DAN ARIELY

Updates

May 21, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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,

My co-workers and I were discussing how we were going to spend our time off once a really stressful project wraps up. I was planning on going to a spa for a few days for some rest and relaxation, so I was surprised to learn that one of my colleagues was going on an adventurous rock climbing trip. Why would she want to engage in another stressful, albeit exciting, activity after so much work stress? Doesn’t she value relaxation?

—Mina 

Your intuition about which activities relax us—and which don’t—seems logical, but it might not be that accurate. Research has shown that voluntary stressful situations, such as rock-climbing, can actually reduce stress rather than increase it.

In order to better understand stress, researchers teamed up with an extra scary haunted house that specialized in such frights as locking people in coffins, administering electric shocks and confronting people with malevolent clowns. People who had purchased tickets for this haunted house were asked to report how they felt just before they went into it and again once they came out.

The results showed that on average, people felt better after experiencing the haunted house. Moreover, this improvement was particularly pronounced for the people who entered the experience the most stressed, tired or bored.

So it is possible not only that your colleague has chosen the more relaxing option, but that an adventurous trip would be the best thing for you as well. Of course, you could just watch a horror movie between massages and see if that minor stress improves your well-being.

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Dear Dan,

I’m the owner of a small advertising agency. We’ve been working from home for the past two years, and most of my employees strongly prefer to continue to do so. Since this model has worked well for us, is there any reason to require more time in-person?

—Joe 

Yes, you should require more time in-person. This advice is particularly important for companies that need their employees to be creative—which I suspect is the case for yours. Recent research has demonstrated that teams generate fewer creative ideas when they meet by videoconferencing as opposed to interacting in person.

As part of an ideation workshop, engineers at a company were randomly assigned into pairs and asked to generate new product ideas for one hour. Some pairs were assigned to do so in-person, others by videoconferencing. After generating ideas, each pair had to select one idea to submit as a future product innovation for the company. The pairs that worked together virtually not only generated fewer ideas, but the ideas were also rated as less creative.

The researchers found that these effects were determined less by the positive effects of social connection and eye contact among the in-person pairs than by the negative effects of focusing on a screen among the videoconferencing pairs.

If your team can’t manage more in-person interactions, you might at least consider arranging in-person days expressly for pursuing collaborative and idea-generating tasks.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

May 7, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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’m advising a young refugee from Afghanistan who is resettling in the U.S. She has been offered admission to several colleges and is setting up meetings to inquire about financial aid. To what extent should she highlight her identity in requesting these meetings?

—Stephanie 

It is understandable to be reluctant to draw attention to an identity that might be subject to prejudice. In past studies, two groups of employers were shown the exact same resume—but for one group, the resume bore a name associated with a minority. The employers were less likely to respond to the minority candidate. So it is perhaps not surprising that in a recent survey, only 35% of women and members of racial minorities said they were likely to highlight these aspects of their identities when seeking career support.

Recent research has found, however, that making deliberate, explicit mention of one’s identity can be beneficial. In one study, city council representatives were sent emails asking for advice on a career in politics. Some representatives got emails from senders who drew attention to their identities, whereas others got emails from the same senders, but without the identity call-out. Response rates to emails were higher when senders made explicit mention of their identities, and this effect was even stronger for women and members of racial and ethnic minorities.

The researchers concluded that calling attention to your identity reminds people to be aware of their potential biases and to try to counteract them. Assuming that your mentee is seeking financial aid from institutions that view prejudice as negative, she would do well to mention her identity in asking for meetings about financial aid.

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Dear Dan,

Switching between working from the office and working from home, combined with ever-changing Covid guidelines, has increased the number of meetings my employees have each week, and everyone is unhappy about it. What can I do to support my employees?

—Benedict 

Introduce at least one meeting-free day a week. Most meetings are unproductive, and team-building can happen by other means.

Researchers surveyed employees at more than 70 companies across the globe that had instituted meeting-free days. Employees reported feeling more empowered, autonomous, satisfied and productive than they had before the policy. They also felt less stressed and less micromanaged.

The authors concluded that three meeting-free days a week was optimal, reducing stress by 57% and improving productivity by 73% compared with having zero meeting-free days.

For the strategy to work, however, you must make sure that you aren’t just piling up all the meetings you would have held every day on the non-meeting-free days. Having meeting-free days should instead cause everyone to think more carefully about the meetings they set and the number of people they invite to attend them. You might also consider which goals can be achieved using other means of communication.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

April 23, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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 work at a coffee shop, and every Monday morning a woman comes in to pick up an iced coffee. I have developed quite a crush on her, but I’m worried that she doesn’t share my feelings and might say no if I ask her out. What do you suggest I do?

