Updates

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.

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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?

—Laura 

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.

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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?

—Shuki 

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.

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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?

—Ray 

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.

Ask Ariely: On Reframing Reactions, Limiting Litter, and Doubling Down

May 29, 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.

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Dear Dan,

Before giving any talk or presentation, I get incredibly stressed out. My heart starts pounding, I sweat, and I breathe much faster. Unfortunately giving talks and presentations on a regular basis is a big part of my job. What can I do?

—Kelsey 

Changing how we think about stress can, by itself, make us less stressed and healthier. How? Instead of interpreting those physical changes—sweat, pounding heart, heavy breathing—as signs that you’re not coping well with the pressure, try to see them as signs that your body is energized for the task. Interpret your pounding heart as preparing you for action and your breathing as ensuring that more oxygen is getting to your brain.

This strategy is known as cognitive reappraisal. Studies have shown that viewing stress in this way makes people less anxious and more confident. As a bonus, it brings about a healthier cardiovascular profile. How we think about stress affects both our behavior and our health.

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Dear Dan,

Our neighborhood park has seen a surge in litter and trash. As chair of our neighborhood association, I was thinking of putting up signs, informing people about this issue and reminding them to please use the trash cans. Can you think of any other strategy that might help us combat the issue of excessive litter and trash?

—Marcus 

Informing park visitors about how many people litter may actually result in people littering even more. That is because highlighting any behavior, including negative behavior, can normalize it and achieve the opposite of your intention. This is exactly what research at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona found: Theft of petrified wood was higher when signs mentioned past visitor’s theft, instead of just expressing disapproval.

With this in mind, instead of pointing to the scale of the undesirable behavior, choose a strongly worded message of disapproval, such as: “Litter in our park is disgusting.” You can make the sign more vivid, and trigger a more emotional response, by choosing a picture to go with the message—for instance, depicting a visitor littering, with a red “X” over his or her action.

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Dear Dan,

The managing partners at my firm spent a lot of time and money to recruit a well-credentialed senior associate. Since this senior associate joined the firm, his performance has been underwhelming. Everyone expected he would be fired. Instead, we just found out he was promoted to partner. Why would the firm keep and promote a bad hire?

—Eugene 

A human tendency called “escalation of commitment” could be at work here. If the partners fire the associate, that’s an admission of a mistake and calls their judgment into question. Promoting the underperforming associate instead affirms the initial decision, even though it isn’t good for the firm in the long run.

Doubling down on a bad decision in order to justify it is not unique to your firm. Consider a troubled couple who get married instead of breaking up just because they have been together for years. Or an NBA coach who gives more court time to players based on their draft number, rather than their performance. In short, this bias is rather common, and we would gain a lot by dealing with it more directly.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Besting Biases, Anticipating Activities, and Exceeding Expectations

May 8, 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.

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Dear Dan,

My company strives for more gender equality, particularly in leadership positions. To help us achieve this goal we make sure when we examine the top candidates for the position that we anonymize the resumes and have them reviewed by both male and female members of our staff. Still, our recent round of hiring has not resulted in the desired diversity. What else can we do to improve our hiring process?

—Pat 

Just as tossing a coin won’t necessarily give you equal numbers of heads and tails in the short run, the same goes for fair hiring practices. Here, too, you should not expect proportional hiring as an immediate result; you can only look at trends once you have hired a substantial number of people.

Still, one element in your process suggests a path for improvement. You discussed how you assess top candidates, but what about biases that may come into play before this short list is made? Most gender biases in hiring are a result of companies’ informal recruitment rather than the formal procedure. Is it possible that your short list contains mainly men due to colleagues’ recommendations or other networks?

To address this possibility, double the size of your short list. That alone could help a broader pool of applicants get serious consideration.

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Dear Dan,

I was planning a surprise beach weekend for my boyfriend, but a friend accidentally said something and ruined the surprise. I’m disappointed, and my friend feels terrible. What can we do to prevent this mistake from casting a dark shadow on the trip?

—Leslie 

Consider your friend’s error a gift in disguise. Now that your boyfriend knows, he’ll be able to look forward to the trip. The anticipation is a bonus source of happiness! Studies have shown that when people think back on life experiences, the anticipation can be more positive than the experience itself.

