The power of comparison and contrast
In 1970, two psychologists, Tversky and Kahneman, discovered that reading numbers aloud to test subjects influenced their further numerical guesses as well as their behavior. In the experiment, the psychologists read the test subjects the number 65 and then asked them: “What percent of African countries are members of the UN?” People had to guess. The average of all responses was 45.
Then Tversky and Kahneman addressed a second group of people and read them the number 10 at the start. They again asked the same question: “What percent of African countries are UN members?” This time the average answer was 25 – a full 20 less than in the first group. Why? What caused this difference?
We perceive certain things only in comparison with others. Our environment influences our reality. And more: we think in contrasts.
In the sentence “Peter is taller than Michael,” we say absolutely nothing about Peter’s height. But if we imagine Michael Jordan, this could mean that Peter is actually a 205 cm (6’7”) tall giant. Now let’s see how this theory applies to your daily routine.
Have you ever planned five tasks for one day and completed all of them except the most important one? It’s normal. A person always naturally chooses the easiest path. It doesn’t mean that the fifth task was difficult, it was just more difficult than the four others.
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Look at these two to-do lists.
|TO-DO LIST – VERSION A||TO-DO LIST – VERSION B|
|· Write a two-page report on the meeting||· Write a two-page report on the meeting|
|· Acquire new clients by phone||· Order a pizza|
|· Run 10 kilometers||· Respond to a couple of emails|
|· Regular management meeting||· Buy office supplies|
|· Clean out the garage||· Clean up your computer|
Which would be your first task in Version A? What about Version B?
In Version A, writing the two-page report appears to be the easiest task. In Version B, you would probably procrastinate over this task, because all the other ones are significantly easier. Meanwhile, it is the same thing.
Here’s an idea: Take that complicated project you’ve been avoiding for a while and write it down on your to-do list. Then add a couple of other tasks significantly more difficult next to it. See what happens!
Quick tip: Be sure to make the new tasks realistic and sensible, so that your brain believes them.