Stuck in an awkwardness vortex? Here’s how to embrace the cringe
Why is it awkward to listen to a recording of your own voice? What makes us cringe? A deep study of awkwardness has the answers.
Melissa Dahl: Most of the time it’s like we kind of have social scripts to follow; you come in here, you say hello, and then if something goes out of the ordinary it shakes us up and makes us feel uncertain. And there is a long stretch of scientific literature on this dating back to the 1960s.
There’s this classic study where they shocked people with these little electric shocks and they asked people if they preferred shocks when they knew they were coming or if they preferred shocks that just came out of nowhere, and people would rather know when the little painful shock was coming.
Which seemed interesting to me because you would think that the expectation might make it worse, but we like predictability, I guess. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s interesting that sometimes we call awkwardness painful or excruciating—it adds an interesting layer to that.
So a big part of my “cringe theory”—that's kind of what I’m calling it—is that there is a difference—we don’t like to pay attention to it very much, or I don’t—but there is a difference often between the way that you see yourself and the way that you think you are presenting yourself to the world, and the way that the rest of the world is perceiving you.
And something that really helped unlock this for me was the idea—it’s almost like a clichéd thing—that people hate the sound of their own voices or people don’t like looking at recordings of themselves. In particular, the thing about people hating the sound of their own voices is a great example of this because your voice really does sound different to you than the way everyone else is hearing you.
So when we hear somebody talk you’re kind of hearing somebody else through the air, but when I’m hearing myself talk I’m hearing myself through the air and through the bones of my own skull, which actually transmit the sounds differently and makes my voice sound lower than it actually is.
So it’s a really common complaint, people are like—they listen to their own voices and they’re like, “Oh my gosh it’s so much higher than I thought it was!” That’s always what I think about when I hear my own voice played back.
And I think that this is a central part of my theory about what makes us cringe is when the 'you' you think you’re presenting to the world clashes with the 'you' the world is actually seeing, and that makes us uncomfortable because we like to think that we’re coming off in a certain way and it’s just like, “Oh no, that’s what you think of me? That’s how you see me?” And I think that’s never going to go away. There’s always going to be—there’s this psychologist Philippe Rochat at Emory University who has a name for this, he calls this the “irreconcilable gap”. And so he really thinks this, it’s even in the name—it’s never going to go away, there’s always going to be this gap between the way you perceive yourself and the way others perceive you. And I think that’s at the heart of what we call awkward moments or awkwardness—kind of that uncomfortable feeling that you’re cringing at yourself or at somebody else.
It takes a while but you can start to train yourself to think of that as a useful piece of information. If you try to negotiate a raise or negotiate a promotion at work or something, it makes us uncomfortable when your boss is like, “Oh actually I see you in this light.” It’s not something we want to hear.
Or if you say something and someone takes it as an insult, and you didn’t mean it that way but the other person took it that way and that makes you feel awkward or makes you feel self-conscious or cringe at yourself, you could just tell yourself that the other person’s perception of you doesn’t matter, it’s not true, you know you, and that’s it. But I’ve started to think that it’s useful sometimes to take the other person’s point of view into mind.
They’re not always right; it would be insane to suggest that other people know you better than you know yourself, but one way I’ve figured out of how to deal with this emotion a little better is to start thinking of it as useful information like, “maybe this is a way to start tiptoeing towards becoming this person that I see myself as, this person that I wish I was.”
The nerdy definition of humor is an upended expectation, and that’s what so many of these awkward embarrassing moments are—you thought something was going to go this way, you thought you were coming across this way, and oops no, this other thing happened, this other person sees you in a totally different light.
And I think if you could start to think of these moments as a little bit funny it helps, too, and maybe to eventually turn it into a story you can tell somebody else.
I have two thoughts about awkward-embracers. I mean I came across a lot of them and kind of made myself do some awkwardness-embracing for the book too. But the one that comes to mind is there’s this guy, Stefan Hofmann, he’s a therapist in Boston and he runs the social anxiety clinic and people who have social anxiety feel awkwardness to the extreme, they’re very self-conscious and it really prevents them from living and from a lot of opportunities and a lot of happiness. And so his whole therapy is designed around making people experience awkwardness, like having people dream up: 'What would be the most embarrassing thing I can think of to do?' and then he’s like, “Great, okay—now go do that.”
And so he’s had people do things like go into a bookstore and ask a clerk, “Excuse me, I’m looking for books about farting.” Or he’s had people go up to tables at a restaurant—like at a nice restaurant—and say, “Excuse me, I am working on my maid of honor speech. May I practice it for you?” Just these horrible, horrible things.
