Linnea Gandhi: Take Back Your Attention
Linnea Gandhi is adjunct professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth and founder of BehavioralSight—an advisory firm helping businesses to integrate insights and methodologies from behavioral science into their research and decision-making processes. Linnea also coaches leaders on ways to reduce error in their own everyday decisions. Her work has been published in Harvard Business Review. Prof. Gandhi has also written and spoken about topics such as noise in decision-making, nudging strategies, and experimentation in business. She aims to teach students to understand and design for the nature, causes, and implications of human decision-making patterns in real-world settings.
"We talk about money and time but, in these days, we are dealing with the currency of attention. We have very limited attention (throughout our lifetime and each day) and it seems like we've lost control to it, to different companies, governments, and each other. I really believe in taking back control of your attention. "
— Linnea Gandhi
Linnea Gandhi (guest): Is I think we are dealing in these days with the currency of attention. You talk about money all the time and even time, but I think attention is the really the currency de-jour, in how Behavioral Science is being used. We have very limited attention throughout our lifespan and throughout each day and it, it feels like we've lost control of it to different companies, governments, each other pinging each other. Right. I could be texting you right now.
Simone Salis (host): Yeah, of course.
L. Gandhi: And your attention is drawn in. I really believe in taking back control of your attention.
S. Salis: I am Simone Salis next up on The Hoomanist. Today's guest Linnea Gandhi. I am Simone Salis today on the humanist Linnea Gandhi adjunct Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth and founder of Behavioral Sight an advisory firm helping businesses integrate insights and methodologies from behavioral science into their research and decision making processes. Linnea also coaches leaders on ways to reduce error in their own everyday decisions. Her work has been published in Harvard Business Review while Professor Gandhi has also written and spoken about topics such as Noise in Decision Making, 19 Strategies and Experimentation in Business. She aims to teach students to understand and design for the nature causes and implications of human decision making patterns in real world settings. So basically how to make less terrible decisions both in business and everyday life. So, I hope that with my accent, I'll pronounce this right. Linnéa, Linnèa…
L. Gandhi: Linnæa.
S. Salis: Yeah Linnæa. Where does the name come from?
L. Gandhi: It’s Swedish.
S. Salis: Okay.
L. Gandhi: And my mom's name is Linnea and her mom's name is Linnea, and then it skipped a generation and it was her grandma's name.
S. Salis: Okay.
L. Gandhi: So I'm Linnea the fourth.
S. Salis: The fourth.
L. Gandhi: Unofficially.
S. Salis : Well your last name? I'm pretty sure that usually people would go like, where are the round glasses?
S. Salis: Right Gandhi comes from marriage. Now the thing was when I grew up, I was a self-proclaimed feminist and thought I was never going to change my name. I was going to be an independent woman. My own identity.
S. Salis: Yeah.
L. Gandhi: And then when I fell in love with my now husband I was like Gandhi is really good branding. So I decided to change it, and it's actually really a fun calling card when we walk in the room and they're like, you're a white chick, you know? And so it's nice.
S. Salis: You're like good observations.
L. Gandhi: Yeah. Yeah. And at one point, one of my past jobs, the full name of it was The Greatest Good.
S. Salis: Okay.
L. Gandhi: And, for a hot second, my email was gandhi (at) thegreatestgood.com which is pretty amazing.
S. Salis: Well the other thing would have been dot Mahatma.
L. Gandhi: Yeah, right, exactly.
S. Salis: But you are a behavioral scientist to show.
L. Gandhi: I mean the field is a very, it's very diverse and honestly I think of it is pretty messy. You have social psychology, cognitive psychology, you have problems of identity, you problems with self-control, problems of rationality, it really is.
S. Salis: And what is yours?
L. Gandhi: Personally in this field and for me actually, it's mostly my decision science. It would be the, the, area of it that, the slice of it that I liked the most. So where are people making decision making errors? Where are they? Is there a gap between what I want to do and what I follow through on or where if I were to step back and be my best self, I'd realize that I might be making a statistical reasoning error that's inhibiting my learning in this situation or am I acting in the most appropriate way? Or where's my attention being directed in an area that I don't want it to be directed in? I think long term, I'd like to be something of a decision therapist. Some of my most enjoyable partnerships with clients have been one on one discussions of where my clients feel they're making errors from a process or an outcome standpoint. And talking through what are the patterns why is it happening? And redesigning their work or personal environment to help mitigate those errors. And it really feels like coaching or therapy.
S. Salis: So you're doing both a business clients and personal on a personal basis.
L. Gandhi: These are business people who are individuals, so it really folds into personal life. Like you were mentioning, with even social media. Where is your attention going? And if your attention and emotion is really triggered because you had a fight with your spouse and you're trader and maybe you shouldn't trade that day.
S. Salis: And you went to school, came school here in Chicago?
L. Gandhi: I went to college at Harvard in Boston and worked there a little bit afterwards, actually writing business cases for business school, not knowing what I wanted to do. Actually at that point in my life I wanted to be a dancer. I'm not kidding you. You laugh, in college; I was a very late bloomer.
