Week Of 080717

This week our discussion of stereotype threat got me thinking about how people judge themselves, what characteristics they assign themselves in their minds, and the schemas that people will assign to themselves that can result in holding back their performance. In my work as a CrossFit and weightlifting coach, one of the most difficult things to overcome is the statement, “I x, so I’m not good at Y.” People will take something they’ve read or heard, or something they’ve been told about themselves, and use it to make a judgement about their performance before attempting something.

The readiest example I can think of is my girlfriend. She’s an extremely competitive powerlifter, having set multiple records in multiple states. Powerlifting consists of three events: the squat, bench, and deadlift, each taken to a maximum attempt. Rachel excels at the bench press, and it seems like every day we’re in the gym together and she’s doing bench press she sets a new personal best. The squat has been more of a struggle. Early on in her lifting career, Rachel saw a youtube video that mentioned people whose legs are longer tend to struggle more with squats. Although this may be true, there are plenty of individuals with long legs who excel at squatting. I believe this video primed Rachel to worry more about her squat workouts, and not enjoy them as much or want to go as heavy. Contrast this to her bench press, where she excels despite having very long arms (which are also a mechanical disadvantage for lifters).

In my own life, I’ve struggled with making judgements about myself as well. When I was young my parents read to me a lot. My father worked as a writer, and my mom spoke multiple languages. Therefore I grew up talking a lot and reading a lot, and my parents always complimented me on my verbal skills when I was young. When I got to school, I would consistently get high grades in English and foreign language classes. I was calm going into tests in those subjects even though I rarely studied, and I found the assignments easy to finish quickly and do well.

Contrast this to my struggles in math. I don’t remember who said it to me first, but I remember being told when I was very young, “You’re a reading person, not a math person.” Math classes always made me extremely nervous, and the assignments were long and frustrating. My parents put me in a math tutoring program, and I remember sitting at the kitchen table crying because a packet with basic division took me over an hour.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized I didn’t have a particular skill set, and my apparent lack of skill in mathematics was more due to the attitude with which I approached the work than the difficulty of the work itself. I believe that I was primed to do poorly in math class, rather than destined to do poorly due to lack of skill. My happiest moment in college was earning an A in my Economics Statistics class, because at this moment I felt I was finally able to buck the idea that I was, “not a math person.”

Week of 073117

This week was a big one for me! My girlfriend and I moved out of her dads house and into our own apartment. This, combined with the lecture on attraction, got me thinking about how my girlfriend and I met each other. Not surprisingly, all of the principles touched on in the lecture applied to the way we met each other.

The first principle that applied to us was the principle of propinquity. My girlfriend (Rachel) and I met each other the very first week of our freshman year at Tufts. We lived on the same floor freshman year, and saw each other quite often over the course of that year. Even though we didn’t start dating till sophomore year, I would have never known who she was if we hadn’t spent that year living so close to each other.

Another principle that applies to this experience is the idea of mere exposure. During our freshman year, Rachel and I saw each other all the time, which means that we became used to seeing each other and became familiar with the idea.

The idea of physiological arousal also applies to our experience. Although we didn’t start dating until sophomore year, Rachel and I hooked up casually several times during our freshman year. The first of these times was during our very first “night out” in college. In many ways, this resembles the Dutton and Aron study about walking across the bridge. Not only was it a night of partying, but it was literally our first such experience in college, which presents a whole new level of arousal given the newness of the situation.

The last principle which applies to our situation as a couple is similarity. At our core, Rachel and I are very similar people. I’m sure everyone has heard the saying “opposites attract” but that definitely hasn’t been our case. Rachel and I come from very similar backgrounds. We’e both from white, middle-class families, and our parents value education highly. We’re both science majors, and we both want to work in healthcare.

The funny thing about it is that Rachel and I didn’t get together until we became even more similar. Rachel and I had been friends since the beginning of freshman year, but it wasn’t until we found a similar hobby that we decided to start dating. I’ve always been into lifting weights and working out, so when Rachel wanted advice on the topic, she asked me to take her to the gym and show her the ropes. Two weeks later, we started dating. Rachel now holds the bench press record in her weight category in two states, and as I write this we’re getting ready to go to the gym together. Having a similar hobby definitely contributed to our relationship today.

