When you say, "I'll get it done this week," you're just lying to yourself.
- A paper from MIT shows that few tasks are actually done in the time frame expected.
- People of all ages and levels of expertise were rather poor at estimating how long tasks take to complete.
- Writing and coding tasks took the longest to do.
Everybody is familiar with the difficulty of doing all the things you need to do, let alone doing everything you want to do. Something goes wrong, it takes longer to do one section than originally planned, you need somebody else to get their work done before you can start, and countless other problems get in the way. In the end, the task took much longer than we'd hoped.
Somehow, this is one of the more common human experiences, as anybody who has been to a seminar on SMART goal setting can tell you.
In an accidental study, a group of grad students, postdocs, and undergraduates at MIT spent nine months recording what they wanted to do, how long they thought it would take them to do it, and how long it actually took to complete—if it got done at all.
The rather Gonzo paper on it, "'I'll Finish It This Week' And Other Lies," is a humorous discussion of the difficulty of accurate goal-setting and a savage glimpse into the purgatories of others which are often so similar to our own.
People at MIT have trouble getting work done on time? I suddenly feel better about myself.
How long tasks were estimated to take (top) compared to how long they really took (bottom). If people were always right on how long things would take to do, the peaks would all be above x=1Credit: Kaley Brauer
Last year, the aforementioned researchers created a system to help support each other in their work and encourage one another to reach their goals. The system involved a weekly check-in where the participant listed the tasks they wanted to do and how long they expected them to take and report back a week later on how long those tasks actually took.
Perhaps by accident, this system took on the form of a longitudinal study, the sort of research that looks at a certain variable (in this case, task completion times) over a certain period of time.
The data included 559 tasks done over much of the last year, when they were completed, when they were expected to be completed, and how many working hours that represented. As explained in the paper, a task fit one of these categories:
1. Coding: any coding task for research or schoolwork (e.g., analysis in Python).
2. Writing: any writing or editing-focused task (e.g., working on a paper draft).
3. Reading: any reading-focused task (e.g., reading a journal article).
4. Administrative: any task related to running a research group or department (e.g., organizing meetings).
5. Talk Prep: writing or practicing a talk or poster presentation.
6. Service: volunteer work (e.g., organizing outreach activities).
7. Problem Set: homework for a class that is not coding- or reading-focused.
The median task took 1.4 times as long to accomplish as expected, while the average difference was a slightly larger 1.7 times. Just over half, 53%, of tasks were completed on time. Writing and coding tasks took the longest, with some taking ten times as long as expected.
Note to editor: See, it's not just me!
Tasks with deadlines were completed on time. This is shown in the problem set and service categories, as homework has a due date and volunteer events are planned. Postdocs were more accurate than anybody else, but this might be caused less by their age and experience and more by the type of work they were doing. Graduate students were worse than undergrads, suggesting that age is not a substantial factor.
Hopefully, you've read this far
It seems that even highly educated people who have to estimate the time their typical work will take on a regular basis aren't very good at it. It seems to be a universal truth that most tasks take much longer than expected. Even those who are quite experienced at these tasks were little better at making these estimations.
So, if you're planning on doing something within a certain period of time, it might be best to lengthen your original estimate. But beware! This might cause the actual time required to multiply yet again.
Alternatively, since tasks that come with hard deadlines tended to be completed on time at much better rates than those without, you could just add deadlines and stressful consequences for missing them to your goals. Other writers agree that this does wonders for getting writing done at only a moderate cost to your sanity.
Lead author and PhD candidate Kaley Brauer also noted that many of the study participants found that setting time-based goals, such as, "I will study for five hours," helped them stay on task better than setting results-based goals, such as, "I will master the art of underwater basket weaving after this five-hour block."
Nutrisystem is a smarter weight-loss program that users enjoy.
- The societal and economic consequences of obesity cannot be ignored.
- The economic impact is up to $190 billion every year in America.
- Americans spend up to $2.5 billion each year on popular weight-loss programs.
