2016, accomplishments, basketball, determination, illusions, math, optimism, psychology, shooting, Warriors

Why You Should Believe In Yourself Against All Odds

Two Fridays ago, I watched the Warriors get destroyed by the Lakers. The score wasn’t completely devastating, but points don’t tell the whole story. The Lakers’ young talent played a phenomenal game, and the Warriors were unable to catch up, let alone surpass, the Lakers in the second half.

The game resulted in many surprising numbers (strength wasn’t one of them), including a season-low for the Warriors with a 15-point first quarter. It was downhill from there. Still more notable, was that Steph Curry, known for his ability to knock in three-pointers, didn’t make a single one of his 10 attempts. This was the first of 157 games in which he didn’t make at least one three-point shot. He held records for three-point streaks on the road and in postseason.

Sports statistics don’t predict future outcomes; they may posthumously explain the outcome. But as the game clock ticked on, I, along with the commentators, sat on the edge of my seat expecting Steph to make each new three-point attempt. Given his past performance, we believed that he would, and should, have made one.

When Curry went to the bench before the end of the game, I was perplexed, “How is it possible that he didn’t make a single one?” And later, I couldn’t help but wonder what it all meant going forward—if anything.

But there was another factor affecting the pure statistical probability: psychology. We as fans were thinking it, Steph’s face said it, and he actually said it after the game: “Kind of weird not to make one.” With each attempt, Steph’s chances of making a shot were plagued by what we can surmise was building pressure, confusion, nerves, and frustration.

Two days later, Steph Curry broke the NBA record for most threes in a game, making an impressive 13 of 17 attempts. If I didn’t know any better, I would have said he had the hot hand. In psychology, the hot-hand fallacy describes an arguably unfounded belief that our chance of success at some random event increases with each success. For most of the past, statisticians have denied the existence of a hot hand despite the fact that basketball players may insist that they feel it.

Regardless of this opposite—albeit more expected—outcome, I again, couldn’t believe it. What were the odds of this performance following that against the Lakers?

After the game, I spent some time researching the hot hand fallacy, only to learn that new research has, for the first time, called the fallacy into question. In the study, the researchers went back to basics, looking at the chances of coin flips. Toss a coin four times, and record the percentage of heads coming specifically after heads. Repeated a million times, the average is 40%, not 50% as we might expect.

The same data, read a completely new way, sets a new expectation.

And this new lens holds true for basketball players as well. Applied to the original study, 19 out of 25 of basketball players demonstrated the hot hand effect when shooting from a location where they have a 50% chance of making the shot.

Data is often a helpful predictor of outcomes. But it can also make us myopic as we find ways to support the data at hand. The results of this new study (and of Curry’s record-making game) inspire me. I am able to believe that in this world of smart numbers, we humans still call the shots. It’s up to us to figure out what we make of the numbers—and if we want to make anything of them at all.

When interviewed after his record-making game, Curry explained, “I was hard on myself in practice the last two days. I had pretty good sessions. I don’t overreact to games like that whether I got 0 for 10 or 2 for 12 or whatever it is. My process is the same, but I had another level of focus the last two days trying to get my rhythm back and see the ball go in.”

Perhaps it is our mindset and our belief that we can succeed, regardless of statistical plausibility, that drive our success. Our chances of success or failure shouldn’t prescribe our confidence. We should instead choose our paths deliberately, then create the conditions that enable us to reach our destination.

Yes, we can believe in data, but let’s believe in ourselves—and others—first.

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change, experiencing, psychology, social connection, technology

How Social Media Tells Our Life Story — Whether We Like It Or Not

Last weekend, I attended a wedding. A number of guests were people to whom I haven’t spoken in months or even years, for no reason other than the fact that our daily lives don’t intersect. As I anticipated the reunion, I imagined a Romy and Michele-style experience in which conversations would begin with, “What have you been up to since 2010?”

And I was nervously excited about that.

But these conversations took an unexpected path. I was greeted with opening lines like, “You were all over the place this week!” and “What was that dinner you made?” or “I love that book you’re reading.”

They were knowing remarks, as if we had shared those experiences together. The tone was familiar, though not in the “it feels like no time has passed,” sort of way. My expectation of reunion-type conversation was grossly inaccurate.

Recent MomentsI shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was — these questions all stemmed from recent instagrams or blog articles I’ve shared. They were undeniable snapshots from current events in my life. Despite this obvious justification, something simply didn’t feel right about the conception of these conversations, and in the moment, I couldn’t understand why. For whatever reason, they weren’t topics I would have chosen to lead with. Still, the company — and the conversations in themselves — were delightful.

Sunday after the wedding, I returned to my apartment for the first time in a week. I passed my roommate on my way in.