Week of 072417

This weeks lectures on social influence have allowed me to gain a lot of insight into my own life, and specifically about how I gain information from my peers. When I was living to Boston and going to Tufts full-time, I was constantly surrounded by people my own age, who were doing similar things to what I was doing. Since moving to Minneapolis, I’ve stopped taking in-person classes at school, and I’m working with a much older group. This means that the opportunity to gain information from my peers is much more limited, and I’m trying to make many more decisions without the insight of people around me who are experiencing similar circumstances. This results in me having to make many more decisions based on my instincts alone, and being less confident in those decisions because I am less convinced of their correctness.

One example that springs readily to mind is my approach to getting into graduate school. I have what I consider to be a good plan in place: take requirements one at a time to ensure a high GPA, apply to many schools in order to maximize my chances of getting accepted, and live cheaply in order to save money in the meantime. But as far as things like course selection and which schools to apply to, I’m left mostly to make these decisions on my own. Although much of this advice is available online, I feel that I’m willing to give more credence to the ideas of people that I know, or who I speak to in person. Back at Tufts, graduate school and career plans were common topics of discussion, but in my new life here most of the people I know are older, with established careers and educational backgrounds.

Being in a new situation also means that I’m more likely to go along with what other people are doing. Right now, I’m living in my girlfriends dad’s house, who shows more enthusiasm for his career (structural engineering), than I did when the Patriots beat the Falcons in the Superbowl last year. This week I had to drive him downtown so that he could pick up a piece of lumber using my truck. Although it takes much longer, he wanted me to take surface streets downtown instead of the highway so that he could talk about the construction of all the old buildings in downtown Minneapolis. I wouldn’t normally have done this, because I was in a rush, but being in the new and unfamiliar situation of living in a new city in his house made me much more likely to comply with his request. This made a lot of sense in the context of the Milgram study. I find that if you put people in a situation for which they have not developed schemas, they are more likely to go along with the person in charge, possibly because it is the cognitive path of least resistance.

Week Of 071717

Our discussion of the self in lectures this week really resonated with me because of my choice of hobbies and career. As a CrossFit coach, I watch people face up to a broad variety of challenges with various levels of success, and have their conceptions about their own abilities to complete the task at hand either confirmed or rejected. In my own athletic life, I compete in the sport of weightlifting, where your score is the amount of weight that you lift, measured in kilograms. It’s nice to have the competition amount to one number, but that also presents a pretty bleak picture; if progress stops or regresses, you have numerical proof, and no one to blame but yourself.

One key to continued enjoyment of weightlifting is definitely a growth mindset. Every lifter has their strengths and weaknesses, but your weaknesses as a lifter will always hold back the amount of weight you can lift. This being the case, a good training program will often spend most of its time on the skills a lifter has not yet developed, while a fairly small portion will be devoted to the areas where one is already competent. This is cause for frustration, because people like to do what they’re good at. It can even cause cognitive dissonance. Often you’ll go into a training session thinking, “I’m a good weightlifter,” get slammed with a skill that you lack, and have to reconcile the two conflicting ideas. Here it’s important to realize that just because you lack something, that doesn’t mean you’ll lack it forever. The years of persistent training it takes to become a successful weightlifter will iron out those weaknesses, but you’ll only continue to train if you believe in your ability to improve.

Much of the same mental issues can be found in CrossFit. Although there is a much broader variety of skills to develop, people will still graviate towards that which they’re best at. A 220 pound man might love doing bench press, but hate doing pull-ups for example. Within the community, movements that individuals struggle with are labelled as “goats.” Often times, I’ll be able to predict which individuals show up for class based on the movements found in the workout. However, those individuals who show up regardless of the workouts that day are the ones who consistently make the most progress. Additionally, you’ll hear the phrase, “I suck at x,” or “I can never do y.” This form of self handicapping allows people to lessen the discomfort of being bad at something, but it also creates a self fulfilling prophecy. When people instead say, “I’m working on x,” that’s when they continue to make progress.

