“Teachers! Please Do Not Make Your Students Use Synonyms for Said,” I Blurted

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My fourth-grade English teacher employed a list of words he called “D.N.U.’s,” for “do not use.” It was about a dozen words long and included get, nice, very, and thing. If he saw one in our papers he would flag it and make a tutting sound, although he didn’t always notice. The point, I assumed, was to make us think about the words we were using—to elevate our writing above the leaden defaults of a 9-year-old’s communicative needs.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this reasonable pedagogical technique has spawned a movement. And as with so many essentially humane causes before it, that movement has metastasized into a perverse and deadly totalitarianism. Its chief proponent is California middle school teacher Leilen Shelton, whose manual Banish Boring Words has, according to the Journal, sold 80,000 copies. Among the words Shelton has declared dead: said.

“You might use barked,” she said. “Maybe howled. Demanded. Cackled. I have a list.” She certainly does. On the cover of Banish Boring Words—Amazon’s No. 1 best-seller in the Elementary Education category as I write, although that might reflect a surge of interest from the Journal story—is a crude cartoon of a boy thinking, “Instead ofsaid I could use … snarled, professed, argued, cautioned, remarked, cried.” A Canadian school district similarly offers a list of 397 “verbs to substitute for ‘said.’ ”

To which anyone who has ever had to read a slush pile or a self-published autobiography will thunder, cry, retort, rejoin, or fume: No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Replacing the word said with “colorful” or “lively” synonyms is a ubiquitous symptom of bad writing. Individual instances are usually redundancies: “I’ll never cheat again!” is recognizable as a promise without “he vowed” after it. But a procession of she explained and he chuckled and I expostulated—the reporting verbs that clog your dialogue when you follow the “never say said” rule—is worse, because they force the reader’s attention away from the content of the writing and onto the writer’s hunt for synonyms.

“There are so many more sophisticated, rich words to use,” Shelton told the Journal’s James R. Hagerty. “ ‘Said’ doesn’t have any emotion.” The assumption here is that emotion is a desirable quality in every word of a sentence, that a rich word is always more appropriate than a plain one. You don’t have to invoke Hemingway, who made a fetish of plain words, to recognize that successful writing modulates the lavishness of its diction for effect, rather than cranking the dial all the way to maximum floridity and leaving it there.

Defenders of these restricted-word lists might argue that they’re an intermediate step for writers-in-training: First we’ll teach students to vary their vocabulary, and then to modulate their tone appropriately. The problem is that, on the evidence of all those slush piles, step two never takes place, and Shelton’s students go out into the world commanding and boasting and suggesting in the belief that they’re making their writing “more sophisticated” rather than less.

I once tutored a high school student who had written, in a biographical essay, the blameless clause “After becoming a teacher.” Her own teacher had “corrected” the phrase to “After achieving success as an educator.” This person was failing as an educator, as is the Powell River Board of Education and Leilen Shelton and everyone else who teaches this destructive rule.

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Four best jobs for work life balance

More workers are looking for work life balance than ever before. These four jobs are the best for maintaining the peace of mind that comes with good work life balance.

  • Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

More and more Americans want better work-life balance. In the U.S., 57% of full-time employees indicate that their spouse or partner works 35 hours or more a week, too.

However, no other group craves a better work-life balance more than millennials. While 78% of full-time working millennials have a spouse or partner also working full-time, only 47% of full-time working baby boomers and 68% of Gen X experience this scenario. With two full-time working parents, quality couple time, family time and “me time” are becoming more and more scarce.

If your employer doesn’t sympathize with your desire for a more flexible arrangement, it may be the time to switch jobs. To help you escape the rat race, here are the four best jobs for work-life balance.

Recommended: Fifteen best entry-level jobs of 2015

1. Data Scientist

According to Glasdoor’s 2015 list of best jobs for work-life balance, the role of data scientist provides the best work-life balance. With an average 4.2 rating out of a possible 5.0, data scientist took the top spot in work-life balance across users of the recruiting site over the past year.

If you keep on hearing everywhere about the “power of big data,” this is what it’s all about. A data scientist uses the power of algorithms to process large amounts of data and use those findings to make recommendations that drive customer engagement and monetization. You’ll have to be comfortable working with monster spreadsheets and databases (think millions of rows and several terabytes), develop mad SQL and SAS skills, and keep up with the latest data mining tools and techniques.

