First, you should know that we can measure happiness fairly directly simply by asking the right questions in a setting where someone is comfortable telling the truth. In a weird quirk of biology, we can’t always directly explain what made us happy or what will make us happy in the future, but we do a pretty good job of telling how we’re feeling right now.
But maybe we can do even better. Check this out: NPR reported on a scientific study that asked people to graphically depict where people feel emotions on their body.
Do you know why I’m excited about this? Because it’s possible that we can observe similar physiological changes that map to individual emotions. The Xbox One’s improved Kinect camera can read your heart rate and body temperature from across the room with a startling degree of accuracy. So maybe can teach infrared cameras to figure out if people are happy? If we could, we could make year-over-year or even quarter-over-quarter comparisons about how happy people in a city are. We can try to tie those to urban design or new policy implementations or any number of things. And that means we finally have the means to measure prosperity and wealth that is something other than how much money we have.
Urban analytics is a thing that needs to happen. I hope someone hires me to do it.
Dieting with the Mind in Mind
I’ve probably been watching food-based documentaries and reading evidence-based food blogs for years. It’s taken a long time to come to any strong conclusions, and in between I came to a lot of wrong ones. Perhaps in the coming years I’ll find that this conclusions is also wrong, but I’ve gathered enough evidence to sort the wheat from the chaff enough to do something about it.
But my conclusions about my diet are not the point - the point is that this sort of thing is really common in our culture. We do a little research and we find that the way we should eat is a lot different from the way we do eat. But how do you do that? How do you change a habit without going insane and your body and/or brain fighting you the whole way?
The key is smooth transitions, not abrupt, because we can usually mange to resist small internal pressures, but not big ones. (If your brain is fighting you about something, at some point you’re going to be powerless to resist it without outside intervention. Those parts of the brain pushing back are way older than your conscious brain and know how to manipulate it to get what they want.)
A lot of us, when we know we’re going to give something up or go without something for a long time, we tend to celebrate by overindulging on the eve of The New You. It seems like such a natural thing to do. But it’s a mistake, especially if the thing you’re trying to change is something that won’t come easily. You’re saturating yourself with a substance that you crave at a biological level (addiction, dependence… I’ll let the professionals sort out the murky waters that separate those terms) and then immediately cutting it off; in not too long you’re going to feel fucking awful. You might be able to ride the euphoria of commitment and self-achievement for a day or two, and if you’ve got a good support network and/or a weak biological need for said substance, you might push through and then relish your victory in the face of a difficult challenge.
But the saner way to go, the way that doesn’t stress you out (which, btw, is bad for you, too), is a gradual change. For instance, my goal is to reduce my dietary intake of simple carbohydrates to less than 5% of my calories over any given 7-day period. Probably as much as half does now. So I’m easing into it. Right now I have a deal with myself to only eat simple carbs after 5pm. Then, in a week, I’ll allow myself to eat them after noon every other day. Then after 5pm every other day. Until I’ve whittled it down to after 5pm every four days. And then once I get there, I’ll work on making sure that, when I do eat them, I’m not binging. For now, I’m not caring about that.
This slow descent is designed to combat all the ways my brain tries to justify maintaining the status quo, which mostly come in the form of social pressures. It’s hard to be the guy eating the salad when everyone’s eating a burrito - especially when the conversation starts being about why you’re eating the salad. The “7-day period” thing is important, too; it (hopefully) stops the this-week-is-already-a-failure-might-as-well-just-keep-screwing-it-up kind of thinking.
It might take several tries or it might not work at all. But I know that it’s more likely to work, because I’ve kept the mind in mind.
The Resume Workaround
This job application process is driving me a little nuts for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is how hard some places make it to show off your work.
I want to put my best foot forward when applying for jobs so I put a lot of time and effort into designing a portfolio and a resume. Are they the best portfolio and resume ever? Probably not, but they’re definitively Not Bad and represent an effort to differentiate myself.
So, when I’m applying for a UX job - a job in which they will almost certainly want to see examples of my work and see how I’m trying to differentiate myself - and they give me no space to provide a portfolio and they give me like, 2MB worth of space to upload a resume, I get a little infuriated.
I mean, my resume is ~11MB and yeah, I could stand to optimize that PDF a little bit, but you could sprinkle 11MB worth of thumb drive in my coffee and I think I’d hardly notice. I mean… these places are “world class” tech companies that “deliver awesome, bleeding edge experiences” but… somehow can’t handle 3 MP3’s worth of space per applicant? One of these things is not like the other.
So, I’ve gotten around this by making a PDF with the following in it:
My resume is too mighty for your file size limit!
See my portfolio here - http://zelbinian.net. Resume download is available.
I imagine some companies won’t be amused but, then again, if I have to resort to this just to show them my work, neither am I.
My Ideal Work Week
We have a lot of problem with work/life balance in our modern, knowledge-worker based society. I think a lot of that is a matter of expectations. We don’t expect work to happen at certain times or life to happen at certain times. So, even if the overall workload is equitable (which, I grant you, is a pretty big conceit), it’s going to feel like the balance sucks a lot.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to structure my work week so that this sort of thing happens less often and I think this would work pretty well:
Mon 12+ hrs | Tue 10 hrs | Wed 8 hrs | Thu 6 hrs | Fri Maintenance*
Essentially, I’m front-loading my week. Mondays always suck, right? Ok. Let ‘em suck. Bring it on. Now I know not to plan anything important for Monday evenings because I’m gonna be getting shit done. And if I’m getting shit done right, I’ll be setting myself up for success for the whole week. Plus, that 6+ hours I’m in the office after hours on Monday/Tuesday? No one to interrupt me but myself.
And the rest of the week, even if it’s a tough day, it’ll seem easier because the end comes that much faster. It’s a built-in morale boost.
*And by maintenance I mean that I’ll check email, I’ll Skype/Hangout into meetings, and I’ll reflect on my past week’s performance so I do better next week - probably ~4 hrs of work - but none of this will be done in the office. (Obviously, if things are on fire, that plan changes.)