Week of 071017

Living in a new city has presented a series of challenges. Obviously learning the geography is tough, and I’ve gotten lost more than a couple times. I’m also living with my girlfriends parents till August, in a much more ethnically diverse neighborhood, which means that I find myself in a series of situations that are new to me, or that I haven’t developed schemas for.

I used to live in Charlestown, in Boston, which is a vast majority white neighborhood. South Minneapolis is very diverse, which is a neighborhood with a large population of Somali and Latino immigrants, as well as a large African American population. I realized last weekend that I’ve never been in a situation in the United States where white people haven’t been the majority of people in my immediate vicinity.

I realized this because my girlfriend and I had to run an errand. She had rolled up her change and had to drop it off at the bank, and while she did that I sat in the parking lot and waited in the car. As I was sitting in the parking lot, with people of different ethnicities walking past, I began to feel isolated and alone. I started to understand that an environment where I was in the racial minority made me feel uncomfortable. I looked around, and I realized that while I couldn’t point to any one individual that made me anxious. The part that I found unsettling was the fact that I had never been in a situation where I was in the minority. I didn’t have a schema to deal with that case, because I’d never had to before.

Something else happened this week which made me see the importance of attributional judgement versus situational judgement. I was coaching a crossfit class, and during the class one of my athletes pointed back to the speaker and said she liked the music I was playing. I don’t usually play music that I like during class, mostly because my gym is an older crowd and I don’t think explicit hip hop is what they’d like to be listening to. But I was happy for the complement. A couple days later, this same athlete was in a different class and she remarked that the coach who was running that class had better music than I did. I checked the playlist after class, and just like me the coach had been playing one of the generic Spotify “gym” playlists.

This made me realize that people are making a couple assumptions when they hear the music we play in class. First, they assume that we’re playing our own music, and not just choosing music that we feel best suits the situation. Second, they assume that we’re playing music that we enjoy, not the music that we feel the class will enjoy. I have a strong distaste for Bruno Mars, but I know people enjoy his music so I tend to play playlists that feature him. I never thought that people would assume that my behavior at work was determined by my preferences out of work, but it seems that that’s the type of attributional assumption we frequently make.


Week of 070317

This week was a crazy one for me. Last Friday my girlfriend and I packed up all our stuff and drove across the country from Boston to Minneapolis. For 25 hours of driving, the trip wasn’t terrible, but it was a lot of time spent exclusively in each others’ company. But yesterday, I started my new job, coaching CrossFit full time at a gym in Minneapolis. My job requires me to interact with a large number of people at a given time as I coach a class.

One of the things I was most concerned about moving from Boston to the Midwest was the cultural differences between the populations. I spent my whole life to this point in Boston, and I understand that behaviors and ways of interacting in Boston might be different in Minneapolis. During the lectures this week, I realized that this might be a case of the fundamental attribution error; that is to say, I was concerned with the way people would behave because they were from a place, without taking into account the situation in which they found themselves.

Once I began to coach the class, and got into the rhythm of it, I found that it functioned more or less the same way as the classes I’d coached at my previous gym. This goes with the idea that people will behave according to the situations in which they find themselves, rather than that personality types are stable across conditions. Although I was concerned about the new city and culture in which I found myself, I am now reassured by the idea that people will behave predictably in familiar situations.

My new move has also been interesting because I’m currently living in a small apartment with my girlfriend and her parents, as we wait for our lease to start at the beginning of August. While I’m not uncomfortable with this arrangement, the size of the dwelling presents some issues with regards to things like scarcity of space in the fridge, or the need to clean up the kitchen more frequently. I don’t consider myself a lazy person, but in the past it was just my mother and me living at home together in a larger house, and I cleaned up less frequently than I do now. The behavior of cleaning up the kitchen can be seen as prosocial, but I would not describe my reasons for doing so as empathetic or altruistic. While I recognize the inconvenience of a sink full of dirty dishes, a pot left on the stove, or a full dishwasher, I don’t find myself motivated by the desire to make someones life easier. Rather, I just don’t want to irritate anybody. More specifically, I don’t want anyone to become irritated and complain about it to me, or change their view of me because I left the kitchen mess unattended. These social pressures make me question my own altruism under other circumstances, but I also recognize that the result of them makes everybodys’ lives easier.