Companies well-known for providing great perks and flexible schedules, including Facebook and Google, are hiring data scientists. With an average salary of $114,808 (according to Glassdoor), data scientist is one attractive career to look for.

2. Web Developer

U.S. News maintains a list of 100 best jobs in the nation. The list uses seven criteria, including 10-year growth volume, employment rate, and work-life balance, to rank the jobs. While U.S. News gave the dentist occupation the top spot in its list of best jobs, a closer look to the job satisfaction reviews shows that the web developer occupation provides better work-life balance.

According to U.S. News, web developers tend to have above average upward mobility, below average stress level, and high flexibility. Interviewed employers indicate that often their web developers don’t have to punch a clock. “We set deadlines, and as long as they get their work done, we’re flexible with hours.” two employers said to U.S. News.

The median annual salary of a web developer was $63,160 in 2013, with individuals earning between $33,320 and $110,350.

3. Tutor

In a study from Ernst & Young, respondents pointed out that the option to telecommute(working from another location other than the office or client site) is an important flexibility issue. In the same survey, millennials are more likely to say it’s important to be able to telecommute one to two days a week.

Tutoring enables individuals looking to telecommute as much as possible to really own their schedule. For example, since 2006 I have been tutoring business professionals to prepare for the GMAT, a standardized admission test used by most MBA programs around the world. I have been able to consistently tutor students first in Mexico and now in the United States. Currently, I work with Kaplan, a test prep company, and I’m able to teach students in person and online on my own schedule. (See also: The 3 Best Jobs for Expats and Travelers)

With the advent of several online tutoring sites, such as Tutor.com, Skillshare, and Wyzant, you’re not limited to your geographic area and can find students across the world. Some sites, such as Tutor.com, require you to commit to tutor at least five hours per week. However, you decide when those hours happen.

Having the ability to do their job in any country is key for millennials as 38% of them would make the sacrifice to move a country with better parental leave benefits.

4. Talent Acquisition Specialist

Ranking third on Glassdoor’s list, the talent acquisition specialist has a rating of 4.0 out of 5.0 in work-life balance satisfaction. Also known as recruiters or human resources (HR) specialists, talent acquisition specialists are in charge of finding, screening, interviewing, and recommending the best candidates for a job opening. One key requirement for talent acquisition specialists is people skills. If you can’t get along with different people in different settings, then this may not be the field for you.

While Glassdoor says that the average salary for this position is $63,504, U.S. News puts the median salary at $56,850. One of the main advantages of this occupation is stability, given that employment in this field is expected to balloon 15.5% from 2012 to 2022.

To some, it may come off as a surprise that respondents to the Glassdoor survey gave such a high rating to the work-life balance satisfaction of this job. However, those critics should keep in mind the following points:

  • Like web developers, talent acquisition specialists have to meet deadlines and have flexibility as long as they can hit their numbers.
  • Like tutors, talent acquisition specialists can leverage the web and their cellphone to do the bulk of the work remotely. With cloud-based HR software becoming the industry norm, a recruiter can do her work as long as she has an Internet connection.
  • Depending on their field of specialization, HR specialists have different hours and hiring seasons. Many recruiters welcome the break of pace and opt to work only during hiring seasons or on a part-time basis.

 

Your Name Affects Your Opportunities In Life

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People tend to stop caring about their names once they get past certain life landmarks: getting teased for an unfortunate last name in high school, agonizing over a nickname in college, wondering if a spouse should change their name. After all, it’s just a name. Right? Wrong. Psychological studies have proved, time after time, that our names have a real impact on our fiscal, educational, and personal success.

Which is what makes the recent trend of bizarre baby names even more confusing. Many European surnames evolved from occupations — Glover, Baker, Smith, Abbot, Draper — and the plethora of first names that now exist is actually a pretty modern phenomenon; according to a BBC report, until 1800, 50 percent of all men in England shared the same four first names. You were most likely named after your parent, or a common saint. Looking to celebrities and book characters for inspiration is a very modern preoccupation, as is wanting your kid to be “different”. As we’ll discover, for some kids, that can actually backfire pretty badly, with far-reaching consequences for future education and success. You’ve got to be wise when you’re naming your kid.

