The perks of vulnerability

Plus, the worst place to argue with your partner

“We've built up a culture of convenience and simplicity...at the cost of effectiveness and true productivity.” — Cal Newport

BRAIN WAVES

  • The perks of vulnerability. Many of us find ourselves in a common social trap: First, we say yes to things. Then we become overwhelmed by our commitments, and feel resentful for saying yes all the time. As a result, we blow up on people we love or stew in our negative feelings. To break this pattern, social psychologist Anna Bruk makes the case for vulnerability. “Often, the best way to break these cycles is to admit our difficulties to others,” Bruk writes. While that might seem daunting, Bruk’s research suggests our fear of being vulnerable may be unfounded. In a series of experiments, Bruk and her colleagues found that while people view their own vulnerability as messy or embarrassing, others looking at the same vulnerabilities from the outside had a different perspective. “We refer to this pattern of conflicting perceptions as the ‘beautiful mess effect,’” she writes. “It’s important to be aware of this mismatch, as it can prevent people from sharing their true feelings and needs.” So how can we overcome the beautiful mess effect? For starters, a little self-compassion can help.

  • Car wars. We know it’s a bad idea to talk on your cell phone while driving. Some research suggests that arguing behind the wheel is just as dangerous a distraction. Researchers put 20 couples in a driving simulator, and asked them to follow a white SUV at a safe distance in three different scenarios. In one scenario, the couples were asked to have a conversation about a sticky issue in their relationship (yikes). In the second, the driver had a similarly difficult conversation over the phone (hands-free) with the non-driver in a different room. In the control condition, the couple had a neutral conversation. The researchers found that, not surprisingly, the contentious conversations were more draining for drivers than neutral conversations. They also found that arguing with a passenger could be even more distracting than talking on the phone while driving. The lesson here? Next time you feel an argument coming and you’re behind the wheel, save it for when you’re off the road. Also, don’t be this guy.

  • Innovation is hard. And there’s a common impediment to innovation: our inclination to focus on the things that can move us forward, rather than on the things that hold us back. Listen to learn more.

ON THE HIDDEN BRAIN PODCAST

Nov 15: What price do we pay for the constant interruptions from our phones and computers? Is there a better way to handle distraction? We bring you a favorite conversation with the computer scientist Cal Newport.

Nov 22: Francesca Gino studies rebels — people who practice “positive deviance” and achieve incredible feats of imagination. They know how, and when, to break the rules that should be broken. So how can you activate your own inner non-conformist? This week, we revisit our 2018 conversation with Gino.

Listen on Apple

Listen on Spotify

ON THE MY UNSUNG HERO PODCAST

Nov 18: In 1996, Lorrie Paul was visiting her ailing father in the hospital. As she took a break to cry in the hallway, a kind stranger walked over.

Listen on Apple

Listen on Spotify

TELL US ABOUT YOUR UNSUNG HERO

My Unsung Hero tells stories about everyday acts of kindness and courage that transformed someone’s life. If you have an unsung hero, we'd love to hear about them! Record your story in a quiet place using your smartphone, and send to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org with the subject line "Unsung Hero." Don't forget to tell us:

  • Your full name and where you're from

  • The moment or event that made this person your unsung hero

  • How that moment continues to impact your life

You can find more details, including our latest My Unsung Hero episodes, here

A SPECIAL NOTE

This week we want to remember a former colleague. Petra Mayer was a books editor on NPR's Culture desk. She passed away on Saturday, November 13. We’ll remember Petra’s sharp sense of humor and kind spirit, and we’re comforted to know that her legacy will live on in projects like NPR’s Book Concierge. She’ll be missed by all of us who had the privilege to work with her.

MIND GAMES

What 4-letter word can be written forward, backward or upside down, and can still be read from left to right?

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

A sundial is a timepiece that has the fewest number of moving parts. Which timepiece has the most moving parts?

The answer: An hourglass

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

In 2016, a grandmother texted a Thanksgiving invitation to the wrong number. Six years later…

You can read the full story here.

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.