Do You Suffer from ERI?

If you’re like me, until recently you never even heard of ERI, let alone know if you suffer from it.

The term, coined by Johannes Siegrist, senior professor at the University of Dusseldorf, stands for Effort/Reward Imbalance.

The idea is that we all make a mental calculation when it comes to work. How does what I’m putting in compare to what I’m getting out of it?

In this insightful article on the topic from the Guardian, the author quotes Siegrist, saying there are two types of imbalance. “You can either do too little and receive too much or do too much and receive too little.”

In both cases, these imbalances can prove to be unhealthy. For those whose effort is great and reward small, it has been linked to heart problems and depression. 

Surprisingly and perhaps less sympathetically, those on the other end who may feel their reward is unearned may also experience mental health issues. 

So what is our response? 

Well because no one likes to feel off balance, we recalculate our Effort/Reward for ourselves and dangerously for others.

We overstate our effort while understating those of others. And we minimize our own reward while overstating the reward of others. 

In the process we throw shade on others in the form of guilt or shame. 

The problem is both effort and reward are hard to quantify in our own lives let alone try to judge in others. 

Both effort and reward are relative. They vary from day to day. They are both a point in time and a reflection of a lifetime of activity

So what is one to do?

If you’re reward is in excess of your effort — work harder… for others.

If you’re doing too much and receiving too little — demand more… with and from others.

You see the solution to ERI is not something we will find in our own heads but something we must seek in the company of others. 

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

Why We Share

Every minute there are over 3,000,000 pieces of content posted online via social media. That’s doesn’t even include texts or emails like this one.

Most people keep what they see to themselves.  Only 18% of people share more than one piece of content a day.

When we do share content, the number one reason is to entertain our friends (insert cat video joke here).  Conversely, only 13% of people share something for the purposes of making their friends “feel something.”

With that as context, I hope that against these odds, you will both watch my recent TEDx talk and share it. At the same time, I will understand if you do neither.

I write these posts and share this talk because I truly believe that the act of reflecting on our lives can improve them – and those around us.  I’ve been moved when I receive notes from people saying that they have done just that.

Yet I often get caught in the ego trap of trying to measure their value through the numbers of opens, clicks and shares.

Case in point. Recently I was feeling pangs of disappointment that my TEDx talk didn’t break the Internet within the first hour. Then I received a message from a high school friend who I hadn’t spoken to in twenty years but had just watched the video. 

She wrote, “My heart is so happy. You’ve given me so much to think about and share with others.”

If not one more person views this talk, I can feel satisfied.

Yet, I hope so many more get the chance to feel the same way she did.

Please watch and share.

Thank you,


I’m Biased. Are You?

I read the New York Times and watch MSNBC because they reinforce my existing beliefs (confirmation bias).

I remember bad things done to me more than good things done for me (negativity bias).

I think that the country will ultimately be ok (optimism bias).

I didn’t think the poll results were accurate leading up to the midterms (pessimism bias).

I believe that if I flip a coin five times and get heads each time, the next flip will be tails (the gambler’s fallacy).

I think that when a driver cuts me off, he was doing it to intentionally mess with me (hostile attribution bias).

I believe it’s ok to have that hamburger today because next week I’ll eat healthier (hyperbolic discounting).

Once we bought our Ford Flex, I started seeing them everywhere (selection bias).

I think that each natural disaster is a sign of climate change (availability cascade).

If my GPS tells me to turn, I do even if I have doubts (automation bias).

If an expert tells me something, I believe her (authority bias).

I think Jets fans are loud (group attribution error).

I think people in my political party are more fact based  (in group bias).

I value things I’ve made more than things I’ve bought, even if the latter is actually more expensive (the Ikea effect).

I think people mostly agree with me (false consensus effect).

Biases are when we create our own subjective reality based on our individual perceptions. They are shortcuts in how we see our world.  

Sometimes these biases can be consistent with objective facts (even a broken clock is right twice a day) but often they lead us astray. 

The problem with cognitive biases is not that we have them.  We all do. It’s what happens when we fail to recognize them in ourselves. 

Of course, there is a bias for that too.  It’s called blind spot bias, which essentially means we believe that others are biased but we are not.

Check out this list of cognitive biases or this article about how they impact our decision making process. And next time you’re in a difficult conversation or debate, instead of accusing the other person of being biased, admit your own. You’ll be surprised at how that might turn the conversation around. 