Weight loss is big business. Thousands of influencers try to coax you in with brightly colored videos and overproduced photos on Instagram. They guarantee their method works for everybody. Nutrition is too complex for a one-size-fits-all plan, however. We all have different bodies with varying metabolism rates. An individualized program is more beneficial than a cookie-cutter program.
If you've ever tried to lose weight, you know how frustrating it is. We begin a program with enthusiasm and commitment only to trail off in a few weeks. That's the problem with many weight loss programs: they're like filler calories that taste good at first, only to leave you feeling hungry.
Nutrisystem was created in the 1970s by Harold Katz. The entrepreneur was living on a liquid-based diet for weight loss. While this method worked to some degree, Katz realized people want to eat real food. He spent years tweaking his system in order to help people feel sated, enjoy their food, and lose weight.
What Katz realized—what has made Nutrisystem successful in helping people lose weight for nearly five decades—is that people need personalized plans. Nutrisystem is a diet plan service with a variety of pre-packaged, ready-to-eat food, delivered at your door. The menu includes everything from burgers, pizzas and pasta to chocolate desserts and beverages. However, everything is provided following a plan of portion control and healthy eating.
Nutrisystem's Personal Plans provide six small meals a day that are nutritionally balanced for your body. With hundreds of choices designed by expert chefs, variety will never be an issue. And the free weight loss app that accompanies each plan keeps you engaged with your program.
Sure, there are universal principles to weight loss, such as lowering your calorie intake. This is no starvation diet. Finding a diet that both satisfies daily caloric intake and keeps you engaged in a long-term commitment is challenging. This is where Nutrisystem excels.
The economics of obesity
The obesity crisis in America has profoundly changed the health of our nation. Two-thirds of American adults are now overweight or obese. Excess body weight creates numerous health problems, such as increased risk for heart disease, hypertension, cancer, sleep apnea, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Tragically, the steep rise in obesity rates can, in large part, be traced back to the surge in processed foods made with filler ingredients, questionable preservatives, and excessive sugars.
That's part of what makes losing weight so difficult. Supermarket shelves are stocked with processed foods. A whopping 74 percent of packaged foods contain added sugars, which are conveniently disguised under 61 different names, including dextrose, maltose, and treacle. You shouldn't have to play detective every time you go to the grocery store.
Obesity has real-world consequences. Every year, up to $6.38 billion is lost in productivity costs due to obesity-related absenteeism. That number only accounts for people taking off of work. Overall, obesity-related costs in America are estimated to be $147 billion every year. One study shows that cost was $190 billion in 2005.
Overweight citizens are also more likely to suffer from poor mental health. The combination of poor self-image, social stigma, lack of exercise, and biological issues due to obesity increase the likelihood that someone will be anxious or depressed. This creates a crippling feedback loop: diets high in sugars and carbohydrates, which are fueling the rise in obesity, are also linked to poor mental health.
Many people want a solution that works. In 2014, Americans spent roughly $2.5 billion on commercial or proprietary weight loss programs. As a society, we pay the price of obesity in the form of work absenteeism, inflated health care costs, and mental health issues, and we pay trying to solve it. Finding a solution to this problem is of utmost importance.
Losing weight—and keeping it off
Calorie in, calorie out is a simplistic approach to weight loss. We have different metabolism rates; the constitution of our microbiomes vary. Calorie-counting is one method that's nearly guaranteed to fizzle out. This method also overlooks one of the most important aspects of weight loss: food is emotional. Few people stick to diets they don't enjoy.
This is where Nutrisystem comes in. Instead of a false promise of rapid weight loss, the Nutrisystem Personal Plan is designed to help you lose a healthy 1-2 pounds every week while enjoying your favorite foods. More importantly, the weight stays off.
