Why We Erroneously Judge Others and How to Stop

It’s funny how our own judgmental attitudes can catch us unawares.

I was recently hosting a meal in my apartment for a large group of both friends and strangers (a common mix when everyone you invite asks to bring a guest). I had spent all day cooking various types of fish and meat and devising several interesting cocktails to serve. At meal time, when I had just finished bringing out all of the food and drink (including a pitcher of water for those folk not tempted by the stronger beverages), one of the new guests—let’s call him Joe—came over to me in the kitchen.

“Excuse me,” Joe said. “Do you have any soda?”

My initial reaction? Disgust. Judgement.

Why would someone ask for soda? Doesn’t he know how unhealthy that stuff is? And he just supposed that I would have some?

Stop. Pause. Think.

Why am I experiencing these feelings?

Possible options:

  1. In recent years I have been extremely focused on health and nutrition. I view soda as one mankind’s all-time worst inventions and one of the leading causes of health problems in this country.
    1. His desire for it still has no impact on me. Why should it affect my emotional state?
    2. I view the world through my own lens. If I have trained myself to be disgusted by it then I am disgusted by anyone else wanting it.
  2. I was affected by his presumption about me. Why would he think I had soda? Me, who has self -defined as someone who doesn’t drink it? Shouldn’t this person who I just met realize that??
  3. I had worked really hard to prepare a fancy meal, drinks included. Was everything that I made so inadequate that he needed to request something so low-class?

Examining all of these explanations, I realize that the truth is really a combination of all of them.

Here’s why I am a hypocrite.

  1. I did have soda in my fridge. Why? Because I needed it for one of my cocktails. Which means there was in fact some soda out on the table.
  2. Not only was I serving soda, I was serving alcohol. Which, even though I drink it (the complete reasons for which will be left for another post), I acknowledge is not healthy.

How could I have had such a negative, judgmental reaction to his desire for soda when my own beverage choices for the night were arguably worse?

The Problem

It is impossible to be perfectly rational.

Much as some of us would like to make that claim (myself being the first offender), there just isn’t time to stop and think about every situation we encounter in a proper analytical manner. Instead we rely on complex mental models that we build up that are capable or recognizing a given situation, comparing it to the existing model, and instantly spitting out a best-fit answer.

Examples of common types of model-solution situations are “I am a Republican, therefore I will not vote for that Democrat, even though I haven’t closely examined his entire platform and personality in such a manner as to be able to make a well-informed decision.” Or, “I am a strong, independent person—I will instantly reject offers for help even in situations where that help is needed.”

Digging us still deeper into this trench of self-misdirection is our tendency to project our own mental models on others. Rather than make a conscious effort to see a situation from their point of view, we consistently default to thinking “I would never do such a thing, so how could they?”

This is the trap that I fell into.

I have a mental model of myself as a healthy person. Even though that model comes with certain caveats (e.g. drinking alcohol, occasional eating baked goods, etc.), it also comes with certain hard and fast rules. These include avoiding hydrogenated fats like the plague and never drinking plain soda. When I saw Joe breaking one of the rules that I had set for myself, I became angry.

But what if this Joe was also a very healthy person? Maybe during the week he eats even healthier than I do, but one of his personal exceptions is that he allows himself a single glass of soda on Friday nights.

Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. But why should it matter to me?

The Solution

I don’t believe that it is possible to fully eliminate this type of unconscious judgement from our psyches. We can, however, learn to reign it in and mitigate its effect on our thoughts and behavior.

For a while now I have been working to instill in myself the following habit:

Cue: Any time I experience a negative emotion targeted at someone else.

Routine: Stop. Pause. Think. Why am I experiencing this emotion? Which of my own mental models could I be projecting? Could there be any situation at all that I can think of where if I knew his perspective then I would no longer be upset? If so, assume as the default that that situation is the current one.

Reward: Eliminating negative emotions leads to reduced stress and increased happiness.

TL;DR — Someone asked me for soda. I got mad. Realized I was being a hypocrite. Resolved to eliminate that type of thinking. Gave him soda. Went and drank a cocktail.


5 Weird Things I Do in the Shower: A Masochist’s Guide to Productivity

Ah, the shower. So pleasurable. So relaxing.

So inefficient.

I hate just standing around doing nothing, even when it feels good. To combat this, over the years I have come up with a slew of options for making my shower time productive. Some are fairly simple, others may seem a bit odd to most normal folk out there. But what is “normal” really?

1. Calf Raises

The calves are oft-overlooked muscles when it comes to many workout regimens. But what they lack in glamour they make up for in utility; calves are important for ankle stabilization, generating power for many lifts, and even adding some inches on your vertical jump.

What better time to exercise them than when you’re just standing around doing nothing?

