Literature review: de Correspondent

As part of my scientifically* happy series, I am doing a literature review of various publications to figure out what you should do to be happy. Up for review today: de Correspondent.

The Correspondent has a theme called ‘prestatiemaatschappij,’ which covers how to be happy in a society that rewards individuals solely based on performance. It decries the pressure people function under in current day Netherlands and links it with negative outcomes such as burnout. It then postulates a numbers of measures that you as an individual can take to still be happy:

  • Withdraw from the collective busyness: de Correspondent basically states here that it sucks to be ‘turned on’ 24 seven. Concrete tips: turn off all notifications on your phone & do not start your workday with your email.
  • Focus on deep work: Basically there is a destinction between logistics (getting the right things to the right place on the right time) and deep work (high quality, intensive and original work). Logistics makes you look busy, deep work makes you valuable and happy. Concrete tips: learn to concentrate well, and stop ‘responding’ to every occurrence immediately.
  • Enjoy the journey, not the destination: Instead of being focused on the outcome, enjoy the process of getting there. Enjoy learning rather than knowing, that kind of thing.
  • Practice gratitude: this is one of the standard advises whenever you read these types of literature. Apparently being grateful is one of the easiest ways to be happy. Concrete tip: write down three things you are grateful for every evening.
  • Practice feeling connected: our society is rather individualistic, which leads to feelings of loneliness among  a third of people. Concrete tip: practice feeling empathy for the people who annoy you along the way. & Talk to strangers.
  •  Give money and time to others: if you spend more time and money on others than on yourself you are happier according to three american scientists.
  • Recognize the role of coincidences: Thinking that everything is pre-ordained can be frustrating;  learn to recognize that the world is actually quite random. Concrete tip: Whenever you feel jealousy or brag about your own successes, recognize that success is fickle.
  • Recognize the limitations of your brain: you are actually much more limited in you thinking capabilities than you might expect. Try to be aware of your blind spots.
  • Recognize that humans don’t matter: If you spent a moment thinking about the universe you’ll learn how insignificant we are in it. Realizing that should easily make light of your problems.

A quick assessment of the source: each point towards happiness is illustrated with a few more in-depth articles, each with a lot of references to sources. A lot of these points I also recognize from other sources that I know deal with legitimate research. Overall I believe this source is legit.


De Correspondent answers the question of happiness really from the attitude perspective. They talk about accepting limitations and recognizing how little control you really have over your life. These are long-term attitude shifts that are hard to experiment with. After all, the results of these attitude shifts might take a well to become clear, and need to persist over periods of time.
I do think I might experiment with the switching off of notifications and practicing gratitude, which both would probably yield results on the shorter term.

Want to read more about the scientifically series? Go back to the  collection page.

*This is study is ‘scientific’  in the same way that a plastic chamber plant is ‘nature.’


Introduction Scientifically* Happy

Last year I had a bit of a crisis. I had just turned 25, finished my studies a while ago, settled into my job, my house, had an ongoing long-term relationship…. Overall everything was alright.    And that was the problem.
I felt like I had achieved half of all my life goals, and was only a quarter into my life.

I felt I had too much time left, relative to the amount of next steps, adventures and achievements I still had available. As if I was rushing through life too fast.

This is the phoenix that was born from the ashes of the quarter-life crisis: scientifically* happy is a series of blog posts in which I am using a scientific* approach in understanding what makes me (and maybe to some extend you) happy.

Let’s start in a truly scientific* fashion by defining our terms.



In this series I aim to use an asterisk whenever I use the word ‘science’. For this series will be ‘scientific’ in the same way that fast food is ‘dinner.’ Sure there are some similarities in the intention and execution behind this journey of self-discovery and the scientific method, but there are some obvious reasons why it is not the same thing:

  • Sample Size: per definition my  n=1. Always.
  • I’m only doing the fun parts of science. I enjoy doing experiments, collecting statistics and writing. I’m skipping the hard-work parts, such as doing a proper literature study. (Instead I’m just going to google a bit :-))
  • I’m doing a lot of things you should not be doing in science. Such as not properly checking my sources, including subjective findings and jumping to conclusions.