As somebody who’s named her cat Eglantine (after Angela Lansbury’s dignified but clumsy character in Bedknobs & Broomsticks), I’m not one to talk. But at least Eglantine won’t have to navigate preschool, college acceptance, resumes, or changing her maiden name. What’s in a name? As it turns out, rather a lot.

1. You Earn More If Your Name Is Shorter

A large quantity of research has gone into what many adults worry about: is their name holding them back from professional success? According to a survey done by an online job search site, perhaps. The top-earning names for men among the site’s six million members were Tom, Rob, Dale, Doug, and Wayne, while top-earning women were called Lynn, Melissa, Cathy, Dana, and Christine. Seeing a pattern? Shorter — albeit, “whiter” names, which we’ll get to in a second — seem to be the key to a successful career. Five letters, in fact, was the optimal length.

Forbes, which analyzed the study, pointed out that the most common names among “C-level executives” (that is, CEOs, CFOs, CTOs and other big guns at the very top of any company ladder) were names like Lawrence, Marc, Denise, Cindy, and Sarah. Commonality didn’t guarantee you a top-level salary, though; having an easy-to-pronounce, familiarly short name did. Part of this may be that shorter names are seen as more sociable, because we as humans like easily understandable bits of information. It could also be that giving yourself a nickname makes you seem more “human” and less Christian Grey.

If you think this is nonsense, the study even put it in cold hard cash: every extra letter a C-level executive had in their name above the five-letter “ideal” cost them $3,600 in earnings per year.

2. A “White” Name Is More Employable Than A “Black” One

This famous but seriously upsetting bit of information comes courtesy of a 2003 study that demonstrated just how much harder it is in America to get employed with a so-called “ethnic” name. The study, “Are Emily And Greg More Employable Than Lakisha And Jamal?”, sent out resumes in response to Wanted ads in Boston and Chicago. The resumes either had a stereotypically “white” name or a stereotypically “black” one, and were of either respectable quality or high quality (you know, sterling references, lots of experience, the things that make a resume shine). The results were pretty sobering.

“White” names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews than “black” names, and even if “black” names were attached to the really stellar resumes, they still received a seriously low level of interest. “White” names on the awesome resumes, however, got a 30 percent jump in callbacks. The scientists pointed out that having a “white” name equated to having eight more years of experience on your CV.

In case you were wondering if things have changed since 2003, a 2014 research paper found that employers are just as racially discriminatory now as they were then. It’s a seriously unfair world, and white privilege and racism are very real.

3. An Easy-To-Pronounce Name May Get You More Promotions

A 2011 study found something interesting: if your name’s easy to pronounce, it may help you get ahead. And that applies to both first names and surnames. Apparently we form more “positive” impressions of words that we can pronounce and process easily; our brain rewards the name for being easy as opposed to driving us slightly nuts.

The study pointed out that even drugs with simpler names are seen as safer and more effective than ones with complex names. The scientists did experiments with name association that proved that people “like” shorter names better in others — and found that people with easy-to-pronounce surnames tend to have higher-up jobs in law firms.

4. A Last Name At The Beginning Of The Alphabet Might Help You Get Into College

There’s a caveat on this one: it was done in the Czech Republic, where names obviously differ in some significant ways from America, complete with cultural associations. But a study, done in 2007, found that if your last name is at the beginning of the alphabet, you’re more likely to be accepted into both application-only high schools and into college.

It’s likely this is because, in some places, applications are processed alphabetically, and that quotas are filled early on, leaving spaces few as the alphabet progresses. Of course, this depends on how your college processes applications, so don’t count on it helping you out.

5. Highly-Gendered Names Influence How You Do In School

It seems that social expectations of gender actually have a predictive role in how a kid behaves, at least when it comes to their name. According toresearch by Northwestern University reported by TIME, linguistically “feminine” and “masculine” names actually may predict a girl’s interest in more male-dominated subjects like math and science. Studies of twins showed that girls with less girly names were more inclined to stick with STEM subjects.

And there’s a flip-side, too. The studies also showed that boys with stereotypically “feminine” names, like Ashley or Courtney, often exhibited significant behavioral problems in middle school, likely in response to bullying. Poor kids.

