Emily Balcetis - Clearer, Closer, Better_ How Successful People See the World-Random House Publishin

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Unformatted text preview: Copyright © 2020 by Emily Balcetis All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. BALLANTINE and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. Image this page: Reprinted by permission of Springer Nature: Fisher, G. H. “Ambiguity of Form: Old and New.” Perception & Psychophysics (1968) 4: 189–192. 10.3758/BF03210466, © Psychonomic Journals 1968. Image this page: Albert Einstein–Marilyn Monroe hybrid image by Aude Oliva and Philippe G. Schyns, from The Oxford Compendium of Visual Illusions, edited by Arthur G. Shapiro and Dejan Todorović, copyright © 2017 by Arthur Shapiro and Dejan Todorović. Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Balcetis, Emily, author. Title: Clearer, closer, better: how successful people see the world / Emily Balcetis, PhD. Description: First edition. | New York: Ballantine Books, [2020] | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2019038080 (print) | LCCN 2019038081 (ebook) | ISBN 9781524796464 (hardcover) | ISBN 9781524796471 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Goal (Psychology) | Visual perception. | Achievement motivation. | Successful people—Psychology. Classification: LCC BF505.G6 B35 2020 (print) | LCC BF505.G6 (ebook) | DDC 153.8—dc23 LC record available at LC ebook record available at Ebook ISBN 9781524796471 randomhousebooks.com Book design by Andrea Lau, adapted for ebook Cover design: Ella Laytham Cover photograph: shutterstock ep_prh_5.4_c0_r1 Contents Cover Title Page Copyright Introduction Chapter 1: Seeing a New Way Forward Chapter 2: Finding the Right Kind of Challenge Chapter 3: Plating a Full Plan Chapter 4: Becoming Your Own Accountant Chapter 5: In Sight, In Mind Chapter 6: Reading the Room Right Chapter 7: Forgoing the Forbidden Fruit and Perceiving Patterns Chapter 8: Getting Unstuck Chapter 9: Doing More by Doing Less, and How to Think Beyond Today Chapter 10: Showtime Dedication Acknowledgments Notes About the Author Introduction On a crisp Saturday morning one spring, in a borough of Berlin called Mitte, I sat alone at a bistro munching away on a carrot-beet scone in between sips of a cappuccino. Or at least I thought. I could read the German menu only slightly better than I could name the street on which I was renting an apartment for the month. Despite brunching solo—an endeavor considered so gauche back home that The New York Times had once decreed it shouldn’t be done—I was having a marvelous time. I was flipping through a copy of New York magazine and came upon an article about paint. While that might sound as enticing as watching it dry, the article was fascinating. You see, the author of the article focused his reporting on black. New Yorkers love it, I’ve learned, having lived in the city for about ten years, not only because of its ability to contrast starkly against any exposed sun-deprived skin but also because of its ability to mask the grime that the streets kick up onto you as you walk to work. However, the author was interested by a particular variant of black paint because it wasn’t quite paint at all. In the “Antenna” wing of the Science Museum in London, the author explained, there sat a bronze bust of the BBC personality Marty Jopson. It was about six inches tall and an accurate enough likeness, especially in how light bounced off the dimples, the bushy eyebrows, and the handlebar mustache. Jopson was a props designer, inventor, and math hobbyist. He presented his scientific work on television for a while. On his show he asked, from behind safety goggles, whether an opera singer was capable of shattering a crystal wineglass with one powerful note. (She was.) With the help of the townspeople of Ashford, England, who lived on Butterside Road, he tested whether falling toast always landed buttered side down. (It mostly did.) Though the Marty Jopson bust was an unusual choice of subject matter, all in all there was nothing particularly remarkable about it. Except for the nearly identical bust that sat beside it. When the two sculptures were viewed side by side, the second bust seemed to be only a silhouette, as if someone had taken a scalpel and cut a hole in space the exact shape and size of Jopson’s head. You couldn’t see the dimples or the mustache. There were no shadows. There were no contours. Had you been allowed to touch this bust, you would have felt all the texture of the face, the wrinkles on the forehead, and the hair on the chin. But to the viewer, all such detail seemed to have disappeared into a void. Or a black hole. This second bust, like the first, was made of bronze, but it was cloaked with something special: Vantablack—the blackest black ever created. Vantablack isn’t actually a pigment. It is a substance that is grown by scientists directly on the metal surfaces it is intended to cover, and it has virtually no mass at