Even more, you can heighten the anticipation by doing things like counting down the days to the trip or looking at the menu from a fancy seafood place where you just got a reservation. Surprises are great, but short-lived.

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Dear Dan,

For years, I’ve been organizing a charity event for an animal rescue organization. Every year people tell me I’ve outdone myself, and it’s starting to feel like an expectation that the next event will offer more than the last. Now I’m struggling to come up with new ideas, and I’m worried about disappointing the committee. What can I do?

—Alice 

There is an interesting study where participants were asked to modify a structure built with Legos. Most participants added more bricks, but a quicker and better strategy was to remove a few. With this in mind, consider whether you could improve the event by subtracting instead of adding. Try keeping it simple and stick to the most successful elements from previous years.

We have a tendency to think that the way to make things better is to do more. Often we overlook the value of removing something to increase the appreciation of the rest.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Troubled Taxpayers, Parenting Placebos, and Stress Strategies

April 10, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I just started a job as an administrative assistant at a small tax accounting firm. I know people don’t love paying their taxes, but on the front line I’m witnessing a whole new level of animosity. Is there any way to make people less aggravated about it?

—James 

The American tax system doesn’t spark a lot of good will. Taxes are incredibly complicated, and we never really know if our money is paying for schools, roads, social services, the military or something else, which leads people to question what they are getting in return. Seeing the total annual amount all at once makes it seem very large, and it is unsettling to hand over big sums of money without fully understanding where it’s going.

What can we do to make things better? One approach is to give citizens some agency in how their tax dollars are allocated—for instance, to allow each citizen to allocate 5% of their taxes to whatever government function they think will use their money in the best way. Would such a system work? My research center surveyed taxpayers and found that giving them a choice about allocating some of their taxes increased their interest in tax compliance and reduced their interest in trying tax loopholes.

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Dear Dan,

Years ago, my wife and I would take our daughter on long road trips, during which she often complained she felt nauseous. We suspected that her nausea was an invention, so we started to give her “medicine” that was actually just some candies in an old prescription bottle, and the symptoms stopped. Our daughter is now an adult with children of her own, and we’ve thought about sharing this story with her, but we’re worried she might not take well to having been tricked. What do you suggest?

—Yorum 

You might think you beat your daughter at her own game by giving her fake medicine for her reported symptoms. But it’s possible that your daughter was actually feeling nauseous, and the fake medication helped her due to a placebo effect: The pretend medication created an expectation about feeling better that resulted in an actual improvement. There is evidence suggesting that a placebo can work even when one is aware of it.

As for telling your daughter now, there’s likely enough separation between her childhood self and her current self that sharing the story won’t damage her trust in you. In fact, she might appreciate the helpful parenting tip!

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Dear Dan,

For the past year, I have been working from home. To help with work-related stress, I have started doing meditation and gratitude journaling. What are other strategies that I can use?

—Jonathan 

Working from home has some clear advantages, such as no commuting, but it also comes with unique distractions, such as interruptions from a family member. Working from home also has increased our reliance on digital communication tools, which in turn can contribute to a perception of work overload from having to feel available at any time. We all need to disconnect and distract ourselves sometimes. Research has shown that taking definitive breaks from the digital environment, or surrounding yourself with pleasing objects like plants, can be very helpful to reduce the stress.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On College Conflicts, Horrible Haircuts, and Timely Tasks

March 27, 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.

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Dear Dan,

My brother and my fiancé are rooting for rival teams in the NCAA basketball tournament, and they’re such passionate fans that it’s become hard for them to get along. What can I do to reduce the conflict?

—Amanda 

To understand people with opposing views, researchers have found that it’s helpful to ask ourselves how our own views would be different if we had grown up in a different environment. In one study, researchers asked gun-control advocates to think about how they might feel about guns if they had grown up in a hunting family; advocates of gun ownership were asked to imagine they had grown up in a community that suffered from gun violence such as the Columbine school shooting. This simple thought experiment reduced the hostility participants showed toward the other side.

With that in mind, try asking your brother and fiancé to imagine how growing up in a different family or attending a different college, might make them cheer for a different team. That should help them understand one another better.

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Dear Dan,

In an effort to save money, I asked my housemate to cut my hair. It didn’t turn out well and now I don’t even want to go outside. Besides waiting for my hair to grow back, what can I do to feel less embarrassed?

