Posted by on 15 July 2015 at 10:00 am  Ethics, Etiquette, Psychology, Relationships
Jul 152015

This article — Exes Explain Ghosting, the Ultimate Silent Treatment — is fascinating discussion of “ghosting,” which “refers to ending a romantic relationship by cutting off all contact and ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out.” Check out the follow-up too.

I’ve never had this happen in a romantic relationship, but my once-best-friend ghosted me a few years ago. We’d grown apart when she moved across the country, such that we were only talking every few months, but we were still on friendly terms. Then we reconnected in an intense in-person conversation when she happened to be in town, at a time when I was really, really struggling. We promised to talk again in a week… and she just disappeared. I called and emailed repeatedly but I never heard from her again.

The whole thing was very painful for me, and I wasn’t the only friend that she dropped in such a fashion. All of us knew her for years, and none of us expected that she’d ever do that to us. At least we saw clearly (after a while) that the problem resided squarely with her, not us. Still, I can feel the hurt in everyone that I’ve spoken to about it.

Truly, ghosting has got to be the most hurtful and destructive way to end a relationship with a friend or lover, hands down. Speaking personally, I’d much rather come home to find a lover in bed with someone else. That, at least, is comprehensible.

What I find so interesting is that the ghosters seem to think that what they’re doing is easy and clean and neat for everyone… and wow, are they ever full of shit. The only case discussed that I would regard as justified is the woman who ghosted the husband that she discovered was cheating on her left and right. Cases in which a person flees a relationship that is dangerous or abusive… well, that’s not “ghosting.” In those cases, the person ghosted knows damn well why the other person disappeared, even if he/she pretends otherwise.

Notably, some of those stories in the follow-up article are not “ghosting” — and I suspect that’s because the writer didn’t want to make the ghosters seem like the worse freaking people on the planet.

Basically, if you don’t have the psychological capacity to end a relationship in an honest or respectful way… if you can’t even say to the person, “Sorry, but I just can’t do this any more: it’s over,” then you have no business being in any kind of close friendship or romantic relationship.

Sexual Desire and Assertiveness

 Posted by on 22 June 2015 at 10:00 am  Love/Sex, Psychology
Jun 222015

Wow, fascinating stuff from When Women Pursue Sex, Even Men Don’t Get It:

Bergner explains that, in the past, “scientists fixated on what the rat female did in the act of sex, not what she did to get there.” And if you’re friends with any single women or are one yourself, you know that “what she did to get there” is often the most taxing part of the sexual act. It’s also where cultural factors really start to work against women’s newly documented desire. Bergner makes a pretty strong case that women are socially, not biologically, discouraged from initiating and enjoying sex. … Men and women have been barraged with the message that women are not naughty by nature. They are thought of as hardwired to hunt for a partner and a mate, while men pursue sex as a pleasurable act in and of itself. It follows from there that women — at least good women — must be pursued and coaxed into sex, and men enjoy the thrill of the chase.

There are other factors propping up the idea that women prefer to be sexually passive. Bergner reports that preliminary research indicates women are most turned on by their partners’ desire for them. It’s easy to see how this could be misconstrued as passivity — especially because more than a century of conventional wisdom says women don’t like sex as much as men do. But if we accept Bergner’s radical thesis that women do, in fact, like to get off, and get off on being desired, the question of who pursues whom poses a real conundrum for single women.

Think about it: Women want sex, and in particular, they want sex with people who really want them. But socially, many straight men still find it a turnoff when women are sexual aggressors. Which means that, for women, aggressively pursuing the thing they want actually leads to them not getting it. I suspect this is the source of much sexual dissatisfaction of the modern single lady, who’s so horny she’s running across the street to Walgreens to buy more batteries twice a week, but is unable to pick up men despite social conventions that men are “easy” to bed and women have to be coaxed into casual sex. The thing women are told they can access any time is, maddeningly, often just out of reach.

I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the psychology of sexual desire of late. The complexities, even just on a personal level… well, they’re complex. :-) Hence, much of the above commentary on mistaken assumptions about female sexual desire resonates with me. Plus, I wish that sex wasn’t treated in our culture as A Topic Not To Be Discussed Among Friends Except In Terms Of Vague Generalities and Allusions. I’ve had that as an explicit policy for years… but no more, and life is better for it.

Myers-Briggs Typing

 Posted by on 18 June 2015 at 10:00 am  Personal, Personality, Psychology
Jun 182015

For some time now, I’ve gone back and forth about whether I’m INFJ or INFP on Myers-Briggs. Over the past few months, I’ve seen some aspects of my personality change and sharpen: I feel more in control of my life, more confident, and more driven. As part of that, I’m engaged in lots more J-ish behaviors. (If only I’d let you see my spreadsheets!!)