all. Vantablack is a densely packed collection of ultra-thin carbon nanotubes, like the material that makes up the bodies of Formula One racing cars and the Enzo Ferrari. It is as dark as it is because it absorbs 99.965 percent of light that hits it straight-on. For comparison, the blackness of asphalt consumes only about 88 percent. For us to see something, we need light to hit an object and to bounce back. Otherwise, we’re not going to see much of anything at all. Vantablack has been used to coat the outsides of stealth jets. It has lined the insides of telescopes. And, just a few months before I read that article, scientists from Berlin Space Technologies—which was just a few train stops away from where I was sitting—had applied it to a microsatellite bound for outer space. Recently, the famous British artist Sir Anish Kapoor had been granted exclusive rights to use one version of the product in his work, which includes the bust in the Science Museum. Kapoor explained that Vantablack is “blacker than anything you can imagine. So black you almost can’t see it…Imagine a space that’s so dark that as you walk in you lose all sense of where you are, what you are, and especially all sense of time.” He’s hardly exaggerating. When we look at the bust, we lose all sense of dimensionality. What we see is not what’s really there. It’s an illusion. A trick of the eye. For Kapoor, the gap between reality and perception was the key to transforming an otherwise unremarkable sculpture into a groundbreaking work of great artistic intrigue. What we actually see makes all the difference. Even—or especially—when what we see diverges from what’s really there. This book is about that “especially.” We think we see the world the way it actually is. We think that when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we see our face the same way others do. We believe that when we peer down the street in front of us, we know what we’ll pass by on our journey. We are certain that when we scan the food on our plate, we see what it is we’ll be eating. But none of this is always true. Instead, our visual experiences are often misrepresentations. We form an imperfect impression and our eager mind fills in the gaps, putting in place the missing pieces. We do this with the things we see even when they aren’t shrouded in Vantablack. And, interestingly, this can happen without our awareness, both in everyday circumstances and when we’re making some of the most important decisions of our lives. Based on the research I and my colleagues have conducted, I believe that we can take advantage of the fact that we do not see the world perfectly, accurately, or completely—as long as we know when and why it happens. By learning more about how our eyes work in conjunction with our brain, we can direct our perceptual experiences to help us see the world in ways that will help us overcome some of the biggest challenges we face when working toward our most important goals. I’m a social psychologist and scientist at New York University, and I have been conducting research on perception and motivation for more than fifteen years. I’ve worked with some of the most accomplished scholars and amassed my own talented team. Together, we have conducted investigations, analyzed the data from experiments we’ve designed, and reviewed new reports emerging from labs all around the world on how people best pursue their goals, and what stands in their way. Through this work, I have noted commonalities among the problems that people face when they set out on a personal quest to master some ambition. I have encountered these problems too. Just as having a medical degree doesn’t protect a doctor from getting the sniffles, having a PhD in motivation science doesn’t inoculate me from the challenges of meeting my own goals. But I happen to be uniquely positioned to know the scientific data on the problems that arise along the way, and what the solutions to these problems might be. As a result, I have discovered strategies that work to overcome the difficulties that challenge the likelihood of our own success. I’ve learned what works—and what doesn’t—for myself and thousands of others who have been involved in my research. What’s interesting is that our discoveries align with the methods used by successful entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, and celebrities. Ample scientific data underscores the effectiveness of approaches that these incredible individuals take to surmounting some of their biggest obstacles. And their habits, routines, and practices, my research finds, can be distilled into four general strategies with farreaching application. In the chapters that follow, I explain how knowing when to narrow our focus of attention helps us to exercise more effectively, save more for retirement sooner, and find more time in our day to do what we really want to. Understanding how to materialize a goal, our steps, or our efforts improves the way we track our progress. Becoming aware of the power