—Robert 

Every decision we make has the potential to bring positive or negative consequences. Right now, imagining a negative outcome is keeping you from asking for a date, so you might think you could gain the courage to talk to this woman by focusing only on the positive, envisioning her saying yes instead of no.

But a study that involved asking for a promotion points to a different conclusion. Participants were asked to think about what it would be like to ask for a promotion at their workplace. Then they were divided into three groups. One was told to write a list of reasons to make the request, another to list reasons not to make it and a third to list both pros and cons.

All the participants were then asked how likely they were to actually muster the courage to ask for a promotion at their work. Interestingly, the ones who listed both pros and cons were the most willing to ask, while there was no difference in willingness between the groups that considered only pros or only cons. What this suggest for your situation is that you should make a list of all possible positive and negative consequences of asking for a date. By lessening your fear of rejection, this exercise will make you more likely to take action.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a laboratory technician, and I’m responsible for training a new employee to operate some complicated equipment. He just isn’t getting it, and he keeps making the same mistakes instead of learning from them. What else can I do?

—Ayla 

The idea that we can learn from our mistakes is appealing, but it’s not always correct. Researchers have found that people often don’t learn from their mistakes, even when given an immediate opportunity to correct them.

In one set of studies, participants responded to factual questions by selecting one of two possible answers. After each question, feedback was provided. Test-takers in the “success” group were told only when they answered a question correctly, while those in the “failure” group were told only when they answered incorrectly.

Both groups had the same opportunity to learn from the feedback. But when they were retested, the “failure” group was less able to learn from their mistakes than the “success” group, which showed more progress. Why? Subsequent research suggested that failure threatens the ego and causes people to disengage. We find it easier to learn from other people’s failures than from our own.

So the next time you’re working with your new employee, make a point of commenting on everything he’s doing the right way. Instead of drawing attention to his mistakes, talk broadly about mistakes that other people might make when they’re first learning how to use the equipment, including mistakes you might have made. In general, when the ego is put aside, things often improve.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

April 9, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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 work for a local newspaper. We’re trying to increase our subscriber base through a customer referral program. Subscribers are awarded a $30 cash bonus for each successful referral they make. Unfortunately, the campaign hasn’t been very successful. Do you have any suggestions?

—Lee 

It takes some effort to recommend a newspaper to someone. But to follow through and subscribe to a new newspaper takes effort, too. Could it be that the new customer—and not the existing subscriber—is the person who needs the incentive?

To investigate this question, a group of researchers teamed up with a videogame subscription company. The company randomly sent each of its customers one of three email requests to refer new customers: The first didn’t include an incentive, the second awarded the current customer a free month for each successful referral, and the third awarded the free month to the new customer.

Not surprisingly, the no-incentive condition was the least effective. Customers in the other two groups made the same number of referrals—but out of all those referrals, the most successful were those that offered the incentive to the new customer rather than the existing customer. The new customer is the one who needs to go to the effort to get signed up, and an incentive can help make jumping through those hoops more attractive.

The referring party, meanwhile, may anticipate rewards other than financial ones—for example, a positive effect on their reputations from suggesting valuable products or services to others. In your newspaper’s case, the right mix might just be a warm glow for the people who are referring their friends and a financial gift to the new customers.

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Dear Dan,

My fiancé is meeting my parents for the first time. Unfortunately, my parents aren’t really the warmest and most welcoming people. I’m hesitant to say too much to my fiancé because that might make him more nervous about an already stressful situation. What’s the best approach to this introduction?

—Felix 

Your hesitation is understandable, but research shows that being surprised by a stressful situation is worse than anticipating one. In a recent study, participants were asked to sit for a job interview that entailed giving a public speech to a group of disinterested scientists. Some participants were warned about the nature of the interview, and others weren’t. The researchers found that the forewarned participants had lower subjective feelings of stress and lower physiological stress as measured by cortisol levels and brain activity.

Many of our experiences are shaped by the gap between expectations and reality. Surprise, excitement and disappointment are all products of this relationship. Presumably you can’t control your parents, so you should try to help manage your fiancé’s expectations for them instead.