6. Keeping Your Maiden Name May Earn You More

In an interesting revelation from 2011, a Dutch study revealed that people assess women who keep their maiden names as smarter and more career-focused than those who don’t. Part of this is likely the result of social change and evolved expectation: there’s a clear statistical link between high levels of education, marrying later in life, and the practice of keeping maiden names.

So it could just be a case of (albeit highly-problematic) connect-the-dots. But the research also found something more concrete: women who hadn’t changed their names earned higher salaries overall, often by up to $6,000 more a year. It seems that public perception about maiden names may be keeping married women who remove theirs from reaching their full earning potential.

7. Using Your Middle Initial Makes People Think You’re More Intelligent

If you’ve ever read an academic paper by “Professor A. E. X. Whatever” and wondered why they felt the need to cram every little initial into their title, there may be an answer in public perception. The practice in academia often comes from an attempt to distinguish your name from similar ones, butresearch in the European Journal of Social Psychology has revealed that using the initials of your middle name actually makes people think you’re smarter.

People rated essays as better-written and more intelligent if the writer was given a middle initial, or three. I didn’t know this before I started to go by my initials, but I’m pretty damn glad I did now.

Images: Evelyn Giggles/Flickr, Giphy, QuickMeme

18 Behaviors of Emotionally Intelligent People

Emotional intelligence is a huge driver of success

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When emotional intelligence (EQ) first appeared to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70 percent of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into the broadly held assumption that IQ was the sole source of success.

Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as being the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.

Despite the significance of EQ, its intangible nature makes it difficult to measure and to know what to do to improve it if you’re lacking. You can always take a scientifically validated test, such as the one that comes with the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 book, but unfortunately, most such tests aren’t free. So, I’ve analyzed the data from the million-plus people TalentSmart has tested in order to identify the behaviors that are the hallmarks of a high EQ. What follows are sure signs that you have a high EQ.

You have a robust emotional vocabulary

All people experience emotions, but it is a select few who can accurately identify them as they occur. Our research shows that only 36 percent of people can do this, which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions.

People with high EQs master their emotions because they understand them, and they use an extensive vocabulary of feelings to do so. While many people might describe themselves as simply feeling “bad,” emotionally intelligent people can pinpoint whether they feel “irritable,” “frustrated,” “downtrodden,” or “anxious.” The more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it, and what you should do about it.

You’re curious about people

It doesn’t matter if they’re introverted or extroverted, emotionally intelligent people are curious about everyone around them. This curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant gateways to a high EQ. The more you care about other people and what they’re going through, the more curiosity you’re going to have about them.

You embrace change

Emotionally intelligent people are flexible and are constantly adapting. They know that fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to their success and happiness. They look for change that is lurking just around the corner, and they form a plan of action should these changes occur.

You know your strengths and weaknesses

Emotionally intelligent people don’t just understand emotions; they know what they’re good at and what they’re terrible at. They also know who pushes their buttons and the environments (both situations and people) that enable them to succeed. Having a high EQ means you know your strengths and how to lean into and use them to your full advantage while keeping your weaknesses from holding you back.

You’re a good judge of character

Much of emotional intelligence comes down to social awareness; the ability to read other people, know what they’re about, and understand what they’re going through. Over time, this skill makes you an exceptional judge of character. People are no mystery to you. You know what they’re all about and understand their motivations, even those that lie hidden beneath the surface.

You are difficult to offend

If you have a firm grasp of who you are, it’s difficult for someone to say or do something that gets your goat. Emotionally intelligent people are self-confident and open-minded, which creates a pretty thick skin. You may even poke fun at yourself or let other people make jokes about you because you are able to mentally draw the line between humor and degradation.

You know how to say no (to yourself and others)

Emotional intelligence means knowing how to exert self-control. You delay gratification and avoid impulsive action. Research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, shows that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Saying no is a major self-control challenge for many people, but “No” is a powerful word that you should unafraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.

You let go of mistakes

Emotionally intelligent people distance themselves from their mistakes, but do so without forgetting them. By keeping their mistakes at a safe distance, yet still handy enough to refer to, they are able to adapt and adjust for future success. It takes refined self-awareness to walk this tightrope between dwelling and remembering. Dwelling too long on your mistakes makes you anxious and gun shy, while forgetting about them completely makes you bound to repeat them. The key to balance lies in your ability to transform failures into nuggets of improvement. This creates the tendency to get right back up every time you fall down.