of framing can improve our ability to read others’ emotions, negotiate better deals, improve the relationships we have with other people, and overcome a fear of public speaking. And a wide bracket reduces the allure of temptations, the appeal of multitasking, and the inclination to push on when changing course might be best. We can think of these strategies as four different tools in a toolbox we select from when working on a self-improvement project. Consider them your hammer, screwdriver, wrench, and pliers— pretty basic implements, but useful for almost every job. Sometimes the goals we set require us to use multiple strategies, just as any home repair may require more than one tool. Sometimes what we’ve set our sights on can be accomplished with one plan but not another, so having options for how to get the job done can be beneficial—just as a fully stocked toolbox offers us the possibility of trading in a screwdriver for a wrench when the first choice isn’t right. Interestingly, these four strategies share one feature: they are all about harnessing the power of our eyes. Challenging ourselves to quite literally look differently can help us better our odds of succeeding at things that don’t seem related to vision at all. I recently set my sights on learning to play one particular song on the drums. (I had my own reasons for wanting to do this, which I’ll get to shortly.) I found that using the strategies I study in my professional life helped me persevere despite the difficulties I knew I’d experience in learning to lay down a beat—as well as those I hadn’t even anticipated. In telling you about my own use of these concepts, I hope that you, too, will be able to look at the world—and what you hope to accomplish in it—in new, creative, and better ways. By investigating the what, why, when, and how of these strategies, I have learned that we can teach ourselves to truly see life from a different perspective. We can take control of our own perception. We can direct our eyes to see in ways that promote good fortune, and to avoid seeing in ways that don’t. If we take advantage of our visual experiences, we might see our way to happier, healthier, and more productive lives every day. Indeed, it is my hope that when you’ve finished reading this book, you’ll be able to envision new paths forward and different perspectives. It’s not only about winning gold medals and making more money, though I’ll cover those things too. With more insight into your perceptual experience, you’ll obtain a better understanding of your life’s objectives, how far you’ve come, how far you have to go, and how you can get there more quickly. You’ll also have a better handle on why other people may earnestly believe they’ve seen something you don’t see, and you’ll understand how that impacts the ways in which you pursue success. Once you understand when and how vision is biased, you can learn to use those biases in your favor, and to counteract them when necessary. There is no one right way to see the world, and this book will respect that. Instead, the work I share with you aspires to offer suggestions for improving how you confront challenges by building up the cache of resources at your disposal. I’ll give you a set of powerful and largely untapped perceptual tactics you can use to create and sustain views of yourself, others, and your environments that will help you see the possibilities in what you can’t see now. To do this, I’ll draw from research that sits at the intersection of social psychology and visual perception. My work, and that of others I draw from, taps into the neurobiological nature of the human visual system, which is itself a kind of interdepartmental collaboration between the eyes and the brain. When we understand the scientific basis for how we perceive the world around us, the path to most goals becomes clearer, success looks closer, and the process feels better. Seeing a New Way Forward One summer, my research team asked more than 1,400 men and women from sixteen countries which one of their five senses they would least like to lose. Which would be the most difficult to live without if it were taken away? Regardless of where they were from, their age, or their gender, seven out of every ten people said that losing their sense of sight would be the worst. The majority thought that they couldn’t live without vision. But actually, they could. Let’s take a step back and make sure we’re on the same page with some of the fundamentals of vision science. We experience the sense of sight because of the connection our eyes have with our brains. We pick up on the brightness of the sun or register the hue of the sky with our eyes, but we only really experience seeing once our brains translate those sensations into something meaningful. Consider the following example. Linseed oil, mineral salts, bristle brushes, linen, and wood are products in their own right, but only when Claude Monet combined them in the right proportions and manner were we able to see