years of anticipation. A friend invited me to join her knitting class, and I jumped on the class. I showed up to the first class so excited to finally learn how to finish that scarf.

And then, after all that time: I din’t like it! I enjoyed creating something, and that my effort produced something tangible right in my hands. But I didn’t like the process. I didn’t get sucked in and lose track of time. I didn’t find it relaxing. Practicing felt like a chore, rather than a hobby I’d choose to do for fun.

So, I quit.To be fair, I quit earlier than I would have liked. I had to miss class 3, which made class 4 pointless. But regardless, I just knew I wasn’t going to keep it up. Some might say I gave up too soon,  or that I’d like it more once I got the hang of it. But you know what? I simply didn’t like it. And that’s ok.

We don’t have to like everything we try. We don’t have to be good at everything we try. It’s 100% normal, in fact, to dislike some of the things we try, and to be bad at them. I think it’s human nature to want to excel at everything, to be a person of many talents. And it’s also human nature to beat yourself up a bit when you’re not good at something or don’t enjoy it. But sometimes, hobbies aren’t a good fit for your skills or your needs, and then it’s time to move on. There are too many amazing things this world to spend time on hobbies you don’t like.

It seems like it should be a letdown that after all these years, I don’t even like the hobby I’d been dreaming about. In reality, it felt like a tidy ending to a longtime dream. Telling myself that it’s ok to dislike something and it’s ok to quit actually felt really good. It was a nice reminder to focus my time and energy on the things I really like, rather than trying to make every little thing work.

Of course, the urge to try new hobbies won’t end here. I have plenty of hobbies already, from writing this blog to baking my way through every recipe possible. Still, there’s something so enticing about trying something new and entering a whole new world of possibilities. I doubt I’ll ever get sick of trying new things–just don’t expect me to like all of them!


Candy for Lunch

14 Jun
Goo Goo

Old ad campaigns on display at the Goo Goo Cluster store

On a recent trip to Nashville, I stopped at the Goo Goo Cluster store to buy myself a treat. The store doubles as Goo Goo’s “history museum,” and an old ad caught my eye. “A nourishing lunch for a nickel,” it said.

I had to giggle. After all: Goo Goo Clusters are candy, a mix of chocolate, caramel, nuts and marshmallow. Delicious? Yes. Nourishing? I wouldn’t say so.

And yet, Goo Goo advertised their candy as a “nourishing lunch” well throughout the 20s and 30s. That slogan wouldn’t work today, for reasons that go far beyond ad regulations. The old ads position Goo Goo on this idea of sustainment, a filling meal that keeps you feeling good throughout the day. That might have worked back in the day, but today’s consumers have different perceptions of what’s healthy, and what’s “acceptable” as a meal. In today’s society, consumers simply wouldn’t accept the notion of a candy bar as a “sustaining” lunch.

The Goo Goo ad made me think about perceptions of health and sustenance, and how they shift over time. Words like “healthy” and “nourishing” sound like they should have concrete definitions – but their meaning evolves along with consumer understanding and beliefs. Just take a look at what’s happening with grains: in the last decade we’ve shifted from idolizing the low-carb Atkins diet, to idolizing whole grains, then ancient grains… and now 17% of U.S. adults actively avoid gluten altogether.

Today’s consumers root their food “truths” in a different story than we’ve seen before. There is significant pressure for big food brands to clean their ingredient decks, offer “healthier” options and enable smarter choices. We’re seeing a lot of big CPG brands struggle, while smaller “challenger” brands swoop in to meet evolving consumer needs. Smaller brands swoop in because they can – they’re nimble, with a strong sense of purpose that’s focused on meeting today’s perceptions of health and nutrition. Rather than trying to reverse old products into a health-focused strategy, they’re planning for today’s needs from the start.

Over time, Goo Goo started calling their product candy instead of lunch. That’s the right way to go for products that can’t fit into modern perceptions. But for a lot of big brands, there are in-betweens: taking out artificial flavors, adding trendy nutrients, creating new products with health benefits. Where there’s a consumer need, there’s a way. And as consumer conceptions of wellness continue to shift, classic packaged goods brands will need to keep an eye ahead of the tide. Simply knowing what today’s consumer thinks about health and wellness won’t suffice – because by the time you’ve reacted, public opinion may change.

