Archive for June, 2012

Like many optimistic people with a little too much faith in themselves, I make New Year’s Resolutions. This year, for instance, I promised myself I would go to the gym, write that novel I’ve been planning for two years, and learn to play the piano. And I’m definitely going to keep them. Sure, since January, I’ve only gone to the gym about eight times, written thirty pages, and learned the beginning of Fur Elise on the keyboard, but there’s still plenty of time left. It’s only…wait a minute…is it really almost July? That can’t be right. Where did the time go?

Does walking up stairs count as exercise? Because I can probably round the number of gym trips to nine.

Time is a tricky thing. Although we mark the passing of dates on the calendar and hours on the clock, our perception of how much time has passed depends on our memory of the events in our lives. Our minds treat the passage of time as a series of experiences. We all have life goals we set for ourselves–learning a new instrument, finding a fulfilling relationship, finishing a special project. If we haven’t made any progress toward our goals, then it feels as if no time has passed since we we set them. When we actively try for the goals we want to achieve, time strolls briskly along; when our list of resolutions remains untouched, the interval of time stretches, waiting for us to do something that would fill it.

It doesn’t help that time seems to pass more quickly as we age. To a child, a year seems like a lifetime. Each day is filled with novel events that differentiate it from the rest of the year. As we get older, we start to perceive time as a percentage of the whole, making  a day seem like an hour and a year feel like a month in the grand view of our lives. Our days lack the new experiences and overt challenges that make each day seem separate from the last.

Last Thursday, Friday, and Monday.

But don’t feel too bad if you haven’t made progress on what you thought you would accomplish this year. According to our minds, next year should spring up in a couple of months from now, anyway.

We’re lucky to live in a time when technology has progressed so rapidly. Why, even the idea of a blog, the ability to post information online, at any time, almost anywhere, by anyone, would have been inconceivable to people only a few decades ago. All I have to do to research this week’s topic, for instance, is to run a quick Google search, easy, just as soon as my wireless kicks in, as soon as my computer unfreezes, as soon as the page loads, as soon as the internet reconnects again. Damn it, all I wanted to do was research a blog about tech rage! Load, damn you, you stupid bunch of plastic, load! Oh, there it goes.

The average reaction to computer problems.

People get pretty angry at technology. Tech rage refers to the intense frustration that springs up when a piece of technology isn’t working the way we want it to. One out of ten people have physically lashed out at their malfunctioning gadgets, hitting or kicking it, even throwing it across the room. The response is understandable; we rely on our technological equipment to get through most aspects of daily life. Need to research a company for a potential new job? Hop onto their website. Need to find your way to a friend’s house for dinner? Plug their address into your GPS. Need to lose ten pounds before your vacation? Turn on your MP3 player and start up the treadmill.

Low battery? I guess this jog is over.

To me, this frustration is not only understandable; it’s logical. Usually, that broken piece of technology was vital to the entire process we were trying to complete. When it breaks, the plan devolves into catastrophe. Sure, there are occasionally other ways to finish what needs to get done—call your manager on the phone, ask for directions to your friend’s home, go jogging around the block. But why would we expect to revert to the long form when the short form is almost always one quick fix away?

There are some methods to handle tech rage, including keeping a back up of your files, making an effort to stay calm when technology goes wrong, and focusing on the things you can accomplish while the problem is being resolved. Or you could try bashing the stupid gadget against your desk. Who knows? Maybe this time it will work.

How do you deal with your tech rage?

I’ll admit it, I’ve never understood the appeal of Greek Life. Brotherhood is nice, but after being forced to serve as a footstool for a week after spending your afternoons cleaning the floors with your own toothbrush, how much brotherly affection can you still hold for your new-found siblings? It turns out that the harsh process of pledging is one of the factors that create satisfaction with membership in a Greek family.

To be fair, I get my information on fraternities from 90s sitcoms.

It comes down to the need to justify our actions to ourselves. Human beings like to believe that we are rational creatures. We want to think that we perceive our situations realistically, but often, our realities are distorted by our need to believe that we have acted in an intelligent manner. And because we want to see ourselves as models of logical behavior, we can alter our impression of a situation after the fact to make it suit the level of effort we undertook to achieve it. The more work we put into something, the higher we perceive the value we gain from it.

This man probably loves his job.

This increased perception of value holds true for group membership. In a series of laboratory experiments, researchers simulated a chance for participants to join a discussion group. They received entrance into the group after going through an embarrassing or painful process, similar to hazing. The severity of the entrance process was manipulated so that some participants received a more unpleasant selection process than others. In the groups with the harsher entrance procedures, the appeal of the group was greater than with the participants who experienced the less embarrassing process, even though researchers made sure that the promised discussion was as boring as possible. The participants who rated their membership in the group as worthwhile were the participants who had put the most effort into attaining it.

I guess this means hard work really is its own reward. Your father was right all along.

We live in a world of choices. We decide whether to wake up, hit the snooze alarm, or fall back to sleep. We choose where to live, which college to attend, and in what field to begin our career. We decide who to marry, what to bring for lunch, and which gym membership offers the best deal on group classes. The decisions are endless, and the average person makes around 1,000 of them a day.

A quick trip to the grocery store reveals over forty brands of cereal, six types of red apples, and nine varieties of popcorn. By law, food products must provide information about their contents, the pros and cons of each serving, so that we can decide whether it’s more worthwhile to enjoy a packet of Butterscotch Krimpets or to satisfy our hunger with a helping of healthy trail mix.

The right decision.

But having the information at hand doesn’t mean that we’ll make informed decisions about the food we bring home, a reality explained in part by Decision Fatigue. Simply put, our brains have a limited amount of energy to devote to making decisions. After choice after choice after choice, the energy source is depleted. After a hectic day, we don’t have the energy or determination to decide if there is any meaningful difference between MacIntosh and Red Delicious.

Above: Two different products.

Decision Fatigue is particularly noticeable in choices requiring will-power and self-control. In one experiment, participants were given the option of eating chocolate chip cookies. Those people who successfully resisted eating the cookies were then more likely to give in later to the other temptations that researchers laid out for them. Making the decision to stick to your diet during the day means having less energy to devote to choosing healthy snacks at night.

The good news is that it’s possible to lessen the effects of decision fatigue by taking precautions against it. If you’re dieting, you might avoid temptation by planning meals in advance, carrying healthy snacks, and reworking your schedule to bypass your pet indulgences. If you’re just trying to eat healthy, it may help to make your shopping decisions early in the morning, before your energy pool is tapped out.

And if you’re craving something sweet, it may be safer to indulge in something small—otherwise, you may find yourself writing a blog about resisting temptation while eating three cups of lemon water ice. Whoever that may apply to.