Category Archives: Psychology

Five Ways Discomfort Could Lead to Your Next Breakthrough

Five Ways Discomfort Could Lead to Your Next Breakthrough

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

The disclaimer on investments is that “past performance is not an indicator of future results.” In other words, don’t get too comfortable with the past. All you have to do is look at the stock performance through last year (2021) compared to this year’s performance to know this is true.

Yet when it comes to people, the opposite is often true. Past performance is often an indicator of future results. Most people get comfortable and stay where they feel safe. But, what if you were willing to be uncomfortable? What if you were willing to go against the status quo, learn something new, regardless of difficulty, and take more risks? How would you feel living in a state of discomfort?

Sterling Hawkins, author of Hunting Discomfort: How to Get Breakthrough Results in Life and Business No Matter What, shares how successful people thrive on discomfort. These are the people whose past performance won’t always indicate what to expect in the future. They thrive on risk, stepping out of their comfort zones, and are fueled by something new and different.

In the book, Hawkins teaches his five-step process that produces results:

1. Expand Your Reality: Just because you were taught that something should be a certain way doesn’t mean it has to be that way. Some might call this “thinking outside the box.” It’s shattering paradigms and challenging the status quo.

This reminds me of the story that the late, great Zig Ziglar used to tell about a family dinner that included four generations. As the dinner was being prepared, a little girl asked her mom, “Why do you cut off the end of the roast before you cook it?” Mom said, “That’s the way your grandmother taught me to cook the roast.”

The little girl then went to her grandmother and asked, “Grandma, why do you cut the end of the roast off before you cook it?” Grandma said, “That’s the way your great-grandmother taught me to cook the roast.”

The little girl then went over to her great-grandmother and asked, “Great Grandma, why do you cut the end of the roast off before you cook it?” Great Grandma said, “A long time ago, the ovens weren’t as big as they are today. We had to cut the end off for the roast to fit into the oven.”

Just because we’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean we should keep doing it that way. Expanding your reality is just looking beyond the usual and ordinary.

2. Get a Tattoo: Hawkins believes you should commit so deeply to something that you’re willing to have it tattooed onto your body. You may disagree, but you do get the point. This is about commitment. The tattoo is a metaphor. You don’t really need to permanently put your feelings on your body, but consider this …

Scott Ginsberg is known as The Nametag Guy. While in college, he found that more people would talk to him if he wore a nametag. It made him approachable. He wrote a speech and several books about how to be more approachable. He committed to wearing a name tag every day. After five years, he made the ultimate commitment to his idea. He had the name tag tattooed onto his chest. That’s commitment!

3. Build a Street Gang: Surround yourself with people who will not only support you but also hold you accountable for your potential. According to Hawkins, having a trusted accountability partner can increase the likelihood of your success by up to 95%!

4. Flip It: The book covers a process for not just overcoming problems or obstacles, but instead using them to your advantage. To Flip It isn’t about seeing the reverse. It’s more about seeing the problem or challenge from a different perspective, starting with a complete understanding of the problem, obstacle, challenge or goal.

Hawkins quotes inventor Charles Kettering who once said, “A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.” Before you can solve a problem, you must first understand it. Clarity is paramount. You must be sure that the problem is not confused with the symptom. The problem becomes a challenge, and you must be clear about what impact solving that problem will mean to you or your organization. Most often, there is a larger purpose to the challenge. What’s the true end goal? For example, you may want to run a 10K race, but the larger vision is to be in good enough shape to run it.

5. Surrender: This isn’t about giving up. Instead, it’s about acceptance. Embrace inevitability and unpredictability. Be flexible and pivot when necessary. Sometimes you’ll find a breakthrough in the middle of the darkest problems. During the pandemic of the past two years, when faced with huge obstacles, some companies and brands not only survived but also found ways to thrive. The same is true for people.

We are in a world where change is happening at a faster pace than ever. We are faced with opportunities that are often disguised as problems and challenges. Hunting for the discomfort in your life and seizing it as the chance to have a breakthrough is what successful people do.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

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People Cannot Work Forever

People Cannot Work Forever

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

When cars run out of gas, they can no longer get the job done until their tanks are filled up. And it’s the same with people, except people are asked to keep on truckin’ even though their tanks are empty.

When machines are used for a certain number of hours, they are supposed to be given rest and routine maintenance. If the maintenance isn’t completed as defined in the operator’s manual, the warranty is voided.

Maybe we could create a maintenance schedule for people. And if it’s not done, we could be okay with reduced performance, like with a machine. And when the scheduled maintenance isn’t performed on time, maybe we could blame the person who prevented it from happening.

If your lawnmower could tell you when you were using it in a way that would cause it damage, would you listen and change your behavior? How about if a person said a similar thing to you? To which one would you show more compassion?

When your car’s check engine light comes on, would you pretend you don’t see it or would you think that the car is being less than truthful? What if a person tells you their body is throwing a warning light because of how you’re driving them? Would you believe them or stomp on the accelerator?

We expect our machines to wear out and need refurbishment. We expect our cars to run out of gas if we don’t add fuel. We expect our lawnmowers to stall if we try to mow grass that’s two feet tall. We expect that their capacities and capabilities are finite. Maybe we can keep all this in mind when we set expectations for our people.