“Hi! Was this weekend one of the weddings?” She asked.

“Yes! It was a great time.”

“And were you gone during the week too? I wasn’t sure.”

It sometimes happens that we don’t cross paths during the work week, even when we are both in town. When my roommate asked the question, the peculiar feeling I had with those wedding greetings suddenly returned.

“Yeah, I was in Ohio. I’ll tell you all about it, and I want to hear about your week too.”

How ironic that I had gone dark on this person who is deeply entrenched in my daily life, while those who follow from afar seemingly had not missed a beat. The difference between her and them? She doesn’t have instagram.

We can all agree and accept that social media presents a curated version of our life experiences. We know that there is more behind what we filter out. In fact, I see my social presence as a completely different entity from my living and breathing one. My real-life story intentionally has different chapters than the ones I share online. And people in my day-to-day world know that.

But for geographically and figuratively distant friends, what they see is the only — and entire — story.

This is what caught me off guard at the wedding.

It has me wondering whether social media is not just presenting a curated version of our life experiences, but also creating a curated version of our reality. The fleeting, caption-worthy moments we share for Likes are the ones people (setting aside close friends) know us for. They serve as a jumping-off point for our in-person conversation. It is what they ask about, and what we tell them about.

Whether they intend to or not, others write the story of our lives, and their perceptions of them, by what we share. And we do the same to them. We overlook the existence, let alone the significance, of people’s unshared moments.

In most cases, that’s where the real story lies.

While I initially struggled with this truism, I’ve decided that this is the status of social media. There’s nothing we can do about it, whether we like it or not. We can, however, remind ourselves that people have unshared stories. We can account for this by leaving blank pages in the life stories we craft for them. And we can encourage them to tell these stories, should they desire.

Monday evening, my roommate and I ate dinner together at home. We regaled one another with the goings-on in our lives, taking care to mention what we deemed meaningful. Perhaps what made the conversation most captivating was that none of it could be found in a caption. We established the filters of our stories. Not social media.

And that feeling of connection was anything but fleeting.

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design, experiencing, friendship, humans, psychology, trust

What Product Design Can Teach Us About Designing Ourselves

Under My Umbrella Ella EllaWhen Rihanna released an award-winning song whose catchiest word was “umbrella,” I was perplexed. Not only is the word ugly, but it also refers to a boring utilitarian item that is associated with bad weather.

Living in Philadelphia at the time, I had a miserable relationship with umbrellas. They literally turned on me when I needed them most. During the wet seasons, I resolved myself to a monthly cycle of disposing and purchasing umbrellas. I never spent more than twenty dollars on an umbrella and never expected it to last longer than a few windy rainstorms.

I moved back to California five years ago, and given the drought, hadn’t quite needed to use an umbrella until this winter. In mid-December, my existing umbrella mysteriously disappeared from my doorstep. “Here we go again,” I told myself as I logged on to Amazon, “Back to the umbrella-buying loop.”

My complaints were quickly put to rest when I found that one of the highest rated umbrellas also met my twentyish dollar budget. But I was more surprised by the fact that it claimed to be “unbreakable” and came with a lifetime guarantee. Lifetime. I always thought that the entire umbrella industry relies on untamable weather.

Dubious, I purchased the Kolumbo on Amazon. The worst that would happen was that it would break and I would need to buy a new one. The worst case scenario was my status quo.

Four days after my purchase, I got a personal email from a customer service representative from Kolumbo. Though I’m by no means an Amazon power-user, I’ve never received a message from anyone other than Amazon regarding and Amazon purchase or shipment:

From Greg

This, from an umbrella manufacturer. My heart flooded with positive feelings. Already, I was a fan. A few days later, I received my umbrella and thankfully (both for the drought and for my eagerness to use the umbrella), it rained the day after. The only thing more magical than pressing the button for it to open was pressing the button for it to close.

This umbrella is phenomenal.

It quickly became a conversation topic for me and I even made one sale.

And while I’ve only had the umbrella for a few weeks, I’m almost confident that should this unbreakable umbrella break for, I can replace it through my trusty friend Greg.

After my umbrella purchase, I started thinking about all the long-term products in my life — That denim jacket I’ve had since I was in elementary school, the years-old hand-me-down espresso maker, a gifted journal  — and what makes them special.

What makes them special is that they are always there for me, no matter what, whether it’s while standing on the windy Golden Gate Bridge on my fifteenth birthday, after waking up feeling like I need another night’s sleep, or when in search of a silent listener. Our bond is unconditional. In some, anthropomorphic way, they are my trusted friends.

Which brings me to real humans.