Standing calf-raises are quite simple: stand on one foot, clench all the muscles in your supporting leg to provide proper stability, and start lifting up onto the ball of your foot in a controlled motion. If you really want to work on your ankle stability you can do these without holding onto the wall, but be careful—falling down in the shower rarely ends well (I of course have absolutely no reason to know this from experience).

2. Stretching

There is never enough time in the day to do all the stretching that I’d like to, so this ends up being by far my most common shower activity.

I typically only have time for the standing pike—bend forward, hinging at the hips, and try to touch the ground a few inches in front of your toes while keeping your back flat. I hold the position for 60 seconds, then sometimes throw in a bit of isometric stretching.

If anyone is interested in starting a proper stretching program, here is a great place to begin (at some point I may write about everything that I am currently doing).

3. Meditate

And now we get to the mental side of things.

“But wait!” you say. “My showers are already meditation! I get all relaxed and my mind just floats!”

That is opposite of meditation (of the mindfulness variety at least—I won’t speak for every variation).

The essence of meditation is the process of eliminating all thoughts of the future or past and just existing in the present, reveling in the simple sensations of the body. For most people, the shower is their time to either daydream or just to think.

Thinking bad. Feeling good. Existing.

For those more interested in how to meditate, Sam Harris has an excellent written primer and guided meditation. The Headspace app also has a great, free, 10-day intro course of guided 10-minute meditations.

Oh, and yes I do typically sit down when I meditate. Even in the shower. I find that it makes it easier to focus.

4. Visualizations

I usually reserve these for morning showers.

Research shows that focused visualizations can have a profound effect on your mind and body. This works even to the point of building muscle mass via simply going through a detailed workout in your mind. If this sounds absurd, try going through this 2-minute exercise:

This same principle can be applied to almost any aspect of life. When I want to have a really successful day, if I spend several minutes envisioning in detail what that would entail, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

5. Power Pose

For those of you who are too lazy for the above four activities, here’s something nice and simple that takes only 2 minutes and might boost your testosterone by up to 20%: stand like Superman.

Put your hands on your hips, feet apart, thrust your chest forward, and stick out your jaw. Hold that pose.

Multiple studies have shown this to both increase testosterone and reduce cortisol (your primary stress hormone).

This can be combined with the visualizations for an even greater effect.

BONUS: Cold Showers

For those of you who were already thinking “Man, this guy’s showers seem like a lot of work. I just want to relax and enjoy myself!” this is probably the point where you completely abandon ship.

It’s been months since I’ve taken a hot shower.

I can go on at length about all the different forms of therapeutic cold exposure and their benefits, but to give a brief sampling, cold showers have been shown to:

  1. Increase alertness
  2. Refine hair and skin
  3. Improve immunity and circulation
  4. Stimulate weight loss
  5. Speed up muscle soreness and recovery
  6. Ease stress
  7. Relieve depression
  8. Boost testosterone

To work up to it, try taking a hot shower and then just ending it off with 30 seconds of cold. The colder the better.

Closing Oddities

I almost always use some combination of the above activities in my showers. When I don’t, I have been known to read books, hold long phone conversations, and even do handstands. I really do hate just standing around.

Pro tip: don’t do handstands in the shower.

Does anyone have any interesting ways they make use of their shower time?

The 8-Week Habit Challenge

I have the self-control of a tiger at a bunny convention.

I try to pretend otherwise, and in some instances manage to succeed, but the fact remains: I don’t spend nearly enough of my time and energy on the areas of my life that I deem important.

The time has come for a change. And I need your help.

Rather than try and magically increase my self-control, I will be trying to take willpower out of the picture entirely by instilling within myself a series of productive habits. Research has shown that the best way to successfully train a new habit is to use either external incentives (e.g. financial) or social accountability. I plan on using both.

Keystone Habits

There once was a fat man named Melvin. For years, Melvin had tried everything he could think of to lose weight. His friends watched as he cycled through fad diet after fad diet—vegetarian, pescetarian, Dukan, Atkins, Flintstones, Crazy Chicken—he would stick with one for a few weeks, lose a few pounds, get tired of it, and gain all the weight back. Every New Year’s he would sign up for a gym membership, always on the lookout for that extra perk that might successfully keep him coming back. But no matter how excellent the towel-service, by mid-February Melvin was nowhere to be seen.

One day Melvin decided to try something different: he would start keeping a food journal. Rather than specifically restricting what he ate, he would eat whatever he wanted but make sure to write it down. Each night, he would read over his food intake for the day.

Soon something magical began to happen: Melvin began to lose weight.

Instead of being restricted by some externally imposed, arbitrary set of rules, Melvin was now thinking for himself. Each time he was about to reach for a snack, or order that extra Diet Coke with his meal, he thought about having to write it down and was able to stop himself. The constant health-awareness even began to extend itself to his fitness activities. The small decisions like taking the stairs instead of the elevator began to add up.