So why do I call it ‘scientifically* happy’ at all?
Because I am applying the scientific* method of discovery:

  • I will start with a literature study* from which I will derive hypotheses
  • I will then set up experiments to prove or invalidate these hypotheses
  • I will draw a set of conclusions from it

Image result for get out of the way I am going to do science meme


As we are going to an entire series on ‘happiness’ I should probably ensure we have the same understanding of happiness. Personally I understand happiness to occur on four different levels ranging from the short term to the long term:

  • the emotion: lasts some hours
  • the mood: lasts a couple of days
  • the trend: lasts a couple of months/years
  • the attitude: lasts you a life-time

The emotion level seems the easiest to manipulate: it can be influenced by relatively small incidents. Have an additional break, buy something online, watch something funny, enjoy some time in the sun…. And voilá instant happiness.
Of course, the emotion is also easier to lose: if someone makes a mean comment it is gone. So if you aim to be as happy as possible in your life, maybe investing in other areas is more efficient.

The mood level is a bit more difficult to manipulate. It can be caused by great weather, an experience of success, etc. This is usually where I experience the joy of having completed a monstrously big project, f.e.

Now it is in the happiness trend level where you generally experience the impact of lifetime events. Unfortunately for me the easiest examples are related to the opposite of happiness. Whenever someone you love dies, for example, this provides you with a trend of unhappiness.
These periods of sadness exist for a reason and are healthy human behavior. It is not my aim in this project to find ways to avoid trends of unhappiness. I think such periods are natural and easier to navigate through acceptance than through resistance.
But whenever you are in a trend of happiness I see nothing wrong with giving it a bit of a boost, so that is something that I will try to investigate.

Finally happiness as an attitude. This is the way you approach life. I’m personally not a big subscriber to theories that ‘positive thinking’ can cure diseases and whatnot, but events are what you make of them. The human experience is subjective, so it makes sense that the way your brain interprets events shapes your experience of these events. And your approach to life can of course change your behavior, which might change your outcomes.
I think many people get overly excited in trying to change their attitudes, because of the enormous and long lasting effects it would have.
Personally I’m interested to see if it is possible to change at this level, but I don’t have high expectations.


Image result for happy iron man

Happy as portrayed in Iron Man ^


Want to read more of this series? Visit the Scientifically* Happy landing page!

Hoe schrijf je een slecht boek?

Sinds mijn vorige blog hebben verschillende mensen mij verteld dat zij ook bezig zijn met een boek schrijven, of het altijd hebben willen doen. Dus vandaar wat meer praktische informatie en tips over het schrijven van een eerste versie van een boek.

Zoals aangegeven in mijn vorige blogpost is een boek schrijven moeilijk en hielp het mij om mezelf toestemming te geven om een ‘slechte’ eerste versie te schrijven.
De filosofie is simpel: het is beter om iets te schrijven dan niets te schrijven. Natuurlijk moet het boek uiteindelijk goed worden, maar je kunt een boek zo vaak herschrijven wat je wilt. Herschrijven vind ik zelf veel makkelijker dan schrijven, omdat ik veel beter weet wat belangrijk is voor het verhaal en mijn personages beter ken.
Zoals de podcast Writing Excuses zegt: “Beautiful words hide behind the ugly words. You need to get the ugly words out of the way first.”

Vandaag ga ik jullie vertellen wat mij hielp met het schrijven van de lelijke woorden.


De lelijke woorden filosofie heeft mij erg geholpen om te blijven schrijven. Ik heb van nature het instinct om nieuwe inzichten meteen te verwerken. Als ik een nieuwe drijfveer van personage ontdek, bijvoorbeeld, wil ik meteen terug gaan om te checken of mijn oude scenes mog wel kloppen.
Maar dat mocht ik dus niet.
Wel heb ik steeds aantekeningen gemaakt van de dingen die ik wilde veranderen in mijn herziening outline.

Ik ben een paar keer een tijdje geblokkeerd geweest, omdat ik niet goed wist hoe ik verder moest. Dat was meestal omdat het volgende hoofdstuk dat ik ‘moest’ schrijven niet goed aanvoelde. Nadat ik er dagen (of weken) over had gedacht klikte er meestal op een onverwacht moment iets op zijn plaats: andere Point of View personage, of andere gebeurtenissen bijvoorbeeld.  Mijn theorie is dat er fundamenteel iets ‘fout’ was aan mijn originele plan, en dat ik dat instinctief maar nog niet rationeel besefte.
Ik denk dat als ik op deze momenten het geforceerd had mijn eerste versie op een fundamenteel level verkeerd was uitgepakt. Het doel is om te blijven schrijven, maar soms is schrijven ook gewoon nadenken over het verhaal.  Zo lang je er maar mee bezig blijft.

