Frames: It’s All A Matter of Perspective

Frames: It’s All A Matter of Perspective

Framing is an intriguing concept that comes to us from the field of social psychology.  In a nutshell, framing is a phenomenon where people answer quantitatively identical situations differently, dependent on the actual wording.  

This has some very interesting implications.  The US government spends approximately some $600 billion on its military budget.  Any outside threat of violence to our citizens appears to be taken very seriously. 

Consider this thought experiment:  Say there exists a rogue nation of ninjas hellbent on killing American citizens.  These ninjas are able to slip into our country undetected and slowly poison the foods of citizens, leading to over half a million deaths every year.

Surely, given our already demonstrated desire for the safety of our citizens, we would be heavily determined to remove such a ninja threat; annual casualties of over 500,000 wreaked by one lone nation would be unheard of!

And yet, if the safety of our citizens is the biggest reason for our heavy military spending, then we have made a huge blunder, for the rogue nation I described in the paragraph above already exists:

Enter heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

However, despite it claiming hundreds of thousands of lives, accounting for over 25% of all US deaths every year, the United States spends only around $120 billion on all disease research total–about ⅕ of what it spends on military spending.

If the lives of citizens is our highest priority, it appears that focusing on disease research may impact a larger share of US deaths (for comparison, the total amount of US lives lost in every war it’s fought in is approximately how many US lives are lost every year due to disease).

But we might not think of it that way if we mentally put “disease deaths” and “combat deaths” in separate categories.  

Now there are other benefits to military spending, and I’ve purposefully simplified matters to show how framing can play a difference.  The main takeaway here is that we can often overlook solutions if they aren’t phrased in the same way.

So how does this factor into day-to-day motivation?  I’m often disappointed when I end up losing focus– because of social media, a good book, or anything else and I end up ruing the “lost productivity time” as a result.

But things other than directly working towards your goal can also help you out.  For example, interacting with friends and socializing has benefits for letting you test/verify your ideas, taking a break can help prevent mental burnout, and shorter work-times may even help boost productivity .

Given this, I think the important idea is to view these “transgressions” as less of a failure to conform to a purely productive schedule, but as important auxiliary steps to getting to where you want to be.  Of course, taking this attitude and just using it as an excuse to not to work is also not where we want to be.

Instead, it may be most helpful to plan for going off-task, or to purposefully introduce break times and places to “goof-off” within your schedule, as a sort-of “upkeep” to make sure you can keep on chugging along.  This seems to slowly turn into the Pomodoro Technique, which appears promising.

I’ve been using something similar (with intermittent breaks) but formalizing an iterated work-time may make it harder for me to weasel out of things (all or nothing rules may be better than qualitative treatments), so I’ll probably try really following it and seeing if there are positive workflow changes.

For now, though, it’s probably good to just develop an attitude to the “fun” things in life that actually has them as “helpful to achieving goals, though in a more roundabout indirect way”.



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