And… the INFJ on this myth-busting page really resonated with me:

Stereotype #2: INFJs are the natural counselors of the world, who want nothing more than to care for and nurture you.

Reality: Though they certainly do care for others, INFJs can often come across as cold if you don’t know them well. They lead with introverted intuition, which makes them infinitely more interested in analyzing big-picture problems than helping you sort out your relationship issues – they are empathetic to a fault but they’d usually rather be analyzing than empathizing.

Reading through the descriptions of INFJ and INFP again, I’m struck by how well INFJ suits. For example:

Consequently, most INFJs are protective of their inner selves, sharing only what they choose to share when they choose to share it. They are deep, complex individuals, who are quite private and typically difficult to understand. INFJs hold back part of themselves, and can be secretive.

I’m only starting to understand just how really, really true this is of me. But no, I’m not going to give you any details, random people of Earth. SO THERE.

P.S. For what it’s worth, I don’t recommend trying to type yourself using a test. The test sucks.


My latest Forbes piece is now out: “Why You Should Record Your Doctor Visits“.

Here is the opening:

NBC’s Brian Williams has gone from being a respected news anchor to the butt of Internet jokes after he recanted a false story about being shot down in a helicopter over Iraq. As a result of the subsequent controversy, NBC has suspended Williams without pay for 6 months — essentially costing him $5 million.

But whether or not Williams’ story was an innocent “false memory” or a deliberate lie, it is the case that false or unreliable memories are a surprisingly common phenomenon. In a health care setting, patients’ false memories of medical conversations might cost them more than money — it might even endanger their lives. Hence, patients may wish to record their doctors’ visits to protect themselves…

During my research for this piece, I learned that “40-80% of medical information provided by healthcare practitioners is forgotten immediately” and “almost half of the information that is remembered is incorrect” (!)

Fortunately, modern technology now makes it easier for patients to record these important discussions with physicians, for instance with a smartphone.

For more information on the benefits of this practice, read the full text of “Why You Should Record Your Doctor Visits“.


12 Types of Procrastinators

 Posted by on 13 June 2014 at 10:00 am  Funny, Productivity, Psychology
Jun 132014

The 12 Types of Procrastinators… what kinds are you?

I’m a panicker, list maker, social sharer, sidetracker, snacker, gamer, watcher, and a perpetuator! So yeah, I’m a pretty stellar procrastinator!

The creator of this gem — Twenty Pixels — has awesome coffee mugs for sale based on it. Go check them out!

On a more serious note, check out these interesting articles on procrastination:

  • How I Stopped Procrastinating: Merrill Markoe writes “Here’s what I learned: First thing in the morning, before I have drowned myself in coffee, while I still have that sleepy brain I used to believe was useless — that is the best brain for creative writing. Words come pouring out easily while my head still feels as if it is full of ground fog, wrapped in flannel and gauze, and surrounded by a hive of humming, velvety sleep bees.”
  • Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators: Megan McArdle makes a compelling case that procrastination among writers is often the product of smart people relying too much on natural talent, as opposed to effort, and thereby adopting a “fixed mindset” about their work. That’s been a major realization for me.
  • To Stop Procrastinating, Look to Science of Mood Repair: Basically, look for the emotional root of your procrastination, then imagine yourself in the future to correct that.
  • The Surefire First Step to Stop Procrastinating: I often use this technique — whereby I make a deal with myself that I only have to work on this project for, say, 30 minutes, and then I can quit if I’m not into it — and it’s quite helpful. Maybe I should lower my threshold to 5 minutes though!
  • No Studying After 5pm: Using Parkinson’s Law to Kick Procrastination’s Ass: I have a tendency to delay work until the evening, then stay up too late working, and then not get enough sleep. Giving myself a clear deadline for the end of work might help me break that cycle — and make room for tasks that I can’t seem to fit into my day at present, like reading.

Now… get back to work!! :-)

Lila Versus the Trailer

 Posted by on 25 January 2014 at 10:00 am  Animals, Horses, Psychology
Jan 252014

Most horses, once they overcome their initial fears of the confined space of the horse trailer, are perfectly happy to load and unload without trouble. But… not Lila.

Lila doesn’t mind the trailer so much by itself. However, she’s a smart cookie, so she’s figured out that the trailer means work. She’s lazy, so work is bad. Lila can even tell when I’m just trying to practice loading her, because then she loads without a fuss. However, when we’re actually going somewhere — and particularly when I’m late — she’ll refuse to load (and act like an idiot) for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes.

So I’ve been playing a game with her lately, to try to convince her that the trailer is the place she wants to be.

I load Lila on the trailer, but I don’t secure the butt bar or shut the door. She’s free to leave whenever she pleases. However, when she backs out of the trailer, she’s immediately put to work (just groundwork — trotting, turning, backing, etc). After a few minutes, I load her on the trailer again, again without securing her. When she backs out, she goes back to work. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The game works, thankfully! However, I’ve found that I need to play it with her pretty regularly. Otherwise, she figures out that the trailer means work, and she doesn’t want to load. (Alas, that’s been hard to do in winter, when the ground is often slick with snow, ice, and mud.)