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Proof Innovation Takes More Than Genius

Proof Innovation Takes More Than Genius

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

It’s easy to look at someone like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk and imagine that their success was inevitable. Their accomplishments are so out of the ordinary that it just seems impossible that they could have ever been anything other than successful. You get the sense that whatever obstacles they encountered, they would overcome.

Yet it isn’t that hard to imagine a different path. If, for example, Jobs had remained in Homs, Syria, where he was conceived, it’s hard to see how he would have ever been able to become a technology entrepreneur at all, much less a global icon. If Apartheid never ended, Musk’s path to Silicon Valley would be much less likely as well.

The truth is that genius can be exceptionally fragile. Making a breakthrough takes more than talent. It requires a mixture of talent, luck and an ecosystem of support to mold an idea into something transformative. In fact, in my research of great innovators what’s amazed me the most is how often they almost drifted into obscurity. Who knows how many we have lost?

The One That Nearly Slipped Away

On a January morning in 1913, the eminent mathematician G.H. Hardy opened his mail to find a letter written in almost indecipherable scrawl from a destitute young man in India named Srinivasa Ramanujan. It began inauspiciously:

I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Madras on a salary of £ 20 per annum. I am now about 23 years of age. I have had no university education but I have undergone the ordinary school. I have been employing the spare time at my disposal to work at Mathematics.

Inside he found what looked like mathematical nonsense, using strange notation and purporting theories that “scarcely seemed possible.” It was almost impossible to understand, except for a small section that refuted one of Hardy’s own conjectures made just months before. Assuming some sort of strange prank, he threw it in the wastebasket.

Throughout the day, however, Hardy found the ideas in the paper gnawing at him and he retrieved the letter. That night, he took it over to the home of his longtime collaborator, J.E. Littlewood. By midnight, they realized that they had just discovered one of the greatest mathematical talents the world had ever seen.

They invited him to Cambridge, where together they revolutionized number theory. Although Ramanujan’s work was abstract, it has made serious contributions to fields ranging from crystallography and string theory. Even now, almost a century later, his notebooks continue to be widely studied by mathematicians looking to glean new insights.

A Distraught Young Graduate

Near the turn of the 20th century, the son of a well-to-do industrialist, recently graduated from university, found himself poorly married with a young child and unemployed. He fell into a deep depression, became nearly suicidal and wrote to his sister in a letter:

What depresses me most is the misfortune of my poor parents who have not had a happy moment for so many years. What further hurts me deeply is that as an adult man, I have to look on without being able to do anything. I am nothing but a burden to my family…It would be better off if I were not alive at all.

His father would pass away a few years later. By that time, the young Albert Einstein did find work as a lowly government clerk. Soon after, in 1905, he unleashed four papers in quick succession that would change the world. It was an accomplishment so remarkable that it is now referred to as his miracle year.

It would still be another seven years before Einstein finally got a job as a university professor. It wasn’t after 1919, when a solar eclipse confirmed his oddball theory, that he became the world famous icon we know today.

The Medical Breakthrough That Almost Never Happened

Jim Allison spent most of his life as a fairly ordinary bench scientist and that’s all he really wanted to be. He told me once that he “just liked figuring things out” and by doing so, he gained some level of prominence in the field of immunology, making discoveries that were primarily of interest to other immunologists.

His path diverged when he began to research the ability of our immune system to fight cancer. Using a novel approach, he was able to show amazing results in mice. “The tumors just melted away,” he told me. Excited, he practically ran to tell pharmaceutical companies about his idea and get them to invest in his research.

Unfortunately, they were not impressed. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t understand Jim’s idea, but that they had already invested — and lost — billions of dollars on similar ideas. Hundreds of trials had been undertaken on immunological approaches to cancer and there hadn’t been one real success.

Nonetheless, Jim persevered. He collected more data, pounded the pavement and made his case. It took three years, but he eventually got a small biotech company to invest in his idea and cancer immunotherapy is now considered to be a miracle cure. Tens of thousands of people are alive today because Jim had the courage and grit to stick it out.

Genius Can Come From Anywhere

These are all, in the end, mostly happy stories. Ramanujan did not die in obscurity, but is recognized as one of the great mathematical minds in history. Einstein’s did not succumb to despair, but became almost synonymous with genius. Jill Allison won the Nobel Prize for his work in 2018.

Yet it is easy to see how it all could have turned out differently. Ramanujan sent out letters to three mathematicians in England. The other two ignored him (and Hardy almost did). Einstein’s job at the patent office was almost uniquely suited to his mode of thinking, giving him time to daydream and pursue thought experiments. Dozens of firms passed on Allison’s idea before he found one that would back him.

We’d like to think that today, with all of our digital connectivity and search capability, that we’d be much better at finding and nurturing genius, but there are indications the opposite may be true. It’s easy to imagine the next Ramanujan pulled from his parents at a border camp. With increased rates of depression and suicide in America, the next Einstein is probably more likely to succumb.

The most important thing to understand about innovation is that it is something that people do. The truth is that a mind is a fragile thing. It needs to be nurtured and supported. That’s just as true for a normal, everyday mind capable of normal, everyday accomplishments. When we talk about innovation and how to improve it, that seems to me to be a good place to start.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: MisterInnovation.com (Pixabay)

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Your Next Best Action is Up to You

Your Next Best Action is Up to You

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you can try to remember why you started the whole thing or you can do something else. Either can remedy things, but how do you choose between them? If you’ve forgotten your “why”, maybe it’s worth forgetting or maybe something else temporarily came up that pushed your still-important why underground for a short time. If it’s worth forgetting, maybe it’s time for something else. And if it’s worth remembering, maybe it’s time to double down. Only you can choose.

