Mastering Your Reality: Tali Sharot

In every moment, you choose who you want to be and how you want to live your life. It’s your ultimate power, and your inescapable responsibility. You’re the master of your reality.

Tali Sharot is the director of the affective brain lab and an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London. She studies how motivation and emotion govern our everyday decision making, our memories, our ability to learn, and our expectations of our world and the future. Her aim is to identify and encourage behavioral changes that drive improved well-being. Her newest book, The Influential Mind, was released late last year.

In this episode of Mastering Your Reality, we discussed:

  • “People are not driven by facts. Facts are not enough to alter beliefs, and they are practically useless in motivating action. Instead, our desires are what shape our beliefs, we need to tap into these motivations in order to make change within ourselves or within others.”
  •  Facts are important for understanding the reality around us, but aren’t helpful when someone has a strong different opinion. Also, they’re not helpful to impact motivation.
  •  For example, consider smoking: For smokers, the warnings on cigarettes don’t have much of an effect. They have a greater effect on people who don’t already smoke. Giving smokers a small monetary reward if they quit works better than warning them about the harms.
  •  Positive feedback also works well, e.g., “likes” on facebook.
  •  Understanding how the mechanisms of motivation work is very helpful to achieve your personal objectives. It is also important in larger contexts, such as public policy.
  •  People tend to overestimate themselves. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it can help with motivation. However, there are negative consequences. For example, we underestimate the risks we face when we overestimate ourselves.
  •  Due to the “illusion of control” phenomenon, we feel that we have far more control over our lives than we actually do.
  •  Fear is related to feelings of control. The more control we feel we have, the less we fear things. For this reason, we feel greater fear in the face of lesser risks if we feel we don’t have control. Conversely, we experience less fear with more dangerous risks if we feel we are in control.
  •  For example, Isaac occasionally asks audiences to don a blindfold and then asks them to characterize their level of anxiety. Most people report being very anxious, even though they’re safe, facing virtually no real risks of harm. These same folks report feeling very comfortable driving on the highway, at speed, in traffic. This is because of the illusion that they’re in control while driving, and the feeling that they are not in control when blindfolded.
  •  At our core, we need to communicate with others and share ideas. Yet we can forget that we experience our own world while others experience their very different worlds. When we project our world into theirs, communication isn’t very effective. We should first endeavor to translate or relate our thinking.
  •  For example, we often try and convince people based on what is convincing to us, not what is convincing to them.
  •  Our cognitive biases aren’t necessarily “bad.” For example, our tendency to factor in our emotions when we evaluate matters is the very reason we have emotions in the first place. It usually works quite well.
  •  The key is awareness.

Want to learn more? Click here to learn more about Tali’s work, or here for more about Tali’s books. For more episodes of Mastering Your Reality, click here.

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