And the point is to kind of put them through their worst social nightmares and then have them come out the other side and be like “Oh, I survived. People looked at me weird but I survived.” And a lot of times it wasn’t as bad as they thought it was. I think because his whole thing is framing this with humor too—he really wants people to take themselves less seriously, which is, again, just a lesson I’m constantly having to learn, not to take myself so seriously.
And then the other monthly ritual in putting yourself in an awkward situation is this thing I came across called Mortified, which is this stage show. It’s all across the country, all across the world, where people get up onstage and read from their teenage journals. When I first came across this, I was like, “Why?! Why would anyone do that?!” And then I did it. A lot of things in the book I almost did just as a stunt like, oh I’ll do this now and it will be funny. And almost every time I was surprised by how much I got out of it.
Like getting up onstage and reading from my middle school journal, it’s—in a weird way you would think that getting up there and reading some of the most embarrassing things you’ve ever thought would end up making you feel really alone and really isolated and really stupid, but it ended up making me feel really weirdly connected to everyone else who has been in the show and everybody in the audience. It’s a comedy show, and so it’s done out of compassion, but it’s also really funny. And when you get to a line where you read something that you wrote as a really angsty 12 year old and it makes everyone laugh it feels really good, because a lot of times people laugh because they recognize themselves in you. And so if they’re recognizing themselves in you then you’re not alone—your embarrassing things, they don’t have to isolate you. I ended up getting, out of this whole awkwardness deep study, this common humanity vibe I was not expecting.
Why is it awkward to listen to a recording of your own voice? What makes us cringe? For the last few years, Melissa Dahl, co-founder of NYMag.com's popular social science site Science of Us, has been digging for answers. The culmination of her research is 'cringe theory'—a psychological explanation of why we find awkward moments so painful. A central part of that theory is what psychologist Philippe Rochat at Emory University calls the irreconcilable gap. Dahl explains: "What makes us cringe is when the 'you' you think you’re presenting to the world clashes with the 'you' the world is actually seeing, and that makes us uncomfortable because we like to think that we’re coming off in a certain way." Are you not as suave as you thought? Did your voice just pop? Did you just sit on a whoopee cushion—or worse still, was there no whoopee cushion? It shatters our sense of certainty about who we are, and what others think of us. These experiences may seem devastating, but Dahl says we can train ourselves to think of an awkward moment as a piece of useful information that can help us better understand ourselves, and see the funny side of our bruised egos. Here, she explains how she challenged herself to get on stage and live out one of her social nightmares, and how she came out the other end more confident and connected to other people than before. Melissa Dahl's new book is Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness.
But most city dwellers weren't seeing the science — they were seeing something out of Blade Runner.
On Sept. 9, many West Coast residents looked out their windows and witnessed a post-apocalyptic landscape: silhouetted cars, buildings and people bathed in an overpowering orange light that looked like a jacked-up sunset.
India finishes last of 60 countries in environment and sustainability, as ranked by the expats who work there.
- How 'green' is life in your work country?
- That's the question InterNations asked its network of expats.
- The United States ended 30th out of 60 countries.
Nordics on top<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2NjgyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTczNzkyOX0.VgfqyjAa9avw6gFOE0qlgSgKuBN7DJmzOc5lzFGLm8g/img.jpg?width=980" id="1f0dc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b27458cf472d26cf1f87cb91623a0621" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Evo Hiking Area, H\u00e4meenlinna, Finland." />
Evo Hiking Area in Hämeenlinna, Finland. Great nature, clean air, clean water? Check, check and check.