You give and expect nothing in return

When someone gives you something spontaneously, without expecting anything in return, this leaves a powerful impression. For example, you might have an interesting conversation with someone about a book, and when you see them again a month later, you show up with the book in hand. Emotionally intelligent people build strong relationships because they are constantly thinking about others.

You don’t hold grudges

The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Just thinking about the event sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. When the threat is imminent, this reaction is essential to your survival, but when the threat is ancient history, holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on your body and can have devastating health consequences over time. In fact, researchers at Emory University have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Holding onto a grudge means you’re holding onto stress, and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this at all costs. Letting go of a grudge not only makes you feel better now but can also improve your health.

You neutralize toxic people

Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and exhausting for most. But high-EQ individuals control their interactions with toxic people by keeping their feelings in check. When they need to confront a toxic person, they approach the situation rationally. They identify their own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. They also consider the difficult person’s standpoint and are able to find solutions and common ground. Even when things completely derail, emotionally intelligent people are able to take the toxic person with a grain of salt to avoid letting him or her bring them down.

You don’t seek perfection

Emotionally intelligent people won’t set perfection as their target because they know that it doesn’t exist. Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. You end up spending time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and should have done differently instead of moving forward, excited about what you’ve achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.

You appreciate what you have

Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it also improves your mood by reducing the stress hormone cortisol (in some cases by 23 percent). Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who work daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experience improved mood, energy, and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol play a major role in this.

You disconnect

Taking regular time off the grid is a sign of a high EQ because it helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even–gulp!–turning off your phone gives your body and mind a break. Studies have shown that something as simple as an email break can lower stress levels. Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email with the power to bring your thinking (read: stressing) back to work can drop onto your phone at any moment.

You limit your caffeine intake

Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, which is the primary source of a fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response to ensure survival. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. Caffeine’s long half-life ensures you stay this way as it takes its sweet time working its way out of your body. High-EQ individuals know that caffeine is trouble, and they don’t let it get the better of them.

You get enough sleep

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams) so that you wake up alert and clearheaded. High-EQ individuals know that their self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when they don’t get enough–or the right kind–of sleep. So, they make sleep a top priority.

You stop negative self-talk in its tracks

The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that–thoughts, not facts. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural tendency to perceive threats (inflating the frequency or severity of an event). Emotionally intelligent people separate their thoughts from the facts in order to escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive, new outlook.

You won’t let anyone limit your joy

When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from the opinions of other people, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or snide remarks take that away from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within.

The Surprising Benefits of Sarcasm

Sarcastic comments boost creativity, a study finds

man with sarcastic expression

Instead of avoiding sarcasm completely in the office, the research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks.
Credit: ©iStock

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence,” wrote that connoisseur of wit, Oscar Wilde. Whether sarcasm is a sign of intelligence or not, communication experts and marriage counselors alike typically advise us to stay away from this particular form of expression. The reason is simple: sarcasm expresses the poisonous sting of contempt, hurting others and harming relationships. As a form of communication, sarcasm takes on the debt of conflict.

And yet, our research suggests, there may also be some unexpected benefits from sarcasm: greater creativity. The use of sarcasm, in fact, promotes creativity for those on both the giving and receiving end of sarcastic exchanges. Instead of avoiding sarcasm completely in the office, the research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks.

Sarcasm involves constructing or exposing contradictions between intended meanings. The most common form of verbal irony, sarcasm is often used to humorously convey thinly veiled disapproval or scorn. “Pat, don’t work so hard!”, a boss might say upon catching his assistant surfing the Internet. Early research on sarcasm explored how people interpret statements and found that, as expected, sarcasm makes a statement sound more critical. In one laboratory study, participants read scenarios in which, for instance, (1) one person did something that could be viewed negatively, such as smoking, and (2) a second person commented on the behavior to the first person, either literally (“I see you don’t have a healthy concern for your lungs”) or sarcastically (“I see you have a healthy concern for your lungs”). Participants rated sarcasm to be more condemning than literal statements. In a similar study, participants were encouraged to empathize either with a person behaving in a way that could be construed as negative or with a second person commenting on the first person’s behavior. Both perspectives prompted participants to rate sarcastic comments by the second person as more impolite relative to literal comments.