Doel van versie één

Uiteindelijk komt het allemaal neer op wat je doel is met versie een. Vroeger mikte ik altijd op perfectie met mijn eerste versie, waardoor ik dus min of meer verlamt werd. Deze keer stelde ik veel lagere eisen aan mijn eerste versie:

  • Ik ken mijn beginpunt (punt a) en mijn eindpunt (punt b), en mijn hoofdverhaallijn is de korste route tussen punt a en punt b. Dit moet minimaal in mijn eerste versie staan.
  • Onderweg komen we personages tegen. Die personages gaan ook een eigen verhaallijn hebben. In mijn eerste versie ga ik ontdekken wat die verhaallijnen zijn.
  • Onderweg komen we leuke plotlijnen en thema’s tegen, die moet ik ook ontdekken tijdens versie een.
  • Ik laat iemand mijn hoofdstukken lezen, die me meteen van feedback kan voorzien. Hierdoor krijg ik meer inzicht in de vragen die andere mensen hebben over mijn verhaal. Ik ga niet terug om dingen te fixen, maar ik gebruik de informatie wel om het volgende hoofdstuk anders te schrijven.
  • Tijdens het schrijven van versie één houdt ik een lijstje bij van de dingen die ik ontdekt heb tijdens het schrijven, zodat ik weet hoe ik versie een moet gaan herschrijven.
  • Aan het eind van versie één kan ik een outline maken van het verhaal, en analyzeren wat de functie is van de verschillend onderdelen.

Zoals je ziet zijn de doelen hier dus super highlevel. In principe had ik hiermee een versie één kunnen schrijven waarin geen enkel woord stond dat ik over kon nemen naar versie twee. Gelukkig viel dat heel erg mee en bleken veel van mijn lelijke woorden omgebogen kunnen worden naar iets minder lelijke woorden.

Wat ik concreet gedaan heb

  • Beginpunt A en eindpunt B gedefinieerd
  • Hoofdstukken geschreven
  • Laten lezen
  • Gebaseerd op feedback verhaallijnen laten vallen of veranderd
  • Personages, thema’s en verhaallijnen ontdekt
  • Lijstje bijgehouden van dingen die ik moet veranderen in de herschrijving
  • Aan het einde van versie een heb ik een outline gemaakt van mijn verhaal gebaseerd op three-act-structure (Kijk bijvoorbeeld hier eens naar:

Aan het einde had ik twee waardevolle dingen:

  • Een eerste versie van mijn boek
  • Een begrip van hoe het boek er uiteindelijk uit zou moeten komen

En daarmee ben je al een heel eind op weg.  Nu nog herschrijven, feedback verzamelen, herschrijven…. Meer feedback verzamelen….  Dat is waar mijn volgende blog over gaat gaan. 🙂

To book or not to book; that is the question

”Een boek schrijven,” het stond al een tijdje op mijn bucket list en dus heb ik het vorig jaar gewoon maar eens gedaan. Dat klinkt veel simpeler dan het was overigens, want een boek schrijven is …. lastig. En of ik het nu ‘gedaan’ heb is ook nog wel een vraag, want wanneer heb je nu eigenlijk een boek geschreven?
Ik heb een eerste versie geschreven en ik ben er nu al twee keer overheen geweest om het te herzien, maar ik heb ben nog lang niet klaar met herschrijven en dan beginnen we nog niet eens over uitgeven.
Na één boek schrijven ben ik natuurlijk lang geen expert op het gebied van boeken schrijven, maar wel op het gebied van jezelf overwinnen en het boek af te maken. Want vóór dit boek ben ik in de afgelopen zeven jaar toch wel zo’n 6 keer aan een boek begonnen, maar ben ik elke keer halfverwege blijven steken.
In deze serie documenteer ik waarom ik het deze keer wel af heb gemaakt, in de hoop dat anderen er wat aan hebben.

In deze blog ga ik het hebben over de allereerste stap in een boek schrijven: een weloverwogen beslissing maken om een boek te gaan schrijven. Een boek schrijven is namelijk heel veel werk, ontzettend moeilijk en een aanzienlijke investering van tijd. Dus waarom zou iemand het zichzelf aan doen?

Weet waar je aan begint

Mijn boek was na de eerste versie ongeveer 44000 woorden, dat is overigens zo’n 16000 woorden te kort om het een boek te mogen noemen. Per 1000 woorden heb ik zo’n twee uur besteed. En dan reken ik mijn brainstormen niet mee. Dat is dus zo’n 88 uur die ik achter mijn computer heb doorgebracht.
Mijn eerste herschrijving was nog eens twintig uur, en mijn tweede herschrijving veertig uur. Dat brengt de ‘schrijftijd’ tot 148 uur, maar met brainstorming en research is het al gauw 200 tot 250 uur.
Om dat binnen context te plaatsen: Dat zijn vier tot vijf hele werkweken.