S. Salis: I can see from how you sit.
L. Gandhi: Oh really!
S. Salis: No, no.
L. Gandhi: I am a very physical and kinetic person. I, um, which is why I like teaching be very in front of people. But when I was in late high school and college, I was really dedicated to ballroom dance, so competitive ballroom dance, Latin and standard. And it just, it spoke to me in a way. I'd always been more intellectual, more of a student than an athlete, but I'd always been a performer. I kind of, I don't know, I guess ballroom just spoke to me in terms of the philosophy of how two people should relate. So it's like what's the ideal partnership? I was fascinated by that in college. Both in my dancing and actually in, my studies, I studied the philosophy of relationships and the psychology of relationships. If two people, how can two people see each other as subjectivities and not objects? Like it was a very existential and in my dancing I try to do the same thing and it was, it was never romantic with my partners. It was always how to two people get along verbally and non-verbally and improvise in a high stress environment and you see each other every day and you're working on this physical, emotional, expressive, vulnerable craft? It was really all encompassing. I did it like five hours a day. I would go to New York for lessons and so when I left college, that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep going on the amateur circuit and then eventually be pro. My life really revolved around get good grades, dance in college, didn't go out, socialize, didn't party really. It was probably very boring. I had friends, but it wasn't, I just didn't do the social thing as much. So dance was just such a big part of my life. It was like, of course I'm continuing, I need to find a job so I can continue dancing.
S. Salis: So you wanted to do it all?
L. Gandhi: It kind of do it all. So my, my first job out of college was at Harvard Business School writing business cases. So the ones that you might read when you're a business school, student of John Smith, the CEO stared out the window and had to decide whether to do this merger. That was, that was me writing that, and it was a great job because it allowed me the flexibility to dance while keeping a lot of doors open in terms of next steps, career wise. But dance really was the, it was just the default, I felt very alive. It felt, it felt like a philosophy or even a religion to me. Like, I should, I need to practice the way I relate to my body, to the dance floor, to the audience, into my partner and practice it and just always develop it. And when I watched those videos, now of the pros that I admired, I can feel it. You know, it's, you did Improv too, right?
S. Salis: Sure, yes.
L. Gandhi: So, same thing when I got really immersed in Improv, as soon as you'd get some training and you've tried it out, you see more when you watch it as a spectator, you, I appreciate it more. And that's how I feel about dance now.
S. Salis: When did you start, you, you decided you would pursue this career, but eventually you, veered towards.
L. Gandhi: I oh, I mean, I went cold turkey actually. One of the reasons ballroom dance appealed to me from the very beginning was, I was very attracted to studying relationships. How do you get two people to really get along platonically? How do you get them really work together as a team and a partnership? And the last partnership I was in was not, was not a very healthy one. We didn't really get along.
S. Salis: We were talking on the dance floor?
L. Gandhi: On the dance floor and in general.
S. Salis: And in general he was also okay.
L. Gandhi: Yeah, we were, we were dancing together for nine months and, and doing generally pretty well. But I needed to, I needed some friendship. We didn't talk beyond the dance scene.
S. Salis: At all.
L. Gandhi: Yeah, at all, and I wanted to, and he was like, no, this is just like, do your thing, dance fine, go. It was just different, it was just not a good match, and I realized also I kind of had been neglecting my intellectual pursuits and so just decided one day, this is it, I'm done.
S. Salis: Did it go like with cigarettes, like after a while it feels better?
L. Gandhi: Oh, I mean, I missed it. Oh my gosh. I still, when I watched those videos of competitive dancing, I'm like, oh, I feel it in my tummy, but I'm able to still pursued the topics I cared about in applied psychology. So it's interesting because it feels like I kept getting pulled back to that over and over again. So when I, when I quit dance, I also started a new job at BCG doing strategy consulting and what did I love most there? Relationships, teams, organization development. How do you create a positive culture? How do people thrive at work? When I went to Booth, fell into behavioral science very quickly is the science behind it, not just the fluff or the philosophy which I had studied and enjoyed, but the actual rigor to prove what works and what doesn't in different contexts. And that it was like a light bulb went off, it doesn't have to be an Art like dance, it doesn't have to be a feeling or a philosophy or logic. There's actually science.
S. Salis: So you want to applied research. Basically you apply with what is research, you're more interested in practical application and demonstration of those behavioral [inaudible 10:16].
L. Gandhi: Yeah, so, that's what happened when I, when I went to do my MBA, one of the very first courses I took was managing in organization's with Ayelet Fishbach an Austin professor at booth. And I kept seeing in the slides these little footnotes of the studies. And so I was like, I want to read the studies. And so I ended up taking a bunch of PhD courses during my MBA thinking I would flip tracks, but I kept getting the feedback on my papers, which is how the seminars are run. When you're in a PhD course, you write a research proposal that, you know, if you're a PhD student you would actually turn into a paper to be part of your portfolio of work. So I'm writing this proposal and the feedback I always got was, oh, this is interesting, but not really theoretically, interesting. It's interesting from a life standpoint, but not theoretically interesting. You'd never get published, you won't get tenure. And so I was pretty clear to me that I wasn't interested in doing the traditional PhD route. I wouldn't thrive in that context.
S. Salis: I have no knowledge of it. I was just thinking you can only be a science in the measure that we're machines. Otherwise there is a little bit of like uncertainty in the air like well, there is always in every science.