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

What Our Dogs Can Teach Us About Moving Up

As I write this, my two-year old Cairn terrier mix, Scout, is sitting on my lap. Occasionally, he rests his head on my right forearm, making the act of typing a more delicate matter.

The benefits of dog ownership are well documented. They improve both our physical and mental health, reduce stress, increase our sociability, confidence and sense of responsibility and generally just make us happier.  But what can teach us about moving up in life?

Let’s first state the obvious. Like any species, dogs also experience inequality. 

Some are born stronger, faster, healthier and smarter than others. Environments vary greatly as some are raised in warm, loving and well resourced homes – meaning dogs eat only the best food, go to doggy day care and camp, have lavish toys and of course, those questionable sweaters.

Other less fortunate dogs may live in homes where they are abused or find themselves homeless – at risk of being picked up and euthanized – if they don’t find new homes (approximately 57% of dogs who enter shelters are killed, a total of 1.2 million annually).

Outside of being adopted into a “better home”, dog’s social mobility is non-existent outside of the relative mobility of their owners. They are essentially stuck on whatever rung of the ladder they are born into and their movement is directly tied to the family that owns them.

Yet to watch a dog each day is to be exposed to multiple lessons in adaptation and good living. 

Dogs always wake up on the right side of the bed, enthusiastic to start the day. Their morning walks ensure that their day gets off to a happy start. Their enjoyment of nature elevates their mood.  They take the time to stop and smell the roses (and for that matter everything else). Someone once wrote that in every sniff lies the entire world – so rich is their sense of smell. 

Dogs also make time for their friends – always seeking to stop and say/smell hello. They are honest with their feelings and not afraid to let you know what they need. Each dog has an innate need to play each day for at least 10 minutes. If they don’t their mood suffers. They love to be in the company of others but also sometimes just want to be left alone. 

They eat three meals a day and, after a long day, understand the importance of a good night’s sleep (the average dog sleeps between 12-14 hours a day).  When they are loved, they love right back, and of course their sense of loyalty is astounding.

It is easy to take our dogs for granted, I know that I do and often feel guilty for losing my patience or not taking Scout to dog parks or longer walks. But we should be grateful for the many ways they make us happier and perhaps even look more closely to see what they can teach us about being better people.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

How To Tell The Truth

My six year old daughter stepped off the bus with a very long face.  “Daddy, you’re going to be so mad at me. I did something awful at school today.”
Embarrassed, upset and ashamed, it took twenty minutes for her to work through her tears and tell me that she got in trouble for talking in gym class. A crime that was punishable by sitting alone on the stage at the front of the gym. A second infraction would bring with it the much-feared trip to the principal’s office.
I first thanked her for telling me the truth. Then I told her I was not mad at her and there was no need to be afraid of further punishment.  
When we talked about what she had learned from this, she said to “not talk after the whistle at gym class” and perhaps more importantly that she “should never be afraid to tell me the truth.”
When we are young, telling the truth, if not always easy, comes naturally. Lying is a learned behavior. Children begin to tell ridiculous fibs as early as 3 or 4 and graduate to more complicated and believable lies at 7 or 8.
Research shows
that people lie for a number of reasons but most will fall into two buckets:  to protect ourselves or to promote ourselves (see this fascinating chart breaking down our motivations for lying.)
The average person tells a few lies everyday. People who lie more often have shown to have a more active portion of the brain that is associated with reward processing (e.g. it makes lying worth it). Another study demonstrated that according to brain activity, the more we lie the less stress or emotional discomfort we feel about lying.
In other words, as we get older, telling the truth becomes harder and lying becomes easier.
Which brings us to the events of last week.
Our credibility is a window into our character. If we cannot be trusted to tell the truth about little things, like why we got in trouble in gym class or how much we drank in high school, it will call into question our ability to tell the truth on more substantial issues.  

I trust my six year old to tell me the truth, a belief that was reinforced this week shortly after she stepped of the bus.  I wish I could say the same for anyone who might someday ascend to the highest bench.


Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.

See How Where You Live Affects How Long and How Well You Live

In general, people believe that their own actions are more important than the environments in which they live. It’s a belief that’s so powerful its name is Fundamental Attribution Bias.

At the same time, the decision of where to live, work, go to school or raise our kids is among the most important and serious ones we will make in our lives.  

If you’re curious to know how much where you live may impact your life, check out these two tools:

The first from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation uses CDC data to estimate life expectancy down to the census track level.

The second from the Pew Research Center allows you to see how where you live impacts how far your money goes – in other words how does it impact your social class.