If you still remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, you can ask yourself if your why is still worth its salt or if something changed, either inside you or in your circumstances, that has twisted your why to something beyond salvage. If your why is still as salty as ever, maybe it’s right to stay the course. But if it’s still as salty as ever but you now think it’s distasteful, maybe it’s time for a change.

When you do what you did last time, are you more efficient or more dissatisfied, or both? And if you imagine yourself doing it again, do you look forward to more efficiency or predict more dissatisfaction? These questions can help you decide whether to keep things as they are or change them.

What have you learned over the last year? Whether your list is long or if it’s short, it’s a good barometer to inform your next chapter.

What new skills have you mastered over the last year? Is the list long or short? If you don’t want to grow your mastery, keep things as they are.

Do the people you work with inspire you or bring you down? Are you energized or depleted by them? If you’re into depletion, there’s no need to change anything.

Do you have more autonomy than last year? And how do you feel about that? Let your answers guide your future.

What is the purpose behind what you do? Is it aligned with your internal compass? These two questions can bring clarity.

You’re the only one who can ask yourself these questions; you’re the only one who can decide if you like the answers; and you’re the only one who is responsible for what you do next. What you do next is up to you.

Fork in the road” by Kai Hendry is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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Reset and Reconnect in a Chaotic World

Reset and Reconnect in a Chaotic World

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Meeting face to face, for a lovely lunch recently, with a coaching colleague, we were both shocked to discover how stressed and anxious we were feeling about being asked to deliver live workshops and face-to-face coaching to clients once again.

We shared how emotionally, mentally, and physically overwhelmed we felt, despite having decades of knowledge, experience, and skills in being able to deliver deep learning programs and face-to-face coaching sessions, about doing live gigs again! We also agreed, that despite the range of largely effective emotionally intelligent coping strategies we developed to help ourselves and our clients self-regulate, self-manage, to better adapt to the pandemic-imposed work-from-home restrictions that the past two and half years of working, alone, and in isolation, online, had taken its toll.

We acknowledged and accepted that we along with many of our clients were all suffering from elevated levels of stress, discomfort, and anxiety. We then agreed that it was time to focus on exploring how to better help ourselves and our clients reconnect and reset by enabling them to create states of well-being, emotional agility, and mental fitness, where they can feel good, can function well, and be effective and innovative in an increasingly chaotic world.

To seek new ways of enabling ourselves and our clients to deal effectively with a range of unresourceful feelings including helplessness, powerlessness, and fearfulness about an uncertain future. 

We noticed that these feelings often caused many of our clients to contract and freeze, and become immobilised as a result of what we describe as a “bubble” of self-induced silo-based behaviours. That often evolved into extreme self-centeredness, and unconscious selfishness, which ultimately increased their feelings of isolation and loneliness, and lack of belonging, resulting in defensive and avoidant behaviours, in what is becoming an increasingly chaotic world.

How are these ways of being and acting impacting organisations?

Partnering in a wide range of online global coaching sessions, we noticed that a number of common trends emerged as to how our client’s teams and organisations, are being impacted at the cultural level:

  • Immobilization – many people are unable to self-manage their work from home workloads and are quietly burning out, through being overly task-focused and busy, whilst others are preferring to work autonomously, and not waste hours commuting.
  • Lacking safety and trust – many organisations are freezing all of their change initiatives, learning programs, and projects, causing people to fear loss and overall job insecurity, where many people are contracting more deeply within their “bubbles” and become even more distrustful of leadership and even more passively defensive and avoidant.
  • Lacking clarity and foresight – many organisations have slipped into being so reactive, focussing only on delivering short-term results, and are not communicating a clear strategy for leading the way forwards.

Resulting in:

  • Increased resistance to change and going back to the office adds to people’s inertia, and to their sense of disconnection and lack of belonging.
  • Increased risk adversity and conventional (cost cutting), tactical and short-term focus, inhibits any investment in Research and Development or the skills development required in developing and executing a future innovation strategy.
  • People have become even more fearful of failure, and are not stretching themselves to adapt, grow, learn and innovate with disruption, and often choosing to merely change jobs, in a competitive job marketplace, driven by scarcity, as a perceived short term solution.

A unique moment in time

This has created an opportunity, in this unique moment in time, to focus on being kinder to ourselves and to others by helping and supporting each other, respectfully and compassionately, creatively and courageously, to reconnect and reset. Despite rising levels of economic, civic, and social uncertainty and unrest.

What made sense yesterday may not make so much sense today.

Many of the mental models we applied yesterday may not be relevant for tomorrow because corporate culture, civic and social structures have drastically changed and digitalization has become commonplace, noting that we are shifting from a VUCA to BANI world where:

  • Brittle has replaced Volatility.
  • Anxiety reflects Uncertainty.
  • Non-linearity is an addition to Complexity.
  • Incomprehensibility is ultimately the consequence of our non-linear world and goes one step further than Ambiguity.