Credit: Kanta-Hämeen kuvapankki on Flickr/ Public Domain.<p><br><strong>1. Finland</strong></p><p>The Nordic country scores at or near the top in all categories surveyed, including the quality of the natural environment (say 96 percent of expats in Finland), water and sanitation (96 percent) and air (95 percent). <br></p><p><strong>2. Sweden</strong></p><p>Swedes lead the world in environmental awareness (84 percent versus just 48 percent globally). Perhaps not surprising, for the homeland of <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/greta-effect" target="_blank">Greta Thunberg</a>. This is reflected by government policy. Sweden currently gets more than 50 percent of its power from renewable sources and wants to go 100% renewable before 2040. "I've been here for over 20 years and I clearly see the benefits of my taxes paid coming back to me and the rest of society," says one American expat.<br></p><p><strong>3. Norway</strong></p><p>"The beautiful nature, the clean air and tap water, and the focus on the environment," are what one Ukrainian expat enjoys most about Norway. With 76 percent of expats happy with the availability of green goods and services, Norway's 'weakest' category is still 13 percentage points above the global average. <br></p><p><strong>4. Austria</strong></p><p>The first non-Nordic in the global ranking, Austria places in the Top 10 for each category and comes in first for the availability of green goods and services (90 percent). <br></p><p><strong>5. Switzerland</strong></p><p>Swiss nature is the most appreciated in the world (98 percent versus 83 percent on average). Switzerland also gets stellar results for air and water quality and the availability of green energy and green goods and services. </p><p><strong>6. Denmark</strong></p><p>Danes are very much into green causes, as is their government, say 83 percent resp. 84 percent of expats. "Organic food is readily available, and they are good with recycling," observes a South African expat. And they love cycling: 9 out of 10 Danes own a bike.</p><p><strong>7. New Zealand</strong></p><p>85 percent of expats agree that the New Zealand government takes green issues seriously. In fact, New Zealand plans to use 90 percent electricity from renewables by 2025. The country also scores high on the quality of its natural environment and all other categories – albeit slightly less on the quality of its water and sanitation.</p><p><strong>8. Germany</strong></p><p>"I enjoy the rising awareness about environmental issues and the alternatives the government and society are developing," says one Colombian expat. Indeed, 80 percent of expats agree the German government is pro-environment (versus 55 percent globally). <br></p><p><strong>9. Canada</strong></p><p>The only North American destination in the Top 10, thanks especially to expat appreciation of Canada's natural environment (96 percent), but also the quality of its water and sanitation (90 percet) and the availability of green goods and services (80 percent). <br></p><p><strong>10. Luxembourg</strong></p><p>"Access to nature for hiking and bicycling" is a definite boon for one American expat. In fact, the country's natural environment, although ranking 13th out of 60, is its lowest-rated subcategory. Luxembourg does even better when it comes to green energy, waste management, and the quality of its air and water.</p>
Taiwan, most sustainable destination in Asia<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2Njg1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NzkxMDAxNH0.Roy7h_Od1cmaqBmamk-DP4rKMpLjTM-qIajG96alZAg/img.jpg?width=980" id="00799" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dab52370e1edb5da5ebb0f5631027b1c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bEternal Spring Shrine in the Taroko Gorge, Hualien County, Taiwan." />
Eternal Spring Shrine in the Taroko Gorge, Hualien County. Outside of Taipei, Taiwan can be surprisingly green and beautiful.
Credit: Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0<p><strong>11. Taiwan</strong></p><p>The highest-scoring expat destination in Asia, Taiwan boasts 92 percent approval of its waste management and recycling, and 80 percent of the availability of green goods and services. But "the air pollution (in Taipei) is getting worse because it is too crowded," one expat complains.</p><p><strong>12. Netherlands</strong></p><p>Green goods and services are widely available, agree 82 percen of expats, as is green energy. However, 13 percent rate the Dutch environment negatively, 4 percet above the global average. <br></p><p><strong>13. Portugal</strong></p><p>Well ahead of its neighbor Spain (#20), the country scores high for air quality (91 percent) and natural environment (95 percent). "I like the opportunity for gardening and growing our own food," says one expat. <br></p><p><strong>14. Estonia</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Estonia scores in the Top 20 for every category and gets its highest marks for its natural environment. "A beautiful country with excellent air quality and open spaces," praises an Indian expat.<br></p><p><strong>15. Costa Rica</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Both the government and the people are very supportive of green policies, find 82 percent, resp. 67 percent of expats. "It's easy to live a healthy lifestyle with regard to the food, climate, clean air and water," says one. Costa Rica won the 2019 UN Champion of the Earth award and has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050.<br></p><p><strong>16. Czechia</strong></p><p><strong></strong>"The beauty of the environment" is one of the best things about living in Czechia, says a Russian expat. No less than 97 percent of expats agree.<br></p><p><strong>17. France</strong></p><p><strong></strong>77 percent of expats are happy about the availability of green goods and services in France, which is 14 percentage points above average. The country also scores well for waste management and recycling. In short, France has a "good, green and clean environment," one Iranian expat finds. <strong><br></strong></p><p><strong>18. Australia</strong></p><p><strong></strong>While ranking high on the quality of its nature, water and air, Australia scores low when it comes to government support for green issues (51 percent). Fortunately, expats see more interest among the general population (68 percent). </p><p><strong>19. Singapore</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Expats rate the government's interest in green issues higher than globally average (77 percent versus 55 percent), but the Singaporean public's engagement for the same less than average (40 percent versus 48 percent). Of course, in a small, crowded place like Singapore, "(nature) spots are limited."<br></p><p><strong>20. Spain</strong></p><p>Spain's "scenery, diversity of places to visit and healthier environment" are what rate highly with one British expat. Its weak point is governmental and public support for green issues – but still slightly above the global average. <br></p>
London is "polluted and noisy"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2Njg4Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDg3NjkyOH0.3ySSD7jFBfAWA07u-EN-oL9x9cq9FZn06iz5aV0hEOw/img.jpg?width=980" id="f5630" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="80c9fa119e7ff3acc91e027b7529bfed" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bEven at 2:30pm, London gets clogged." />
Afternoon traffic jam in London.
