Tim Ferriss and my depleted ego

My friend Heath shared this Tim Ferris blog post with me the other day, called Understanding the Dangers of “Ego-Depletion”.  Its actually a guest post written by Dan Ariely, who is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics.

Ariely presents the idea that, basically, we can only make good decisions so many times, before we are too mentally exhausted to continue.  These “good decisions” are things that require will power, like skipping dessert or working on a less-than-exciting project.  Each decision requires a certain amount of effort, and when our lives are such that we are constantly making these often challenging or personally limiting decisions, after awhile our ego just gets depleted, and we fall flat on our face.

“Here’s the reason we make bad decisions: we use our self-control every time we force ourselves to make the good, reasonable decision, and that self-control, like other human capacities, is limited.”

Consider the typical dieter: He might make some rules for himself (or maybe his doctor made them) such as no sugar, no carbs, etc.  So for each meal of the day, he has to consciously try and make a good decision about what to eat.  Depending on how stressful his day was, he might be running on empty by dinner time and end up making a bad decision.  Or, maybe he’s done well for a week but is starting to lose momentum.  Consider Ariely’s question:

“From your own experience, are you more likely to finish half a pizza by yourself on a) Friday night after a long work week or b) Sunday evening after a restful weekend? The answer that most people will give, of course, is “a”. And in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s on stressful days that many of us give in to temptation and choose unhealthy options. The connection between exhaustion and the consumption of junk food is not just a figment of your imagination.”

Ariely then gives 6 easy rules to avoid caving under pressure (as well as a pretty realistic mock internal debate about food that I’m sure we’ve all had!)  He also sites some interesting studies that demonstrate participants’ wilting ability to focus, remember, and succeed at given tasks as their stress or distraction escalates.

Reading this article made me consider the things I do, and whether or not they are due to ego depletion.  I make a number of “bad decisions” on a daily basis (eating junk food, staying up late, procrastinating, etc), but I do these things so often that I have to wonder if they’re due the ego depletion or just a lack of motivation.  But then, what’s causing my lack of motivation?  Chances are, its ego depletion.  My day-to-day life isn’t particularly stressful – in fact, its pretty cushy – but I have underlying stresses that are with me at all times (student loans, getting a job, deciding if I want to move) which definitely put a tinted shade on the rest of my life.  Perhaps if I didn’t have those stresses, I would choose to eat salads more often, or get back into a routine of working out every day?  Ariely acknowledges that one can’t completely avoid stress and potential ego depletion, but calls upon the common saying “knowing is half the battle”.  And I for one am glad to have this new perspective on what might be causing the lack of motivation I’ve settled quite [un]comfortably into for the last few years.

Do you suffer from ego depletion?  Have you found ways to overcome it?

11 things everyone should learn how to do (before heading off to college)

You’re about to meet people from all different walks of life.

You’re about to see people doing things you do not approve of.

You’re about to do things your parents do not approve of.

And you’ll probably wear some awful outfits and take fewer showers than you should.

This.  Is college.

(The following are the things I learned/wish I learned while in college.  They might not all be relevant for freshmen but you should definitely know them after a few years.  I have broken them down into 4 categories: living on your own, finances, life decisions, and learning/studying.)

 

Living On Your Own:

You’re moving out of your parents’ house.  Scary.  Exciting.  Now you’re about to live with a bunch of strangers.  Chances are you’ll have more than one roommate throughout your college career.  Whether its in the dorms or in an apartment, these are the things you’ll be glad you know when you find yourself living away from home in a new city.

Cook something healthy.  If you’re a freshman, you might just eat at the campus dining hall all the time.  You might have a kitchen in your dorm room, or you might just have a microwave.  But if you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen, take advantage of it!  Learn to cook yourself some basic entrees.  Vegetables, pasta, and if you’re really daring, chicken or something else substantial.  This is a great thing to learn before you move out of your parents’ house.  Its also a great way to bond with your mom in the last few months you live with her.

