Monday, December 3, 2012


Nico made an intriguing observation this morning: after our car slows down and comes to a full stop our bodies move backwards instead of forward. Shouldn't our bodies move forward, due to inertia, as the car stops? Since we were in the car we conducted an experiment to validate Nico's observation. Sure enough: once the car stops, our bodies moves back, not forward. What is going on? After a second experiment we figured it out: As the car is slowing down our bodies do move forward (very gradually because I am a great driver who slows down gradually ;-). But, when the car stops completely, the negative acceleration that is moving our bodies forward disappears so our bodies move backwards to settle into their normal pose. What Nico perceives as backwards motion is just the "undoing" of the previous forward motion. But because the forward motion is so gradual he barely notices it.

We sometimes experience similar contradictory emotions: have you ever felt bad at the end of a great experience, such as a vacation? I have. The great experience makes us feel particularly good, but when it is over we return to our normal emotional state - which by comparison feels bad (even thought it felt just fine before the experience).

Two takeaways:

1) We are very sensitive to sudden changes, even if they are small. Try to perform activities that generate small but frequent positive feelings. These are better than infrequent ones that generate hugely positive experiences or those that are so gradual we can't appreciate.

2) When you have to go through a negative experience, do the opposite: go for one big sudden blow, rather than lots of little ones. Or, make it so gradual that you can't notice it.

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