For Melvin, this food journaling turned out to be what is known as a keystone habit. A single important habit from which a cascade of others easily follow. Identifying these types of habits is one of the most important parts of making major life changes.

My 3 stickK’ing Keystones

In my article about habit formation I mentioned two apps that I found to be quite useful: coach.me and stickK. The former is great for easy check-ins with large numbers of habits or for hiring a coach, and the latter allows for more social interaction via Referees and Supporters as well as the capability to add in a financial incentive. I have decided to use both—stickK for my keystone habits and coach.me for the rest.

Soon I’ll write a post talking about my overall self-improvement plan and all of the habits that will entail, but right now I want to limit the focus to three (hopefully) keystone habits:

  1. Meditate 10 minutes per day — I’ve been listening to The Tim Ferris Show for quite a while now, where he interviews the world’s top performers (CEO’s, pro athletes, best selling authors, etc). One of the most common similarities that these people have across the board is a regular meditation practice. Meditation is something that I’ve been doing off and on for a while now, but everything I’ve read about it states that after the first 10-15 days of constant practice there is a qualitative change that has far-reaching effects. I have yet to reach that point, but I plan on doing so by two weeks from today.
  2. Work 1 hour before noon — Once I’m in the groove, I can go on working for hours. It’s getting started that I have serious problems with. I know that a single hour doesn’t sound like much, but the point here is consistency + achievability. This habit is designed to get the ball rolling each day.
  3. Blog 3 times per week — And now we get to the whole point of this post: external culpability. I will be blogging primarily about my various adventures on the quest for self improvement, shorter pieces about things that I have learned and find fascinating, and occasionally some bits about my musings on life. By sharing it with all of you I hope to be able to both organize my thoughts better and to force myself to apply everything I learn to my daily life (and help you all do the same).

My Challenge to You

I have signed each of these habits up on stickK, complete with a $5/week penalty that gets donated to an anti-charity if I don’t check in. As of right now I have $200 on the line—the problem is that money by itself has never been much of a motivator for me.

Instead, I want motivation through social pressure and group-accountability.

Do you have some aspect of your life that you’ve been meaning to work on? Something you keep trying to change but haven’t quite managed to do so?

Now’s your chance.

Sign up for stickK.com, make at least one commitment (it’s best not to try too many at once), and add me as a friend. You can use the above three links to join as a supporter for my habits, and I will do the same for yours. If you want I can even be your referee. To increase your number of supporters, comment on this post with your username / link and everyone else can join you as well.

Each week you will be required to check in and report on your progress (or miss it and get fined).

Who’s with me?

Good Habits: Lumo Lifting Myself to Knighthood


Perfect posture breeds powerful performance

In Victorian England, babies were often swaddled at birth to keep their arms and legs perfectly straight and in line with the sides of their body. They were left this way for 3-4 months in the hopes that it would to a tall and straight carriage later in life.

When they were a bit older, girls at expensive finishing schools would be made to walk for several hours each day while strapped between two long mahogany boards, again with the goal of inducing perfect posture1.

Thankfully, parents and teachers have moved away from such extreme practices in favor of the simple admonitions: “Sit up straight!” and “Stop slouching!”. But was this change entirely to our benefit?

Medieval knights were lauded both then and now for their regal, upright bearing both on foot and on horse. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all carry ourselves in the same way without having to take such extreme measures to get there?

Exit: mahogany boards.

Enter: Lumo Lift.

Lumo Lift

This nifty little marvel of modern manufacture is like a little shoulder-devil whose sole purpose in life to yell at you every time you slouch.

Consisting of a sensor and a magnetic clip that you attach to the front of your shirt (the little silver or black square being the only outwardly visible portion), it vibrates any time your posture shifts towards slouching. It can be set to buzz immediately or with a specified delay / grace period, the default being two minutes.

As with all pieces of wearable technology these days, it syncs to an app that lets you track your posture on an hourly or daily basis. It can be programmed with set goals for each day and it will let you know whether or not you have achieved them.

I got my Lift yesterday and plan on making it a part of my daily wardrobe. Hopefully I will be able to report back in a week or two that I am well on my way to being deserving of knighthood.

But is it really worth the time and money? Is a bit of a slouch really so bad?

It turns out that this is one of those rare cases where modern science is in line with medieval intuition. The simple act of maintaining good posture has been shown to have far-reaching benefits mentally, physically, and socially.

Who we are is a product of how others see us and how we see ourselves. In both instances, the brain takes the cues from the body.

The Mental Benefits of Posture

One of the key researchers into the psychological effects of posture is Dr. Erik Peper from San Francisco State University.

