Abhi’s Newsletter vol 11: The contrast principle 🤯

The contrast principle and its applicability for productivity improvement. Key insights on mindful consumption, and task prioritisation.

While it feels like we have settled into the new ways of working, our workdays have actually gotten longer and we continue to struggle with blurring boundary between work & life! That is not the contrast principle I am referring to though.

You might want to approach that challenging task first, because it will have a positive impact on your workday.

The “contrast principle” I first discovered in Robert Cialdini’s 2007 book The Psychology of Persuasion, is fascinating. It suggests that when two comparable things happen in succession, we tend to evaluate lesser or greater the value of the second through a direct comparison with the first. For instance, take 3 containers of water, warm, cold, and room temperature. Now dip each of your hands in warm and cold containers respectively. After a while, switch both hands into the room temperature container. Something magical happens. One hand feels cooler, whereas the other feels warmer, even though the temperature of the water in container is the same.

Another example is shopping! If we go to an Apple Store, we are likely to balk at the prices of accessories. However, if you have just shopped for an iPhone or a MacBook, your odds of buying the sometimes unreasonably priced accessory are dramatically higher. The key reason is, shopping for a high value item, makes you perceive an accessory (lower value) to be cheaper, thereby improving your chances of buying it. Ps. Apple knows this!

Apple Store encounters are so typical! Photo by Zhiyue Xu

So what does that have to do with tasks? This is based on personal experience. We often have a tendency to put off complex tasks. Granted, intentions are genuine. For instance, we may want to be sure we can “finish everything else” and focus. The contrast principle advocates against this! When we finish easy tasks first, the complex task is perceived to be more difficult than it actually is. This pushes down the odds of accomplishing the complex task even more. However, if you approach the complex task first, you avoid the above detriment, and you make the easy tasks seem even easier.

Simple, yet extremely powerful!

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Mastering the art of active consumption will make you a ninja at work!

Passive consumption is mindless reading, listening, or watching videos. A few examples include endlessly scrolling a newsfeed on Facebook, or Twitter, and binge watching YouTube or Netflix. Some other examples include, audiobooks, podcasts, TED Talks etc.

I am not against passive consumption. It is a good way to relax, and it is also a good sidekick to a primary activity. For instance, people love listening to podcasts and music while commuting, or people love listening to music while working out. Spotify playlists such as deep focus are my staple while working, as they help me concentrate. There is however, such a thing called too much passive consumption and it is beginning to affect our ability to sustain active consumption!

Photo by Nick Fewings

Active consumption is mindful. For example, taking notes. There are so many active processes involved in a seemingly simple activity!

If you read Daniel Kahnemann’s ‘Thinking Fast & Slow’, you will remember system 2. This is an active cognitive process that is slow, deliberate, conscious, self-aware, logical, and skeptical. At work, bringing the power of system 2 can help you be super productive and lead better.

Most efficient meetings that I am part of are short, crisp, action oriented, and most importantly active! This can be done with some prep. Do not accept or setup a meeting without an agenda. Prepare, prepare, and prepare. Sometimes preparation for a meeting gives more dividends than the meeting itself. It brings clarity of thought! I like having a slide or two. This forces structure, concise articulation and active analysis of information. If you are not in control of above factors, take notes and regularly track actions. Give feedback to the organiser in the nicest possible way! Do all this and you can facilitate active consumption at work.

In terms of tools, I like using OneNote. On personal devices I use Notion… Notion is magic! It is the best note taking app and life organiser in one. I highly recommend it.

What is your mantra for active consumption?

Are we trading our happiness for modern comforts?

Public spending on healthcare, education and every other measurable dimension has gone up. Amid advances of quality of life across income scale, happiness is decreasing and unhappiness is increasing.

This article argues that we have been measuring the quality of life in the wrong way. It also argues that hyper consumption may be one reason. Author suggests that we have gone into an endless rats race of production and consumption. This is slowly taking away meaning from our life.

Minimalism is beautiful / Photo by Philipp Berndt

Empty consumerism, soulless governments, deleterious effects of media and technology (social media particularly) are the most to blame according to the author. Author suggests limiting mindless consumption. Not putting our faith in politics or politicians especially for happiness. Finally, protecting family, relationships, friends and love above everything else.

Please do share how you relate with contrast principle and your secrets of happiness!

Full article here

By Abhi Shah

Hi, I’m Abhi. After living many years in London, me and my family re-located back to India in the summer of 2017. I spend most of my time working with a high performing team at Barclays in Pune, India and the rest with my son Anik! I have spent half of my career in commercial product roles and half in technology. I have also spent over 9 years living outside India, and have traveled to over 27 countries. Visit the Bio section of this website to learn more about me.

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