Ask Ariely: On Communal Coding, Long-Term Love, and Toddler Trouble

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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Hi, Dan.

At work we have a large code base—all the source codes for our computer programs—and it’s managed by many teams around the world. We need to migrate the code base to a new version of our programming language. The expected benefits are huge, but everyone is procrastinating. What would you do to motivate people, apart from just setting a deadline?

—Alex 

Procrastination happens because there is an asymmetry between the costs that you have to pay now and the rewards you expect in the future. While the benefits of a distant goal—in this case, a better programming language—might be huge, they feel less salient when we have to do something difficult right now—such as working on the migration process.

So I would try to make the current experience more rewarding and fun. For instance, try setting up a happy hour: Every day from 2-4pm, everyone can write code together and then celebrate by having a beer together (or kombucha, depending on your company) to celebrate your progress. This approach can make the experience more communal and enjoyable.

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Hi, Dan.

Is aiming for a long-term commitment in romantic relationships really a good thing? Given that the divorce rate is about 50%, wouldn’t it be better for me to approach relationships expecting them to be short-lived, so I won’t be disappointed if things don’t work out?

—Joseph 

Love is one of the areas where prophecies tend to be self-fulfilling. If you approach relationships expecting them not to last, they probably won’t—and vice versa. Relationships aren’t static and they reflect what we invest in them.

Imagine that you made a deal with your landlord that your lease would be day-to-day. How much time and money would you invest in your home? Would you paint the walls or fix a leaky faucet? Most likely you wouldn’t, and so your pleasure in your home would be limited at best.

Similarly, if every day you wake up next to your romantic partner and ask yourself, “Should we do this for another day or stop now?” your relationship probably won’t deepen very much. It makes sense to think about the long term, since that is the only way to reap the benefits of commitment.

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Dear Dan,

Our new downstairs neighbor in our apartment building is bothered by the sound of our toddler son walking on the floors. He keeps banging on his ceiling and walls in an attempt to make us aware of how annoying the noise is. What can we do to make him stop harassing us? We cannot move, and I cannot keep my son from walking on the floors during the daytime.

—Shannon 

First, you should invest in some rugs to help reduce the noise. Then you can write to your neighbor and tell him about the effort you’ve made. Finally, invite him over for dinner; this will establish a sense of friendship and make him think twice before pounding on the walls. And be sure to serve alcohol during the dinner, as a way to break the ice and to make everyone friendlier.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.