Other research has show that sarcasm can be easily misinterpreted, particularly when communicated electronically. In one study, 30 pairs of university students were given a list of statements to communicate, half of which were sarcastic and half of which were serious. Some students communicated their messages via e-mail and others via voice recordings. Participants who received the voice messages accurately gleaned the sarcasm (or lack thereof) 73 percent of the time, but those who received the statements via e-mail did so only 56 percent of the time, hardly better than chance. By comparison, the e-mailers had anticipated that 78 percent of participants would pick up on the sarcasm inherent in their sarcastic statements. That is, they badly overestimated their ability to communicate the tenor of their sarcastic statements via e-mail. What’s more, the recipients of the sarcastic e-mails were also decidedly overconfident. They guessed they would correctly interpret the tone of the e-mails they received about 90 percent of the time. They were considerably less overconfident about their ability to interpret voice messages.

In recent research, my colleagues and I discovered an upside to this otherwise gloomy picture of sarcasm. In one study, we assigned some participants to engage in either simulated sarcastic, sincere, or neutral dialogues by choosing from pre-written responses on a sheet of paper. Others were recipients of these different types of messages from others. Immediately after participants engaged in these “conversations,” we presented them with tasks testing their creativity. Not surprisingly, the participants exposed to sarcasm reported more interpersonal conflict than those in other groups. More interestingly, those who engaged in a sarcastic conversation fared better on creativity tasks. The processes involved in initiating and delivering a sarcastic comment improved the creativity and cognitive functioning of both the commenter and the recipient. This creativity effect only emerged when recipients picked up on the sarcasm behind the expresser’s message rather than taking mean comments at face value.

Why might sarcasm enhance creativity? Because the brain must think creatively to understand or convey a sarcastic comment, sarcasm may lead to clearer and more creative thinking. To either create or understand sarcasm, tone must overcome the contradiction between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions. This is a process that activates, and is facilitated by, abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking. Consider the following example, which comes from a conversation one of my co-authors on the research (Adam Galinsky, of Columbia) had a few weeks before getting married. His fiancée woke him up as he was soundly asleep at night to tell him about some new ideas she has for their upcoming wedding next month –many of which were quite expensive. Adam responded with some ideas of his own: “Why don’t we get Paul McCartney to sing, Barack Obama to give a benediction and Amy Schumer to entertain people.” His comment required his fiancée to recognize that there is a distinction between the surface level meaning of the sentence (actually signing up these people to perform) and the meaning that was intended.

This is not the first set of studies showing that creativity can be boosted by things that would commonly be considered creativity killers. In one series of studies, for example, researchers found that moderate noise can be an untapped source of creativity, providing a welcome distraction that helps the brain make disparate associations. In addition, alcohol is believed to aid creativity, up to a point, by reducing focus and relaxing the mind.

Sarcasm can be interpreted negatively, and thus cause relationship costs. So, how do we harness its creative benefits without creating the type of conflict that can damage a relationship? It comes down to trust. Our studies show that, given the same content and tone, sarcasm expressed toward or received from someone we trust is less conflict provoking than sarcasm expressed toward or received from someone we distrust. Of course, if we were to vary the tone and content, it would make a difference too – given an extremely harsh tone and critical content, even trust might not be enough.

Given the risks and benefits of sarcasm, your best bet is to keep salty remarks limited to conversations with those you know well, lest you offend others—even as you potentially help them think more creatively.

 

A famous British philosopher explains the surprising root of all procrastination

You tell your friend you can’t meet for drinks tonight because you’re too busy. You cancel your morning meeting because you’re already running late on completing your project.

Finally, you have a full day ahead of you. Hours pass and you have done plenty of things — but not the project that pushed you to push aside everything else.

Your boss and colleagues probably think you’re lazy, you figure. You think you’re lazy. You spend more time preparing for your project rather than beginning it.

The situation above may seem familiar. Sure, there are times when laziness is the reason for not getting something done, but more often the root of procrastination is fear, says British philosopher and author Alain de Botton on his website, The Book of Life.

“We begin to work only when the fear of doing nothing at all exceeds the fear of not doing it very well … And that can take time,” he writes.

The only way to overcome this habit, then, is to abandon the accompanying habit of perfectionism. Instead of wasting time planning around and preparing for your project, find a way to begin it. Do not fuss over details as you move forward.

