Why We Do Better


I think of it as a tilt.

Cognitive psychologists call it priming. The idea is that our brains are quicker to recall memories or act on goals that are similar to whatever sights, sounds, and concepts have recently entered our heads.

For example, I show you a picture of a WOLF, then ask you to complete this word:

D O _

You probably filled in dog and not dot or don. The word wolf primed the structures in your mind associated with wolves, which includes dogs. When asked to perform a followup task, your mental surface was unbalanced – tilted – toward dogs.

Researchers are still digging through the extent to which priming consciously and unconsciously affects our decision making, emotional states, and performance on tasks.

We’re not going to wait for them to settle the debate.

Instead of showing up to work tilted by today’s angriest tweet, consider the how you feel in the moments you are performing at the top of your game. Then, search for a brief activity that evokes a feeling similar to that mental state. A specific song, a quick set of burpees, or swearing for 7 seconds. All three, in a row.

Before writing each morning, I read five minutes of intense poetry. I want something that short-circuits my rational brain, that taps into the tactile, emotional edges of words, their meaning beyond meaning. My writing might read completely differently if I preferred Sudoku.

It all depends on where you wish to tilt.