Start working on this a week before the meeting. Over multiple days, let your fiancé know what to expect before meeting your parents and continue to do this during your engagement and through your marriage. Alternatively, you could elope—and transfer the surprise and stress from your fiancé to your parents.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

March 26, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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’ve been struggling to get to the gym and posted about my frustration on social media. I was inundated with support and people sharing anecdotes about what worked to keep them motivated. With so many different strategies offered up, how do I figure out which one works the best?

—Joachim

Social scientists also find it hard sometimes to sort through multiple findings on a topic to identify the key results. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have confronted this problem by conducting mega-studies, using thousands of participants and testing multiple different ideas for achieving a single result.

One of their megastudies addressed your question: The researchers tested 53 different approaches to increasing exercise as measured by the frequency of gym visits among 61,000 people. The approaches ranged from reminders, rewards and pledges to keeping a journal, framing exercise as fun and sharing workouts on social media. About half of these tactics worked to increase gym visits. One of the best-performing approaches was to offer people 9 cents in reward points if they returned to the gym after missing a planned workout. These “micro-rewards” increased gym visits by 16%.

Based on these findings, your best bet would be to combine a few of the successful strategies: Start by setting a reasonable workout schedule. Next, add reminders on your phone. Finally, plan small rewards for yourself for keeping to your schedule and also for going back to the gym if you miss a planned workout.

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Dear Dan,

I have tried to spend less time on my phone and on social media, but every time I intend to check just one new message a friend sent me, I end up going down a social media rabbit hole, scrolling through one post after another. Why does this happen to me?

—Kade 

Social media platforms are designed to maximize the time we spend on them. One reason they do this so effectively is that once we start consuming a certain type of content, our appetite for it increases.

In one study researchers asked participants to watch music videos. Half of the participants watched five different music videos, while the other half watched only one. The participants were then asked whether they would like to watch an additional music video or switch to a different task. You might have guessed that those who had already watched five videos would be tired of doing so and ready to move on to something else, but the researchers found the opposite: The participants who had already watched five videos were more likely to choose to watch more than the participants who had watched only one.

This is a case where the old saying is certainly true: If we don’t make a decision, someone else will make it for us. So if you want to take control of the time you spend on social media, you’ll need to take an active role—for example by setting a timer for 15 minutes, or only starting to look at social media 15 minutes before a meeting, so that you know when you’ll have to stop.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

March 12, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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’m really passionate about the well-being of animals. Unfortunately, the animal shelter I worked at recently closed, and I’m looking for new work that is equally fulfilling. But the search is taking a while, and my partner thinks I should just take a job that pays the bills. I’m really confused about what I’m looking for, not only in my job, but also in my relationship. What should I do?

—Amos 

The meaning of work differs greatly among people. Some attach deep purpose and meaning to their careers, which they see as a calling, while others view work merely as a means to earn a paycheck. Researchers refer to one’s place on this spectrum as a “calling orientation,” and since the time we spend at work is rather substantial, picking a career path that doesn’t match our orientation can have a substantial effect on our quality of life.

How our partner’s calling orientation aligns with our own can influence our job satisfaction. A team of researchers followed job seekers and their partners and found that the more widely calling orientation differed between partners, the more uncertain the job-seeking partners felt, the less energy they had to find work and the less successful they were in actually finding full-time employment after six months. A mismatch in calling orientation hurt the employed partners, too, making them less content with their own jobs than were those who were more aligned.

Talk to your partner and get clarity on your respective calling orientations. Discuss whether your differences in this area could affect your views of each other and your shared future. A mismatch in calling orientation doesn’t necessarily mean that you should break up, but recognizing the disparity may help you understand and respect the ways in which you are different.

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Dear Dan,

On a flight for a recent business trip, a new member of my team was offered a free upgrade. He turned it down. Why in the world would someone pass that up?

—Gus 

Sitting in an upgraded cabin with more legroom and free drinks certainly sounds like the more enjoyable travel experience. But your co-worker might have decided that staying with the team was of greater importance, especially since he’s a new member. And maybe he was correct.

In 2014, researchers published a paper called “The Unforeseen Costs of Extraordinary Experience,” in which they showed that while certain experiences may themselves be amazing, they can also have a downside when they are not shared by everyone in a social group. The researchers found that when people who had amazing experiences recounted them to their social groups, they often suffered negative social consequences and sometimes ended up feeling worse than those who didn’t have the extraordinary experiences at all.

