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Four Kinds of Vampires that Haunt Your Life (and What to Do About Them)

Four Kinds of Vampires that Haunt Your Life (and What to Do About Them)

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    You are surrounded by vampires.

    They circle you, slowly, eyeing your throat, their teeth glistening in the moonlight. Your heart pounds in your chest as they move in, intent on draining your life’s blood for their own unholy nourishment. A scream rises up in your chest as they close in on you, their fangs bared, and then you feel the first pair of teeth sinking into your throat.

    “Hey, Dustin, got a minute? I want to tell you about this awesome party I went to over the weekend. We were sooooo wasted, and…”

    The horror! The HORROR!!!

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    The vampires in this tale aren’t the supernatural beings of myth and legend, the Transylvanian undead doomed to walk the night for all eternity, feeding on the blood of the unsuspecting people around them. No, these vampires move about freely in the daylight, and they feed not on blood but on your time, attention, and yes, your very soul. And crosses, garlic, and holy water have no effect on them.

    And who are these wretched damned? They come in many forms and wear many guises. Often, you will recognize them not by their own actions, but by their effect on you: the tapping foot, the ignored gestures of impatience, the tightening of the chest as your time slips away, the forced laughter at yet another of their stupid, mean-spirited, or just plain pointless jokes.

    There are many kinds of vampires that threaten you daily. Here are four you have probably encountered recently, and how to dispatch them to the realm from which they emerged.

    1. The time-sucking fiend

    The time-sucking fiend seeks only your time – the more of it they can consume, the stronger they get. They drop by the office with hour-long explanations that could have been summed up in a five-sentence email, they call at all hours “just to say ‘hi'” and simply won’t let you hang up, they CC you and everyone else they know on every email (especially the ones that promise a gruesome death if you don’t follow suit) – and when you actually need them, they’re nowhere to be found.

    Like summoning a demon, dealing with the time-sucking fiend relies on powerful boundaries – and also like summoning a demon, you can only count on yourself to maintain those boundaries. While you might have heard business leaders extolling the virtues of an “open-door” policy, you have to realize that an open door is an invitation, and you hopefully know better than to invite a vampire in! It’s better to limit your open door to specific times and schedule the rest of your work around those times.

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    But the most powerful weapon in your arsenal against time-sucking fiends, your wooden stake, is to just say “No”.

    “Hey Jan, got a minute?”

    “Oh, sorry, I really don’t. I’m hard at work on this report/email to a vendor/chapter of my novel/game of Solitaire. If it’s important, why don’t you send me an email or we can schedule 10 minutes later this week to discuss it.”

    Asserting your unavailability and then taking control of the situation is the key, here. Never leave the time-sucking fiend at a loss for what to do next; instead, offer an option or two (never more) so they feel like their issue will be addressed. But never back down – your time is yours, as long as you treat it as such.

    2. The humorless hellhound

    The humorless hellhound didn’t quite follow the joke you made at lunch today, and wants you to know it! Besides taking up your time, the humorless hellhound sucks the fun out of life, demanding an explanation of every off-hand comment you or anyone else makes, and complaining about being made the butt of a joke by someone else. They’d never get offended and confront the person who offended them – that’s what everyone else is for!

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    Be firm with the humorless hellhound – simply say “It wasn’t important” and steer the conversation back to topics of substance or, if there are none, walk away. Neither defend nor condemn others with whom the humorless hellhound has a problem; your only response should be “Take it up with them”.

    Note: Often people who make offensive remarks hide behind the mask of humor (very often these people are vacuous horrors; see below), attempting to deflect attention from their own offensiveness by saying “aw, it was just a joke!” Those who stand up to jerks like that are certified Van Helsings, not humorless hellhounds. Learn to tell the difference – it could save your life!

    3. The vacuous horror

    The vacuous horror is an idiot, and he or she doesn’t care who knows it. Their pleasures are simple: drink to excess, bed hot chicks or dudes, get sooooo high, play their music sooooo loud, party sooooo hard. Or at least talk about those things – and talk, and talk, and talk talk talk. They don’t want your time, or not just your time, they want your attention – and somehow, your jealousy, as if you should envy their pseudo-wannabe-MTV lives.

    The silver bullet here is to tell them it all sounds pretty lame, but of course, nobody uses silver bullets. Too fatal. After all, you kind of feel sorry for them, all shriveled and naked and weak – they’re like children. Stupid, nasty children, but children nonetheless. Your best bet, then, is to treat them as blood-sucking fiends, carefully limiting their access and steering them towards matters of more substance. A curt “Yeah, that sounds great. Listen, I’ve got to get going…” might be called for if they just won’t pass on to the next world, though…

    4. The detail demon

    While attention to detail is important, the detail demon isn’t concerned with making sure things work, he or she is concerned with a thousand minor points that have no significance or bearing on anything outside of her or his decomposing mind. The detail demon wants to discuss the pros and cons of the serial comma in the corporate stylebook, and s/he wants to discuss it now. For a really, really, really long time.

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    Fortunately, the detail demon is easily dispatched. Like the time-sucking fiend, under no circumstances give the detail demon any control over your time! Instead, ask them to write up an itemized list of their concerns and email it to you (or otherwise deliver it) so you can review them thoroughly. Since most of their concerns will not matter much, you can usually just give them a simple “go ahead” on the changes they suggest; anything of actual importance they bring up actually does need to be addressed, so they’ve just saved you some time! Turning the vampire’s power against them – that’s ninja-level stuff!

    Who’s haunting your house?

    These four aren’t the only vampires prowling the streets and hallways of our lives. For the good of your fellow Lifehack readers, what other kinds of vampires have you run into lately? And more importantly, how did you vanquish these foul, foul beasts? The future of all our productivity may depend on you!

    (Happy Halloween!)

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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