In the hustle of our everyday responsibilities, it’s easy to take the people in our life for granted. Sometimes I feel that I don’t even have enough time for myself, let alone other people. Other times I’ve also been left out to dry when I’ve needed a friend the most. Life has a climate of its own and at times we find ourselves basking in sunlight with an umbrella to spare, while at others we’re caught in a storm with no umbrella at all.

While product design can take great inspiration from interpersonal relationships, the opposite is also true. We can learn from good products. There’s something comforting about knowing from Day 1 that you are interacting with a product you can trust. Something grounding about knowing from the get-go that a product will shield you through even the gustiest of winds. Something heartwarming about realizing that in its company, you are the priority.

We humans are nothing but products designed to share beautiful moments with one another.

Consider the version of yourself that’s out in the world right now. Are you the product you want to be? Are you the product you expect others to be? If so, shine on. If not, simply take some time to close up, flip around, and open up a different way. You, like my new umbrella, have impressive power instilled in you. And more importantly, you, like my new umbrella, have a lifetime guarantee.

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childhood, math, money, psychology, questions, real world, San Francisco

How Asking Questions Can Make You Rich

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Last week, someone tried to steal my money. Before she could run off, I caught her in the act and fought her off. My weapon? A simple question.

Now before you imagine any grand scenes of my fighting crime on the streets of San Francisco, let me explain. I was on the phone with an agent, signing up for renter’s insurance. I had already completed an online interview and received a quote of $10.83 per month. The next and final step was for me to talk with an insurance representative who would “help me get the coverage I need.” So as we talked on the phone to make it all official, I naturally assumed that she was on my side—there for me like a good neighbor. Finally, it came time to pay.

“You’re total is one hundred and thirty dollars,” she said.

“What?” Not one for mental math, I felt like the number had come out of nowhere.

“Of course you can also pay monthly,” she said, leaving me to infer that the first number was annual.

“I think I’ll go monthly,” I said. I like to track my monthly purchases, and a recurring item on my credit card statement would be a good reminder.

“Okay. You’re total is $12.83.”

“Huh?” Neither mental math nor some taps on my calculator app could explain this one. I knew I would need to ask if I wanted an answer. “How are these amounts being determined?” 

“There is a two-dollar setup fee for the first month.”

“Great. So then next month it would be $10.83?”

“No it would be $11.83.”

“Wait what?!” A third number. This was too much. I was feeling less and less assured by the minute. “Can you help me understand this?” 

“Well, there is a one dollar service charge each month when you pay monthly.”

Aha! Caught you! Aha aha aha. Our conversation had been like a wrestling match and I had pinned her down. “But there are no additional fees if I pay annually?”

“That’s correct.” I chose the annual payment plan and hung up feeling like I had saved a million bucks (when really I had saved about twelve).

Asking that one simple question had invited the agent to unpack their payment structure (probably one that she is encouraged not to explain) and allowed me to make a more educated decision.

 

I haven’t always been a questions-asker. I know now that “there is no bad question” and that “chances are someone else has the same question,” but for most of my life, questions were a bad thing. I feared them.

Questions were those things that my mom asked when she didn’t believe what I was saying. They were the things you asked when I was being disobedient (“but why?”). Questions were what those dumb kids asked the teacher when they didn’t understand what she was saying (but everyone else did).

Over time, these cues taught me that questions were not constructive or collaborative. They were cavilling. 

The pinnacle of my question-fearing came senior year of college. I was preparing for my thesis presentation, which would consist of a one-hour session where I would share my findings then answer questions from the department. In addition to practicing my talk, I spent hours praying that nobody would ask any questions. What if I don’t know the answer? It’ll make my thesis look weak. What if I don’t have an answer? It’ll destroy my thesis.

If you’ve ever been in a presentation of research findings, you know that my prayers went completely unanswered. Oh were there questions. I didn’t know the answers to some (“I can certainly look into that,”) but for most, there were no answers to begin with (“These findings can’t answer that”).

When we debriefed my presentation a few days later, I started out by apologizing to my advisor. “I messed up in the Q&A,” I said. “I should have been more prepared.” My advisor looked at me sternly.

“What are you saying? People only asked questions because they were interested in what you were talking about. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t have asked questions. I thought it was a good conversation. Based on the energy in the room, I’m thinking we should do a follow-up study.”

It was with this conversation that I first reconsidered my beliefs around questions-asking.

 

As I’ve transitioned into my professional life, I’ve come to rely on questions as a sort of currency: They demonstrate the extent to which people are invested in what you are saying. When leaders participate in meetings, the best ones—the ones that seem to care the most—ask questions. When the most effective speakers stand in front of an audience, they leave substantial time for questions.

Today, my life is full of questions, both that I ask and that I answer. I live and breathe questions without which my personal and professional work would be far less stimulating or meaningful.