Both will show you how your results compare to the rest of the country.

In my own situation, the good news is that people who live in my town live two years longer than the national average. The bad news is that our money doesn’t go nearly as far as it would in other parts of the country – especially with a household of five.

On the surface, this makes sense. Places that have a higher tax base from higher incomes can invest more in schools, hospitals and other types of social infrastructure. Research shows this can contribute to both quality and length of life.

Digging deeper the results begin to look more troubling. By the nature of where I have been able to choose to live, I am now expected to live 4.5 years longer than my brother and sister who live in a different part of the country.

Two years longer than the national average or 4.5 years longer than your siblings may not sound like a lot?

Try measuring that time not in years but in missed hugs from your children or lost opportunities to see your grandchildren grow from grade schoolers to high schoolers.

There is no doubt that our individual choices matter but the reality is not everyone can choose to live anywhere they want. 

In a capitalist society, we readily accept the fact that some people will drive used Toyota’s while others cruise around in new Porsches. That some will vacation at their local beach while others will whisk away to Bora Bora. We don’t begrudge the success of others we admire and aspire to it.

But how much difference are we willing to accept when it comes to living longer? 

Thank you for taking the time to read the latest from Moving Up.

Are You Bananas?

Yes, you are bananas!
I mean this not in a figurative sense, like you’re crazy – but literally.
Anne Wojcicki is a co-founder of the genetics company 23andMe. In her recent “The Big Ideas” essay in the New York Times, she shared a pretty remarkable fact about how much of our genetic foundation, we share with bananas.
Instinctively, I would have imagined 5 or 10% would have been a good guess.  Think again and read below.
Every living being is made from some combination of four chemicals: adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine (or AGCTs), and only through a simple reworking of this combination of letters do we have the spectacular diversity of species on our planet. Even with three billion letter combinations in nearly every one of our cells, there is just a 0.5 percent difference between my DNA and the DNA of any other person on the planet…. While a banana, a mouse and a chimp look quite different from each other, as well as from you and me, their biological foundation and ours is still built from those four chemical letters: A, G, C and T. In fact, humans share about 60 percent of their DNA with a banana, 80 percent with a mouse and 96 percent with a chimp. A few simple switches in lettering and your AGCTs could have been the AGCTs of your neighbor or those of a banana.

That’s right you’re 60% bananas. 

Beyond this starting point, over the course of our lives, our DNA is impacted and changed according to environmental factors – hence the field of epigenetics.
In his new book, The Tangled Tree, author David Quammen offers an even more tantalizing look at evolutionary genetics by discussing the idea of “horizontal gene transfer.”  Traditionally we think of genes being passed down from one generation to the next. Horizontal gene transfer refers to the swapping of genes between species lines.
So what does this all mean?

  1. At our very biological foundations we are more alike and connected to each other and other life forms than we realize. 
  2. The environment we share with other life impacts our genetic makeup that we will eventually pass down to our offspring.
  3. Finally, during our lives, we even swap genes across other life forms – often with the explicit purpose of protecting each other from disease.

All of this adds up to a very simple but obvious conclusion.  We are related to every living thing and the nature of that relationship is ongoing and mutually dependent.  So act towards other life like yours depending on it – because it does.
And if you don’t see that maybe you are bananas – figuratively speaking that is. 

Full of Fluff?

It is one of the most influential social science research studies ever conducted. For the past thirty years, it has served as a foundation for most work on the subjects of willpower and grit.  
The Marshmallow Test, as it is referred, was a simple experiment that offered kids a marshmallow to eat.  However, if they could wait 15 minutes – while sitting alone in a room with the marshmallow in front of them – they would earn a second marshmallow.  Years later the researcher, Walter Mischel followed up to see how the kids who participated were doing. Those who delayed gratification and earned a second treat were found to have significant benefits ranging from higher test scores, better educational outcomes, fewer teen pregnancies etc.
Over the course of time, there have been follow up studies that have thrown some wrinkles into these conclusions.  One demonstrated that a child’s level of trust in adults also had significant impact on their decision to wait.
A new study goes one step further, threatening to undermine most if not all of the original findings. It turns out that the major driver determining whether a child waits is not their innate willpower or grit, but their background – specifically their parent’s education and wealth. 
You see once controlling for demographics they saw no difference within certain groups. Children of educated parents did no better later in life whether or not they delayed gratification.  Similarly, there weren’t differences among children from low-income homes regardless of whether they had the willpower to wait.
The implications of this new research are far-reaching. The original study is a linchpin in child development and whole cottage industries have sprung up trying to develop grit and willpower in children – especially those from lower income backgrounds.
What is most interesting to me is why we were so willing to accept the initial premise.  Apparently there have always been some elements of the original research design that begged questioning.  And the idea of controlling for demographics is a long held research practice.
So what took so long?
We are a nation built on the idea that if we put our mind to it we can do anything. That we are the primary drivers of our own life and where there is a will there is always a way.
The Marshmallow Study fit so neatly into this bootstrap narrative, it is easy to see why it was so appealing to people across the political spectrum. It appears to be as clear an example of confirmation bias as you’ll see.
Did we really believe if we could train more kids to resist marshmallows, they would be able to escape poverty and overcome the myriad of real world challenges that come with it?
Escaping poverty is hard work and requires incredible will. But, as this study shows, it not an child’s will that needs developed. It is ours.  