What you won't get in your Nutrisystem deliveries are excess fillers and hidden sugars prevalent in packaged foods. There are no artificial flavors or sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fat, or artificial colorings. You'll never receive deep-fried foods, fatty cut meats, potatoes, full-fat dairy, pasta, or ice cream. Every meal is created by an expert chef and all plans are reviewed by a Science Advisory Board.
If you suffer from type 2 diabetes or are pre-diabetic, Nutrisystem has a plan for you. They also offer a wonderful vegetarian option. Beyond these two plans, Nutrisystem offers four others:
- Nutrisystem Basic. Three pre-planned meals a day plus snacks, designed for customers that want to lose weight and maintain lean muscle.
- Nutrisystem Core. Three meals plus snacks that you choose from over 100 different foods. Customers at this level have access to a certified dietary coach.
- Uniquely Yours. The most popular meal plan lets customers choose from over 160 meals, including frozen meals.
- Uniquely Yours Ultimate. All of the above plus an additional 28 shake options.
Most importantly, all meals are balanced. That means you'll only receive meals that meet national guidelines for total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and added sugars. Once you've hit your target weight, Nutrisystem offers maintenance programs so that you keep it off for good.
The flexibility in Nutrisystem's program makes it even more effective. You'll never feel guilty about "cheat meals"—Nutrisystem offers guidance to eating at restaurants so that you won't have to sacrifice an evening out. By having your meals and snacks delivered, you'll save time in the kitchen. And the Nutrisystem app offers free counseling services, lifestyle hacks, and progress tracking.
Nutrisystem realizes no one loses weight by themselves. By signing up for a Personal Plan, you'll have access to trained weight-loss coaches, registered dietitians, and certified diabetes educators. In 2019, Newsweek ranked Nutrisystem #1 in customer service for nutrition and weight-loss programs. This might be the program you've been looking for.
New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.
In the film adaptation of "Bye Bye Birdie" (1963), Dick Van Dyke sings to a dour Janet Leigh to simply put on a happy face. "Wipe off that 'full of doubt' look, / Slap on a happy grin! / And spread sunshine all over the place[…]." This classic—if admittedly hokey—ditty it seems has become the mantra of our "service with a smile" corporate culture. And it may actually be good advice.
New research suggests that putting on a happy face reduces fatigue at work and improves our relationships, but only if we employ "deep acting" strategies over "surface acting" ones to regulate those emotions.
What is deep acting?
Arlie Russell Hochschild (pictured) laid out the concept of emotional labor in her 1983 book, "The Managed Heart."
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Deep and surface acting are the principal components of emotional labor, a buzz phrase you have likely seen flitting about the Twittersphere. Today, "emotional labor" has been adopted by groups as diverse as family counselors, academic feminists, and corporate CEOs, and each has redefined it with a patented spin. But while the phrase has splintered into a smorgasbord of pop-psychological arguments, its initial usage was more specific.
First coined by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in her 1983 book, "The Managed Heart," emotional labor describes the work we do to regulate our emotions on the job. Hochschild's go-to example is the flight attendant, who is tasked with being "nicer than natural" to enhance the customer experience. While at work, flight attendants are expected to smile and be exceedingly helpful even if they are wrestling with personal issues, the passengers are rude, and that one kid just upchucked down the center aisle. Hochschild's counterpart to the flight attendant is the bill collector, who must instead be "nastier than natural."
Such personas may serve an organization's mission or commercial interests, but if they cause emotional dissonance, they can potentially lead to high emotional costs for the employee—bringing us back to deep and surface acting.
Deep acting is the process by which people modify their emotions to match their expected role. Deep actors still encounter the negative emotions, but they devise ways to regulate those emotions and return to the desired state. Flight attendants may modify their internal state by talking through harsh emotions (say, with a coworker), focusing on life's benefits (next stop Paris!), physically expressing their desired emotion (smiling and deep breaths), or recontextualizing an inauspicious situation (not the kid's fault he got sick).