If you ask me, there are two types of people in this world: Those who ask questions and those who pay an extra twelve dollars in renter’s insurance each year. It hasn’t always been the case, but today, there’s no question I’m the former. 

In every situation, push yourself to ask the hard questions. Invite the hard questions from others. Because it’s these questions, not their answers or the answers that you already have, that will make your life a whole lot richer.

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2015, 2016, life lessons, math, meaningfulness, new year, psychology, resolutions, shared experiences, speech, stereotypes

Why We Need To Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Pushing Past The Comfort Zone

“Because I said so,” was a common explanation I heard growing up. As was, “As long as you live under this roof you’ll live under my rules.” Whether it was making my bed or going to a dinner party none of my friends were going to, there was no negotiating with my mom. I frequently had to do things I didn’t want to do. That’s just how it was.

Life looked something like taking a math class I didn’t want to take “because it’s a pre-requisite,” going to piano class “because it is Wednesday,” and going to a school dance “because socializing is good for you.”

But things are different now. One of the biggest privileges of being a young adult (with nobody to take care of but myself) is that I have the freedom to say and do whatever I want. While I do have obligations and responsibilities like paying my student loans and going to work, they are minimal, and most of them are ones that I have chosen for myself.

How many times in 2015 did you choose to do something that you didn’t want to do? Not something like going to the dentist or doing your laundry, but something more profound.

I won’t pry, but I’ll tell you that my answer is “not often.”

In the five years since I’ve joined the real world, I’ve aggressively curated my life to be one that I’m comfortable living. It’s worth mentioning that while these years have certainly come with my share disappointment and hardship, I’m referring here to the aspects of my life I’m able to control. I found a job that makes me happy; I’ve cultivated a community of people who I appreciate and who appreciate me; I eat what I like; I exercise at my desired frequency; I dedicate my free time to activities I enjoy; I spend and don’t spend my money the way I deem appropriate; I have the conversations I want to have; I am selectively social; and I rarely go out of my way to do things I don’t want to do. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. In fact, this way of life has allowed me to get to know myself and what I value. Perhaps I am lucky or perhaps I am just lucky enough to find the silver linings.

Given this hyper-conscious way of living, I was surprised to realize that in the last month, I’ve been in multiple situations that make me uncomfortable. Voluntarily.

For example, at the beginning of the month, I had to give a speech to my entire office and their external guests. When I volunteered for the gig a few months prior, I did so considering only the speech-writing aspect (something I’m very comfortable with) and overlooking the speech-giving aspect (something that scares me half to death). In the hours leading up to my speech, I couldn’t think or eat. My heart had descended into my stomach. Despite being armed with a strongly written speech, I feared that walking up to the podium would be coupled with a sudden onset of amnesia or paralysis. The blend of anxiety, fear, and excitement was one that I hadn’t felt since the days of childhood piano recitals.

For another example, just a week later, I was at a ceremony sitting next to someone I haven’t spoken to in years. Distracting myself with my phone (something I’m comfortable with), I happened upon a tweet to test your algebra skills. Though I detest mental math, and math in general, I clicked the link and leaned over to this neighbor. “Want to try doing these together?” I asked. He obliged, and we started reading the first word problem. As the pang of stereotype-threat entered my brain, I almost immediately regretted my invitation to jointly tackle a type of math problem I purposely haven’t attempted in fifteen years (something that makes me uncomfortable), with a person I haven’t spoken to in five (something that scares me half to death). But there was no turning back.

The hours leading up to the speech and the split-second in which I offered up math problems — the moments  I spent at the cusp of comfort and discomfort — are some of my biggest moments of growth in recent memory.

This makes me wonder, could the aforementioned “privilege” of curated comfort actually be doing me a disservice? Looking back, I have to admit that my mom’s “because I said so” policy was instrumental in making me the well-rounded individual I am today.

The speech was successfully delivered and the algebra problems were eventually solved. But more importantly, both experiences required me to use my brain in ways that I rarely choose to do. There was a thrill in processing something new and a delightful mystery in awaiting the outcome. Stretching past what was comfortable was a beautiful challenge, and once on the other side, I didn’t regret how it happened.

The nice thing about a comfort zone is that it doesn’t have to be fixed. It can expand as we find more opportunities to tiptoe past the bounds of our status quo. The hard part is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in the first place.

While those of us who consider ourselves comfortable should also consider ourselves lucky, there is something to be said about being too comfortable. After a point, comfort can be just as debilitating as a lack thereof. I wish for you to be as comfortable as you wish to be. But in this new year, find ways to make yourself just slightly uncomfortable.

They say that life starts at the end of your comfort zone. For me, 2016 will start there as well. Here’s to finding new joy, new challenges, and new experiences outside the realms of what we already know.

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