Really boring book title, really fascinating book–especially for those, like me, who are savers. Are you a saver? Are there people in your life with simple misconceptions that make them unhappy and that you’d love to disabuse them of? For instance, my kids’ view that I’m a “health freak,” and that they’d be much better off stuffing themselves with the “regular” food served by “normal” moms? Or a coworker’s view that if she just tried the latest diet, she’d soon be thin and all her problems solved? Or a divorced friend’s idea that avoiding all social interaction is a good plan?
David Brooks examined this book recently in his NYT column, where he summarized some of its most counterintuitive findings, such as: people are not motivated to vote because you tell them there is low voter turnout, but rather because you tell them that all of their peers are voting; people wrongly assume they are consuming less of a beverage in a short, wide glass than in a tall, narrow one; and those police officers given post-trauma grief-counseling often end up worse-off because it enhances and enlivens the tragic experience. Brooks discusses the ramifications of these findings in the context of wrong-headed public policy, but as savers who operates locally, they force us to rethink our efforts to help the people we care about.
We all operate with unconscious assumptions about human psychology, yet the science of motivation tells us that, if nothing else, it’s a good idea before confidently doling out advice to start by what philosophers call “checking your premises.” Stop and reflect, even briefly, on what you assume will make your targeted helpee happier and better-off, and then consider which psychological angle would truly motivate, or conversely sabotage, your effort to help them. In other words, we should think deeply about not only the message we wish to deliver, but the means.