En ik ben nog lang niet klaar.

Om eerlijk te zijn: schrijven is natuurlijk een hobby (in ieder geval voor mij) dus de tijd die je eraan besteed is grotendeels ontspanning. Daarnaast heb je geen echte deadline ervoor, dus je kunt het schrijven opdelen in kortere periodes, wat het al een stuk behapbaarder maakt.
Zelf heb ik het schrijven in het begin onderdeel gemaakt van een routine: na het eten wandelen en dan een halfuur schrijven. Dat hielp me om überhaupt woorden op papier te krijgen. Nu heb ik dat niet meer echt nodig, en schrijf ik uit mijzelf.

Verhaal en/of boek?

Tijdens het schrijven kwam ik erachter dat ik misschien wat snel heb gekozen voor de boek-vorm. Ik heb het boek afgemaakt, maar volgende keer ga ik wat langer over de vorm nadenken.

Een boek is maar een vorm om een verhaal te vertellen, en zoals net beschreven, het is een arbeidsintensieve vorm. De volgende vormen van schrijven zijn ook het overwegen waard:

  • Flash Fiction: Verhalen van max. 1000 tot 1500 woorden. Er zijn veel sites waar je Flash Fiction op kunt publiceren, soms tegen betaling.
  • Een (serie-) novella: korte boeken tot ongeveer 40.000 woorden, maar kunnen ook een stuk korter zijn. Met e-boeken is de novella weer hip. Ik zeg ‘weer’ omdat bijvoorbeeld Sherlock Holmes een serie van novella’s was. Dus je bent zeker in goed gezelschap als je een novella schrijft.
  • Verder zijn er ook andere interessante vormen te bedenken, afhankelijk van het soort verhaal dat je wil vertellen.
    Wat dacht je van een interactieve website? Als je een tijdreis-verhaal schrijft kan je daar bijvoorbeeld de hoofdstukken op een willekeurige volgorde aanbieden. Of als je een pick-your-own adventure schrijft kan je een website bouwen waar mensen hun eigen naam invoeren en dan zelf in het boek voorkomen.

Hoe voorkom je dat je stopt?

Ik ben al een paar keer eerder begonnen aan een boek, maar dit is voor het eerst dat ik het echt afgemaakt heb. Dus hier komt eerst een lijstje van valkuilen en daarna een lijstje van wat ik deze keer anders heb gedaan.

  • Schrijven zonder een idee te hebben waar het heen gaat. Ik ben een paar keer begonnen met schrijven zonder dat ik een richting had. Na zo’n 5 hoofdstukken had ik mezelf zo van het pad afgebracht dat ik niet meer wist hoe ik verder moest gaan.
  • Te ver vooruit plannen. Ik heb een boek eens zo gedetailleerd gepland dat ik geen zin meer had om het te schrijven. Ik wist immers al wat er ging gebeuren.
  • Stoppen op het moment dat ik het gevoel had dat het niets meer ging worden. Ik heb al een paar keer een boek geschreven tot ongeveer halverwege het eerste deel en toen bepaald dat dit toch niets werd.
  • Blijven werken op hoofdstuk een, omdat het niet goed genoeg is.
  • Denken dat je de enige bent die ooit iets geschreven heeft en dat je dus alle oplossingen voor je problemen zelf moet vinden.

Wat wel werkte:

  •  Een moment in het verhaal hebben waar ik naartoe kon werken. Het was me duidelijk wat er moest gebeuren om daar te komen, maar er was nog superveel in te vullen. Daardoor bleef schrijven interessant, maar verdwaalde ik niet in mijn eigen verhaal.
  • Mezelf de ruimte geven om een slechte eerste versie te hebben. Deze keer had ik als doel om een boek te schrijven, maar dat mocht ook een slecht boek zijn. Als ik maar iets opschreef. De boeken die we lezen zijn waarschijnlijk allemaal een paar keer herschreven, misschien waren hun eerste versies wel net zo slecht als de mijne.
  • Ik mocht niet te veel terug gaan. Als ik dingen bedacht die veranderd moesten worden zette ik ze op het lijstje. Dat was mijn to-do list voor mijn eerste edit ronde.
  • Een paar keer kwam ik dingen tegen die niet werkte, maar waar ik ook niet van wist hoe ik het moest oplossen. Gelukkig zijn er superveel bronnen om te leren hoe je moet schrijven. Zelf heb ik het meest gehad aan seizoen 11 van de podcast writing excuses:
    Ook kun je de meeste issues gewoon googlen. Je kunt echt verassend veel dingen vinden! Zo heb ik bijvoorbeeld ‘hoe schrijf ik een romantische subplot’ gezocht, en daarmee een van mijn verhaallijnen echt stukken verbeterd!

