The Pareto Principle

120 years ago, an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto discovered a similarity between the landowners of Italy and the peas growing in his garden. This observation led to a now common rule of thumb in business known as the Pareto principle. You may have heard it called the 80-20 rule. The Observation Pareto made his initial observation by looking at the distribution of land ownership in Italy.

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Misplaced Fear

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend recently. Not that it’s a recent trend, I’ve just begun to notice it. People are irrationally afraid of things that they will likely never experience. As an example, let’s look at terrorism. More people seem to be afraid of getting killed in a terrorist attack than they are of being killed by cancer. That fear is mind-bogglingly irrational. If you live in the western world, you are more likely to die from almost anything else than you are to be killed in a terrorist attack.

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The Anchor Habit

The fatal mistake made by almost everyone when trying to improve themselves is to take on too many things at once. You see this all the time in people’s New Year’s Resolutions. I’m going to eat healthier AND I’m going to workout everyday AND I’m going to finish that knitting project AND I’m going to journal everyday AND … It doesn’t work. Few people are able to force themselves to make all of those changes at once.

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The Benefits of Cold Showers

For the past month I’ve been foregoing my usual steaming hot shower for a cold one. Not everyday, that habit is a hard one to break, but the majority of the time I voluntarily froze myself in pursuit of science. I try a lot of crazy shit on myself, so let me answer the usual questions even before we get started: Yes, it’s difficult and uncomfortable. No, I’m not crazy.

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False Memory

This is part of a series of articles examining Cognitive Biases. Go here to view the rest of the series. The False Memory Bias has been on my mind recently due to an (un)fortunate binge-watching of Netflix’s documentary series Making a Murderer. The documentary covers the trial and conviction of Steven Avery for a crime he did not commit back in 1985, his release based on DNA evidence in 2003, and his subsequent trial for the murder of Theresa Halbach in 2005.

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Portion Control

I’m not very good with portion control. Not only in terms of my eating, but in terms of everything in my life. I can’t watch just 1 YouTube video, or just 1 episode of a TV show. I can’t play a video game for only an hour. I can’t drink just 1 beer. I can’t eat just 1 piece of chocolate. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

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Cognitive Biases

If you’ve never been exposed to the idea of Cognitive Biases, you are probably under the impression that people are typically rational. Sure people are misinformed or uninformed or may have a different value system, but you assume that they probably make decisions consistent with the facts that they have. Unfortunately that’s just wrong. The human brain is the most complex known object in the universe, the pinnacle of billions of years of evolution, but it has some…quirks.

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Willpower is a Limited Resource

In a landmark 1998 study, 67 people were tested to try to determine if willpower was a limited resource. The scientists were able to show that they could deplete willpower in their test subjects through a very simple mechanism, chocolates and radishes. The experimenters setup a waiting room with a tray of snacks; half the tray filled with radishes and the other with chocolates. One group of participants was instructed to wait in the room and eat the chocolates, while the other group was made to wait in the same room but only allowed to eat the radishes (a third group was used as a controls and wasn’t presented with either food).

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Resolutions

There’s something about this time of year that inspires everyone to reflect on their accomplishments and look towards the future. There’s nothing inherently special about January 1st, it marks nothing of note in the natural world; the only thing significant is that the last digit of the date changes. Still, it’s a time for many to make their New Years Resolutions. Almost everyone makes them it seems, though many are too embarrassed to admit them out loud.

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