Ask Ariely: On Bicycle Business, Anxiety Acceptance, and Interview Issues

June 22, 2021 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.


Dear Dan,

My employer has me use an app to track the miles I travel, in order to reimburse me for business transportation. This weekend, the app mistakenly picked up a 15-mile bike ride that I took for pleasure. My bike rides soothe my soul and make me healthier and, in turn, certainly make me a better employee. Should I petition my boss to expense the ride as “business” or just be grateful for the experience?


Leaving aside the ethics of charging your employer for a leisure bike ride, one factor that can take the joy out of a pleasurable activity is payment—especially a small payment. A number of experiments have demonstrated that paying people for activities they do for pleasure can transform those activities into unpleasant chores.

If you get a small financial reward for cycling (transportation reimbursements tend to run less than a dollar per mile) your motivation to cycle is actually likely to suffer. Instead, try to focus on how you can make activities you enjoy even more pleasurable.


Dear Dan,

I’m supposed to go through a fairly routine surgery, but I have a lot of anxieties over it, and I’ve been delaying. Do you have any tips about how I can get over these anxieties?


It’s likely that what you’re most dreading isn’t the surgery itself but the elevated anxiety you expect to feel just beforehand. There are strategies you can use to reduce anxiety, including meditation and mindfulness, but there are also effective medications. I recommend that you discuss possible medications with your doctor and ask for an anxiety-reducing prescription for the day of the surgery and an extra dose to experiment with at home.

With this pill in hand, imagine that your surgery is an hour away and notice how much anxiety you have. Then take the pill and keep thinking about the surgery. As the medication kicks in, you will notice your worries fading away. Realize that on the day of the surgery, this pill will have a similar effect, and your anxiety will be less than you suspect. Good luck.


Dear Dan,

I’m looking for a new job. To make a good impression, before each interview I spend a lot of time learning about the role and the person I’ll be meeting. During the interviews I listen carefully, pay attention to body language and respond thoughtfully. The interviews seem to go well but aren’t resulting in second-round interviews or offers. Is there a way I can improve how I present myself?


People often try to make a good impression by catering to the interests and expectations of their audience, especially when the stakes are high. But a recent series of studies suggests that this approach can backfire.
The researchers looked at a large set of business pitches and found that startups which focused on pleasing potential investors were less successful in getting funded. To understand the causes, researchers randomly assigned people to cater to their audience as part of an interview. Both the interviewees and interviewers reported that this caused more anxiety; the interviewers also noted that the interviewees seemed inauthentic.

Given those findings, maybe take a different approach for a few interviews and see if that gets you to be more relaxed and more yourself—and produces better results.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.