Clean up after yourself.  Now that you’ve made yourself a fabulous dinner, please don’t leave the dirty pots and pans in the sink.  I got into so many squabbles with my roommate because I never cleaned up after myself.  Be smarter than I was.  A great way to solve this problem before you have it is to come up with a cleaning schedule with your roommates and assign tasks for yourself.  Just make sure everyone respects this agreement and actually follows through with their commitments.  Even if you live on your own, you’ll feel  a lot better without junk all over the place.  College can be chaotic enough without living in chaos, too.

Tolerate other people, be willing to compromise.  You might find that you and your roommate like to live pretty different lives.  One of you wakes up early, the other stays up late; one of you likes the place clean and the other couldn’t care less.  Be prepared to sacrifice a little – afterall, you’re sharing a small space with this person for a year: its best to be friendly with one another.  Your first or second day moving in together is the perfect time to fill each other in on your likes, dislikes, and pet peeves.  Work something out together so you can both be happy and both do well in school.  Be supportive of one another, and respect any agreements you establish together.

Get yourself up reliably.  You wont succeed in school if you sleep through your finals.  (Yes, this happened to me.  Luckily (?) it was a small school and my teacher called me and woke me up and asked if I was planning to come in that day.  Oy.)

Navigate your city via the bus system.  You’ll probably want to go explore your city without getting lost.  And when you have an apartment off campus, it will be good to know how to get to your classes, and how to get to them on time.  Buses are often late, so look at the schedule and see if you’ll need to get on the earlier one just to be safe.  Navigating bus systems is a great skill to have outside of college, too.  After living in LA and getting around there, I feel confident that I could go to any major city and figure out how their bus system works, even if it varies from LA’s.  (P.S. If you live in a big city, there’s probably an online schedule of all the bus routes, and maybe even a handy-dandy trip planner.  Check it out!)

 

Finances:

Finances don’t have to be scary.  And chances are, you have your parents to fall back on during the next couple of years anyway.  Take this time to try and be financially independent and learn some things about money before you really have to be financially independent.

Pay your bills.  If you’re living in a dorm, you might not get any bills (unless you pay your own cell phone bill or something, but if that’s the case, you’re probably used to doing that back home anyway.)  Once you get an apartment, you will have utility bills and probably a credit card to pay.  You’ll need to keep your desk organized so you don’t misplace or forget these.  Online bill paying is an easy solution to this.  Also, you should know how to do some simple math so that you can divide your utilities by 2 or 3 if you split them with your roommates.  General financial awareness is a good practice to get into.  I love using Mint.com to manage my money.  It keeps me from overdrawing my account and also provides some organizational tips like creating a budget and saving up for future goals!  (And its free to use and safe.)

Understand student loans.  This is a big one.  I am now out of college and I still don’t completely understand them.  But let me tell you what I do know: college is expensive – very expensive.  And if you are between the ages of 18-21, chances are you do not have much money.  Because I got loans and didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket while in college, I was sort of in a comfortable state of denial that I would ever have to pay for my education.  Living ‘without paying rent’ was fabulous.  Getting ‘free’ meals on campus was fabulous.  Finishing school and getting a huge bill was not fabulous.  Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.  I don’t in any way mean to discourage you from going to college.  I’m saying to go to college – just make sure you’re informed.  Take a minute and think about the reality of paying tens of thousands of dollars in a few years.  Will you have a job by then?  Maybe.

(I don’t mean to be a downer but ask anyone between the ages of 21-30 who has been to college, what they think of student loans.  Chances are they’ll have some stress associated with it.)

 

Life Decisions:

College is often thought of as a time to ‘find yourself’.  But its also a time to party like crazy and get into some situations that you can look back on and laugh about when you’re 40.  While I encourage you to have fun, I also encourage you to take a real look at yourself and what your goals are for college, and where you hope to end up after these 4 years.