Conversely, surface acting occurs when employees display ersatz emotions to match those expected by their role. These actors are the waiters who smile despite being crushed by the stress of a dinner rush. They are the CEOs who wear a confident swagger despite feelings of inauthenticity. And they are the bouncers who must maintain a steely edge despite humming show tunes in their heart of hearts.
As we'll see in the research, surface acting can degrade our mental well-being. This deterioration can be especially true of people who must contend with negative emotions or situations inside while displaying an elated mood outside. Hochschild argues such emotional labor can lead to exhaustion and self-estrangement—that is, surface actors erect a bulwark against anger, fear, and stress, but that disconnect estranges them from the emotions that allow them to connect with others and live fulfilling lives.
Don't fake it till you make it
Credit: vladimirfloyd / Adobe Stock
Most studies on emotional labor have focused on customer service for the obvious reason that such jobs prescribe emotional states—service with a smile or, if you're in the bouncing business, a scowl. But Allison Gabriel, associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management, wanted to explore how employees used emotional labor strategies in their intra-office interactions and which strategies proved most beneficial.
"What we wanted to know is whether people choose to engage in emotion regulation when interacting with their co-workers, why they choose to regulate their emotions if there is no formal rule requiring them to do so, and what benefits, if any, they get out of this effort," Gabriel said in a press release.
Across three studies, she and her colleagues surveyed more than 2,500 full-time employees on their emotional regulation with coworkers. The survey asked participants to agree or disagree with statements such as "I try to experience the emotions that I show to my coworkers" or "I fake a good mood when interacting with my coworkers." Other statements gauged the outcomes of such strategies—for example, "I feel emotionally drained at work." Participants were drawn from industries as varied as education, engineering, and financial services.
The results, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, revealed four different emotional strategies. "Deep actors" engaged in high levels of deep acting; "low actors" leaned more heavily on surface acting. Meanwhile, "non-actors" engaged in negligible amounts of emotional labor, while "regulators" switched between both. The survey also revealed two drivers for such strategies: prosocial and impression management motives. The former aimed to cultivate positive relationships, the latter to present a positive front.
The researchers found deep actors were driven by prosocial motives and enjoyed advantages from their strategy of choice. These actors reported lower levels of fatigue, fewer feelings of inauthenticity, improved coworker trust, and advanced progress toward career goals.
As Gabriel told PsyPost in an interview: "So, it's a win-win-win in terms of feeling good, performing well, and having positive coworker interactions."
Non-actors did not report the emotional exhaustion of their low-actor peers, but they also didn't enjoy the social gains of the deep actors. Finally, the regulators showed that the flip-flopping between surface and deep acting drained emotional reserves and strained office relationships.
"I think the 'fake it until you make it' idea suggests a survival tactic at work," Gabriel noted. "Maybe plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction is easier in the short run, but long term, it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work.
"It all boils down to, 'Let's be nice to each other.' Not only will people feel better, but people's performance and social relationships can also improve."
You'll be glad ya' decided to smile
But as with any research that relies on self-reported data, there are confounders here to untangle. Even during anonymous studies, participants may select socially acceptable answers over honest ones. They may further interpret their goal progress and coworker interactions more favorably than is accurate. And certain work conditions may not produce the same effects, such as toxic work environments or those that require employees to project negative emotions.
There also remains the question of the causal mechanism. If surface acting—or switching between surface and deep acting—is more mentally taxing than genuinely feeling an emotion, then what physiological process causes this fatigue? One study published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience measured hemoglobin density in participants' brains using an fNIRS while they expressed emotions facially. The researchers found no significant difference in energy consumed in the prefrontal cortex by those asked to deep act or surface act (though, this study too is limited by a lack of real-life task).
With that said, Gabriel's studies reinforce much of the current research on emotional labor. A 2011 meta-analysis found that "discordant emotional labor states" (read: surface acting) were associated with harmful effects on well-being and performance. The analysis found no such consequences for deep acting. Another meta-analysis found an association between surface acting and impaired well-being, job attitudes, and performance outcomes. Conversely, deep acting was associated with improved emotional performance.