Interestingly, I’ve done variations on this game for some time before, without much success. The critical change that I made is that with this version, Lila chooses when to exit the trailer, and hence, when she’ll be worked. That way, she learns to correct her own impulse to leave the trailer — and in the process, she learns to yearn for the trailer. That’s an insight that I need to apply elsewhere in her training, I think.

Maybe someday, she’s be like these well-trained horses, who respond to the sound of the whip cracking by galloping in from the pasture and loading themselves:

But I doubt it!

Sensory Overload in Open Offices

 Posted by on 22 November 2013 at 10:00 am  Business, Personality, Psychology, Work
Nov 222013

This — Offices for All! Why Open-Office Layouts Are Bad for Employees, Bosses, and Productivity — is a really excellent article on the evil of open office layouts. Here’s a hit that really resonated with me.

I’m now always surrounded by chatter, which means that, like every other office worker in the country, I have to wear earphones. I’m currently listening to Django Reinhardt on Pandora. His talent is timeless. But while it’s easier to think with Django in my ears, it isn’t nearly as easy as silence was. The music just adds to the clutter in my head. Back when I had an office, I left work with my mind still happy and fresh; I emailed myself ideas while walking home, as some newsy podcast told me even more useful info. Now, at the end of a day of nonstop jazz, I leave work feeling fried. I miss my podcasts, which my brain just doesn’t have room for. I walk to the subway in silence, repairing.

Being an introvert — and highly sensitive too — I could not work well under such circumstances. When I’m deep in brain-bending work, even familiar instrumental music is a distraction. Plus, headphones to cover background noise quickly makes me feel overwhelmed by sensory input. I’m able to listen to music only against a background of silence and when doing lighter work. Then, it helps prevent boredom.

These working conditions make my skin crawl. I’m so glad to work from home, where the only noises are of naughty beasts, birds, and the wind.


I’m beyond pleased to have found a solution to the longstanding problem of my horse Elsie being deeply herd-bound — meaning that she freaks out, runs the fence, and works herself into a full-body sweat whenever I take Lila away from her. Such separation happens every day for one to three hours, so you’d think Elsie would settle down after a while, but that happens only rarely.

Alas, the problem is not a mere annoyance. She’s lost far too much weight this summer, despite my feeding her about double what Lila gets. Plus, she’s been wearing through her very expensive shoes — which she shouldn’t even need — in half the usual time.

Over the past few months, I’ve tried all kinds of solutions, without much success. However, I’ve never tried tying her because that’s so dangerous: she could really hurt herself if she freaked out, pulled back, struck out, etc. — as a panicking horse would do. However, after seeing Clinton Anderson deliberately spook a horse on a “blocker tie ring,” I realized that I could try to tie her using that. She’d be tied, but she’d be safe too.

Basically, blocker tie rings allow the horse to pull out the rope with a sufficient amount of force. The rope exerts friction, so pulling out the rope requires effort. Also, the rope can be looped in such a way as to require more or less force to extract.

Blocker tie rings work with a horse’s psychology in rather surprising ways. If the horse is tied fast, he might panic — and fight the tie like a mad beast. (Even lazy Lila does that on occasion.) But with the blocker tie ring, the horse will free himself just slightly by pulling. So if the horse panics and pulls back, he’ll get a bit more rope thereby, then calm down immediately and stop pulling. (It’s counterintuitive, but it works!)

I use blocker tie rings in the trailer already, as well as when tying a horse to the outside of the trailer. They’re awesome. If Elsie freaked out when tied using a blocker tie ring, the worst that she’d do is pull out the rope and then run the fence. However, she’d likely calm down before extracting the whole rope from the blocker tie ring.

I started the experiment by tying Elsie to my hitching post using the blocker tie ring, and then I took Lila out of sight to do groundwork. I was expecting Elsie to freak out, but she was pretty placid. She never attempted to pull out the rope, although she was a bit upset by Lila’s absence. That was promising!

Next, I tied her and then trailered Lila over to our community arena to ride. I worried that Elsie would decompose with time… but she was good! She was still quietly tied when I returned, and Paul reported that she wasn’t overly upset while I was gone. She ate a whole leaf of hay too.

After that, I left her tied for about three hours while I took Lila to Martha’s for my lesson. Paul was home to keep an eye on her again, thankfully. Once again, she was excellent. She’s pulled the rope out a few feet, but she was still tied.

Then, on Saturday, we had the real test: I tied up Elsie, then took Lila to the jumper show. Paul was with me, so Elsie was totally alone for over seven hours. Amazingly, she was still quietly tied well when we returned. Yes, she’d been standing out in the hot sun for many hours. But that’s better than her running out in the hot sun, as she would have done if loose! Plus, she had easy access to hay and water, and she can move around quite a bit.