the water lilies he painted outside his home in Giverny. Alvaro Pascual-Leone is a neurologist at Harvard Medical School, and he’s famous for discovering what happens in our brains when we lose our sense of sight. He found that the visual cortex—the part of the brain at the back of our head that specializes in making sense of the signals the eyes send it—is incredibly quick to retool when something changes in how our eyes operate. He invited people with normal vision to experience life without sight for five days. The volunteers wore blindfolds. These weren’t the kind you get in your travel kit when you fly internationally. They were high-tech and lined with photographic paper that would react to light exposure, so the researchers would know that none of the volunteers had seen the light of day (or bulb) since putting them on. Pascual-Leone and his colleagues used the five days of blindness as an opportunity to teach basic Braille. The volunteers learned that the Braille alphabet is derived from bumps that protrude in various places on a two-by-three grid. The letter A feels like a dot popping up in the upper left corner of this grid. B feels like A but with the addition of the left-side dot in the middle row. The volunteers trained their index finger to feel the differences in where the bumps were and how many appeared at once. By the end of the five days, they weren’t reading Shakespeare with their fingertips, but they had the basic alphabet down. Each day, the researchers also invited the volunteers to lie down in an fMRI machine that would make a movie of what happened in their brains when they read Braille. On the first day, their brains were most active in the somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain responsible for what we touch and feel; their visual cortex did nothing in response to feeling the Braille letters. But by the end of the five days of having no sight, this pattern had reversed: the somatosensory cortex responded less, and the visual cortex responded more, when the volunteers felt the Braille letters. In other words, the work their fingers were doing was now registering in the part of the brain that for its whole life had been responsible for actual seeing. In less than one week, the visual cortex adapted and repurposed itself to reflect what happens in the brains of truly blind people who are proficient in reading Braille—the visual centers in the brain registered what their fingers were “seeing.” When Pascual-Leone blindfolded his volunteers, he was in a sense reinventing the process of perception. The brains of his volunteers still wanted to see, but they couldn’t do it with their eyes. He was changing their medium, but they were still artists. When the brushes are gone or can’t do the trick, an artist finds a new way to apply paint. Jackson Pollock dripped it from cans. Gerhard Richter crafted a squeegee to scrape across canvas. When Pascual-Leone usurped his volunteers’ sense of sight, they found a new way to see. The amazing adaptability of vision that Pascual-Leone discovered through his volunteers’ experience is an example of neuroplasticity, and it’s a trick for which the visual cortex has gotten quite famous in the brain-science world. But there are more reasons to appreciate our sense of sight than its chameleon nature. Consider its strength. If we found ourselves in a place that was really dark and clear, without haze in the air, we could see a candle flickering thirty miles away with the naked eye. When we look into the night sky, we can easily see the International Space Station 250 miles up, or all the way to Saturn—about a billion miles off—if we know where to look. And our eyes are speedy. They transfer data at the rate of about 8.75 megabits per second. That’s about three times the speed of the average Internet connection in the United States. We can recognize what’s in front of us faster than the speed of sound. And, though the taste of salt is starkly different from that of sugar, it takes our brain twice as long to register the difference in flavor than to distinguish the face of someone we like from that of someone we don’t. Indeed, scientists have discovered that it only takes ¹⁄₇₆ of a second to know we’re looking at the face of a friend, the car of our dreams, or the roses in our wedding bouquet. What we see with our eyes feels real, accurate, and honest—so much so that it can be scary. In 1896, audiences saw moving images for the first time in history. French aficionados watched a short film called “L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat” in a Paris cinema. The fifty-second black-and-white movie featured a train heading directly toward the viewer on its way into a coastal station. Though the audience sat in their seats and the film was a silent one, the image of the steam locomotive barreling closer was rumored to have led audience members to jump from their seats in terror. We favor and intuitively trust ...
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