Saturday, January 28, 2012

Satisfaction, The IKEA effect, and you.

You might have it in your house: that piece of swedish furniture that came in pieces. It feels good, doesn't it, to know that you put it together yourself.
People researched this sort of thing. Named the IKEA effect: people place a higher value on things that they build themselves than things they don't.
As long as it's not too hard, people may even pay more for things that require them to do some of the work.
Psychologically, some of the difference has to do with looking forward vs. looking back. People tend to want to avoid work, but value more highly the things they had to work hard for for. That's the difference between 'to-do' and 'done'.
For example: You'll savour the apple pie you made yourself - with a fresh fork and everything, but you won't pay as much attention to the discount box of cookies that fell into the shopping cart.
Calories used to be hard to come by, now they're easy. Fast food restaurants have mechanized the delivery of foods - like french fries - that are hard to prepare at home. You don't appreciate them as much, and perversely try to eat more in order to be satisfied. By the way, the first two bites of dessert are the tastiest: Share it with a friend.
Same with distance and exotic locales. With a credit card and a passport you could be in Japan in 24 hours. If it was going to take two weeks or two months to go somewhere, you'd certainly do your research and appreciate your time there more.
How can this make your better? To extract more value out of your experiences, you need to put more into them.
For your food: The typical restaurant experience is pretty forgettable. If you cook it yourself, you'll appreciate the result more you would the same dish ordered at a restaurant.
Growing up, knowing that something was 'from our garden' always gave it additional prestige on the dinner plate, and made us appreciate it more. Bonus points if you grow the food yourself. The same goes for berries you pick or, indeed, furniture that you built yourself.
The to-do list sounds like work, the to-have-done list sounds like reflections on accomplishment. Change the name of the list, put more effort into it and feel the satisfaction of a complete and deserved experience.
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Sunday, January 22, 2012

The role of art in community

"Art is anything you can get away with." -Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (1964)
Art is the spice enlivening the meat and potatoes of our built environment. It directs the conversation, draws our attention to things we might otherwise ignore, and helps us understand who we are.
That goes for the art we keep in our houses as well as the public art that graces parks, and the murals that adorn the sides of buildings.
The distilled effort and focused intention made real creates something unique, conversation-worthy, and valuable.
Art provides a physical artifact documenting the same focused intention that makes us appreciate watching someone sink a long putt, dance ballet, or conduct a symphony orchestra. Even if you don't like golf, ballet, or the orchestra, you still recognize the focused effort that goes into finessing the performance.
The art you put on your walls is more than just decoration. It's an expression of who you are, how you see yourself, and how you want others to see you.
Public art acts the same way in helping us define our identity as a community. Between public art, the nature of the public space, and the architecture of the buildings we inhabit, it directs what we care about in our community subtly and constantly.
Take an interest in the public art. Understand the message. There's a marked difference between the communities adorned with statues of the supreme leaders you might see in communist China, the religious art across europe during the renaissance, and the abstract sculptures or decorated cows you might see on the streets of Calgary.
Public art is a form of mass media that is more primal than TV or newspapers. It becomes part of the community and helps direct the discussion.
Support your local artists. The vision, commentary, self-concept and vitality that they add to the local community are difficult to obtain any other way. The value may not be immediately apparent, but try to imagine a community without it.

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Why Decoration is Relevant
What do we care about?
Small Town Feel

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Your willpower is limited. Here's how to manage it.

Mmm. Sugar. That will boost my willpower.

You can't do a million push-ups. Your muscles can't take it. Willpower is like a muscle too, and if it gets exhausted it doesn't work as well.
Self restraint, task persistence, willpower and decision making all burn the same brain fuel, glucose. Depleting the glucose means worse performance in all those areas later in the day.
For example, dieting is difficult because your willpower is weakest when you're low on glucose. It's a catch-22 The foods you're craving are exactly what would give you the sugar your brain is looking for, but they also have the calories your figure is trying to avoid.
But you're not doomed. Eat more smaller portions to keep some glucose in your brain. Establish systems, by putting together healthy snacks in advance. Keep tempting items out of sight and out of mind. Resisting the cookies you know are in the cupboard is still a drain on the decision making and the willpower, but it's easier than resisting the cookies right in front of you.
This psychological effect has a bigger impact on people living in poverty. If you're wealthy, when you feel the need to go buy something, you simply go buy it. However, if your resources are limited, you need to evaluate the trade-offs and opportunity costs for every purchase. Buying something you need would mean not buying something else you need. Medicine or food?
This means less willpower or discipline left over for other things wealthier people might take for granted.
When willpower is weakest people tend to become impulsive, failing to think things through, or take the easy way out by not making any decision at all. Of course, if you don't make your own decisions, someone else will gladly make them for you, and they may not have your best interests at heart.
In this case, knowledge is power. What can you do to take advantage of your cycles of willpower?
Make important decisions early in in the day.
Decide what's important to you, and put systems in place to make it happen. Rely on systems rather than day-to-day willpower.
Sugar can help rebuild glucose stores in the brain. Artificial sweeteners don't.
'Sleeping on it' can help, then make your decision early the next day.
Make decisions in advance and build them into your routines. Flossing your teeth, for example, can become part of the routine, rather than something you have to decide to do. 
If you want to maintain your ability to make good decisions, avoid situations where you need to restrain yourself. Restraining yourself from impulses or making tough decisions wears you down and makes you more vulnerable in other seemingly unrelated situations.
Originally published September 17, 2011
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