Paradoxically, this has created new openings to genuinely explore and discover new thresholds to adapt, generate new mindsets, develop skill sets, and power up our toolkits to keep pace with the effects of the emerging BANI world and capture complex systems by asking a  key generative or catalytic question:

How might you support and enable others to think and act differently in such a world, where old patterns seem to crumble while new ideas and systems still need to be created, invented, innovated, and established?

As the world of work changes, so does the need for everyone to consider how to be more open-hearted, minded, and willed with one another.

A final word from Gallop CEO Jon Preston in the Gallop Global Emotions Report:

“All over the world, people are trying to understand the rise of violence, hatred, and increased radicalization. They will continue to argue over what the best policy responses should be and what role social media plays in fueling negative emotions.

However, policymakers must understand why so many more people are experiencing unprecedented negative emotions and focus on the drivers of a great life.

Our shared humanity and wellbeing depend on it”.

When we generously and kindly demonstrate care, respect, and appreciation for the value everyone brings, we can also demonstrate helpfulness and support, through our unconditional willingness to reconnect and reset.

Resulting in an ability to co-create a better sense of belonging and a more optimistic outlook, through enhancing our emotional intelligence.  To effectively self-regulation and self-manage the superpowers and strategies required to thrive, flourish and flow, and make transformational changes in the face of relentless uncertainty, disruption, and a chaotic world.

This is the first in a series of three blogs on the theme of reconnecting and resetting, to create, invent and innovate in an increasingly chaotic world. You can also register for our free 45-minute masterclass on Thursday, 25th August, to discover new ways of re-connecting through the complexity and chaos of dis-connection to create, invent and innovate in the future! Find out more.

Image credit: Pixabay

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The Power of Stopping

The Power of Stopping

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

If when you write your monthly report no one responds with a question of clarification or constructive comment, this may be a sign your organization places little value on your report and the work it stands for.

If someone sends a thank you email and do not mention something specific in your report, this masked disinterest is a half-step above non-interest and is likely also a sign your organization places little value on your report and the work it stands for.

If you want to know for sure what people think of your work, stop writing your report. If no one complains, your work is not valuable to the company. If one person complains, it’s likely still not valuable. And if that single complaint comes from your boss, your report/work is likely not broadly valuable, but you’ll have to keep writing the report.

But don’t blame the organization because they don’t value your work. Instead, ask yourself how your work must change so it’s broadly valuable. And if you can’t figure a way to make your work valuable, stop the work so you can start work that is.

If when you receive someone else’s monthly report and you don’t reply with a question of clarification or constructive comment, it’s because you don’t think their work is all that important. And if this is the case, tell them you want to stop receiving their report and ask them to stop sending them to you.

Hopefully, this will start a discussion about why you want to stop hearing about their work which, hopefully, will lead to a discussion about how their work could be modified to make it more interesting and important.

This dialog will go one of two ways – they will get angry and take you off the distribution list or they will think about your feedback and try to make their work more interesting and important.

In the first case, you’ll receive one fewer report and in the other, there’s a chance their work will blossom into something magical. Either way, it’s a win.

While reports aren’t the work, they do stand for the work. And while reports are sometimes considered overhead, they do perform an inform function – to inform the company of the work that’s being worked. If the work is amazing, the reports will be amazing and you’ll get feedback that’s amazing. And if the work is spectacular, the reports will be spectacular and you’ll get feedback that matches.

But this post isn’t about work or reports, it’s about the power of stopping. When something stops, the stopping is undeniable and it forces a discussion about why the stopping started. With stopping, there can be no illusion that progress is being made because stopping is binary – it’s either stopped or it isn’t. And when everyone knows progress is stopped, everyone also knows the situation is about to get some much-needed attention from above, wanted or not.

Stopping makes a statement. Stopping gets attention. Stopping is serious business.

And here’s a little-known fact: Starting starts with stopping.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Is Percy an Innovation or Another Attack on America’s Poor?

Is Percy an Innovation or Another Attack on America's Poor?

Are you one of the nearly four million cashiers in the United States?

If so, outsourcing, artificial intelligence and robots are coming for your job.

Freshii‘s founder Matthew Corrin left the quick-serve restaurant chain two months ago to focus on Percy, a technology that uses video calling to replace cashiers. Percy has more than a dozen clients in North America and employs nearly 100 workers in Pakistan, Bolivia and Nicaragua for around $3.75 per hour.

With an increasing number of voters supporting the living wage movement, and with many cities boosting their minimum wage to $15 per hour, the economic incentive is clear.

But is using video calling technology to put some of your neighbors out of work a smart move ethically, or from a branding perspective?

This first video shows what the technology looks like:

This second video explores whether this labor arbitrage is legal, and whether or not it is ethical:

The video also mentions that Jack in the Box is piloting the use of offshore resources to facilitate drive thru order taking at some of its restaurants. Further research uncovered that Jack in the Box began this pilot back in 2008. I could not find any information indicating whether the pilot was discontinued or rolled out to more locations outside the Charlotte, NC area.

But Jack in the Box isn’t the only chain experimenting with Drive Thru hacks.

Taco Bell Futuristic Drive Thru

Check out this Taco Bell concept being built out with an elevated restaurant and multiple Drive Thru lanes at street level to increase throughput. If you didn’t know, many fast-food restaurants do 2/3 or more of their business through the Drive Thru. Taco Bell’s concept does not mention using any outsourced labor, but the possibility is obviously there.

