Intelligence and morality

Many of us admire and are influenced by smart people. I know that I hold people I see as “smart” in high regard. Unfortunately, there’s no correlation between intelligence and morality. Sociopaths offer one example of this truth, as one of their most common traits is intelligence – they just use it to selfishly manipulate to get what they want, without regard for how it affects others.

Intelligence is a respectable attribute, and it’s a worthy cause to try to get smarter. Just don’t assume that virtues come along for the ride. The only thing intelligence and integrity have in common is the number of syllables.

Sharpening the skill of clear communication

What is the goal of communication? A seemingly tricky question with a remarkably simple answer: shared understanding. That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re conveying something true or false, caring or cruel. The goal is that both parties understand what is being communicated.

One way to sharpen this skill is by examining the speech of people who are extremely articulate in expressing their ideas on complex topics (whether or not you agree with the content). Studying this shows that it’s more of an art than a science – it’s not always a matter of knowing more, but instead about using the most precise words that reflect your intent.

Insanely practical way to reduce stress

What if I told you that just describing how you’re feeling can help you feel better? That’s exactly what neuroscience confirms. fMRI scans showed brain activity/response to various positive or negative feelings evoked by images. When the volunteers were asked to describe what they were feeling, the emotional part of their brains (the amygdala) immediately quieted.

In plain English, that means that simply saying “I feel annoyed” makes us feel measurably less annoyed. The Buddhists use the term “noting”, to describe this phenomenon. Of course, it won’t make a problem go away. But much more important than the problem itself is our reaction.

If a simple inner dialogue can reduce your stress, why not give it a try? (Note: this is why it’s important that we teach children how to properly articulate their feelings. This stress-reduction hack works with humans of all ages.)

Are you someone that can learn from mistakes?

Having a victim mentality makes it unlikely you’ll be able to learn from mistakes. Victims seek (and find) all the ways in which they’ve been preyed upon rather than pursuing ways to avoid similar outcomes or circumstances in the future.

One question helps expose whether you are capable of learning from mistakes: How often do you feel you have been wronged, versus how often you have been wrong.

As the old adage goes, when the student is ready the teacher appears. And willing students are the only ones capable of learning.

Intentions matters, but…

Of course intent matters. There’s a massive difference between being intentionally insulting and accidentally offending someone. But…

Even with the best of intentions, it’s possible to be loved and not feel loved. To be supported and not feel supported. So while positive intent (or ignorance) should get us off the hook, if we care, we learn to communicate our intent better. In ways that others hear us.

Your total diet

We tend to think of our diet in the context of the food we consume. But our overall health is affected by what we “ingest” with all our senses.

Consider your diet in terms of not just what you eat and drink, but how and what news you consume, whom you spend time with, what you choose to read, and everything else that you consume via any of your senses.

The first step to being healthier is to eliminate “junk.”

How reading a Google study helped me lose body fat

I read about a study at Google showing that office snacks in a shared work area saw a 40% decrease in the amount taken when jars had lids on them. That means that the extra “work” of taking the lid off a jar made those M&Ms 40% less desirable.

We can laugh at the ridiculousness of these psychological and cognitive tendencies, and we can put that knowledge to good use. When I learned this, I immediately made the rule that no junk food is allowed in my house. That doesn’t mean I never eat it, it just means I have to want it that much more because the “lid on the jar” involves the hassle of going somewhere to get my fix. This happens far less.

Interesting facts like this might make you a hit playing Trivial Pursuit. But I prefer to make them actionable by asking: how can I use this?

Track the things you care about

Each software tool comes with reports that summarize or detail my use. How much time did I spend today on each specific app? How many LinkedIn messages did I send last week?

If any of this is worth knowing, it’s only because I will take some action as a result. Most metrics are merely distractions that encourage you to take actions that benefit them (the makers of the software) not you.

If my toolbox started sending me weekly reports on my hammer usage it would be a ridiculous waste. I’ll use that tool when I need to. Just because something is easy to measure doesn’t mean it’s worth paying attention to.

Getting past overwhelm

Stress increases in proportion to how out of control we feel. How much influence does it seem we have in changing our circumstances, environment, and a general feeling of satisfaction? Sometimes it’s overwhelming just to consider what steps to take to stop feeling overwhelmed.

One thought exercise is to picture your life and relationship to stress/overwhelm at some point in the future, and ask: what one thing can I change, start, or stop doing so that future me is in better control?     

You won’t have all the answers to this question, but there’s no reason not to start with just one.