You certainly don’t have to turn down opportunities to have extraordinary experiences. But while traveling with a group of new colleagues, maybe your team-member had reason to be mindful of the trade-off between the lure of an upgrade and the possible social cost.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

February 27, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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 travel a lot for work, and I’m keen on finding great places to eat in the cities I visit. Normally I use an app and narrow down my options based on ratings. But while I’ve found a lot of good meals this way, I haven’t found so many great ones. How would you suggest finding the best eateries on the road?

—Loran 

Restaurant ratings are a good place to start, as they can point out places to avoid. But they are not as helpful when it comes to narrowing down the best choices, because when people give good reviews, they don’t like to say anything negative, which makes it hard to differentiate the very good restaurants from the really great ones. Researchers found that about 80% of online restaurant reviews were four or five stars.

This positivity bias makes the star ratings useless for your purpose. But the researchers did find a better predictor of quality in the emotionality of the comments. For example, you might look for reviews that use demonstrative words, such as “enchanting,” instead of the more anodyne “excellent” to describe the experience.

Still, the best option is probably to ask someone who knows the city, such as a concierge. The wisdom of one well-informed local can often beat the wisdom of the crowd.

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Dear Dan,

I’m trying really hard to cut back on sweets, but I always slip up. My friends tell me I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, but I’m worried that if I’m too forgiving of my bad choices, I’ll keep making them. Which approach will better help me get on track? Should I be hard on myself or not?

—Leah 

Thinking about how best to recover from setbacks is an important part of goal planning. If we are very forgiving of our failures, we might never feel the need to try harder. On the other hand, if we are very harsh on ourselves, we may give up on our goal completely. This is a Goldilocks situation, in which we must find the moderate level of both criticism and forgiveness that is just right.

A recent study bears out this observation. People in a weight loss program reported how they felt about themselves after a lapse. The researchers found that those who felt great about themselves after backsliding struggled to get back on track. So, too, did those who felt very negatively about themselves. The people likeliest to re-engage with their goals turned out to be those who were moderately self-critical.

So maybe your friends are correct, and you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. At the same time, however, you should not be too easy on yourself. Mix it up a bit. After a slip-up, maybe start in a non-forgiving mode and take a moment to consider what led to the lapse and how it could be prevented. Then, once you have soaked in these feelings for a bit, forgive yourself.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

February 12, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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 own a small comedy club, and we’ve struggled with ticket sales during the pandemic, even as restrictions have been eased. Last weekend, for the first time in a while, we sold out a show and had a long line out the door. I wanted to post a picture on social media, but I was worried that the image of a crowd might put off potential patrons. Is this a reasonable concern?

—Juan 

You are contrasting two social forces and asking which is stronger: the power of norms (everyone is going to your club!) or the fear of gathering in crowds.

A study conducted in China in 2020 sheds some light on your dilemma. The study found that 37% more people dined out when they were told that their neighbors were also doing so. The researchers noted that in an atmosphere of uncertainty, information about what other people were doing (a descriptive norm) weighed heavily. Without the uncertainty, however, the descriptive norm made little difference: The researchers told subjects that all their neighbors were doing something considered to be perfectly safe (visiting a park), to virtually no effect.

In your case, I suspect that the picture showing people lined up for your club would be appealing. You could also add reassuring information, like noting the improvements in local Covid conditions or the precautions your club is taking to protect patrons, such as mask requirements and proof of vaccination.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a journalist at a small newspaper serving a community that is largely non-white and low income. I proposed doing a story about the environment, but the editorial board is concerned that this topic won’t resonate with our readers. How should I proceed?

—Loo 

The perception that Americans of color and those with low incomes care less about the environment than white Americans may be common, but it is both patronizing and false.
In a 2018 study, researchers asked Americans how concerned they were—and how concerned they thought a variety of other people were—about environmental issues. Most respondents thought that young people, white people and women were the most worried about the environment. But in reality, Latino, Asian, Black and low-income Americans reported being the most concerned.

Why might these communities be particularly concerned about the environment? To begin with, they are disproportionately likely to live in neighborhoods with high levels of pollution, little green space and high concentrations of waste sites. Daily exposure to environmental risks may raise awareness and concern among Americans of color and those with low incomes.

So your editorial board is most likely wrong. To help such a story resonate with your readership—and to correct misperceptions around the issue—you might consider reporting your story in a way that reflects the ethnic and economic diversity of those who are concerned about the environment.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

January 29, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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 lottery every week even though I know that the chances of winning are extremely small. Why do so many of us persist in doing this?

