Upgrade Your Operating System: Building A Better Understanding of Psychology

Whenever I work with a company or talk to people in the business world, I’m always asked for a model or a set of scientific formulas that can “solve” behavior problems for them. While there are models of human behavior, habit formation, and cognition that can give us insight into our nature, any model is by definition a simplification of the world as it actually exists. Models are also a concretization of our understanding at a single moment in time. Every single day, there is research that adds to and updates our understanding of how the mind works. While these findings might feed back into existing models, they usually sit outside of the canonical explanations taught in textbooks and popular sciences books for some time.


But we’re in love with simple and tidy explanations for complex phenomena. We love it when Malcolm Gladwell tells us about conscious and unconscious thinking or Daniel Kahneman paints a picture of the mind in all its contradictions and quirks. We love how much of our daily experience can be explained by these simple frameworks. 

This is great for the popularization of science and for understanding how our mental processes break down and fail us. But it would be folly to take any single model as the sole basis for one’s business, marketing, or life decisions. A model can be an enlightening framework but does not - and cannot - fully encompass the mind's complexity.

This is why, if you’re serious about making the best business and life decisions you can, you should make it a priority to study the behavioral sciences continuously and thoroughly throughout your life. You need to consistently update and refactor the perspectives they offer to protect yourself against outdated models that offer more error than clarification.

In other words, you need to undo the faulty models that you carry with you through life, starting right now. Each of us has had an immense amount of folk psychology passed down to us through our culture, our parents, and our education. While many of these ideas may be consistent with current research, most of them are not.

For example, most people think that we act according to our "beliefs". However, study after study has shown that we make our decisions based on a variety of factors, such as ease and placement, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations for the choices we make. In other words, we don’t always buy something because we like it; we also like something because we buy it. We might think we purchase Snickers bars because we think they’re tasty. In reality, though, Snickers might be the only thing available at eye-level at the of the grocery store checkout. But when asked, we claim we were just craving a caramel and chocolate combination. We’re very good at this sort of storytelling.

So many of us are filled with these sorts of misconceptions. But we can’t help it. Cutting-edge behavioral science is not a central component of our education. Instead, we need to take the initiative to build and rebuild our understanding of human cognition and behavior by reviewing the latest research as it arises. The beautiful thing about this incremental approach is that it will change the way we think about our problems, our friends, and our lives as they evolve. It’s like upgrading your operating system to more closely match reality. It’s one of the most important things we can do, and the only surefire way to accurately apply psychology to our lives.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Orangutans exhibit awareness of the past

Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club

(Eugene Sim/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
  • It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
  • This ability may come from a common ancestor
Keep reading Show less

China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Keep reading Show less

Understand your own mind and goals via bullet journaling

Journaling can help you materialize your ambitions.

Videos
  • Organizing your thoughts can help you plan and achieve goals that might otherwise seen unobtainable.
  • The Bullet Journal method, in particular, can reduce clutter in your life by helping you visualize your future.
  • One way to view your journal might be less of a narrative and more of a timeline of decisions.
Keep reading Show less