How to readjust to work after a holiday break

Plus, how thinking like a kid can save you from a “learning trap"

“The average person, if there's such a person, wants to work from home typically two days a week. But that average hides enormous variation.”  — Nick Bloom

BRAIN WAVES

  • Beat the post-holiday blues. It can be tough to head back to work after a holiday. Between disrupted sleep patterns and the heap of emails that stacked up while you were away, returning to the office — even a virtual office — is always a bit of a shock. Popular Science shares a few tips for making the transition a little easier next time around. For example, vacation researcher Jeroen Nawijn (side note: cool job alert!) suggests adding buffer time between your travel and work days. If you’re planning a trip for the holidays, for example, try to come back on Saturday rather than Sunday to give yourself time to readjust to your old routine. “Thinking ahead could also include making a to-do list for your first week back, keeping your work and living spaces clean and organized for your return, and prioritizing relaxation as you get back into the swing of things,” writes Popular Science’s Jordan Blok. Another way to beat the post-holiday blues? Give yourself something to look forward to when you get back. A tasty snack, perhaps?

  • Think like a kid. We adults may think we know everything, but we could learn a thing or two from kids. In a new study, researchers Alison Gopnik and Emily Liquin describe something they call the learning trap. “Adults tend to generalize from negative outcomes,” the researchers write. “And so they fail to explore other related stimuli … Because they instead avoid these stimuli, they never discover that their initial generalization was wrong.” In other words, adults often fall into a “learning trap” where they anchor onto one piece of information and stop learning. For example, if you experience a turbulent flight, you might become anxious about airplanes and avoid flying altogether. “And so you never learn that most plane trips are fine,” the researchers explain. In a series of experiments, Gopnik and Liquin asked adults and kids to play a game where they had to identify a block object as either a “zaff” or a “non-zaff.” As predicted, adults jumped to conclusions more quickly than the children about which objects were zaffs. “Unlike adults, children are motivated to explore despite the costs,” the study concluded. “As a result, they generate more extensive data and learn from that data accurately.” The lesson here? Adults would do better to embrace a little more curiosity, play, and exploration. As Gopnik has told us, “the irony is to get to good outcomes, sometimes you do better by not trying specifically to get to those outcomes and instead not worrying about outcomes at all.”

  • The world of play and the world of work are often seen as opposites. But they may have more in common than we think. What can we learn from the world of games to make our jobs more engaging? Listen to learn more.

ON THE HIDDEN BRAIN PODCAST

Nov 29: If you’re one of the many Americans now working from home, you might be reveling in your daily commute to the dining room table. Or you might be saying, “Get me out of here.” Economist Nicholas Bloom joins us from his spare bedroom to ponder whether working from home is actually working. 

Dec 6: It’s psychologically simpler to see the world in black and white. But reality often comes in shades of gray. In this episode, how our minds grapple with contradictions, especially those we see in other people.

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ON THE MY UNSUNG HERO PODCAST

Dec 2: “That conversation made me feel like no matter what we were going through, what I was experiencing was fatherhood.” After his daughter was born with a stroke, Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki remembers a doctor whose kindness made a world of difference.

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MIND GAMES

What is yours to own, yet others use it more?

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

Two mothers and two daughters went out to eat. Everyone ate one slice of pizza, yet only three slices were eaten, total. How is this possible?

The answer: They were mother, daughter and granddaughter.

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

We hope your pumpkin pie was just as delicious.

Have an idea for Hidden Brain? A story you want to share with us? Send an email to ideas@hiddenbrain.org. And if you’d like to support our work, you can do so here. Listen to us on Spotify, Apple or your favorite podcast platform.

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