L. Gandhi: There is always uncertainty. Yeah. I mean actually I love the topic of uncertainty I see my role in is to help businesses and individuals, reduce unwanted uncertainty. We're never going to get rid of it, but how do you wrap your arms around measuring the amount of uncertainty in your environment and your outcomes? And trying to control it through some systematic changes and accept that there's still some uncertainty in outcomes.
S. Salis: You say unwanted uncertainty. Is there any wanted certainty?
L. Gandhi: That's a good point, there's going to be. So if we think about the science or the science behind this, like a lot of what I tried to do is not just give you a new way of framing an email or a new way of running your day, but can we measure, your adherence to a process and measure outcomes and actually can we create a counterfactual and running an experiment and try to shift behavior in one like outcomes in one way or another systematically. There's always going to be uncertainty in those outcomes though because there's chance variation in the environment. Different versions of us come downstage into a situation. You know, is it your best self that day or were you moody or were you hungry? And that's going to influence outcomes. A lot of that variation is unwanted, right? You want to bring your best self every day. But there's some variation that is wanted, like it's good that you and I are different people. You don't want all your employees to be the same cookie cutter. So helping people understand when we're trying to shift behaviors or changing decisions. When do we want to reduce variation and when do we want to keep it? There's some of that diversity of is actually really good. It helps with evolution. Evolution wouldn't happen without variability, right, but there's some variability that's unwanted, unexplained randomness and that's what we're trying to sometimes control. Yeah.
S. Salis: Hello, I am Simone Salis and this is The Hoomanist. Support for this show comes from you. If you would like to keep enjoying new episodes regularly, please become a supporter now visited hooman.ist/support. I am Simone Salis today on The Hoomanist, Linnea Gandhi a Harvard graduate and an adjunct Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth. Teaching students how to understand and design for human decision making patterns in the real world. She is also the founder of Behavioral Sight helping businesses and leaders to apply better decision making processes through methodologies and insights from behavioral science. And she's also trained performer in improvisational theater from the Second City, the IO Theater of Chicago and The Annoyance. She was explaining how to redesigning our environment to drive positive change for our own selves as possible. Linnea so far what I get from your work, you're like a therapist for optimizing behavior of individuals inside?
L. Gandhi: I aspire to be that way, but I think the thing that I've been really reflecting on lately is, I feel very strongly about this idea of being partially naive. I like working with people, individuals or companies that recognize there's a gap between what they're doing, and what they want to do.
S. Salis: Okay.
L. Gandhi: I feel it's much easier, It's much more comfortable to deal in that situation versus a situation where, as a company, I might, I might believe my consumers are making a mistake by not buying my product, but I'm like, I don't know if that's an error or, you know, it's hard for me to really know. Does the consumer believe they're making mistake?
S. Salis: Is it an actual mistake? Who's the judge? Who is the objective judge for that?
L. Gandhi: Exactly there is normative area that is really tough I think in applied behavioral science and, and so I am more and more leaning towards working with what I say. I'm applying my skills to partially naive individuals and users and I don't want to do it to people who are naive, because that's, that's just too paternalistic.
S. Salis: You're also an improviser did you get close to improvisation for the same reason of analyzing relationships and human interaction?
L. Gandhi: I certainly think that was appealing. So I took it up while I was, my MBA program.
S. Salis: Okay.
L. Gandhi: As I just, I missed having an art or a performance element in my life, but I was fortunate enough to end up going to The Annoyance for my first set of training classes, and it was just talk about randomness, pure, pure randomness. It was just that, that's the schedule that fit with my schedule the best it was. I looked at IO, I looked at Second City and it was like, well, I guess Annoyance is starting at the right time for me. So that's where I'll start. And I loved it there. And particularly at The Annoyance, Susan Messing was the final course for me. I took her course twice. I loved her so much. I just, I could just take it again.
S. Salis: I think a lot of people do with Susan.
L. Gandhi: To me she's a philosopher, I have notebooks full of things she said, and it' is about how do you relate to yourself, how do you relate to your, your team, how do you relate to the audience? It's just great therapy taking her class.
S. Salis: Susan Messing for who doesn't know, she's a fairly famous known improvisational teacher here in Chicago and she's a great comedian too.
L. Gandhi: I mean even outside of behavioral science. Just from a skill standpoint, I've used a lot of what I learned there just for teaching and when I run workshops and when I talk with clients in those settings and when I embraced the principles of Improv, especially those embraced by Susan Messing, I just ended up doing a lot better and connecting with my audience and much better pedagogical experience.
S. Salis: Yeah. You also end up enjoying more like you smile while talking about it.
L. Gandhi: Yeah.
S. Salis: It's great. Behavioral Science in the past decade is, I don't understand it, but what I understand that he has a huge impact and implication in as we were saying in everybody's everyday life because there are starting to be some services that we all use that heavily rely on behavioral science studies to drive you towards some decisions that are not so conscious, I would say are more mechanical and they're like driven by the fact that you know, you need to interact with the service, take Facebook, take a anything, you know, even my first studies were Industrial Design and so from the point of user interface and user experience, I'm very sensitive about those. And so that is why I'm really interested in it. But I also have a strong hope that we can take behavioral science, and the way that it has been misused I think as my personal point of view with those services so far. And we can actually start to apply it on a mass scale and level to help people and use their mental shortcuts and how our animal thinking instead of against people. That is my desire.