—Alexa 

You might think your haircut is bad enough to stop traffic, but the reality is that we pay a lot more attention to ourselves than other people pay to us. This is referred to as the spotlight effect: We tend to think there’s a spotlight shining on us that attracts attention and makes our flaws obvious. Thomas Golivich and colleagues demonstrated the spotlight effect in a 2000 study where they asked college students to go to a party wearing embarrassing Barry Manilow T-shirts. The students wearing the shirts were convinced that everyone was laughing at them, but afterward, when the partygoers were surveyed, it turned out that almost no one noticed the shirts at all. So don’t worry about your haircut getting stares, and after a few days you’ll forget about it yourself.

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Dear Dan,

To get motivated for some large projects that I have at work, I tried breaking them down into more manageable subtasks with their own deadlines. Unfortunately, I ended up missing almost all of my self-imposed due dates. Should I give up on deadlines as a way to motivate myself?

—Nicolas 

Self-imposed deadlines are harder to stick to than deadlines set by others, for two reasons. First, we tend to underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete the task at hand, so we usually set a deadline that’s too optimistic. Second, we tend to prioritize deadlines set by others over self-imposed ones to avoid letting other people down. For your next project, then, try to think more realistically about how long each subtask will take and allow extra time for unforeseen challenges along the way. And tell a colleague about your self-imposed deadlines to create more of a sense of accountability.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Social Substitutes, Apt Apologies, and Troubling Tests

March 6, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I’m worried that I’ve gotten into the habit of watching too much TV during this time of social isolation. I know it’s not good for me to spend hours in front of the screen, so why do I feel so drawn to these shows?

—Shirleene 

Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Seeking ways to feel connected to others is natural, and now that physical distancing guidelines make in-person connections increasingly difficult, many people are finding a replacement in watching television or engaging with online communities. Research has found that this isn’t a bad strategy. Nontraditional social connections, even to fictional characters on TV, has been found to increase well-being during quarantine. Just don’t forget that TV is a substitute until you can go back to seeing people in real life.

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Dear Dan,

I run an Etsy business. A few weeks ago I made some mistakes and sent several long-term customers the wrong items. What should I do to keep their business and earn back their trust?

—Adrien 

Running a small business is challenging, and mistakes will happen from time to time. Fortunately, a well-executed apology and stellar follow-up service can help. In a 2019 study on the “economics of apologies,” researchers looked at a large set of vendors and over a million of their customers and came away with four main insights about effective apologies. First, make sure to recognize the impact of your mistake on your customer: “I know it was disappointing not to not have the right gift in time for the holiday.” Second, explain what you are doing to make sure it won’t happen again. Third, the apology must come at some cost to you. Customers who had a bad experience were more likely to continue their patronage when they were sent a coupon for future purchases. Finally, make sure to improve. An apology can actually be worse than no apology at all if the mistake is repeated.

By the way, the same principles are relevant when making a personal apology to friends or family.

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Dear Dan,

My son is taking an Advanced Placement physics class in high school. He attends classes, spends hours studying and says he knows the material very well, yet his test scores are not very good. How is that possible?

—Damien 

One possible explanation for the discrepancy could be “the illusion of explanatory depth,” which says that people often mistake familiarity with understanding. This principle was elegantly demonstrated in studies where participants were asked to rate their understanding of everyday objects like toilets and bicycles. Most people expressed a high degree of certainty that they understood how these things worked, but when asked to draw and explain them, they couldn’t. (If you think it sounds easy, try to draw a bicycle without leaving out any parts.)

With this distinction in mind, you can see if your son’s confidence is justified by asking him to explain the course material to you. This might help him identify which parts he only thought he understood.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Mirror Moments, Social Shares, and Product Projections

February 20, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I have a job interview coming up. For the past week I’ve been very stressed about it, and to help myself cope I’ve been giving myself little pep talks in front of the mirror. What else can I do to deal with the stress?

—Julia 

Telling ourselves “I’ve got this” or “I’m so ready for this” is a very common strategy for preparing for a challenge, and it makes intuitive sense. But self-talk can actually be more effective if you use the third-person: “Julia’s got this” instead of “I’ve got this.” Using the third person creates an emotional separation between ourselves and the stressful event, making it feel more like enthusiastic support from a friend. Research shows that this approach can help people manage stress more effectively. So from me to you: “Julia, you got this.”