Al met al hoop ik dat jullie iets hebben aan mijn ervaringen met het schrijven van een boek. Zoals al eerder aangegeven kan ik jullie vrij weinig vertellen over hoe je een goed boek schrijft, maar een boek afmaken is al heel wat. Mijn favoriete quote van Writing Excuses is deze: “Beautiful words hide behind the ugly words, you need to write the ugly words to get to the beautiful ones.”
Dit heb ik letterlijk vele malen tegen mijzelf gezegd om mijzelf te dwingen verder te schrijven.

Volgende blog gaat over het schrijven van een lelijke eerste versie van een boek.


Already Equal? Education to job.

Two personal disclaimers before I start:

  • In this blog I note gender differences in the workplace. It is not my aim to blame any party or group for these differences, as that would be neither productive nor is the truth ever that simple. Instead I believe systems are shaped by the people in it. As the workforce in the modern enterprise was for a large period of time dominantly (and some periods exclusively) male, the working conditions have naturally evolved to cater to masculine traits. Many societal processes are ongoing to help these systems adapt to the female influx. These steps taken to further equality will fall outside of the scope of my post.
  • The problems I intend to describe are complex and nuanced in a way that can never be captured in one blogpost. My aim is to showcase step-by-step how cumulative differences in rewards and participation between genders come into existence. I will use academic research to stave my points, but I shall not review these studies extensively. Instead I shall include links to those articles and invite you to make your own judgement. I have only included publicly accessible academic works.

Image result for wage gap cartoon

To look at differences in careers between genders is a complex endeavor. It is complicated to exactly pinpoint where differences stem from and almost impossible to establish causality. The larger differences only become apparent over a whole career, and they seem to be mostly due to an accumulation of smaller effects. In this post we shall walk through the many steps of a career and see which effects occur that create differences between genders.

In modern society most careers actually start with education. It is in this step that women tend to outperform men. The source of these differences are cause for speculation. Most frequently the differences are attributed to non-cognitive skills. Non-cognitive skills are skills that are important for studying, yet are not directly related to the content of study. An example of a non-cognitive skills is the ability to delay gratification, and voluntarily study instead of play. Research found that boys spend on average less time on homework, self-report less joy derived from school and are more likely to have behavioral problems. Read more about it here.

Image result for education boys and girls cartoon

An economic explanation for female investment on their own education (in time, money and other resources) is a greater return on investment. Women benefit more from higher education than men do. This is not to say that women earn more than men do with the same degree. Rather the difference between earnings with a higher and a lower degree is larger for women than that same difference is for men. It is important to note that while the decision for college participation is made at an age where one could conceivably take such outcomes into account, large parts of the education take place when the child is not quite capable to take such information to account. This economic explanation can therefore only be utilized for the higher levels of education.  Read the article here.

It is surprising that while females perform so well during their studies, they start losing ground the minute they enter the workforce. The very first differences occur long before the first working day.

To Apply Or Not To Apply; that is the question.

Before an employer judges whether a candidate is suitable for a specific position, the candidate decides for which jobs to apply.  A litany of studies show that this decision is influenced by the language used in the advertisement. Men, for example, evaluate extrinsic attributes higher than women, while women favor intrinsic attributes more than men. This means that women are more likely to respond positively to job advertisement that promote personal development and teamwork then to one that promotes a high salary. In all likelihood all candidates would like both types of attributes in a job, but the story measured which of these had a higher effect for which gender. See this study for more details.

Image result for lack of confidence cartoon

When I was in my Master, I was terrified that I would not find a job in my field. We were just coming out of a recession and I had the ambition to work in an industry that my bachelor had not been focused on. So I dropped my CV all over the place. A recruiter contacted me halfway through the year, asking if I wanted an internship. I had already done my internship, so I did not. Boldly I answered that I would be interested in a job however. To my surprise I received a job description and an invitation to apply.

The kicker was: looking at that job description I was not qualified for this job at all! I had already decided not to apply when my father told me that I could at least ask the recruiter why he had sent me this advertisement in the first place. The recruiter told me that I was the best candidate he had seen for this job. It turned out that I read the advertisement very differently than he did. I believed that I had to check all the requirements, while the recruiter simply shot for roughly meeting half of them.

Without encouragement from the recruiter and my father I would never have applied for a job that I did wind up landing.