Using a speech-recognizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) is of course a real possibility in the Drive Thru use case in the very near future, potentially putting even outsourced labor out of a job.

So, what do you think? Innovation or not?

Pay By Face

p.s. One thing that doesn’t appear to be part of the Percy video virtual cashier product, but would be easy to add because the camera is already there, is ‘pay by face’ technology. That extra convenience could push this concept over the top. Although, I’m still not sold that would be a good thing, especially for the millions of cashiers in the United States.

Image credit: Toronto Star, Taco Bell, ExxaPay

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Can You Ever Be a Truly Independent Thinker?

Can You Ever Be a Truly Independent Thinker?

GUEST POST from Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield

‘It’s important to me that I make my own decisions, but I often wonder how much they are actually influenced by cultural and societal norms, by advertising, the media and those around me. We all feel the need to fit in, but does this prevent us from making decisions for ourselves? In short, can I ever be a truly free thinker?’ Richard, Yorkshire.

There’s good news and bad news on this one. In his poem Invictus, William Ernest Henley wrote: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

While being the lone “captain of your soul” is a reassuring idea, the truth is rather more nuanced. The reality is that we are social beings driven by a profound need to fit in – and as a consequence, we are all hugely influenced by cultural norms.

But to get to the specifics of your question, advertising, at least, may not influence you as much as you imagine. Both advertisers and the critics of advertising like us to think that ads can make us dance any way they want, especially now everything is digital and personalised ad targeting is possible in a way it never was before.


This article is part of Life’s Big Questions

The Conversation’s new series, co-published with BBC Future, seeks to answer our readers’ nagging questions about life, love, death and the universe. We work with professional researchers who have dedicated their lives to uncovering new perspectives on the questions that shape our lives.


In reality, there is no precise science of advertising. Most new products fail, despite the advertising they receive. And even when sales go up, nobody is exactly sure of the role advertising played. As the marketing pioneer John Wanamaker said:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

You’d expect advertisers to exaggerate the effectiveness of advertising, and scholars of advertising have typically made more modest claims. Even these, though, may be overestimates. Recent studies have claimed that both online and offline, the methods commonly used to study advertising effectiveness vastly exaggerate the power of advertising to change our beliefs and behaviour.

This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online.

When the ads don’t work…
Shutterstock

There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!

In other words, although we like to blame the media for how people vote, it is surprisingly hard to find solid evidence of when and how people are swayed by the media. One professor of political science, Kenneth Newton, went so far as to claim “It’s Not the Media, Stupid”.

But although advertising is a weak force, and although hard evidence on how the media influences specific choices is elusive, every one of us is undoubtedly influenced by the culture in which we live.

Followers of fashion

Fashions exist both for superficial things, such as buying clothes and opting for a particular hairstyle, but also for more profound behaviour like murder and even suicide. Indeed, we all borrow so much from those we grow up around, and those around us now, that it seems impossible to put a clear line between our individual selves and the selves society forges for us.

Two examples: I don’t have any facial tattoos, and I don’t want any. If I wanted a facial tattoo my family would think I’d gone mad. But if I was born in some cultures, where these tattoos were common and conveyed high status, such as traditional Māori culture, people would think I was unusual if I didn’t want facial tattoos.

Similarly, if I had been born a Viking, I can assume that my highest ambition would have been to die in battle, axe or sword in hand. In their belief system, after all, that was surest way to Valhalla and a glorious afterlife. Instead, I am a liberal academic whose highest ambition is to die peacefully in bed, a long way away from any bloodshed. Promises of Valhalla have no influence over me.

Vikings had different beliefs to most modern liberal academics.
Shutterstock

Ultimately, I’d argue that all of our desires are patterned by the culture we happen to be born in.

But it gets worse. Even if we could somehow free ourselves from cultural expectations, other forces impinge on our thoughts. Your genes can affect your personality and so they must also, indirectly, have a knock-on effect on your beliefs.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, famously talked about the influence of parents and upbringing on behaviour, and he probably wasn’t 100% wrong. Even just psychologically, how can you ever think freely, separate from the twin influences of prior experience and other people?

From this perspective, all of our behaviours and our desires are profoundly influenced by outside forces. But does this mean they aren’t also our own?

The answer to this dilemma, I think, is not to free yourself from outside influences. This is impossible. Instead, you should see yourself and your ideas as the intersection of all the forces that come to play on you.

Some of these are shared – like our culture – and some are unique to you – your unique experience, your unique history and biology. Being a free thinker, from this perspective, means working out exactly what makes sense to you, from where you are now.

You can’t – and shouldn’t – ignore outside influences, but the good news is that these influences are not some kind of overwhelming force. All the evidence is compatible with the view that each of us, choice by choice, belief by belief, can make reasonable decisions for ourselves, not unshackled from the influences of others and the past, but free to chart our own unique paths forward into the future.

After all, the captain of a ship doesn’t sail while ignoring the wind – sometimes they go with it, sometimes against it, but they always account for it. Similarly, we think and make our choices in the context of all our circumstances, not by ignoring them.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image Credits: Pixabay, Shutterstock (via theconversation)

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How will humans change in the next 10,000 years?

