Have you ever bought a lottery ticket or at least, been tempted to buy one? Your rational mind understands that the odds of winning are slim, but that tingling of hope inside says, "Somebody inevitably wins. What if it's me this time?" You are not alone. In fact, the odds of winning a lottery are stacked clearly against you because our brains like gambling and prompt so many to buy those lottery tickets.
The uncertainty of the reward is what keeps the brain interested. When the brain is busy predicting if we win or lose, it produces more of the neuromodulator dopamine, which is responsible for focused attention and more pleasurable experience. That explains how people can spend hours pulling a lever of a slot machine. Imagine what would happen if you were to get a regular salary for pulling the same lever but no chance of a random win. You'd be bored to death very soon. Random rewards keep the excitement alive but can also lead to gambling addictions.
Finance professor Peter Tufano of Harvard Business School used this behavior of dopamine neurons for the force of good when he created a pilot program called "Save to Win." Michigan residents now can invest as little as $25 into a one-year Save to Win Certificate of Deposit for a chance to win an annual grand prize of $100,000, plus monthly cash prizes varying up to $400. The goal, of course, is to encourage more people to save.
Here's something even more exciting. Our brains interpret near misses as wins, causing us to keep playing longer. In a recent fMRI study conducted by Luke Clark of the University of Cambridge, near misses activated the reward system of the volunteers who were playing a computerized slot machine in the same way as wins. The researchers saw a lot of activity in the striatum and the insula - areas involved in reinforcing behavior with positive feedback. Since people are generally not happy when they feel they were so close to winning but didn't, you may wonder about the reason for this odd behavior of the brain. The answer may be that such positive reinforcement after near misses encourages learning. The brain wants us to keep practicing the skill until we get better.
How could you use this reward system of the brain to help you build good habits faster? Here are a few things you can do:
Create a reward jar and fill it with pieces of paper with the descriptions of things you'd enjoy doing (your rewards), mixed with some blank papers. If you stay on track with your new habit, let's say, for a week, pull a piece of paper from the jar to see if you've got your lucky reward. Sometimes, you will, other times, you won't (if you get a blank paper), but that's exactly the point. If you brain knows that the reward is coming, it feels nice, for sure, but not so exciting after a while.
If you want to help others improve and grow, do random acts of kindness to encourage paying it forward, give unexpected gifts to celebrate accomplishments, express your gratitude by sending a thank-you note by snail mail (it is so rare these days that it would seem like a win to the recipient).
And remember that near misses are your opportunity to become better. Our dog trainer taught us to give our dog a treat every time the dog got a bit closer to the desired behavior. It's not just dogs that can learn new tricks with positive reinforcement. Encouragement goes a long way for people too.
This article is written by Kat Sanders, who regularly blogs on the topic of court reporter school online at her blog Court Reporter Schools. She welcomes your comments and questions at her email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Technology is relatively a baby when we take into account that there wasn't much of it around 25 years ago. But, its growth has been explosive, especially over the last decade. Technology has advanced in rapid leaps and bounds and has overtaken most of us; even the ones who were fast enough to have kept up are constantly buried in an avalanche of innovations and inventions, each more sophisticated than its predecessor.
We now live in a world of gadgets; we live virtually inside the Internet; and we are so dependent on technology that most of us have forgotten the world that existed before the machines took over. Legal offices, especially the ones that were established more than 30 years ago and are still plodding along with respectability and pride in their heritage, are at times hesitant to embrace technology with open arms. In fact, while some firms take to it like a fish to water, others are wary and tread water carefully before being assured that they can manage the new gizmos and software.
But there's the third kind that sticks to their roots and tries to just ignore technology and sweep it under the carpet. If you're an attorney and find yourself technologically challenged, here's why you must effect some positive changes at your firm:
Technology improves productivity: With machines being programmed to take care of routine tasks, your staff is free to handle matters that are of higher importance. When you're able to delegate chores that are drudgery but which have to be done anyway to technology, you find that you have more time on your hands and more patience to handle cases that deserve more of your attention.
Technology cuts costs: In the long run, you will save money when you invest in technology today. You can run your office with fewer staff members and also boost efficiency if you use the technology correctly and in the right manner.
Technology makes your job easier: Whether you're arguing a case in court or just preparing a deposition, technology makes your job much easier. It also allows you to try your cases with a visual aspect and permits documents to be searched and sorted easily.
Technology impresses clients: When the rest of the world has embraced it, if you lag behind, clients are not going to be impressed enough to walk into your office. Once they realize that you are keeping up with the times and utilizing all the ammunition that's available to fight your cases, they tend to have more confidence in your abilities.
Technology is here to stay: It's as simple as that; if you don't take to technology today, you're going to find yourself outdated and irrelevant in a very short time. So don't put off the inevitable, and embrace innovation today.
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." ~ Leonardo da Vinci
I was reading my Sunday paper last weekend and saw a cartoon depicting two birds sitting on a wire. They were watching the third bird that was about to fall down and was struggling to hold on to the wire. The caption read "You're overthinking this, Phil."
Do you sometimes complicate things excessively? I am guilty of it, I'll admit. Here's a related belief that comes up in coaching: we distrust simple solutions. If something is too easy, it can't be the answer. Are you familiar with that kind of thinking? Yet, simple practices can be very effective in producing remarkable results.
Take an example of recent neuroscience discoveries in the area of brain health. A few weeks ago, I was at a workshop conducted by Mark Robert Waldman, co-author of "How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist."
The topic was "Imagination, Reality, and Maintaining a Healthy Brain." When it comes to maintaining a healthy brain, the strategies are simple and effective when done consistently. The authors list eight ways to exercise your brain to enhance your physical, mental and spiritual health. The easiest two may surprise you.
Do you know, for example, that a simple act of yawning improves alertness and concentration, optimizes brain metabolism, lowers stress, and increases memory recall among other things? Now, that's what I call brain efficiency. So, yawn on purpose. In fact, do it right now. Take a deep breath and get yourself into the yawning mood. If you have people around, that's even better because yawning is contagious. It can even improve group cohesiveness because it helps people synchronize their behavior with others.
If you are tired of yawning, smile. Smiling stimulates brain circuits that strengthen empathy and a positive outlook on life. Even if you don't feel like smiling, try it anyway. You'll give a signal to your subconscious that you are happy, and it can improve your mood.