In one study on sitting, he showed that sitting up straight made it easier to generate positive thoughts and memories in a whopping 92% of participants2.

In another study looking at walking habits, he had one group walk down a hallway with a slumped posture and another skip down it with an upright one. As compared to their initial baseline, the slumped group reported decreased energy levels after the walk whereas the skipping group reported increased ones3.

In a third study where a participant was anxious and crying, he demonstrated how simply causing them to look upwards decreased the crying and looking downwards amplified it4.

Branching out to some different researchers, Dana Carney and Andy Yap from Columbia University and Amy Cuddy from Harvard University studied the differences between wide, expansive postures and narrow, constrictive ones. They gave a group of participants $2 and told them that they could either keep it or roll a die for a 50/50 chance at turning it into $4. Before beginning, they instructed one group to sit with expansive postures and the other to use constrictive ones. The group with the expansive postures reported feeling more confident and in control and were 45% more likely to take the risk and roll the die. Furthermore, they showed that the expansive group had elevated levels of testosterone and reduced levels of cortisol5.

The Physical Benefits of Posture

A 2011 study from Gallup-Healthways found that 31% of U.S. adults suffer from some sort of neck or back pain6.

Unlike for the psychological effects, conclusively linking static sitting posture to incidence of back pain is quite difficult. Mentally, we can show how posture leads to hormonal changes which lead to behavioral changes. These changes are immediate rather than gradual. But our bodies are capable of taking quite a beating before they start giving out. It is therefore impossible to simply put a group in a lab, have them sit poorly for a few hours, and show any sort of lasting back pain from said activity. Instead, researchers have to study people in their daily lives—no easy task—which leads to the second problem: accurately measuring long-term posture. Not everyone can have a Lift.

It is far easier to show the dangers of sitting vs standing or moving. One group of researchers from the University of South Carolina showed a 64% increase in risk of cardiovascular disease from too much sedentary activity7. Another from the National Institute of Public Health in Copenhagan showed that an inactive lifestyle can shave off seven years of your life8.

A comprehensive literature review in 1997 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) was unable to conclude a concrete link between static posture and lower back pain. This does not however show that it does not exist, as they themselves state “Few investigations examined effects of static work postures, and exposure characterizations were limited.” 9

When I began researching this topic I had expected to find a myriad of studies supporting the link between posture and bad back pain. While I was surprised to find that this was not the case, it does seem like that is more due to a lack of proper research than due to there being no link.

In 2014 NIOSH released a new document entitled “Observation-Based Posture Assessment, A Review of Current Practice and Recommendations for Improvement” which covered in detail the methods with which researchers should study posture in the future. This, combined with newer technological advancements such as seen with the Lumo Lift, should hopefully lead to some more effective research on the topic in the near future10.

The Social Benefits of Posture

Just as upright and expansive posture leads to feelings of confidence, so too does it invoke the image of confidence in onlookers. Since before we had language, before homo sapiens evolved from homo erectus and neanderthals, we have been interacting with each other based on body language11. It is hardwired into us to view those with an erect and confident bearing in a completely different light. It even makes us seem more attractive to the opposite gender12.

I could go on with this topic ad-nauseam, but I will save that for a more complete coverage of body language and its social ramifications (another hobby of mine) at a later date.

What is Good Posture?

Dr. Esther Gokhale from Stanford University has an interesting theory that posits that the bad posture of most modern Americans originates with how we were improperly seated as babies.

Slouched Baby and Slob

She may have a point.

But what is good posture?

A common misconception is that the spine should be straight. Instead, the spine should have three natural curves:

  1. Cervical – an inward curve at the neck
  2. Thoracic – an outward curve at the upper back
  3. Lumbar – an inward curve at the lower back

There are all sorts of techniques and exercises to try and develop and maintain good posture, but my favorite is that put forth by Kelly Starrett from Mobility WOD in his book Becoming a Supple Leopard.

Once you are braced, you can either walk around or sit down. The important thing is to maintain ~20% tension in your abs at all times, and if sitting to get up and repeat the bracing sequence every 10-15 minutes.

The full excerpt from the book discussing posture can be found here.

Finally, here are a couple of nice stretches to do that will help with sitting posture:

A Final Warning

Training yourself to improve your posture should help fight back pain in the long run. But be warned: in the short run you might find yourself in even more pain. You will be using muscles that are unaccustomed to such extended strain.

I started using my Lumo Lift this morning and four hours in my lower back was already quite sore. This lead to a noticeable drop-off in my posture. My hope is that as I train my body to maintain this sort of pose naturally my stats will go up and my pain levels will drop off quickly.

Lumo Lift Poster: Day 1
Lumo Lift Poster: Day 1

I plan on reporting back in a week’s time with some significant progress, but in the meantime I’d love to hear about anyone else’s Lift experiences.