Future evolution: from looks to brains and personality

GUEST POST from Nicholas R. Longrich, University of Bath

READER QUESTION: If humans don’t die out in a climate apocalypse or asteroid impact in the next 10,000 years, are we likely to evolve further into a more advanced species than what we are at the moment? Harry Bonas, 57, Nigeria

Humanity is the unlikely result of 4 billion years of evolution.

From self-replicating molecules in Archean seas, to eyeless fish in the Cambrian deep, to mammals scurrying from dinosaurs in the dark, and then, finally, improbably, ourselves – evolution shaped us.

Organisms reproduced imperfectly. Mistakes made when copying genes sometimes made them better fit to their environments, so those genes tended to get passed on. More reproduction followed, and more mistakes, the process repeating over billions of generations. Finally, Homo sapiens appeared. But we aren’t the end of that story. Evolution won’t stop with us, and we might even be evolving faster than ever.


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It’s hard to predict the future. The world will probably change in ways we can’t imagine. But we can make educated guesses. Paradoxically, the best way to predict the future is probably looking back at the past, and assuming past trends will continue going forward. This suggests some surprising things about our future.

We will likely live longer and become taller, as well as more lightly built. We’ll probably be less aggressive and more agreeable, but have smaller brains. A bit like a golden retriever, we’ll be friendly and jolly, but maybe not that interesting. At least, that’s one possible future. But to understand why I think that’s likely, we need to look at biology.

The end of natural selection?

Some scientists have argued that civilisation’s rise ended natural selection. It’s true that selective pressures that dominated in the past – predators, famine, plague, warfare – have mostly disappeared.

Starvation and famine were largely ended by high-yield crops, fertilisers and family planning. Violence and war are less common than ever, despite modern militaries with nuclear weapons, or maybe because of them. The lions, wolves and sabertoothed cats that hunted us in the dark are endangered or extinct. Plagues that killed millions – smallpox, Black Death, cholera – were tamed by vaccines, antibiotics, clean water.

But evolution didn’t stop; other things just drive it now. Evolution isn’t so much about survival of the fittest as reproduction of the fittest. Even if nature is less likely to murder us, we still need to find partners and raise children, so sexual selection now plays a bigger role in our evolution.

And if nature doesn’t control our evolution anymore, the unnatural environment we’ve created – culture, technology, cities – produces new selective pressures very unlike those we faced in the ice age. We’re poorly adapted to this modern world; it follows that we’ll have to adapt.

And that process has already started. As our diets changed to include grains and dairy, we evolved genes to help us digest starch and milk. When dense cities created conditions for disease to spread, mutations for disease resistance spread too. And for some reason, our brains have got smaller. Unnatural environments create unnatural selection.

To predict where this goes, we’ll look at our prehistory, studying trends over the past 6 million years of evolution. Some trends will continue, especially those that emerged in the past 10,000 years, after agriculture and civilisation were invented.

We’re also facing new selective pressures, such as reduced mortality. Studying the past doesn’t help here, but we can see how other species responded to similar pressures. Evolution in domestic animals may be especially relevant – arguably we’re becoming a kind of domesticated ape, but curiously, one domesticated by ourselves.

I’ll use this approach to make some predictions, if not always with high confidence. That is, I’ll speculate.

Lifespan

Humans will almost certainly evolve to live longer – much longer. Life cycles evolve in response to mortality rates, how likely predators and other threats are to kill you. When mortality rates are high, animals must reproduce young, or might not reproduce at all. There’s also no advantage to evolving mutations that prevent ageing or cancer – you won’t live long enough to use them.

When mortality rates are low, the opposite is true. It’s better to take your time reaching sexual maturity. It’s also useful to have adaptations that extend lifespan, and fertility, giving you more time to reproduce. That’s why animals with few predators – animals that live on islands or in the deep ocean, or are simply big – evolve longer lifespans. Greenland sharks, Galapagos tortoises and bowhead whales mature late, and can live for centuries.

Even before civilisation, people were unique among apes in having low mortality and long lives. Hunter-gatherers armed with spears and bows could defend against predators; food sharing prevented starvation. So we evolved delayed sexual maturity, and long lifespans – up to 70 years.

Still, child mortality was high – approaching 50% or more by age 15. Average life expectancy was just 35 years. Even after the rise of civilisation, child mortality stayed high until the 19th century, while life expectancy went down – to 30 years – due to plagues and famines.

Then, in the past two centuries, better nutrition, medicine and hygiene reduced youth mortality to under 1% in most developed nations. Life expectancy soared to 70 years worldwide , and 80 in developed countries. These increases are due to improved health, not evolution – but they set the stage for evolution to extend our lifespan.

Now, there’s little need to reproduce early. If anything, the years of training needed to be a doctor, CEO, or carpenter incentivise putting it off. And since our life expectancy has doubled, adaptations to prolong lifespan and child-bearing years are now advantageous. Given that more and more people live to 100 or even 110 yearsthe record being 122 years – there’s reason to think our genes could evolve until the average person routinely lives 100 years or even more.

Size, and strength

Animals often evolve larger size over time; it’s a trend seen in tyrannosaurs, whales, horses and primates – including hominins.

Early hominins like Australopithecus afarensis and Homo habilis were small, four to five feet (120cm-150cm) tall. Later hominins – Homo erectus, Neanderthals, Homo sapiens – grew taller. We’ve continued to gain height in historic times, partly driven by improved nutrition, but genes seem to be evolving too.