An imperfectly done task is better than an unfinished task.

The Book of Life’s parent organization, The School of Life, produced a short animated video that outlines de Botton’s thoughts on the subject:

How Period Trackers Have Changed Girl Culture

A special report on personal technology for health, family and fitness.

My 18-year-old daughter knows exactly when it will be that time of the month. Since June, she’s been plugging the dates of her menstrual cycle into a popular period tracking app called Clue, and has it programmed to send her an alert every month, two days before her next period is due.

“It’s great because I never think about it, and now I never have to think about it,” she said.

Like a lot of young women, my teenager is just too busy. And no, she doesn’t mind being quoted, she said, adding, “Mom: I’m not embarrassed about my period.”

She’s not the only one. Girls and women are openly talking, tweeting and texting about their periods, and not just to Donald Trump. New companies tired of the stigma are selling menstrual products using the “P” word, singers and artists weave menstruation themes into their work, athletes and others have mentioned it on talk shows and at press conferences. Two New York City high school girls developed a video game called “Tampon Run” — the heroine’s mission is “to rid the world of the menstrual taboo.”

Add to this mix period tracker apps, which have helped shift attitudes, demystifying and normalizing menstruation by assigning cute icons to once unmentionables like heavy flow, maxi pads and period pimples. Most important, the apps transform the input into crunchable data that can tell a young woman when her period is due, when it’s late and even why she might be feeling so blue.

There are over 200 different period tracker apps to choose from, and they are immensely popular: consumers have downloadedPeriod Tracker (by GP International) and Period Calendar/Tracker(by Abishkking) more than 10 million times from the Android store alone, according to IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

Period tracker apps can track a range of issues related to the menstrual cycle including emotions, cramps, weight, sleep, energy, food cravings and more. They also can record when you had sex (Clue’s icon for protected sex is a man wearing a tie) or remind you to pack tampons, take your birth control pill or do a breast exam, all information women say is both empowering and liberating. Some apps are pink and girlie, all hearts and flowers and butterflies; others take a more subtle approach with lots of graphs in muted shades of purple. Specialized apps have even been developed for niche groups like Orthodox Jewish women who adhere to religious family purity laws. The apps say they are “rabbinically approved.”

“When you see a technology that someone has developed specifically for you as a woman, it really legitimizes talking about your periods and thinking about them,” said Shuangyi “E.E.” Hou, 24, a product designer in San Francisco for apps and websites who has used a period tracker app for over a year. “If we as a society say women should be checking in on their periods, and we give them permission to talk about it, I’m convinced it will be beneficial for women’s health.”

While the apps also can be used to track ovulation, signaling the days the user is more or less likely to become pregnant, most period tracker apps explicitly warn users not to rely on them to prevent pregnancy. The ovulation tracker and fertility prediction can be helpful for a woman trying to conceive, but it can give a false sense of security to a woman who relies on the app as a form of birth control.

That’s because even the most vigilant ovulation tracking methods have shockingly high failure rates, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, with up to one in four women becoming pregnant over the course of a year with typical use.

“Apps are a tool; they’re not actually a birth control method,” said Hannah Ransom of San Diego, a certified fertility awareness educator.

But many users of period tracker apps rely on them to help schedule their busy lives or for tracking health conditions that fluctuate with their cycle, rather than contraception. Aliya, a 23-year-old from the Bronx, said she uses Pink Pad Pro to schedule social outings like visits to a Russian bath house and to give her doctor an accurate answer to the inevitable question about the date of her last menstrual period (though she admitted relying on it occasionally for birth control as well).

One college theater student said she always forgets about her period during the week or two before a production, when there are a million other details to think about, so she likes the push notification reminders from Period Tracker Lite.

One concern about the trackers is privacy, and the fact that most young users won’t read the app’s privacy policy. Registered users of Clue agree to let the company use anonymous cycle data to improve the app and for academic and clinical research. Data isn’t collected from unregistered users.

Ida Tin, who founded Clue, one of the fastest growing period tracker apps with 2 million active users in 180 countries, said her motivation in developing the app was to provide women with more information and greater understanding about a “foundational” part of their lives for 40 years.

“If you just have the data about what is going on in your body,” said Ms. Tin, “It’s a navigating tool for your life.”

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