Here she is, perfectly relaxed, even though she knows that Lila’s soon to leave her. If she were loose, she’d be running the fence already.

(As you can see in the picture, I’m running the rope around the post to give it a bit more friction. It’s a bit too easy to pull out as-is.)

Happily, every time I tie her and take Lila away, Elsie seems to become more accepting of our departure. The more that she ran the fence, I think, the greater her anxiety became — to the point that it seemed to take on a life of its own. Forcing her to stand still keeps her calm. Perhaps she’ll learn someday that Lila’s departure isn’t anything to fuss about, but at her age, I’m not holding my breath!

Really, I’m just amazed that this method works. Elsie is so reactive — she freaks out if she steps on her own leadrope, for example — that I never would have expected that typing her up would be safe or effective. Yet it is!

Hopefully, Elsie will regain some of the weight that she’s lost this summer over the next few weeks. Even better, I’d like to be able to remove her shoes, once her feet grow back. I want a cheap and easy companion horse again!

Concretize Your Task List

 Posted by on 10 July 2013 at 2:00 pm  Productivity, Psycho-Epistemology, Psychology
Jul 102013

Ever since interviewing Andrew Miner on Getting Things Done last year, I’ve been working on improving my own personal method of “Getting Things Done.” (If you don’t know what “Getting Things Done” is… go read the book, Getting Things Done, pronto!) I’ve pared down my projects to focus on what’s most important to me, and I’ve also made excellent progress on a slew of long-delayed mini-projects.

In the process, I’ve learned that I usually need to be very, very concrete about my task list. Every item in my task list must be a single, clear, delimited action — otherwise, when I have time to make progress on some project, I won’t know what I need to do next. So I don’t register “update archive generation script” or “clean and oil tack” or “post The Paleo Rodeo” as single tasks any more. Instead, they’re projects, each containing four to six tasks.

I was worried that doing that would make my GTD system more complicated, even unmanageable. Instead, it seems simpler because I don’t need to repeatedly re-think what I need to do to advance my goals. Instead, I can just chip away at the next action, again and again.

So if the tasks required to accomplish some goal aren’t crystal clear to you, then perhaps try taking a few minutes to figure out what actions you need to do to make progress. If you’re too busy for that, just add “plan project” as your first task! That seems to make a huge dent in my tendency to procrastination.

In case you’ve not heard my interview with Andrew Miner about “Getting Things Done,” you can listen to or download the podcast here:

For more details, check out the episode’s archive page.

Note: I published a version of the above commentary in Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter a while back. Subscribe today!


Lifehacker has an excellent article on how “Clearing to Neutral” can help you avoid procrastination. I’d recommend reading the whole article, but here’s the critical idea:

The main idea behind [Clearing to Neutral] is that you set yourself up for success. What that means is that any time you finish your activity, you do a little routine where you set it up so that the next time you start there is no friction. In other words, you setup your environment for next time.

Our friend … uses the analogy of cleaning a grill. In restaurants, the process of cleaning the grill is very important. It ensures the grill will last longer, the food will taste better, and you prevent any bacteria from growing. Before the restaurant closes, the cooks always clean the grill so the next day when they come in it is ready for use.

This is exactly the idea behind Clearing To Neutral and how you need to set yourself up. The reason we call it CTN is because whenever you finish an activity, you need to move everything so everything is in neutral position. When something is neutral, it is stale and you can do anything you want to it.

Now this is why the habit of clearing to neutral is so important: it prevents you from procrastinating in the future. By making sure you clean up your environment and toolkit, you ensure that the next time you need to use them there will be no friction at all. In other words, you make it easy for your “future self” to get started.

I’m not a neat and tidy person by nature, and I almost always prefer to move on to the next bit of fun rather than spend a few minutes “clearing to neutral.” Yet… it makes such a difference! I should, for example:

  • always clear out collected papers and other items from my bag when I return home
  • always put away tools and implements (scissors, superglue, pens) after using them
  • always put away books into their proper place after using them

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty fanatical about “clearing to neutral” in dealing with the horses — whether feeding, riding, or trailering. In those cases, I have a clear routine, and I feel like I’m cutting corners and burdening my future self unless every step is done. Developing those kinds of routines in the messier areas of my life could make a huge difference, I think!

Where do you need to work on “Clearing to Neutral”? Remember, if you clearly identify what counts as “Clearing to Neutral” in a given domain — perhaps even writing it down and posting it somewhere visible — you’ll be much more willing and able to do it when tired, distracted, or eager to move on to the next task. Make “Clearing to Neutral” easy, so that you can do it on autopilot.

Note: I published a version of the above commentary in Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter a while back. Subscribe today!

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