L. Gandhi: I love that, there is two kinds of things I'm thinking in relation to that. The first has to do with, you know, I feel like I share your sentiment a lot because some of my work gets near this gray area of who am I to say that you're making an error? Who am I to say that this is the behavior I ought to be helping you do? Maybe this isn't right? And so that comes up to a philosophical question of whose utility are you maximizing? Is it the nudger if we use the word nudge, I guess, to think about these interventions? Is it the person who's changing the environment to shift your behavior? Is it their utility we should be maximizing it? Is it you, the individual who's being swayed one way or another? Is it you in the present? Is it your or is it your prospective self or your remembering self or you know, is it the net of all of those? And does it depend on my contractual relationship with you? A parent child have different rules of the road there than an employer employee has a different rule as in the company and a consumer has different rules than a government and the citizen. There's many different ways of trying to parse out, I guess the ethics or where do I draw the line of when I, as the architect of this behavior should or should not be doing. And I think, I think every company, every individual has to come to terms with those roles on their own. And that's why for me, like the last few months I've really been doing a lot of thinking about what do I feel comfortable using my toolkit for? I love all my clients, I love what I've done, but I'm starting to become more picky because I really do have this belief and I really am only interested in helping people who are partially naive. Who, if they were in their best self-standpoint would say, yeah, actually I do want my decision to be fixed in this way or my behavior to change in this direction.
S. Salis: And you are putting an emphasis on, naive people?
L. Gandhi: Or partially naive.
S. Salis: Oh partially naive yes.
L. Gandhi: Someone who's fully, and I’m not an economist, hopefully I'm not using this wrong, but it has been a framework that's helped me. You have a spectrum of full naiveté, I don't realize I have an error that I'm exhibiting to spell sophistication. I realize it and I can fully remediate it. Most of us live in the middle ground, so we call it partially naive.
S. Salis: Okay, okay thank you, I didn’t know [inaudible 21:18] about that.
L. Gandhi: So, I'm stealing that from behavioral economists who probably right now are saying, oh, she's butchering of that concept. But it's like the loose way that I think about it.
S. Salis: It's for me to understand it. So I take responsibility with any kind of [inaudible 21:29] like it's for me.
L. Gandhi: But I fear that a lot of, like your example of social media, it's, I feel like we're dealing with a lot of people who are either fully naive of a problem and then it's like, well, is it my right to tell you, you have a problem or not? Or people who don't have an issue at all. And I'm just deciding.
S. Salis: But I believe those are very few.
L. Gandhi: No, no, no. I mean like, why should I be directing your attention towards Ad (a) versus Ad (b)? There's no decision making error, that's just me, so this is my second point is I think we are dealing in these days we always have, but to really at a high level with the currency of attention. We talk about money all the time and even time, but I think attention is the really the currency de-jour in how behavioral science is being used for better or for worse. A lot of the concepts we talk about framing for instance draws your attention to one or other elements of information and then you, you change what you do and decide based on where your attention has been drawn. We have very limited attention throughout our lifespan and throughout each day and a lot of different competing draws of that attention and it, it feels like we've lost control of it to different companies, governments, each other pinging each other. Right. I could be texting you right now and your attention is drawn in, I really believe in taking back control of your attention.
S. Salis: How do we start?
L. Gandhi: So I think part of it or some of these tools that are coming out around digital health or digital diet, these, hey, guess what? Did you realize you open your email 20, 000 times a day?
S. Salis: Like screen time from iOS.
L. Gandhi: Yeah, some of it's about increasing awareness and patterns that you wouldn't be able to notice, but an algorithm or A. I will help you notice. And then I think it's about you taking time to reflect and saying, well, how do I want to be spending? This is my wallet of attention. Where do I want to be spending it? And then setting rules for yourself in your digital life or even in your physical life to help that. So for instance, my husband and I realized very quickly last year that we were coming to a bad habit of checking our phones and our work emails all the time, even when we were together. And he travels during the week. So I really only see him on the weekend. So we have scarce time and scarce attention to devote to each other and we recognize this is an issue and that we always felt a bit jilted when the other person would check their phone while we're talking. And you're like, dude, is that really that important? And so now our environmental design change, right? So we're, we are partially naive, we realized we had a problem. We didn't realize how bad it was and we didn't realize what to do about it. So it's a great situation, we sat down and reflected and we said, okay, how can we design our environment to get to the outcome we want? So now our default is when we are together on the weekend, we don't have our phones or if we have a phone because we need it for navigation or for, you know, Uber or Lyft, we take his phone and put it in my purse.
S. Salis: Okay.
L. Gandhi: So if he wants to check it, he'd have to ask me and it creates it. Yeah. So we, we've designed the environment for ourselves to help our behavior. And that's what I think one way to fix it.
S. Salis: You are highly conscious people, you are a step ahead like with, no, I don't think you see, we are partially naive. Sure. Because you're not a 100% on the spectrum of, a 100% consciousness of the mechanisms that govern you, luckily so, but, I know very few people that have that kind of control. Most of my friends are people that I know are people that are just constantly with, the thing on their face.
L. Gandhi: Well this is the thing is who are we to judge that that's the right or wrong thing?
S. Salis: No, I guess I can only judge for myself, but you know, I want to believe that, if the reason why you lose attention to the people around you does not bring you any economical or a social advantage, but it brings it to someone else.