So, although there's still much to learn on the emotional labor front, it seems Van Dyke's advice to a Leigh was half correct. We should put on a happy face, but it will only help if we can feel it.
Mice will even run on a wheel in nature. Pheromones help inspire that behavior.
- University of California, Riverside researchers discovered a link between scent and fitness motivation in mice.
- The vomeronasal organ is activated by the smell of pheromones, influencing sexual behavior and cardiovascular activity.
- While there's no proof the same connection exists in humans, at least one elite athlete believes a link exists.
The image of a mouse running aimlessly in a wheel is a common motif in scientific studies. Put the same wheel in nature and a feral mouse will still hop in and spin it around, just as any cardio junkie will jump on a treadmill.
Humans have invented a number of triggers to help them get to the gym to jump on that treadmill (or run in nature). Put your running shoes next to your bed so you see them upon waking up. Glue a toned athlete on your vision board. Set a mileage goal in Strava and remember you're being tracked by peers.
Mice have triggers for exercise, too, and this one might teach us a bit about our own fitness inspiration: scent.Researchers at the University of California, Riverside wanted to understand how influential scent was to racing rodents. A team led by Sachiko Haga-Yamanaka, assistant professor in Department of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology, found out, and the answer is quite a bit. That's according to their new study published in PLOS One.
How do we smell? - Rose Eveleth
Many animals utilize olfaction to navigate their terrain. Comparatively, humans have a pretty weak sense of smell. For this study, the researchers looked at the vomeronasal organ (VNO), a feature of a number of amphibians and mammals, and its influence on volunteer wheel running (VMR) in mice.
"Although the role of the vomeronasal chemosensory receptors in VWR activity remains to be determined, the current results suggest that these vomeronasal chemosensory receptors are important quantitative trait loci for voluntary exercise in mice. We propose that olfaction may play an important role in motivation for voluntary exercise in mammals."
The team chose fanatical runners that are more intrinsically motivated to get on the wheel than their peers. (The lab that produced this study even has a High Runner Mice website.) Apparently, these mice have strong vomeronasal sensory receptor neurons, which pick up the scent of pheromones (among others) as a form of motivation.
A link between these neurons and sexual behavior already exists; this study appears to expand the olfactory sense to another physical activity. The chemosensory signals received by VNO activation sets off a chain reaction in their nervous system. Just like humans can't help but dance to a good beat, mice crave the rush of running when the right scent hits them.
Could this apply to humans as well?
Credit: BillionPhotos.com / Adobe Stock
Christopher Bergland thinks so. The elite athlete knows all about treadmills. He holds the world record for the longest treadmill run over a 24-hour period. In a recent column, he claims that scents have been motivating him to exercise for decades.
"Even as a middle-aged person with a middle-of-the-road libido, smells from my adolescence—such as classic Coppertone sunscreen mixed with a spritz of vintage Polo Green cologne—still give me a "Vroom!" feeling that gets my juices going. The same smells that I used to run five back-to-back marathons through Death Valley in near 130º heat and to break a Guinness World Record by running 153.76 miles on a treadmill decades ago, still motivate me to go for daily jogs at a 'conversational pace.'"
He still uses smells to inspire his workout regimen. In his 2007 book, "The Athlete's Way," Bergland discusses aromatherapy as a performance enhancement and motivational tool. This makes sense: we might have devolved in our olfactory senses a bit, but smells still heavily influence our world. Flavor, for example, is just as much about smell as taste.
"Acquiring information related to scent through the back of the mouth is called retronasal olfaction—via the nostrils it is called orthonasal olfaction. Both methods influence flavor; aromas such as vanilla, for example, can cause something perceived as sweet to taste sweeter. Once an odor is experienced along with a flavor, the two become associated; thus, smell influences taste and taste influences smell."