Are You a Taker or a Giver?

A recent study observed groups of people in public settings.  They recorded that every ninety seconds someone does something for someone else. Hold a door.  Pass the salt.  Fulfill a random request. 

Interestingly, only one in every six instances included someone saying thank you. 

Some would say this is a classic example of some people who are selfish or ungrateful. While others are by nature are more selfless and altruistic.

Or to put it another way, there are those who give and those who take.

But before passing judgment consider this nugget. The roles being played were fluid. People would both give and take. The same people who performed a nice gesture also didn’t say thank you.

Rather than being proof of bad manners it was actually evidence of strong social connections. People gave because they know eventually they would take. Others took knowing they would later give. 

It was the fluidity that we see in our closest relationships. We sometimes say thank you, especially with larger gestures, or in situations where we want to model good behavior.  But other times, we would just accept the kind gesture without acknowledgment and the giver would be cool with it.  Why?  With the ins and outs of everyday life there are unwritten rules and expectations about reciprocity.

But with low levels of trust or weakened social bonds, the strands of reciprocity can splinter.  We see people who maybe take more than they give or visa versa. The takers are saying, “I don’t trust you to give back.” The givers are thinking “if I give more maybe they will too”, and when they don’t they grow more resentful.

This can lead to a slippery slope where relationships between partners, within families, communities, companies and entire societies disintegrate.  Leading to seemingly intractable issues around inequality and fairness.

On this Memorial Day, we have to look no further than to our soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice – their lives. They did so knowing that the person next to them was willing to do the same.

In all of our relationships, it is healthy to examine how each of us gives and takes.  Is there balance or are the scales beginning to tip too far one way or the other?

These are important conversations that can be a starting point to a healthier balance.  Perhaps you’ll realize that if someone isn’t saying thank you, it’s not because they aren’t grateful but because they feel so close to you that the appreciation goes without saying.

Old Friends

I have been blessed in many ways. One of which has been the presence of wonderful friendships throughout my life. Over the course of the last month, I’ve had three separate occasions when I’ve been able to spend hours talking to three of my oldest friends.  People who have literally known me most of my life.

Each of these conversations was a reminder of how valuable our oldest friends are for our past, present and future selves.

The economist, Daniel Kahneman makes the distinction between our experiencing self and our remembering self. Our oldest friends help us bridge this gap by filling in the forgotten. Reminding us of events, experiences, and relationships that have receded from our memories. In those instances, they become real and alive for us again.

Beyond being honest brokers of lost memories, they play a vital role in our present. As life whirls by and the day-to-day obligations create a velocity that seems inescapable, they serve as a much needed pause button. When we take the time for old friends, the rest of the world falls away, allowing us to truly connect – gaining much needed perspective and counsel. 

Finally, old friends are critical for our future. The vagaries of circumstance mean that some of us will face health challenges, economic uncertainty, and parenting struggles at different times and with different outcomes. These experiences become opportunities to both help and learn from each other. There are few people with whom we would trust what we value most than our dearest friends.

In spite of how valuable old friends are to our past, present and future selves, it has become too easy to let weeks, months, sometime years go by without meaningful contact. 

Our lives become separated by geography, expectation and experiences. Connecting with old friends seems to lack the urgency of now that beckons our daily lives. Then we blink and can’t believe “how long it’s been.” 

Take it from me, just an hour with an old friend – on the phone, over dinner or if your lucky an extended visit with their family, can be invigorating and transformative. Of course, time with old friends also can lead to a lot of new fun.

I hope you can find the time to reach out to an old friend today.