L. Gandhi: Right?
S. Salis: Who are we? I'm a person with a conscience, just saying.
L. Gandhi: Yeah, so I mean, I totally buy into that, and I think the stakeholders in your life, certainly will buy into that, your family, your friends, even your manager probably cares how you're attention is being spent. They want you to be productive. They want you to be optimally productive, right? Maybe they don't care that you're on Facebook as long as it's during a healthy break.
S. Salis: Sure.
L. Gandhi: But they do care if you're opening Facebook too much, they might, if they're really good manager also care whether you're plugged into email on the weekend or if you're actually relaxing and unplugging. So there's a lot of people in your life who, who care. So the question back to ethics is maybe I don't care or fully realize my problem, but if I have enough stakeholders that I care about who care. Is that enough for a tipping point for me to realize I have a problem and be somehow incentivized to redesign my environment to help?
S. Salis: You know? So the first step is to take a good look at ourselves and the people that we love around us and decide for ourselves how much we care. And what we're looking for, what our goal is, and then we take a step too and there is this interesting, thing that I never considered redesigning our environment to take our behavior. That's great.
L. Gandhi: Yes that's the big thing, I stole that from Kurt Lewin, full disclosure psychologist, the 1920s awesome guy. Behavior is a function of the person, the environment. This is his simple equation. I use it in everything I do and you could substitute behavior for decision. Every behavior, every decision is going to be a combination of who I am individually and even just as a human. The way my brain works, these patterns that we've learned about in behavioral science and how all of that interacts with the environment around me. If there's a dinging noise, I'm going to turn my head and pay attention. That's a combination of who I am and my auditory sense and the ding that happened in my environment. So if you and I right now we're having an interview, I’m going to turn my phone off. That's an environmental design to maximize my behavior and where my attention is being drawn, that scarce currency here because we have a shared goal. And YOU might tell me that, you might ask me before this interview to turn off my phone and I'm going to comply because you're a stakeholder I care about.
S. Salis: All right? So I need to gain leverage towards all the people that I care about.
L. Gandhi: You know, I think sometimes we're not aware we can change the incentives for the people in our lives whom we love. And it doesn't have to be a traditional incentive like money. It can just be judgment or social proof, If everybody in your family is doing a great job keeping their phones off the table at dinner, you will implicitly feel pressure. The stakes are higher for you to take your phone out.
S. Salis: What is the name of your company?
L. Gandhi: It's Behavioral Sight, I founded it last year.
S. Salis: Okay, you found it on your own?
L. Gandhi: Yes.
S. Salis: Okay, so you're the sole founder?
L. Gandhi: Sole founder, yeah.
S. Salis: Do you do what you were talking about like a consultant for companies with like a decision making and behavioral science with that?
L. Gandhi: Exactly. So I wear two hats right now, and I'm very comfortable with that, here's a bit of blur. One is as an adjunct Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at Booth and one is running Behavioral Sight with my colleague. And in both of those domains I do what I call applied Behavioral Science or maybe more accurately applied decision science since we are focusing more on, not just nudging but this idea of rational decision making. And so with students we teach them how to take all these great ideas they've been learning in their behavioral classes and apply them to different projects with outside organizations. They run experiments as well, and then in my consulting work I do the exact same thing just at a larger, deeper, more complex scale. How are you, how do you create some structure around judgment? And we'd make too many judgments intuitively when we jumped to a holistic assessment. Right, when I walked in the room and you met me today, you have a first impression and you just intuitively jumped to it.
S. Salis: Yeah.
L. Gandhi: But would your impression of me is going to be based off of a few seconds, a few minutes? Is that going to be accurate? I don't know, instead you could have a checklist that you preset of different categories of information about me that you want to collect during the interview and in our interaction. And you would be filling that out during our interaction and at the end, ideally doing it independently so that you know, if you're evaluating my vocal quality and you really love my voice, that it doesn't have a halo effect and on the next attribute you evaluate. So independently evaluate them and then when I leave, you know, you maybe you already have a numeric way of combining all that information, but then you sit back and you make your, your holistic judgment. That's basically the structure, idea.
S. Salis: There is such a level of objectivity involved into what should do and what you're describing that I'm overwhelmed by it because the way that my brain works is most of the times there are a bunch of voices like punch each other and then I go like shut up. And I try to make some decision based on the goal that I want to reach. But that is such an effort because it's very easy for individuals especially and not being trained this to become, I'm not a victim, but a follower of those like impulses and decisions. And it's hard because looking at you explaining this and listening to you explain this, it sounds like there might be a way to get a better outcome of my bad decisions, looking at them, and it seems so logical, but then emotions usually take over.
L. Gandhi: And scarce time and attention. So if you can't do it with every decision, you would never get out of bed if you were trying to do this, and you can't be deliberative, but for really important ones you can prospectively design for it. It's all about…. Really, a lot of this is about environmental design. It's not, it's hard to change people fundamentally. You're always going to have limited time. I'm not going to change your mortality. You're always going to have limited attention. I'm not going to, you know, turn you into spock all of a sudden. So if we accept those limitations and we accept that because of those limitations, we take these [inaudible 31:37] shortcuts that sometimes backfire. Then if we're being responsible to ourselves, we should think ahead of time. What are some of the big decisions coming up in life for me and how can I design my decision making environment such that when I interact in that environment in a day or in a week and I'm still human in that environment, I still end up on average with the right outcome. So how do you structure that decision making process is for yourself? Prospectively can be, you don't have to change who you are. You're just changing your environment.