Why we got big is unclear. In part, mortality may drive size evolution; growth takes time, so longer lives mean more time to grow. But human females also prefer tall males. So both lower mortality and sexual preferences will likely cause humans to get taller. Today, the tallest people in the world are in Europe, led by the Netherlands. Here, men average 183cm (6ft); women 170cm (5ft 6in). Someday, most people might be that tall, or taller.

As we’ve grown taller, we’ve become more gracile. Over the past 2 million years, our skeletons became more lightly built as we relied less on brute force, and more on tools and weapons. As farming forced us to settle down, our lives became more sedentary, so our bone density decreased. As we spend more time behind desks, keyboards and steering wheels, these trends will likely continue.

Humans have also reduced our muscles compared to other apes, especially in our upper bodies. That will probably continue. Our ancestors had to slaughter antelopes and dig roots; later they tilled and reaped in the fields. Modern jobs increasingly require working with people, words and code – they take brains, not muscle. Even for manual laborers – farmers, fisherman, lumberjacks – machinery such as tractors, hydraulics and chainsaws now shoulder a lot of the work. As physical strength becomes less necessary, our muscles will keep shrinking.

Our jaws and teeth also got smaller. Early, plant-eating hominins had huge molars and mandibles for grinding fibrous vegetables. As we shifted to meat, then started cooking food, jaws and teeth shrank. Modern processed food – chicken nuggets, Big Macs, cookie dough ice cream – needs even less chewing, so jaws will keep shrinking, and we’ll likely lose our wisdom teeth.

Beauty

After people left Africa 100,000 years ago, humanity’s far-flung tribes became isolated by deserts, oceans, mountains, glaciers and sheer distance. In various parts of the world, different selective pressures – different climates, lifestyles and beauty standards – caused our appearance to evolve in different ways. Tribes evolved distinctive skin colour, eyes, hair and facial features.

With civilisation’s rise and new technologies, these populations were linked again. Wars of conquest, empire building, colonisation and trade – including trade of other humans – all shifted populations, which interbred. Today, road, rail and aircraft link us too. Bushmen would walk 40 miles to find a partner; we’ll go 4,000 miles. We’re increasingly one, worldwide population – freely mixing. That will create a world of hybrids – light brown skinned, dark-haired, Afro-Euro-Australo-Americo-Asians, their skin colour and facial features tending toward a global average.

Sexual selection will further accelerate the evolution of our appearance. With most forms of natural selection no longer operating, mate choice will play a larger role. Humans might become more attractive, but more uniform in appearance. Globalised media may also create more uniform standards of beauty, pushing all humans towards a single ideal. Sex differences, however, could be exaggerated if the ideal is masculine-looking men and feminine-looking women.

Intelligence and personality

Last, our brains and minds, our most distinctively human feature, will evolve, perhaps dramatically. Over the past 6 million years, hominin brain size roughly tripled, suggesting selection for big brains driven by tool use, complex societies and language. It might seem inevitable that this trend will continue, but it probably won’t.

Instead, our brains are getting smaller. In Europe, brain size peaked 10,000—20,000 years ago, just before we invented farming. Then, brains got smaller. Modern humans have brains smaller than our ancient predecessors, or even medieval people. It’s unclear why.

It could be that fat and protein were scarce once we shifted to farming, making it more costly to grow and maintain large brains. Brains are also energetically expensive – they burn around 20% of our daily calories. In agricultural societies with frequent famine, a big brain might be a liability.

Maybe hunter-gatherer life was demanding in ways farming isn’t. In civilisation, you don’t need to outwit lions and antelopes, or memorise every fruit tree and watering hole within 1,000 square miles. Making and using bows and spears also requires fine motor control, coordination, the ability to track animals and trajectories — maybe the parts of our brains used for those things got smaller when we stopped hunting.

Or maybe living in a large society of specialists demands less brainpower than living in a tribe of generalists. Stone-age people mastered many skills – hunting, tracking, foraging for plants, making herbal medicines and poisons, crafting tools, waging war, making music and magic. Modern humans perform fewer, more specialised roles as part of vast social networks, exploiting division of labour. In a civilisation, we specialise on a trade, then rely on others for everything else.

That being said, brain size isn’t everything: elephants and orcas have bigger brains than us, and Einstein’s brain was smaller than average. Neanderthals had brains comparable to ours, but more of the brain was devoted to sight and control of the body, suggesting less capacity for things like language and tool use. So how much the loss of brain mass affects overall intelligence is unclear. Maybe we lost certain abilities, while enhancing others that are more relevant to modern life. It’s possible that we’ve maintained processing power by having fewer, smaller neurons. Still, I worry about what that missing 10% of my grey matter did.

Curiously, domestic animals also evolved smaller brains. Sheep lost 24% of their brain mass after domestication; for cows, it’s 26%; dogs, 30%. This raises an unsettling possibility. Maybe being more willing to passively go with the flow (perhaps even thinking less), like a domesticated animal, has been bred into us, like it was for them.

Our personalities must be evolving too. Hunter-gatherers’ lives required aggression. They hunted large mammals, killed over partners and warred with neighbouring tribes. We get meat from a store, and turn to police and courts to settle disputes. If war hasn’t disappeared, it now accounts for fewer deaths, relative to population, than at any time in history. Aggression, now a maladaptive trait, could be bred out.

