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8 Ways That You Can Think Outside The Box Like Freakonomics

8 Ways That You Can Think Outside The Box Like Freakonomics

Sometimes, the most unusual of collaborations can produce the most spectacular results. This was certainly the case in 2005, when author Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt joined forces to co-author the ground-breaking work Freakonomics. This book, which sold a staggering 5.5 million copies in more than 40 languages, was the first in a series that has combined unique and personal narratives with unconventional analysis to explore the benefits of innovative thinking.

The Freakonomics series has created a blueprint for thinking outside the box, and encouraged loyal readers to identify entirely new methods of solving their problems. Whether these relate to major global reforms or the issues that complicate everyday life, Dubner’s and Levitt’s literature has revolutionized thought processes and changed the boundaries of possibility for citizens from across the land.

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    With this in mind, what are the pivotal lessons that can be taken from the Freakonomics series and how can they be applied in your everyday life? Let’s consider the following 8 ways you can think outside the box like Freakonomics.

    1. You can say ‘I Don’t Know’

    A common theme that has ran throughout the Freakonomics series is that the majority of issues are more complex than they initially seem. We do not generally acknowledge this fact which subsequently creates a learning gap that can affect us negatively as we grow older. This is why the latest book in the series, Think like a Freak, has dedicated an entire chapter that encourages individuals to say ‘I don’t know’ on a more frequent basis and open up their minds to new information and understanding. This is particularly important when discussing environmental issues, as Dubner claims that such an outlook would prevent individuals from “getting on one side of the debate and digging in their heels” without a comprehensive understanding of the topic in question.

    2. You can think Small and Still Succeed

    This taps into another prolific section of the Think like a Freak book, which implores readers not to abandon their childlike instincts as they enter adulthood. After all, it is the child’s capacity for open-mindedness and curiosity that makes them able to absorb information in their infancy, while their ability to think small and without inhibition also enables them to conceive viable solutions for problems. The concept of simple and uninhibited thinking has been embodied by the brand Pokerstars, which employed hard working and renowned sporting legends such as Ronaldo and Rafael Nadal as brand ambassadors as a way of driving recognition, challenging existing misconceptions and transcending the industry in which they operate. By selecting a relatively simple and bold solution to a problematic marketing issue, the brand embraced childlike instincts to achieve success.

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    3. You can live with Risk Easier than Regret

    While it may be argued that bold and simplistic decision making can incur risks, this is not necessarily something that should be feared. One of the most persuasive arguments of the whole Freakonomics series is that risk represents an easier burden to carry than regret, as the latter occurs as a result of failing to take a chance due to fear or an innate sense of inhibition. This can only ever create uncertainty and leave you wondering what might have been, and while risk takers may ultimately succeed or fail they have a clear conscious and the knowledge that they have at least tried to achieve their goals. So when making a decision, it may be worth re-evaluating the process and considering which option you would end up regretting if you failed to take it.

    4. You Can Flip a Coin to make Important Decisions

    For complex decisions that also affect others, such as relocating or changing careers, your thought process is likely to be even more confused and convoluted. In these instances, flipping a coin can be an excellent way of helping you to achieve clarity and choose a finite path. This theory was tested on a website called Freakonomics Experiments, which invited visitors to share their dilemmas and offered to flip a coin on their behalf. While this may seem fanciful, more than 40,000 visitors have taken the plunge and many found that they were more content when the coin encouraged them to follow a particular path. In contrast, others choose to ignore the coin toss as they instinctively believed the call to be wrong for them. It is therefore clear that the result of the coin toss is inconsequential, as the intuitive sense of clarity and insight that it brings enables individuals to make an informed decision.

    5. You can conduct a ‘Premortem’ when considering Options

    There is a fine line between thoughtfulness and over analysis, and it is important to achieve a balance when making decisions. This is something that is considered in detail in Think like a Freak, where the authors reference a theory forwarded by leading psychologist Gary Klein. Using something that he refers to as a “premortem“, it is possible for individuals to give careful consideration to their upcoming decision in a way that creates clarity rather than confusion. More specifically, by thinking ahead into the future and imagining that your decision has produced little but abject failure, you can pinpoint exactly where issues are likely to occur and how easy it will be to avoid them. This will enable you to develop a balanced view of the risks involved, before determining whether or not it is a decision that should be delayed or discarded in favour of an alternative option.