S. Salis: Hello, Simone Salis here. This is The Hoomanist. Honest conversations for technologically aware. Contemporary humanists get new episodes as soon as they are released on apple and Google podcasts, Spotify, Alexa, or on hooman.ist. I am Simone Salis today's guest on The Hoomanist is Linnea Gandhi, adjunct Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth discussing how attention is the real currency of our times and how we can consciously claim it back for ourselves every day to be more present and make better decisions. We were also talking about the autopilot for human decisions, you know when, when you do something without even thinking about it, so you go on autopilot for the small things.
L. Gandhi: Exactly.
S. Salis: Like when you driving then you find yourself at your destination.
L. Gandhi: Or like today when I went, I took the red line South and then was like, I'm going south. I really need to be going North now how the heck did that happen? Right I was on autopilot, my attention was totally in my email and not where I was.
S. Salis: What are some of the things that you use, this knowledge that you have and these tools to try send into the right direction, the one that you wanted to and you know, it was for the best outcome for yourself and you are not following, like you were not having much success and you're like, all right, I'm going to fix this.
L. Gandhi: Yeah. Well, okay, this happens, I guess four weeks ago. So as you know, I got a puppy about two months ago and I've never had a dog let alone a puppy. So that has been a learning experience. She's lovely, but I had to get up every day at 3:00, 4:00 AM to let her out and then come back in because she, she's tiny Shiatzu poodle mix, small bladder. And we knew we had to do that, my husband and me, and often it was me because he was traveling and we're a few weeks in to having her and we keep doing this routine. I am like going crazy because I'm working, I'm judging and I'm not sleeping. I've gotten through no rem cycles in three weeks and I'm done. I like, I mean I lost it a few times. I just was crying, I just went crazy but I kept doing this thing where I'm waking up at 3:00 and 4:00 AM because my hypothesis was she can't make it that long and if she can't make it that long, she'll pee in her crate. And if she pees in her crate, she won't like her crate, but I need her to like her crate because that's supposed to be her home. This is the cycle the hypothesis I had, and I'm going crazy about this though because I need sleep and my husband and I are talking about it and then we were like confirmation bias. We haven't looked for disconfirming information, meaning we keep assuming our hypothesis that she can't make it the whole night is correct. And we're assuming our hypothesis that if she pees in her crate one, she'll hate it. We're not looking for any information to disconfirm that. So we were like, all right, tonight we're not getting up and how long did she make it? Nine and a half hours. I'm Iike I could have been sleeping like God knows how long I could have been sleeping for the last several days because I didn't look for disconfirming information.
S. Salis: The same thing that, sorry go ahead.
L. Gandhi: Oh no that was it, I was just like, I'm an idiot.
S. Salis: No, I feel that that's what happens and I believe that that's kind of similar to what happens when you have a belief that might be political or might be personal and then you have all these group of friends that think the same thing that you do because they're your friends and that's how you select them somehow and then you never seek out for any different opinion and just keep it. That's the confirmation [inaudible 36:22].
L. Gandhi: Oh yeah I have a friend who's into coaching and like had a big group of us over and we did ice baths, which is, he had these huge tubs, he poured a ton of ice cubes in it and a little bit of water and we had to sit in it for three minutes and do it three times in the course of an hour. And, before it was going, before I went to join this, I was like, ice baths, It sounds super you know, I'm getting old, I'm getting achy from all the dance, right five years of dancing, like my knees are going already. And I'm like, am I going to hurt myself doing this? So what do I Google are ice baths dangerous? What kind of links do you think pop up on the first page of Google when you do that?
S. Salis: Like 10 reasons why ice baths are terrible for you.
L. Gandhi: Exactly now what I should have also done was are ice baths safe? And also read those articles. I mean, I still did the ice baths, I actually did, but it was just like, God, I'm doing confirmation bias again, it just, it comes so naturally.
S. Salis: I mean, once you're informed, then you can take the bad decision
L. Gandhi: Exactly, once I'm fully informed, so little things like that come up or sometimes when my husband and I have big decisions to make. We make checklists and we did something once where we actually built an algorithm to decide between options.
S. Salis: Oh my God. What kind of relationship? I mean it’s great.
L. Gandhi: It was just ridiculous, I know, I mean, he's an economist, so that what he was [inaudible 37:40].
S. Salis: So you guys at any given time, the free time that, a behavioral, I don't want to say scientist because I don't want to say, but a behaviorist
L. Gandhi: Decision science practitioner, I don't know, what a terrible name.
S. Salis: Linnea.
L. Gandhi: Linnea yeah.
S. Salis: The Linnea and economist husband do might be algorithmic, just diagrams on the kitchen.
L. Gandhi: The search for rationality?
S. Salis: Does it make you feel in control when you guys develop?
L. Gandhi: I think I'm just more and more aware of how naive I am of how many problems I have that I'm not doing right.
S. Salis: You've got to give up at some point.
L. Gandhi: Oh, oh, I absolutely give up. I mean, I watched the Kardashians. Like I'm the, I with the worst of them. I like the idea of self-actualization. This is the, big theme from, you know, high school onward, through dance, through Improv, through decision science. How can I help myself and other people become self-actualized, become the best selves that we from by our definition. And I think it helps me feel like I'm, when I'm, when I dissect my own decisions with my husband or alone, it makes me feel, like a richer experience. I understand things a little better and I can nudge myself a little bit more towards the way where I want to go. So it's, it's empowering, but I don't feel like, I feel like less than control, but I feel more empowered if that makes any sense because I become more and more aware of what I don't know. My secondary knowledge continues to increase.