We're certainly motivated to eat thanks to the scent of our favorite foods. The idea that smell would get us out of bed and onto a bike is not far-fetched, whether we realize it or not.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
Aligning your goals with deeply held values produces better results—in your career and life.
- Self-concordant individuals set goals in alignment with their beliefs and values, according to new research.
- Internal motivations score higher than external influences, such as money or fear of shame.
- Mindful individuals achieve more satisfaction, as their goals align with their authentic selves.
The practice of mindfulness involves the development of nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. While derived from Buddhist meditation practices, it became an important tool for clinical psychiatrists in the 1970s as a means for treating numerous psychological conditions, including depression, excess stress, and addiction.
Mindfulness has since gained mainstream attention. The discipline is now marketed for training productive workers and reducing anxiety at work and in daily life. Reams of research on the effects of mindfulness have been produced in the last few decades, noting a number of positive effects on a variety of psychiatric disorders.
Mindfulness is a holistic practice. The general idea is observing physical sensations and psychological experiences—desires, emotions, feelings, thoughts. Given that a feeling is both a physical sensation and a thought process, the goal is to integrate body and mind in a heightened sense of awareness. That is, to understand that body and mind are not separate, and to learn to use all sensations in your somatic toolkit.
A recent study, published in Journal of Research in Personality, suggests that "mindful" people have an important trait: they set better goals. That is, they set the right goals for themselves.
The researchers, from three Canadian universities (Carleton, University of Toronto, and McGill), wanted to know if mindfulness plays a role in achieving your goals. As the team writes,
"The purpose of the present research was to investigate whether trait mindfulness is positively associated with self-concordant goal setting, and in turn greater goal progress."
Goal Setting Is a Hamster Wheel. Learn to Set Systems Instead. | Adam Alter | Big Think
Self-concordance is a measure of how closely aligned your goals are with your personal values, as compared to goals that are set by internal or external pressures. In terms of goal-setting, self-concordance implies that your goals are made due to intrinsic motivation, whether because they're meaningful or because they represent your values.
Non-concordant goals are generally pursued for external factors, such as money, or due to societal pressure, like the fear of being shamed. Since mindfulness practitioners tend to exhibit high levels of self-awareness, the researchers theorized such individuals would be better at setting—and achieving—their goals.
Nearly 800 undergraduates were recruited for a short survey. Each volunteer wrote down three personal goals for the coming week. They were then asked to rate each of the following questions on a seven-point scale:
- Because somebody else wants you to, or because you'll get something from someone if you do
- Because you would feel ashamed if you didn't – you feel that you should try to accomplish this goal
- Because you really believe it is an important goal to have
- Because of the fun and enjoyment which the goal will provide you—the primary reason is simply your interest in the experience itself
- Because it represents who you are and reflects what you value most in life
Credit: Wirestock / Adobe Stock
The first two reasons on that list are considered non-concordant, while the latter three are more likely to be ranked higher by mindful individuals. To judge that, each student filled out a 15-item Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale. The general thrust of the questionnaire is to discover how present an individual is when performing their daily tasks.
As hypothesized, students that scored higher ranked the latter motivations higher. The researchers believe self-awareness helps individuals decide "which goals are self-appropriate." Maintaining goals that are realistic with your values, beliefs, and life circumstances make them not only easier to achieve, but will also be aligned with what matters most to you.
As the researchers phrase it,
"By habitually paying attention to their thoughts, feelings, sensations, and emotions, mindful individuals may develop a greater ability to recognize goals that are congruent with their authentic selves."
By setting attainable goals—also, perhaps unsurprisingly, an indicator of Flow States—mindful individuals score higher on self-esteem measures as well. Instead of dreaming of the impossible and being continually frustrated by disappointment, mindfulness teaches boundaries that you can work within.
Don't think of boundaries as a limitation. Mindful individuals treat them as a source of strength, as the practice of mindfulness helps you achieve goals in alignment with your authentic self. When looked at it from this perspective, the pursuit of other goals appears not only futile but emotionally and mentally damaging.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."