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Dear Dan,

There is hardly any informal social interaction at my company now that we’re all working from home. Is there a way to introduce virtual coffee chats for employees to hang out together, without making it seem like just another work obligation?

—Fiona 

By now we all know that when it comes to socializing, online meetings are no substitute for face-to-face interactions. And if employees start looking at these new chats as a chore instead of a spontaneous water-cooler conversation, the odds of them turning into a positive social interaction are even lower. So instead of adding a new item to people’s agendas, why don’t you try dedicating the first 5 minutes of your regular weekly meeting to a social activity. Since people might freeze if they have to come up with something “social” on their own, give participants specific instructions: recommend a book or TV show, share a recipe or favorite quarantine pastime. Not only will this lubricate the social wheels, it will also allow team members to learn more about each other.

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Dear Dan,

I’m planning to buy a home projector so my family can watch movies outside when it gets warmer. I found a great deal on the model I want, but it doesn’t allow for returns. Is the loss of flexibility worth the discount?

—Colin 

When we make decisions, the idea of keeping our options open is so appealing that we’re often willing to pay more just to have some flexibility to change our minds. But once a purchase is made, the flexibility that drew us to the product might actually undermine our enjoyment of it.

In your case, if you have the option of returning the projector, every time you use it you’ll be tempted to think about whether you’re getting your money’s worth from it, or if you should send it back for a refund. This continuous rumination can destroy part of your joy in the purchase. With this in mind, I suspect that getting the nonreturnable projector would serve your needs best. And when you use it, try to think about the great decision you made.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Standing Strategies, Future Feedback, and Sensible Savings

February 6, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I know it’s not good for my health to sit at my desk all day without breaks, so I tried putting reminders in my calendar to stand up and move around. But I usually end up just ignoring them. Is there a better way to make myself get out of my chair during the day?

—Michael 

Reminders are useful when you have actual memory problems, but they’re not so helpful when it comes to changing behavior. I wish this wasn’t so: Just imagine how easy it would be to quit smoking or stick to a diet if all you had to do was remind yourself of your earlier resolutions!

In reality, creating small obstacles that force you to take action is a better way to change your routine than good intentions and reminders. So try changing your work environment in ways that force you to leave your desk. For example, you could set up a separate area for video calls—a spot with good lighting and no chair, so you have to stand up. If there are files you have to consult regularly, store them in another room.

You could also make a habit of using the bathroom that is furthest away from your desk. Ideally you can pick one on another floor of your home or office, so you have to climb stairs to get there several times during the day.

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Dear Dan,

I was promoted recently, and soon I will have a meeting with my manager to discuss my first few weeks in the new role. What’s the best way to get useful feedback and make the most of the conversation?

—Tessa 

It might seem like the natural approach is to ask your manager to evaluate your performance so far. But research shows that in general, looking at the past isn’t the best way to figure out what we should be doing differently in the future. Instead of asking for feedback, which is backward-looking and usually vague, try asking your manager for advice. That will encourage them to look ahead and give you concrete suggestions and actionable ideas.

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Dear Dan,

Many people I know have lost their jobs during the pandemic, which made me realize I needed to set up an emergency savings fund. But my job is secure so far, so it hasn’t felt very urgent to put money in the account. What can I do to make sure I contribute to my emergency savings every month?

—Petra 

Research shows that we are much more likely to save money for a specific personal goal than simply because it’s the right thing to do. Rather than thinking of your savings as a general rainy-day fund, then, try calculating how much money you would need for particular expenses if you lost your income. How much would you need to pay your mortgage or rent for three months, or to buy food for your family?

Once you start thinking of saving as a way to protect your loved ones and meet particular needs, you’ll be more likely to make regular contributions. You can also ease the burden of decision-making by setting up an automatic monthly transfer from your checking account to a designated savings account and promising not to touch it unless an emergency strikes.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Gauche Gifts, Pleasurable Promenades, and Ideal Incentives

January 24, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I bought my brother a top-of-the line espresso machine for his birthday. My wife remarked that it was a very generous and thoughtful gift, so I took that as a hint and got her the same espresso machine for her birthday. But she ended up not being very happy with my gift. Why do you think she wasn’t as excited as I expected?