S. Salis: See, you feel a little bit stronger in your journey towards the, almost impossible but great to pursue self-actualization.
L. Gandhi: Yes. I feel I feel stronger, but I feel like the problem always feels bigger.
S. Salis: Bigger okay.
L. Gandhi: Yeah.
S. Salis: I mean that's how it is, it gets so gigantic right alright. Is that like the fun part for you trying tweak that, like trying to make yourself a little bit better. Do you find it?
L. Gandhi: Yeah, I mean that's a big part of my husband and my relationship. We both really believe in self-improvement even if we suck at it sometimes. And I think some of this tools helps, helps me remember to stay humble and just how little I know, how little I control in the world, how little an impact I can make. Which is kind of sounds depressing now.
S. Salis: No, that's actually probably, that's why you feel it empowering because it's really hard.
L. Gandhi: It's a relief in a way too.
S. Salis: Or it's a relief, yes.
L. Gandhi: There's so little we control and I think, actually a lot of what I've been intellectually pursuing, this summer has been more just pure statistics, understanding principles of statistical reasoning. Because a lot of the psychology that I love [inaudible40:12] decision science is just a divergence from being a good statistician, being a good economist. And so thinking that way has been actually really empowering and what's big and in statistics accepting the fact that there's just a ton of uncertainty and randomness and that we see systematic patterns and there really isn't much there. Like there's a lot more randomness and uncertainty and chance in the world then we want to think as humans and it's kind of a relief to just accept that.
S. Salis: You know there is the paradox of demand that is like standing in front of a gigantic tsunami wave and just feel so serene because there's nothing you can do.
L. Gandhi: There is nothing you can do.
S. Salis: Right? Yeah. And so I guess it's hopefully a smaller version of that, but I can understand that intellectually. Since we tend to act as you know, with our biases, shortcuts and all kinds of things, that kind of thing. What is the way for us to take a decision consciously, not just because we are reacting to the environment or the way that we are? Because the example that you said earlier, the auditory system is there and the bell rings, so your head turns. Do you think that like trying to analyze and look at yourself like you do is the way to go? If you want to try to do conscious decisions, can we make a conscious decision like that? I don't want to go to the freewill, I don't to go to like mechanism but…
L. Gandhi: I think that's interesting, so a lot of my work is around environmental design changing every like your physical environment, your communications because that enables you to make better decisions even unconsciously. Because the maze you're going through has shifted and so you just keep going. But I've already shifted in a better direction. So I would say it doesn't necessarily have to be conscious, but if you want to be more conscious, I think the biggest thing is slow down. Training yourself to slow down, whether it be through mindfulness, breathing, whatever works for you. A lot of the negative behaviors are the things that might, we might judge as suboptimal or even just your auditory, your head turning, that we talked about with the, ding. I feel like if you, if you can allow yourself to slow down, it helps you not be so reactive. Like for me, I'm a very reactive person. I know I overreact to small pieces of immediate information. I'm an action [inaudible 42:31]. I want to fix it, but I also know that that's a trigger that usually gets me into trouble. And so I have to train myself to not be so reactive to the stimuli in my environment. And that's something that you can work on physically, emotionally, you can work on it through environmental design. So guess what? I have in my email, I have a one minute delay. So everything sits in my outbox for one minute. Not because I don't, it's not because I write rude emails, It's actually the thing I tend to mess up on is who's in the to and the cc line. I had one terrible incident of that when I was consulting, and I think I have PTSD from it. But it was, so, it's always a reminder of slowdown. Who is in the email line? Did you write that email the right way? Did you remember the attachment and that's just, it's an environmental design that literally requires me to slow down. I can go back and recheck that email. It's slowing down, if you want to be conscious, you need to spend time and attention in a different way.
S. Salis: About yourself.
L. Gandhi: Yeah.
S. Salis: Have you ever practiced any kind of meditation or those things?
L. Gandhi: I wish I meditated doing this breathing exercise with my friend last week. That was helpful for me. I do, I like yoga, I loved, I went through it and I've done dance intensively improv intensely. I've done bikram yoga intensively so..
S. Salis: It looks like that everything you do, you do pretty intensively.
L. Gandhi: I know, I kind of go all or nothing.
S. Salis: Yeah, it seems like a [inaudible45:27].
L. Gandhi: It's weird, it's like I kind of like, if I can't do it intensely, why would I do it at all?
S. Salis: How did you guys meet you and your husband? If I can ask you that?
L. Gandhi: Oh yeah, yeah, we met at school, so at Harvard, we were in the same dorm, so the dining hall we shared and everything. And He, one of his friends is actually someone I went to high school with, and so I met him his senior year and just through social connections.
S. Salis: Hey! Hey!
L. Gandhi: Yeah, we bonded over making fun of a mutual friend, you know,
S. Salis: Yeah that always helps.
L. Gandhi: That always helps having someone else to put down at your own enjoyment. Yeah, and, yeah, we've been together for 10 years now.