Think really hard about what you want to do with your life, and the value of college.  Now that you’re possibly questioning whether or not you want to pay for college, I will advise you to think long and hard about it.  What do you want to get out of college?  Do you expect to learn a ton of stuff and become super smart and prepared to be an adult?  Will you finally feel ready to be on your own once you get that degree?  Will it change everything?  Will it give you confidence?  Will it guarantee you some jobs offers after graduation?  Be careful.  I had a totally inaccurate expectation that college would teach me everything I needed to know and that I’d step out a mature, responsible, and prepared member of society.  Then, before I knew it, I was about to graduate and felt as though I had learned nothing, wasn’t at all prepared to get a job (emotionally nor in terms of skills/ability), and felt only marginally more mature that I did in high school.  Needless to say, I had gotten myself into a situation where I owed a bunch of money on student loans, and didn’t have much to show for it.  Again, I don’t want to encourage you not to go to college.  In fact, I strongly encourage you to go to college.  But meet with your advisor and think about what you’re getting out of school.  Maybe you should change your major?  Maybe after a year or two, you’ve gotten all you can out of college and its just time to leave?  The mistake I made wasn’t going to college – it was staying in college for longer than I should, because getting a degree was “the thing to do”.  If it stops working for you, its no longer the thing to do. Be honest and keep checking in with yourself to see that you’re on the right track.  For you.

Stand up for yourself, don’t put up with BS.  Throughout your college experience you will undoubtedly encounter some difficult people and difficult situations.  Its important to realize that its all BS and that you don’t have to put up with it.  Colleges have a ton of students to keep track of, so cut them some slack if they mess up your room assignment or class schedule.  Just not too much slack.  If your college does something to screw you over – may it be difficult teachers, outdated requirements, inefficient departments and staff, etc – do stand up for yourself and try and fix your situation.  Be polite, but firm.  At the end of the day, you’re the one paying for your education, and thus they work for you.  (Again, be polite.)

 

Learning, Studying:

I’ll assume that you know some basic general study skills by now, such as keeping yourself and your papers organized, having a system to remember deadlines, etc.  (If not, there are plenty of tips online.)  Here are some study tips more unique to college:

Be resourceful, internet-savvy.  Know where your campus library is.  Know how to do basic google searches to find information.  Understand that Wikipedia is generally not an accepted resource for research papers.  You might want to check into the MLA standards (how to properly/legally cite your sources for academic papers).  And feel free to go to said campus library and ask the librarian for help.  Or your teacher.

Have good study habits, be able to self-teach.  I was surprised when I got to college to find that I was expected to read the textbooks in order to learn the material that was on the tests.  Very different from high school.  Honestly, in some of my classes, the teacher didn’t even seem necessary.  She would give a lecture that was like a general overview on a few chapters – only the basics.  I thought, “wow, this test is going to be easy”.  But no – the test wasn’t on any of the basic stuff.  It was all from the textbook.

Note: Beware though, because for some classes, you will not need the book at all.  I spent so much money buying books that I literally didn’t open once.  Also, and this is key: do not open (unseal) your textbooks until you get to class.  I’ve had classes where we get to the class on the first day and the teacher says to disregard what the website said, we don’t actually use the book, go ahead and return it.  (The students who already took off the plastic wrap just lost out on like $50.)  If there is any way you can find out from previous students in that class if you’ll actually need the book, that’d be great.  Also, you could try not even buying any books until after the first day of each class, where they’ll probably go over what you’ll need.  Just make sure there will be enough books left by then or you’ll be out of luck.

And actually, I need to make point number 12.  Buy your textbooks used as much as possible.  Often, the school bookstore sells them both new and used, but they’re still ridiculously expensive.  Try half.com for great deals.  Or Amazon.  Or just Google Shopping results.  See if you can buy a previous edition, too.  99% of the information will be the same, so it should work.  Only downside is some of the exercise problems at the end of chapters might be different, so your homework might end up being different from everyone else’s and you could lose points.  So this will work better for certain kinds of textbooks than others.

I hope you found this post useful and have a fabulous time at college.  Good luck!

And for those of you who have already been to college – did I miss anything?