—Nikos 

Gifts are ways to give people things they want, but with romantic partners, what they really want is to feel special. According to a recent study by Lalin Anik of the University of Virginia and Ryan Hauser of Yale, that’s why people often prefer to receive a unique gift from their significant other rather than a lavish one. By giving your wife the same coffee machine you gave to your brother, you’re not communicating that she is special to you; in fact, she may feel that you simply wanted to spend a minimum of time and effort finding a gift. Even if you were to give her a coffee machine, it would have been better to give her a different model and tell her how much time you invested finding the exact right machine for her.

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Dear Dan,

It’s only January, and I’m already bored by my New Year’s resolution to go on a walk each day. What can I do to make this daily exercise more enjoyable?

—Saneel

Rather than dreading the time you set aside for your daily walk, why don’t you try to combine it with something you find more pleasurable? For example, you could allow yourself to listen to your favorite audiobook or podcast only while you’re walking. The key is to keep this pleasure only for your walks and promise yourself not to listen to it any other time. This way you will start to associate taking a walk with something positive, making you look forward to it as a reward rather than seeing it as an unpleasant obligation.

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Dear Dan,

I’m responsible for setting up a mentorship program, and I need student volunteers. Unfortunately, I’m having a hard time getting enough people to sign up. Should I offer to pay students for volunteering?

—Alexa

Traditional economics teaches that financial incentives are the best way to reward and motivate people, but in some cases they can backfire. For instance, research has shown that when it comes to rewarding people for a public-spirited action like volunteering, a small gift is likely to be a very good motivator, while a small amount of money is worse than offering nothing at all. That’s because we are used to thinking of money as payment for work, so we start to evaluate whether the amount being offered is fair compensation for the effort involved in volunteering. Gift-giving, on the other hand, belongs to the realm of social exchange; it’s something we do to build relationships and be part of a community.
If you were paying students a large amount of money, on the other hand, that could be a very good motivator. But since volunteer efforts and nonprofits usually can’t afford to pay much, projects like your are better off keeping people in the realm of social exchange by offering volunteers small gifts, like a T-shirt or a pen.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Making Memories, Besting Burnout, and Crafting Compliments

January 9, 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.

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Dear Dan,

Whenever my mother visits us, she’s preoccupied with taking photos of her grandchildren so that she can remember every moment. Having her camera in our faces all the time is annoying, but I don’t want to deprive her of good memories when the visit ends. Should I try to convince her to stop taking pictures?

—Barbara 

Now that most of us carry a phone with a camera all the time, it’s hard to resist the temptation to document every significant moment in photographs. But it turns out that taking pictures all the time isn’t just annoying; it can make it more difficult to remember the very experiences the photos are intended to capture.

In one experiment, pairs of visitors took a tour of a historic landmark. One person in each pair was instructed to take photos and the other was told not to. A few weeks later they were given a surprise memory test about the landmark, and it turned out that the visitors who took photos remembered much less than those who didn’t. While the photographers were preoccupied with trying to get the best shot, the nonphotographers were able to think about the experience and absorb it into the structure of their memories.

With this in mind, try asking your mother to experiment with leaving her camera at home next time she visits. She might find that this allows her to spend more time really interacting with the grandchildren, leaving her with memories that are more vivid and meaningful than any photos.

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Dear Dan,

After a long holiday vacation, I thought I would return to work re-energized. But after just a few days back I’m already feeling burned out again. What can I do?

—Nathaniel 

You might think that the more time you spend away from the office, the more refreshed you’ll feel when you return. But research shows that the length of a vacation plays only a small part in how you feel when you go back to work. What matters most are the conditions you’re coming back to. If you feel unappreciated or powerless, or that your work environment is unfair, frustration and unhappiness can come back very quickly. If you want to fight burnout, don’t take more time away from work. Think instead about ways to address these underlying issues.

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Dear Dan,

My fiancé is an excellent cook, and every meal he makes for us is delicious. I’m always giving him compliments, but I worry that over time they will be less meaningful because he’ll get used to them. How can I continue to praise his cooking in a way that shows I mean it?

—Sydney 

I wouldn’t worry too much about your fiancé getting used to your compliments. Research shows that receiving compliments is very motivating and that people who give them usually underestimate their impact on the recipient. One study that looked specifically at frequent compliments found they didn’t lose their effectiveness as long as they weren’t identical each time. So keep the compliments coming, but make sure to switch them up from time to time.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.