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    6. You can disregard the Majority of Conventional Wisdom

    In Freakonomics, the authors discussed the concept of conventional wisdom at length and concurred that it is generally either wrong or biased towards the views of the writer. The main reason for this, they argue, is that the experts who generate conventional wisdom are inclined to use their knowledge and informational advantage to articulate their own agenda or express an informed opinion. It can also be used to create sensationalism regarding a social or political issue, and Freakonomics uses the example of drug dealers to make its point. While experts present the illicit drug trade as being extremely immoral and driven by individuals who generate huge financial gains, for example, in reality it is little more than a capitalist enterprise where the majority of workers earn less than the minimum wage. This is something to bear in mind when evaluating information and it reinforces the importance of developing knowledge and forming your own, unique opinions.

    7. You can be sure that Correlation does not Always Mean Causation

    As the Freakonomics series has continued, the authors have moved away from their economic basis and focused more predominantly on social science. This is reflected in one of their core principles, which is that correlation does not directly imply causation. It is a common misconception that when two variables change in the same manner at the same time, one is automatically responsible for triggering this evolution. This is not the case, however, and despite this being a fundamental finding of social scientific research it is often ignored. In any case where two or more variables in your life begin to change simultaneously, it is always worth addressing the circumstances on their own individual merit and identifying any other factors that may be responsible.

    8. You can become too Preoccupied with End Results rather than the Process of Achieving them

    The Freakonomics brand is now huge, and includes Dubner’s radio show in addition to a blog, film and additional literature. Dubner references his own radio show in the most recent book, and says that he is often disturbed at how fans evaluate an event or debate and “look at its conclusion rather than the process of getting there“. To illustrate this, he presents the example of a discussion where it was suggested that hitting a pedestrian with a car has surprisingly few consequences in the modern world. This was met with acclaim by pedestrian advocates, despite the fact the same demographic had criticised Dubner for suggesting that “drunk walking” may be a huge factor in the rate of automotive accidents. In short, we have a tendency to celebrate occasions where people reach similar conclusions to ourselves, without considering the discussion in its wider context and the process of arriving at such an assertion.

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    Featured photo credit: Suzi Duke via flickr.com

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    Last Updated on March 21, 2019

    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

    Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

    You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

    But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

    To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

    It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

    “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

    The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

    In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

    Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

    1. Start Small

    The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

    Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

    Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

    Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

    Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

    Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

    It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

    Do less today to do more in a year.

    2. Stay Small

    There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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    But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

    If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

    When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

    I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

    Why?

    Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

    The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

    Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

    3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

    No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

    There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

    What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

    Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

    This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

    This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

    4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

    When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

    There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

    Peter Drucker said,

    “What you track is what you do.”

    So track it to do it — it really helps.

    But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

    5. Measure Once, Do Twice

    Peter Drucker also said,

    “What you measure is what you improve.”

    So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

    For reading, it’s 20 pages.
    For writing, it’s 500 words.
    For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
    For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

    Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

    6. All Days Make a Difference

    Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

    Will two? They won’t.

    Will three? They won’t.

    Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

    What happened? Which one made you fit?

    The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

    No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

    7. They Are Never Fully Automated

    Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

    But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

    What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

    It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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    The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

    It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

    It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

    8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

    Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

    Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

    When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

    The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

    Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

    9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

    The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

    Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

    You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

    But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

    So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

    If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

    This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

    The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

    Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

    10. Punish Yourself

    Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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    I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

    It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

    You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

    No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

    The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

    But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

    11. Reward Yourself

    When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

    Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

    The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

    After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

    If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

    Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

    If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

    In the End, It Matters

    What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

    When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

    And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

    “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

    Keep going.

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    More Resources to Help You Build Habits

    Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
    [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
    [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
    [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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