Research found that this is part of a larger pattern. This study found that women are 5,8% less likely to apply for a job as full professor, and 4,3% less likely to apply for a job as associate professor. It is important to note that this statistical analysis controlled for productivity, to ensure that apples were compared to apples. The differences were larger (6,6%) in fields that had less objective evaluation metrics. Furthermore, when there are perceived lower chances of success for females, women are also less likely to apply.

Chances of getting hired

In an experiment by Yale, 127 applications were send out for the position of laboratory manager position. They had randomly assigned 64 of the applications female names (Jennifer), and the other half male names (John), but the application materials were the same. The male applicants were considered more competent, hire-able and were offered more mentoring. As demonstrated in the graph below, and described in the article which can be found here.


One of those application materials might be letters of recommendation. There are subtle differences in the way recommendation letters are written for the genders. Men are more likely to receive letters with standout words (e.g. “He is excellent!” Rather than “He does this well”) than females. Read the study here.

While I in general frown upon vanity, taking extra care of your appearance is vitally important for the female applicant who is invited on the job interview. Women with appropriate clothing were rated as more competent in this experiment, more creative and more independent. Unfortunately this paper did not investigate whether the same is true for men.

What you wear and how you behave is of course industry dependent.  This experiment found that women who played up masculine traits when applying for a job in a male dominated industry are more likely to be successful.

Tallying up the tab:

Women started off at a relative advantage in education. Then the application process started… First came self-selection. Women were less likely to apply to jobs they were sufficiently qualified for, and preferred jobs that emphasized intrinsic attributes rather than extrinsic attributes. Effectively they applied for less jobs and were less likely to select a job based on the associated economic benefits.

When they did apply they were evaluated as less competent and hire-able, regardless of same credentials. They also were offered less mentoring, which is invaluable for fast career progression and had a lower initial salary offer. In fact this meta-analysis of wage gap demonstrates that a significant portion of the wage gap is indeed induced in this first job.

The total cost? Women are statistically speaking likely to have found a lower level starting job, with a lower salary and less opportunities for personal growth, because they miss resources such as mentoring. This has all happened before they even worked a day in their life.


Next up: Fitting-in in an old boys network, getting promotions, the ambition gap and more.








Thinking errors

Lately I’ve acquired an interesting book on thinking called “thinking fast and slow”. This is a classic and I am most certainly not the first person who has been amazed by the simple explaining power it has.

I’ll quickly relay the theory of it to you as some background for a chain of thoughts I had quickly after starting reading it. The book states:

  1. We have an amazingly fast working mind which can respond to most occurrences of life in real time. It is the voice in you head that answers 2+2= and “what is the capital of France?” And as you probably did just answer these two questions immediately, and involuntarily, you have just been demonstrated its workings.
  2. We also have an amazingly analytic mind, which takes over whenever our fast system fails. It helps you figure out 11×23= . If you tried to answer that question you’ll have noticed that this system responds much slower, and takes time to first figure out how to figure out the answer.
  3. These systems can get cross-wired, which is when we start messing up. Things like those jokes where you have to read out the color written, not the color it is written in. This is your fast system recognizing the color and supplying the answer much faster than your slow system, which is reading the words. You can win at the game only by focusing on the answer given by the slower system, and ignoring the fast but wrong answer.


I write all of this as a context to explain what happened on a sunlit Monday, when I was working at home and just nipped down to the supermarket to get some lunch. (“Down” as in “I live above the supermarket, which I strongly recommend.” )

Just as I came out, my groceries bungling from my arm, I saw a woman in her fifties sitting on a bench. I noticed the playboy t-shirt, the matted hair and above all the 8×6 beer (a.k.a hobo-beer) in her hand. My head drew some very firm, unshakeable conclusions on what had to be her personal history, her education and state of employment. This happened with the ease in which you just drew the conclusion “4” out of “2+2=”.

And then I realized that what I had easily taken to be true, and self-evident were a lot of erroneous assumptions of my side. A by-product of my own fast thinking system being a bit over eager.extremeprejudice_0

There are many conclusions that you can draw of the scene I saw. Maybe, the lady was a hard-working woman, like me, who worked at home, like me, went and bought lunch, like me, and also brought a can of beer for the end of the day. I could not remember seeing the can was actually open.

I hardly dress up for working at home, why should she? And that I don’t appreciate 8×6 beer, doesn’t mean it is impossible for some people to think it’s a good value-for-money beer. I could have been dead wrong about her. And yet, I had been ready to believe it all, without a second thought.

Now, I am not mad at myself for this jump to conclusion. I did not mean to be judgmental, I just had a mess-up in my thinking systems as described in point 3. It would have been a bad mistake if I had continued on and forgot to reflect on these conclusions. If I had acted on my judgment I would have been harmful to my environment as well.

