Pragma Synesi – interesting bits

Compendium of interesting bits I come across, with an occasional IMHO

Mind over matter: psychology over calorie-counting

Interesting idea of how to lose weight relatively effortlessly without counting calories (warning: you still have to watch what you eat) by letting your own body dictate how much you eat.

Seems pretty sensible and worth a try.

The hunger mood

Hunger isn’t in your stomach or your blood-sugar levels. It’s in your mind – and that’s where we need to shape up

by Michael Graziano | Edited by Ed Lake  | 18 January, 2016 | Aeon

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January 22, 2016 Posted by | behaviour, diet, health, psychology | , , , | 1 Comment

Junk food is addictive

“… extremely sweet or fatty foods captivate the brain’s reward circuit in much the same way that cocaine and gambling do…”

A must-read for the sake of your own health.

How Sugar and Fat Trick the Brain into Wanting More Food

Junk foods can muddle the brain’s satiety-control mechanism, sending our appetites into hyperdrive

Ferris Jabr | January 1, 2016 | Scientific American

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January 3, 2016 Posted by | behaviour, diet, health, nutrition | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Six steps to stronger willpower

The first one was a surprise.

Six steps to stronger willpower

Besides intelligence, willpower is meant to be the single most important trait for success in life. In our latest SmartList, we explain simple ways to improve your self-control.

By David Robson| 30 September 2015 | BBC Future

Hold in your pee
Strangely, it can stop you making impulsive decisions — psychologists call it inhibitory spillover

Intriguingly, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron claims to use this strategy before important meetings. The idea is that while the brain is exercising self-control on one task, its discipline spreads to any other task at hand. In one study, for instance, some participants were asked to drink a few glasses of flavoured water. Before having the chance to relieve themselves, they were given the opportunity to earn some money. The participants who needed the toilet were more likely to forgo a smaller, immediate award in order to receive a bigger pay-out later on – a classic test of willpower. Source: Psychological Science

Sleep on it
We are less likely to give in to temptation in the morning

Psychologists think of willpower as a “limited resource” – essentially, you can use it up over the course of a day. We can’t always choose when our self-control is going to be tested, of course – but when making a big decision (about whether to buy a car, or end your marriage, say) you may do better to sleep on it. Otherwise, you may face regret in the morning. Source: Psychological Science

Get a sugar rush
The blood sugar boosts you resolve and leads to wiser decisions

Self-control uses up the brain’s energy reserves, meaning that you are more weak-willed when you are hungry. One study found that judges are more likely to make rash judgements before lunch for this very reason – and it could also explain why we lose our temper and get “hangry” around dinnertime. But a simple sweet drink can give you a boost and restore your reserves. It’s not a good strategy if you are trying to be healthy, though. Source: PNAS

When we feel happy, we find it easier to endure pain for long-term gain

Although willpower can wear down over the day (and with hunger) there are ways to restore it. One option is comedy. A recent study found that people who watched funny videos were better at controlling their impulses later on. They were more likely to stomach a nasty-tasting drink, for instance, that was meant to be good for their health. Source: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Restful contemplation refocuses your mind on the things that matter

Self-control often involves suppressing some difficult emotions, as you keep your eye on the prize. Fortunately, mindful contemplation helps you to balance your feelings, so that you can continue to act in your own best interests.One simple technique is to focus your attention across different parts of the body, observing the unique sensations in each place.Source: Consciousness and Cognition

Stop feeling guilty
Ironically, feelings of guilt send you down a slippery slope into temptation. So enjoy a bit of indulgence every now and then

The mind automatically associates guilt with pleasure – meaning that we find our vices even more enticing when we know we’re not meant to enjoy them. Conversely, a little guilt-free indulgence may just be the rest you need to help you maintain your resolve. So if you do find yourself breaking a resolution, don’t beat yourself up – just see it as a momentary lapse that will leave you renewed and ready to fight on. Source: Journal of General Psychology

October 13, 2015 Posted by | behaviour, decision making | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scarcity lowers IQ and self-control

Having read the article below, which is adapted from the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, I was struck by several points. For one, it is amazing how much scarcity affects our decisions and actions, on a level we don’t even notice.  But more importantly, the effect scarcity has on IQ and self-control sheds new light on the plight of the poor.  If you don’t have time to read the whole book, makes sure you read these articles highlighting different aspects of the book: Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much and Scarcity changes how we think.

If you are really pressed for time, below is an excerpt from the first article:

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (excerpts)


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December 31, 2013 Posted by | behaviour, decision making, economics, psychology | , , , , , , | 1 Comment


Nice article explaining the science behind willpower — several very useful tricks.  From Time Magazine,  Mar. 05, 2012:

Getting to No – The Science of Building Willpower

By Jeffrey Kluger

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April 19, 2013 Posted by | behaviour, brain, decision making, psychology | | Leave a comment

Self-control may not equate success

From the January-February 2013 issue of Discover Magazine

Why Kids Make Rash Decisions

Contrary to popular psychological theory, self-control may not equate success.

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April 13, 2013 Posted by | behaviour, decision making, psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

How to Avoid the Temptations of Immediate Gratification

Recent research linked  impulsivity with a lack of future thinking. Want to avoid a temptation? Focus on imagining a concrete, un-fuzzy future with positive attributes instead.  From Scientific American, January 15, 2013:

How to Avoid the Temptations of Immediate Gratification

Neuroscience hints at the power of imagining the future

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January 19, 2013 Posted by | behaviour, brain, neuroeconomics, neuroscience, psychology | , , , , | 1 Comment

Practice your willpower

It turns out willpower is something that can improve with practice. No wonder religions have rituals that force you to do the homework…

From, February 23, 2012:


Lent and the Science of Self-Denial

The hidden health benefits of religious rituals that require willpower

By Jeffrey Kluger
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February 23, 2012 Posted by | behaviour, brain, religion | , , , | Leave a comment

How to Concentrate

I’ve already posted an article about Baumeister’s book Willpower.  This is another very useful article he wrote on how to concentrate.  From Bloomberg BusinessWeek, October 2, 2011:

How To Concentrate

Roy Baumeister
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October 12, 2011 Posted by | behaviour, brain | , , | Leave a comment

Improve your willpower

Self-control is like a muscle that can be strengthened over time.  Sounds like the book by Baumeister and Tierney would be quite useful.  From Canadian Business, September 26, 2011:

A lack of willpower means it’s time to exercise your mind

By Jacqueline Nelson  | September 08, 2011

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October 10, 2011 Posted by | behaviour, brain, psychology | , | 1 Comment