Changing social patterns will also change personalities. Humans live in much larger groups than other apes, forming tribes of around 1,000 in hunter-gatherers. But in today’s world people living in vast cities of millions. In the past, our relationships were necessarily few, and often lifelong. Now we inhabit seas of people, moving often for work, and in the process forming thousands of relationships, many fleeting and, increasingly, virtual. This world will push us to become more outgoing, open and tolerant. Yet navigating such vast social networks may also require we become more willing to adapt ourselves to them – to be more conformist.

Not everyone is psychologically well-adapted to this existence. Our instincts, desires and fears are largely those of stone-age ancestors, who found meaning in hunting and foraging for their families, warring with their neighbours and praying to ancestor-spirits in the dark. Modern society meets our material needs well, but is less able to meet the psychological needs of our primitive caveman brains.

Perhaps because of this, increasing numbers of people suffer from psychological issues such as loneliness, anxiety and depression. Many turn to alcohol and other substances to cope. Selection against vulnerability to these conditions might improve our mental health, and make us happier as a species. But that could come at a price. Many great geniuses had their demons; leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill fought with depression, as did scientists such as Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, and artists like Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson. Some, like Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh and Kurt Cobain, took their own lives. Others – Billy Holliday, Jimi Hendrix and Jack Kerouac – were destroyed by substance abuse.

A disturbing thought is that troubled minds will be removed from the gene pool – but potentially at the cost of eliminating the sort of spark that created visionary leaders, great writers, artists and musicians. Future humans might be better adjusted – but less fun to party with and less likely to launch a scientific revolution — stable, happy and boring.

New species?

There were once nine human species, now it’s just us. But could new human species evolve? For that to happen, we’d need isolated populations subject to distinct selective pressures. Distance no longer isolates us, but reproductive isolation could theoretically be achieved by selective mating. If people were culturally segregated – marrying based on religion, class, caste, or even politics – distinct populations, even species, might evolve.

In The Time Machine, sci-fi novelist H.G. Wells saw a future where class created distinct species. Upper classes evolved into the beautiful but useless Eloi, and the working classes become the ugly, subterranean Morlocks – who revolted and enslaved the Eloi.

In the past, religion and lifestyle have sometimes produced genetically distinct groups, as seen in for example Jewish and Gypsy populations. Today, politics also divides us – could it divide us genetically? Liberals now move to be near other liberals, and conservatives to be near conservatives; many on the left won’t date Trump supporters and vice versa.

Could this create two species, with instinctively different views? Probably not. Still, to the extent culture divides us, it could drive evolution in different ways, in different people. If cultures become more diverse, this could maintain and increase human genetic diversity.

Strange New Possibilities

So far, I’ve mostly taken a historical perspective, looking back. But in some ways, the future might be radically unlike the past. Evolution itself has evolved.

One of the more extreme possibilities is directed evolution, where we actively control our species’ evolution. We already breed ourselves when we choose partners with appearances and personalities we like. For thousands of years, hunter-gatherers arranged marriages, seeking good hunters for their daughters. Even where children chose partners, men were generally expected to seek approval of the bride’s parents. Similar traditions survive elsewhere today. In other words, we breed our own children.

And going forward, we’ll do this with far more knowledge of what we’re doing, and more control over the genes of our progeny. We can already screen ourselves and embryos for genetic diseases. We could potentially choose embryos for desirable genes, as we do with crops. Direct editing of the DNA of a human embryo has been proven to be possible — but seems morally abhorrent, effectively turning children into subjects of medical experimentation. And yet, if such technologies were proven safe, I could imagine a future where you’d be a bad parent not to give your children the best genes possible.

Computers also provide an entirely new selective pressure. As more and more matches are made on smartphones, we are delegating decisions about what the next generation looks like to computer algorithms, who recommend our potential matches. Digital code now helps choose what genetic code passed on to future generations, just like it shapes what you stream or buy online. This might sound like dark science fiction, but it’s already happening. Our genes are being curated by computer, just like our playlists. It’s hard to know where this leads, but I wonder if it’s entirely wise to turn over the future of our species to iPhones, the internet and the companies behind them.

Discussions of human evolution are usually backward looking, as if the greatest triumphs and challenges were in the distant past. But as technology and culture enter a period of accelerating change, our genes will too. Arguably, the most interesting parts of evolution aren’t life’s origins, dinosaurs, or Neanderthals, but what’s happening right now, our present – and our future.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Four Reasons the Big Quit Exists

Four Reasons the Big Quit Exists

Turns out the pandemic prompted mass numbers of employees finally say, “take this job and shove it” to employers and careers they don’t like. Life is too short to be miserable at work.

In a recent NICE Webinar, we discussed how job quit rates have hit a historic high—even while the economy is still recovering from two years of furloughs and layoffs. This is often referred to as The Great Resignation.

Enlightening research from Gallup gathered in March of 2021 found that 48% of the working population in the United States is actively job-hunting or seeking out new opportunities.[1]

NICE Employee Churn word cloud

So, while we watch the labor market churn with no signs of settling, how can businesses avoid the costs of high turnover rates?

“How to Reduce the Risk of Employee Churn Amid the Big Quit”
(click to continue reading this article on the NICE blog)

Image credits: NICE

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