This post was originally published on my company’s blog – check it out on the Sterling Brands site

Off The Charts

6 Feb

ffeeeAt first glance, the chart to the left looks like an analysis of the things people do in a coffee shop. According to the chart, people spend more time buying and photographing their coffee than drinking the actual coffee. “Wow!” you think. “How interesting!” You want to share this fun fact with friends, so you start posting the chart on social media. Your friends also find this incredibly interesting. Until a particularly critical pal takes a closer look… and emails you to tell you the chart is completely bogus.

The image above from a Bold Italic series called “Made Up Charts.” All the data is fabricated and the charts are meant to entertain, not educate. This is an extreme example, of course, where it’s clearly labeled as fake. But while charts and graphs can be useful to digest information, their format also has a profound impact on the way people interpret information. According to a Cornell University study, people are more likely to believe information if a chart is included in the explanation. Two sets of people were shown descriptions of the same cold medicine. One description had charts and the other did not. Among those who didn’t see charts: 68% believed the medicine worked. Among those who saw charts: 97% of people believed the medicine worked.

This jump is significant. It shows just how much presentation matters, sometimes even more than the information we hope to convey. A chart makes people think information is more legitimate. We shouldn’t need charts to help us make decisions about what and who to believe. But graphic representation provides a credibility nudge, nonetheless.

Researchers have found a similar effect when studies or products claim to be “backed by science.” Just the suggestion that something is backed by science is all it takes: the materials don’t even need to include complex formulas. Simply listing a product’s ingredients in scientific terms, not layman’s terms, can be all it takes to make that product sound more “effective.”

Charts and graphs can be helpful, but we certainly shouldn’t let them affect how we interpret what we read. Pay attention to your reading habits. Are you more likely to believe something if there’s an official-looking chart? Do graphs feel particularly credible to you? Is your opinion swayed by presentation?

If you’re interested in learning other subtle ways we’re influenced by information architecture, check out Nudge. It’s a behavioral economics book with really interesting case studies.

Even if they’re bogus, or rather because they’re bogus, made up charts can be a lot of fun. Here are two of my favorite sources for humorous graphs:

The Good Ol Days

14 Jul

You know those jokes about parents who tell their kids that they used to have to walk to school in the snow… both ways? Or grandparents who tell their grandchildren that in their day, kids played with balls and were perfectly happy… so why do kids these days need phones and computers?

No matter how old you are now, I bet you that someday you’ll be telling a younger generation about the good ol days. You might focus on the types of entertainment you had, the morals of those around you, or maybe just the type of place you lived. But no matter how much things improve, there’s always things we miss from “a simpler time.” And there’s always things that are just really difficult to explain to someone from a different era, even if they don’t seem that complex on the surface.

Freshmen Moving In

The freshmen are moving in… and bringing their new ideas with them! (Photo credit: pennstatenews)

It’s weird to think about the processes, products and situations we take for granted due to when we were born and where we were raised. Every year I check out the Mindset List published by Beloit College. The list contains reflections on that year’s college freshmen based on their cultural knowledge and social mindsets. The list started as a way for professors to poke lighthearted fun at each other and remind themselves to use references their students would actually understand. It’s now more of an entryway into the consciousness of today’s college students. It’s always got some silly entries, like last year’s #30: today’s college freshmen never knew tan M&Ms. That difference between kids and their parents about the colors of M&Ms will probably never cause tension- it’s just a fun fact. But the sum of the list’s entries reminds us how easy it is to forget the nuances of a specific place in time, a specific social era, and a specific type of living. Today’s college freshmen have always had suitcases with wheels (what a different visual image of air travel). Today’s college freshmen have always been able to watch TV on a million different screens (what a different construct of entertainment, different conception of what “TV time” means, etc.). And so on and so forth.