World map for the 'sustainable expat'<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2Njg5MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzAyNjQ2MH0.hjRiMDmOSnn9EvKJtx_tlzql3Gf7ph8lt8bL6dPCft4/img.png?width=980" id="def5d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="149be2f5a19cc625cb555d8078f62ce2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="The best & worst destiations for the sustainable expat" />
Sixty expat destinations ranked for sustainability, from best (orange) to worst (light blue). In between: fairly okay (brown), middling (grey) and not that great (dark blue).
South Korea's "rather horrible" air<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2NjkxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MTY1MjIwNn0.2e6eBIc38sAZLFQGKw4UL3-SY3hA9NthX0Uj9L4ibZA/img.jpg?width=980" id="c10db" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cba918e6e5455c2e5ff4f9d5caf54775" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bSmoggy Seoul" />
Seoul's air quality is so bad you can picture it. Only India's air is perceived as worse than South Korea's, according to the expat survey.
Bad, worse, India<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2Njk0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTcyMTczMH0.Pt2bGDrpSKSwVjimMK_iK0Jejpu8ILn77VEzHTdzQQ4/img.jpg?width=980" id="28411" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8b8b602261a168a46b05c53e09ab1b02" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="man standing surrounded by garbage" />
India scores worst in all three categories, but to be fair – some of its problems were imported from more developed countries.
Famous physicists like Richard Feynman think 137 holds the answers to the Universe.
- The fine structure constant has mystified scientists since the 1800s.
- The number 1/137 might hold the clues to the Grand Unified Theory.
- Relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics are unified by the number.
A study finds 1.8 billion trees and shrubs in the Sahara desert.
- AI analysis of satellite images sees trees and shrubs where human eyes can't.
- At the western edge of the Sahara is more significant vegetation than previously suspected.
- Machine learning trained to recognize trees completed the detailed study in hours.
Why this matters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTkyODg5NX0.O3S2DRTyAxh-JZqxGKj9KkC6ndZAloEh4hKhpcyeFDQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="3770d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3c27b79d4c0600fb6ebb82e650cabec0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Area in which trees were located
Credit: University of Copenhagen<p>As important as trees are in fighting climate change, scientists need to know what trees there are, and where, and the study's finding represents a significant addition to the global tree inventory.</p><p>The vegetation Brandt and his colleagues have identified is in the Western Sahara, a region of about 1.3 million square kilometers that includes the desert, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahel" target="_blank">the Sahel</a>, and the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/subhumid-zones" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sub-humid zones</a> of West Africa.</p><p>These trees and shrubs have been left out of previous tabulations of carbon-processing worldwide forests. Says Brandt, "Trees outside of forested areas are usually not included in climate models, and we know very little about their carbon stocks. They are basically a white spot on maps and an unknown component in the global carbon cycle."</p><p>In addition to being valuable climate-change information, the research can help facilitate strategic development of the region in which the vegetation grows due to a greater understanding of local ecosystems.</p>
Trained for trees<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTk5NTI3NH0.fR-n1I2DHBIRPLvXv4g0PVM8ciZwSLWorBUUw2wc-Vk/img.jpg?width=980" id="e02c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79955b13661dca8b6e19007935129af1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Martin Brandt/University of Copenhagen<p>There's been an assumption that there's hardly enough vegetation outside of forested areas to be worth counting in areas such as this one. As a result the study represents the first time a significant number of trees — likely in the hundreds of millions when shrubs are subtracted from the overall figure — have been catalogued in the drylands region.</p><p>Members of the university's Department of Computer Science trained a machine-learning module to recognize trees by feeding it thousands of pictures of them. This training left the AI be capable of spotting trees in the tiny details of satellite images supplied by NASA. The task took the AI just hours — it would take a human years to perform an equivalent analysis.</p><p>"This technology has enormous potential when it comes to documenting changes on a global scale and ultimately, in contributing towards global climate goals," says co-author Christian Igel. "It is a motivation for us to develop this type of beneficial artificial intelligence."</p><p>"Indeed," says Brandt says, "I think it marks the beginning of a new scientific era."</p>