But if I had, I hadn’t meant it. I hadn’t intentionally done something wrong, I had just had a thinking accident. Rather, in fact, like I once accidently drove my car into another car which I had somehow failed to notice. People would have been justified to be upset at the outcome of it, and I was wise to follow this failure by some driving lessons to avoid future collisions, but I wasn’t morally to blame.

In courts they require both actus rea and mens rea: someone both needs to do something and have intended to do that thing to make them guilty. (Obviously crimes like Involuntary Manslaughter are slightly different in mens rea aspect, but they will come up later down the line.)

I had committed a thinking error, and this constitutes an actus rea, but I had not intended to and therefore lacked mens rea. I was not really guilty of anything.

57262-quotes-about-prejudiceYet, I like to make as little errors as possible, and so the incident sits uneasily in my stomach. It makes me think of those tests that demonstrate to you that you have racist and sexist associations. They are rather like the color-reading test: they ask you to associate words to sentiments, and if you have underlying racist and sexist tendencies some associations come easier. I failed both tests by being moderately racist and moderately sexist, despite being a feminist (and of the opinion that racism is stupid.)

It is clear to me now that failing those tests does not mean being a bad person. It means being a person who makes thinking errors.

Now messing up is not evil, but you are supposed to learn from it. So I spent the two years after the test trying to break myself of these tendencies. And while I’m writing this, I wonder how I did. So I took the racism test. I failed again, but in an utterly different way. I made too many mistakes with all associations, so I had to take the test anew. I did. And the results came in. I was less racist now than I was two years ago: I’m now only mildly racist, which is still bad. But you know… less bad? Sorta.

So what I have concluded up to now: racism, sexism and overall bigotry can exist as simple mental errors. People who make these mistake have no fault in making them, but they can harm people by accident. Overall it is a nice thing to try to break-free of all thinking errors, judgmental ones included. I have tried doing this and I have made improvements.

These improvements were made through conscious and effortful rethinking of my fast-thinking conclusions. This has led to me failing to have consistent fast associations at all, which is why the test didn’t work the first time. It means I am now still biased, and apparently also slightly slower on the uptake when race is concerned.

I guess being confused is better than being consistently wrong though.

And that leads to the promised furthering of the legal analog. There are crimes for which you’ll be punished even if you never intended to commit them.


This cartoon was taken from:

An example is manslaughter: the crime of causing another human beings’ death, without intent to do so. Which includes situations as a mother not taking proper care of a baby, which inadvertably led to the baby’s death, or a drunk driver hitting someone on the street.
While both people did not mean to do harm, they did it by not taking actions to avoid doing harm. The drunk driver should have taken a taxi, and the failure to do so fulfills the function of “mens rea” in these cases.

It is similar with being racist, sexist or bigoted, one has no guilt of it as long as one is unaware. However, once one has realized they are make thinking errors, one should aim to rectify it.

And you might justifiably say: “Why? Why do we care what people think, as long as they don’t act upon it?”

I don’t mean to say that we should instigate a thought police, or that we should actively try to find and eliminate those who think racist/sexist thoughts. I simply aim to suggest that we might try to improve ourselves by eliminating thinking errors.

Having said that, why should you take time out of your busy schedule to change the way you think? I have a couple of reasons, starting from the selfish to the selfless and back again:

  1. It will make you happier
  2. It will make you a better person
  3. It will help others become happier & better persons
  4. You will be happier in a world of happier of better persons

That probably requires some more explanation.

Sexist, racist and other bigoted ideas are negative stereotypes of subsets of people. These stereotypes in general make you expect negative and/or dangerous behavior from these groups. If you subconsciously believe these negative stereotypes you will perceive the world as more dangerous and filled with more negative aspects. This is detrimental for your happiness.

By decreasing the stereotypes you have, you will fill feel no fear when you come upon a young man of a stereotyped ethnicity. Since that fear was in all likelihood baseless in the first place, and therefore needless negative stimuli, your live will be better without it.
(I say “in all likelihood” because there are some murderous individuals in every subgroup, including those subgroups which are suffering under stereotypes. Either way, the likelihood of some stereotyped individual having killer intent roughly equals the odds of non-stereotyped individuals.)

Now that you surely believe you will be happier, let’s discuss why it makes it you a better person.

indiansYour thinking will change your behavior. If you subconsciously feel women can’t drive, you might compliment a woman on how well she parked, because you were surprised by that. You are more likely, as a shopping clerk, to keep track of a customer of an age, gender and ethnicity you feel is more likely to steal, while ignoring the tottering old lady who is slipping stuff into her stroller. This behavior clearly is a bit bigoted, and you might even experience backlash for it. That will feel unfair, because it was not intentional behavior at all. And because of the previously mentioned mechanisms you will secretly believe your assumptions were correct.