S. Salis: Oh, cheers.
L. Gandhi: Yeah, thank you, and married for five. It's interesting to watch relationship shift over time and we were very different people. I'm certainly very different than I was in my twenties super different in a good way. I feel like I have more, not control but self-understanding, self-acceptance.
S. Salis: Okay. So the work on self-improvement is given some fruit.
L. Gandhi: I'd like to think that.
S. Salis: Okay. Did you grow up with siblings? Any siblings?
L. Gandhi: No.
S. Salis: An only child?
L. Gandhi: Yeah.
S. Salis: In Milwaukee you said right?
L. Gandhi: Hmm hmm.
S. Salis: And did your family give you any kind of imprint on your spirituality or religion?
L. Gandhi: Well, I'm attracted to more Buddhism. I never, I've never, I'm not at all studied and that kind of thing, but there's something attractive about being spiritual and being slower and thinking about how people connect. Right. That goes right back to my dance.
S. Salis: From the outside, you seem to have all the elements of a person that it's like, it's self-reflective. Wondering about relationships between human beings, body, ethics of choices off.
L. Gandhi: Your way too kind S. Salis: No, I'm not saying that, it's a beautiful example of how a person can be, if he does, not because of the show a humanist without, necessarily being religious or spiritual. Like you can have a strong set of ethics and high values for yourself. At least the bar without necessarily. People usually think that right?
L. Gandhi: This is thing, I think I've always been in search of a religion. I don't like the idea of an institution. There's the hippie in me, but like when I did [inaudible 46:12] me was it really was like a religion. It was like that became a religion to me. And then Improv and how we relate on stage and seeing and hearing and connecting and very focused on the other, like with a big O on stage, that became a religion. I wouldn't I say behavioral science isn't really a religion for me, but, and it's interesting how like going all in on something, you take the mores of the principles of it and it becomes a way of life.
S. Salis: That's a good way to put it, I think, that you take a set of values, you look into them, you believe so strongly into them that they become like a guiding light and a reference.
L. Gandhi: And they overlap, and I think for me we've talked about being kinesthetic. Like touch has been a big thing in my life and I really only come into self-awareness of that lately. And the dog has been, I mean I'm not alone anymore. I'm usually alone during the week, with my husband traveling and I'm used to it being an only child, but then having, now I have another entity there and there's so much touch involved and it's very therapeutic of like hugging and kissing and rubbing. And there's something about touch and physicality that I did bring me back to my days with dance and how do you touch another being and like the way you pass energy back and forth. Now again, I really sound like a hippie, it's nice to explore that with this animal.
S. Salis: No, I believe that's really nice. What do you look for? How old are you... -ish?
L. Gandhi: 33.
S. Salis: You're in your early 30s okay.
L. Gandhi: Best number ever.
S. Salis: Yeah. Yes tell Jesus about that for that specific one. What do you look for? What do you hope you will do in the future? Let me explain better. I live with a constant thing that, and I probably am not going to be able to answer it, that we all have an expiration date, right? You can turn me into spark. You can like, put that expiration date on mortality faraway in time for what it is. And so believe that that is a good reminder, a momento mori of what we should be trying to pursue. Now we will not necessarily succeed, but I think it's a great way to try to set at least a goal and then it will not be that for yourself. Something that you want to work on not that you want to achieve because you don't know if you will. What it is that you want to work on? You have been thinking about lately, you said about your work kind of things. What matters to you? Like I know it's not, it's, it's….
L. Gandhi: I mean I could name a bunch of end points. So this go back to my days being a philosophy major. You could talk about being something or becoming. Like there are endpoints that I kind of care about. I'd love to develop as a professor, and make that into a more than just an adjunct position at some point in the next decade. And I'd like to become more and more towards decision therapy. I love individual coaching, so thinking and exploring that path. But from like a becoming standpoint of like what this, there's like a state of being, I think I'm after as well, which is being slower. I'm naturally more high energy and I used to revel in that and I realize therapy through the dog even, I am a better self when I'm slower, when I slow down, not just more rational but just calmer and more reflective and more humble and more present and there for other people and myself.
S. Salis: So at the end, being slower allows you to be there for other people and for yourself more easily and more fully?
L. Gandhi: Maximize even my attention to bring it back to that versus the attention. My attention would fly and fly and fly and fly and I used to think, oh, I'm so fast, like an improviser on stage who's fast and witty and quick, not that I was at as a terrible improviser. I think it's more going to slow form like TJ and Dave, you know that's exactly it moved to this too long form. There's something that vibe is what I'm, I'm trying to transform myself, not away from, from the, you know, improvise Shakespeare troop, which I like. I love that kind of Improv and feeling and being, but being able to flex my muscle in both directions and have more control over [inaudible 50:29]. Do I want to be high energy and fast and quick and boom, boom, boom? Or is this a time to just, you know, chill and be in the moment and be present having more control over the different versions of me that come downstage?
S. Salis: Alright. Behavioral Sight founder, Adjunct Professor at Booth University of Chicago and slower and slower thinker and human being. Linnea Gandhi thank you so much today for being on The Hoomanist Linnea.
L. Gandhi: My pleasure, Simone. Thank you.