Ask Ariely: On Pickleball Problems, Calorie Compensation, and Friend Finding

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Dear Dan,

I play the paddle sport pickleball on outdoor courts at our local city park. During the season, the members of our association have to clean up the courts at the end of each day, which takes about 15 minutes.

As you might expect, few people volunteer regularly, and pleas for more help fall on deaf ears. I recently suggested to the group’s executive board that we should pay members who help clean up, but my idea was shot down. The reasoning was that we are a volunteer organization and should not pay for such services. How can we get more people to pitch in?

—John 

Paying a few members to clean the courts is always an option. But if you start paying for cleaning, it will change how those who clean and those who don’t treat each other. So I would try other methods first.
One effective approach is to use social shaming. What if the pickleball association posted the names of all the members on a large poster board and used markings to show how often each person cleaned the courts? What if, next to the names of the people who did not help even once, there was a large question mark? My guess is that the desire to appear to be a team player rather than a freeloader could motivate many more people to contribute to the cleaning effort.

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Hi Dan,

I am a doctor specializing in obesity management, and one of the challenges we face in my practice is something called the “Last Supper” effect. We find that patients who know they are about to undergo weight loss surgery tend to binge during the two weeks prior to the procedure, gaining anywhere from five to 20 pounds. Do you have any suggestions for how we might be able to change this pattern?

—Adrian 

My colleagues and I carried out research at our lab at Duke University that might shed some light on this question. We asked one group of participants to indulge in food and compensate for it by reducing their calorie consumption later. Meanwhile, we asked another group to create an “indulgence bank,” going on a diet first and indulging only after they “saved” enough calories to compensate.

It turns out that when people indulged first, they didn’t compensate enough and ended up gaining weight. But when they saved calories by dieting first, they realized how much hard work it was and didn’t want to “spend” all their savings by eating more.

With this in mind, I would ask patients to start two months before the weight-loss procedure and spend the first six weeks creating an indulgence bank by reducing their calorie intake. Then they can “celebrate” by eating freely during the last two weeks before the procedure. My guess is that they will celebrate a bit, but not too much.

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Hello, Dan.

I recently retired, and since many of my friends were from my workplace, I feel lonely and deprived of connections. Any advice?

—Warren 

It’s a bit awkward to advertise “friends needed,” and if you tried, you could attract some shady characters. Instead, I’d suggest that you pick an activity that is likely to attract the kind of people you want to be friends with: the Sierra Club, or bird watching, or maybe pickleball. Odds are that you will find your next friends there. And don’t worry if you don’t like the activities very much: The other people are probably there for the same reason—to make friends.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.