Your behavior will affect others, not just if you are openly demonstrated what your underlying assumptions are. We continuously express our opinions very subtly with clear effects on those around us, as De Correspondent shows in this article:

cute-ratTwo experiments are used to illustrate this point. Firstly, a scientist labelled one cage of rats “stupid” and the other “highly trained,” and asked his assistants to have them run through a labyrinth throughout the week. There was in reality (obviously) no difference between the two cages. Yet, the “stupid rats” performed far worse, taking a longer time to leave the maze.

Now rats can’t read, so they didn’t know they were supposed to be stupid rats. Yet, something about these circumstances changed their behavior. The leading theory? The assistants could read, and they had obtained this notion of stupidity, which changed their behavior. As scientist they were, of course, trying to maintain objective comparability, so it is unlikely that they actually did anything overt. The changes were far more subtle, such as the roughness with which they picked the rats up.

An interested school director wrote the original scientist and asked him to do a similar test at their cuterat2school. They came in, “tested” all students, and labeled a random selection of them with “hidden potential”. At the end of the school year those who had been labeled as “hidden potentials” turned out to have on average a 27 point higher IQ than at the beginning. The effect was biggest on boys of Mexican descent, a group of children that the relevant teachers expected least off at that school.

Setting aside the moral objections I have to testing the effect of social recognition and high expectations on developing minds, how was this effect caused? To answer that question, studies set up cameras in school rooms and videotaped the interaction of the teacher with the children. They noticed small nonverbal ques of teachers that communicated their expectations. These were facial expressions that the teachers were often unconscious of making.

They also found that by showing these videos to the teachers they can learn to withhold such behavior, leading to improvements of their students’ school performance.
Now does that not sound a lot like the theory we read previously, of unwitting biases being discovered and corrected? The battle of fast thinking with slow?

Other people will become happier and better off if you learn to do the same. You will learn to more frequently display positive or neutral expectations, and as a result those around you will perform better. I see a very useful application for anyone who has a “lazy” teenager in/or around the house!

Finally, all what goes around comes around. You will be a happier person, expecting everyone to be nice and well-performing individuals. And in turn, due to the magic of self-fulfilling prophecies, no one will let you down.


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A very serious commentary on the EU’s reaction towards the Brexit

It doesn’t matter if we are countries, or giggling 12-year old girls. Human bonding benefits most from a common enemy. Someone who does not belong to the clique. An outsider.

Of course there are many countries that do not belong to the EU. Many of those countries are already naturally not part of the group. No matter the wealth, social and economic policies of Singapore, it is simply not a European country and so I’m probably the first person to even bring this country up within the context of the EU membership.

Then there are those whose membership are under discussion. For most people however The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro seem rather alien countries, too much to the peripheral of their world view to pay attention to.

How different is the United Kingdom, of all these non-members!

Here we have a country that is rather similar to us, so similar indeed that it was/is part of the EU! And now they want to leave us? They think they are too cool for us? Don’t make us laugh!

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I notice within the Netherlands, and a large part of the international media a bloodlust for this traitor country. We want it to tear itself apart: Scotland should leave the UK, hell if possible London should leave! We want to negotiate terrible trade terms with them: we will kill their beer trade, and lure all their artists away to the mainland! And we delight in the impending economic doom the UK is surely about to face: just look at the pound, the indexes!

It is an ugly face of an organization that prides itself on creating peace through economic interdependence.

It is also a first in a long, long time that the European Union is so united.

One might have expected that the number of refugees we saw entering, would have united us in solving a common problem. Instead it led to us passing the buck to each other, and a selling our soul to the devil (a.ka. the He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named of Turkey)*.

But apparently seeing one sheep leaving the herd, has done for citizens of the EU what nothing else could: united us in a common will.

A will to destroy, rip apart and hurt what once was our ally.

Morale of the story? Mean Girls perfectly models international relations. We should encourage our international leaders to do trust falls, and push the UK under a bus. (Don’t worry UK will be the better for it, finally learning that sports are a better outlet for their frustration than Referenda.)

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What UK should have done instead of a referendum

*Yes, I am paranoid enough to think that there might be google alerts out on a specific name, which deliver inputs to blacklists that would make it hard for me to travel to Turkey.  You have to understand, I’m opinionated and idealistic, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to sip cocktails in all-inclusive resorts!