The list isn’t gospel, and it won’t give you a complete picture of the social consciousness of today’s generations. But take a read, and reflect on the crazy nuances of the world we live in. Then, check out this Buzzfeed list about “25 Things You’ll Have to Explain to Your Kids One Day” for a good chuckle. My favorite is #19 because man, I HATED those things.


It’s Free? I’ll Take Two!

14 Apr
Coffee cup icon

Image: Wikipedia

I like getting free things, which isn’t particularly shocking. Paying $0 for something is always better than having to take hard-earned cash out of my wallet. So when I heard about a free coffee promotion sponsored by a local shop, I made my merry way to the store’s front doors. I walk by this coffee shop on a pretty regular basis, and I’ve heard great things about its drinks. Yet, I’d never been inside before. A little weird, right?  I love coffee, the shop is rumored to have great coffee, and it’s on my way to work. All signs point to me becoming a frequent customer. But I’d never even tried it, for one simple reason: price.

You see, as much as I love coffee, I love free more. And my office has complimentary espresso. So even though I don’t like espresso very much, I choose to drink it, because its impact on my weekly budget is a beautiful $0. I sacrifice what I really want for the sake of something that costs me less. Curious, right? But in fact, this is a rather studied phenomenon. I recently read some work by Dan Ariely about the power of free. Ariely is a behavioral economist who has written fantastic books on irrational behavior. And his studies show, time and time again, that we are all to willing to abandon preferences if something is offered to us for free. You may want the chocolate cake, but if it costs $4 a slice and the vanilla cake is free… you’re likely to take the free one. And what’s more, we often forget to evaluate the true quality of something that’s free. So when a company offers you a free t-shirt, you’re not very likely to debate whether the shirt is attractive or worth your attention- you grab it and head on your way.

So back to this coffee promotion, shall we? I went to the shop, asked for the promotional coffee, and chatted a bit with the woman at the cash register. But then: guilt set in! The shop was just so pretty. And its coffee machines were so sleek and polished. And its staff was so nice. And its menu was so upscale. And… and… and…


I’d feel a little guilty taking a free coffee from this guy Photo credit: smee.bruce)

I realized I had to buy something. I walked in there expecting to grab my free java and hit the road, but the context of where I got the free coffee changed my expected behavior. I felt bad doing a grab-and-run, and felt like it was only fair to buy something to make up for my free drink. This certainly wouldn’t have happened in a different context. Had the free coffee been from 7-11, for example, I would have definitely done a grab-and-run. But since this was a fancier and more unique shop with a friendly staff, I felt like I had to support their business. It was a different sort of experience, and for some reason it just felt wrong to “abuse” it. Also, I was the only one around who asked for the promotion. Had there been flocks of people waiting for their free coffee, I probably would have felt less obligated to buy something. But since I was the only one around getting the free cup, it felt a bit awkward and, in fact, petty. So in the end, I spent more than $0-and actually, I spent more than the price of a cup of coffee, too. The breakfast I bought was wonderful, thankfully. But it got me chuckling about my turnaround in behavior. The plan: benefit from free. The result: spend money I hadn’t planned on spending. Naturally, this is what stores hope for when they offer free products- they hope you end up buying other things that make up for the cost of what they gave you for free. And I’m sure my (delicious) $4 biscuit did just that.

Have you ever taken something you really don’t need, just because it’s free? What would you have done in my situation- would you have done a grab-and-run? Or would you have acted like I did?

Interested in hearing more about the behavioral economics of a cup of coffee? Check out  The Power of Suggestion

It Just Doesn’t Make Sense

11 Jan

Imagine you’re managing a team of colleagues and you assign them what you think is a pretty straightforward task. You leave them to figure it out and come back in 2 days. When they present their work, you’re flabbergasted. “But,” you cry out, “that approach makes no sense! Why would you think that was logical?!”

End scene. Pause. And think about it. Logic is a tricky beast. Philosophers, mathematicians and countless others have spent centuries trying to work through the different kinds of reasoning skills humans possess. But what I’m talking about here isn’t deductive logic or something like that: it’s the idea of internal logic. In other words, the  system of reasoning that lives within your own brain and governs your individual actions.