—Adam 

One reason that the lottery is so popular is that it provides uncertainty in a way that is appealing. We don’t normally like uncertainty: Not knowing if or when the pandemic is going to end, or whether to prepare for a winter storm, or what to do about climate change can foster a feeling of helplessness and decrease our motivation to act. But uncertainty about low-probability rewards can make us work harder.

In an experiment, participants were asked to drink six cups of water in two minutes. This is not easy to do. Half of the participants were told they would receive a certain reward ($2) if they achieved the goal, while the other half were told that if they succeeded, they’d receive either $1 or $2, to be determined by a coin toss after they’d finished. More participants in the second group managed to drink all six cups than in the first, suggesting that the uncertain reward was particularly motivating.
The same thing might be happening with the lottery. We get value from the uncertainty of winning, which piques our curiosity and stimulates our fantasies. We also get a psychological reward from seeing the uncertainty resolved, even though we are usually disappointed that the winning ticket wasn’t ours.
All the same, despite this minor benefit from the lottery, I’d recommend that you find other ways to improve your well-being.

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Dear Dan,

I own a small pet-sitting business and pay my employees a living wage—one that accounts for the real cost of food and shelter, which the minimum wage does not. Consequently, our prices are a little higher than those of our competitors, and I’m worried about finding and keeping clients. Do I need to rethink my business model?

—Leslie 

People are willing to pay higher prices when vendors are transparent about their operating costs. In your case, this means letting your clients know about your commitment to paying a living wage. I suspect that many will respond positively, and some of them will be willing to pay more for your services when they understand that they are supporting this business model. I recommend that you highlight your commitment in your marketing materials and social media, as well as on your invoices.

The benefit of cost transparency has been documented through studies. An online retailer conducted an inadvertent experiment when it posted an infographic on its website showing the cost of producing wallets. By accident, the retailer only showed the infographic for some wallet colors. The result was that sales of wallets with the infographic increased by 22% compared to those of wallets without.

In a more deliberate study, researchers posted different signs near the chicken noodle soup at a university dining hall—one listing the soup ingredients, the other breaking down the costs of making the soup. Customers were 21.1% more likely to buy the soup next to the second sign.
Voluntary transparency about costs fills customers in about what they’re paying and also signals trustworthiness on the part of the vendor.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

January 15, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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,

The majority of my colleagues at a computer engineering company are male, as am I. Gender equality is important to me, but I’m not in charge of the hiring decisions, so my power to change this situation is limited. Nevertheless, I want to do my share to make my workplace an inclusive and positive one for my female colleagues. Any advice?

—Charles 

You can start to set norms of gender equality in your organization by communicating how much you care about this issue and expressing your intention to support female colleagues. Studies show that doing so will make the women in your workplace feel not only more included but also less inclined to anticipate harassment and hostility.

Researchers in a series of studies asked women to imagine they had received job offers at a chemical company. The women then viewed slideshows of their future co-workers—in some cases, all men, and in others, a gender-balanced mix. Some women were asked to imagine that the company included an “ally”: a man who expressed support for gender equality and was willing to help promote it.

When the workplace was gender-balanced, the presence or absence of an ally made little difference to the job seekers. But when the company was male-dominated, the addition of the ally improved the women’s sense that their future co-workers would support them and decreased their anticipated degree of isolation. Interestingly, the findings held regardless of the race of the woman or the ally.

So if you want to make your workplace more inclusive, let your female colleagues know that you’re a ready and willing source of support.

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Dear Dan,

I’m mentoring a high-school student who is just starting to think about college. He attended an information session and came away overwhelmed by all the tasks he needs to complete. He’s feeling discouraged by the complexity and having a hard time getting started. What can I do to help motivate him?

—Hal 

The college admissions process can be overwhelming, and when we’re overwhelmed, it is hard to get going, because any step we might take feels trivial compared with what still lies ahead.

To counteract that drop-in-the-bucket feeling, it can help to change your perception of progress. A study demonstrated this idea through coffee purchases. Some customers were given 10-punch cards specifying that if they bought 10 cups of coffee, they would get one cup for free. Researchers found that as customers got closer to the free cup, they bought coffee more frequently. They also found that if they gave customers 12-punch cards, but with the first 2 punches premarked (effectively making them 10-punch cards), coffee-drinkers purchased their beverages faster. The sense that we are already moving forward helps motivate us to continue advancing toward our goals.

With this observation in mind, you should point out to your mentee all that he has accomplished already, including the time he has spent pursuing extracurricular activities, getting good grades and attending the information session. Suggest that these are steps he has completed in the college admissions process and that he just needs to take the next ones, one at a time.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.