Now, that workplace scenario I described above could happen for a couple different reasons. It could be that the employees simply don’t understand their job as well as they should, and made a weird decision. But on the other hand, they could have made a decision that really did come from sensible consideration: it’s just that their judgement system differs from yours. And so what they thought made total sense, you see as rubbish. They really did hunker down and think about it, they really did do what they thought was best… and it just doesn’t match what YOU would have done.

I’ve always been curious about this discrepancy between internal logic systems. It’s hard to fully get my mind around it, and to be fair, I haven’t ever studied it from the academic point of view. But sometimes I just don’t understand  how we can rectify decision-making among people with different brains, because we all operate with slightly different “processors,” if you will. Obviously there’s such things as good judgement, street smarts etc to help guide us. But sometimes you check off all the boxes that pop up in your head, and you still make a poor decision. And sometimes you think through all the criteria that seem important, and still do something that others find foolish. Perhaps the answer is simply that some people have sharper logic skills than others, and those are the people who make the “right decisions.” I’m willing to accept that answer, I suppose. But the next time you’re about to tell someone that what they said/did makes no sense- see if you can figure out why they did it. Maybe you’ll still think they’re wrong. But maybe you won’t!


Made You Look

3 Oct

We’ve all grown accustomed to “learning” about people through the endless stream of updates flowing through our Facebook news feeds. I can easily tell you which of my acquaintances are excited that pumpkin spice lattes are back in stores. Based on my news feed, I’m also pretty sure that Thailand is “in” when it comes to international travel. And, for better or for worse (answer: worse!), I can also tell you what certain people cooked for dinner Every.Single.Night.This.Week.

As a concept, news feed intrigues me. It brings an accidental sense of discovery to using the social networking site since you aren’t actively seeking out specific people’s profiles. I just scroll down for a bit, and wow, news that I didn’t MEAN to learn that about someone: Facebook made me look! And Facebook keeps “making us look” in new ways. First there were promoted posts from brands and organizations. Somewhat annoying, not especially surprising. And sort of fun to see which companies target you! Then came the option to highlight your closest friends so they showed up more often on your news feed and got prime territory near the top of your feed. That feature makes a lot of sense to me- I’ve never quite figured out how Facebook decides who to tell me about- but I haven’t  actually bothered to use it.

A Mashable article published today revealed that Facebook just introduced a whole new way to mess with our news feeds: self-promotion. Some would argue that Facebook is just one big tool for self promotion anyway, but this takes it even further. Soon, commoners like you and I will be able to PAY to promote our own content. Yes, you heard me right: you would pay to promote your facebook updates. Worried there won’t be enough likes on that cute picture of you and your boyfriend? Just pay a bit of money and your picture is suddenly top bill for your facebook crew. Concerned that you won’t make enough people jealous about your recent trip to Hawaii? Pay a litlte dough and shazam: your comments about enjoying a delicious mai tai at Waikiki are at top of everyone’s news feed (also known as their “passive stalking” feed).

As was wont to happen, there’s already some outcry about how this changes the character of Facebook. To some critics, this means the end of the Facebook meritocracy as we know it.  One Mashable critic went so far as to suggest that this is going to create inflated demand and build up pressure for people to pay to get noticed. Etc etc.

Which really begs the question: does it matter? Does it matter if 10 people see your post vs. 20? Does it matter if you have the most likes? We all say no, but we do know we love the attention. I definitely like getting “likes.” Just like I love it when I see a lot of hits on my blog. So I get it. But do you REALLY think that this change is going to push the Facebook world into pure and utter chaos, soon to be overtaken by the wealthy elite? I just don’t think so. I don’t stop calling friends to say hi because I’ve seen so many of their status updates I think I know everything there is to know. And I would hope my friends feel the same way about me.

So friends, please take heed: I will never pay to promote my Facebook activity. If you want to see what I’m up to and it’s not ridiculously easily accessible high up there on your news feed… I guess you’re just going to have to make some effort to type my name into the search box and click a couple times. It’s a tough life, my friends.

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