Five Signs You’re Living the Tragicomedy of Middle Age

By Angela Noel Lawson

November 28, 2018

I first noticed a few dark hairs on my face as I glanced in the rearview mirror on my way to work one sunny morning a few years ago. I’m naturally blondish so the beginnings of an adolescent boy’s mustache seemed quite out of place on my face. But then I remembered: I’m middle-aged. Continue reading “Five Signs You’re Living the Tragicomedy of Middle Age”

Error Cascade: How I Messed Up a Lesson in Laundry

By Angela Noel

August 6, 2018

A funny thing happened recently in my laundry room whilst teaching nine-year-old Jackson to wash and dry his clothes. It reminded me of the danger of cognitive biases and the error cascade they can create.  Continue reading “Error Cascade: How I Messed Up a Lesson in Laundry”

Avoid Catastrophe, Make Fewer Assumptions

By Angela Noel

July 9, 2018

More than once I’ve been dead wrong about the reality of a situation for one simple reason: Instead of asking questions, I made assumptions. Though I detest this in myself, my sphere of influence is relatively small. Thus, I can do little harm. But, the same cannot be said for others in positions of power. Their failures to question assumptions can lead to disasters, as illustrated by Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War.

In the documentary, James Willbanks, an army strategist, said of Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, “When McNamara wants to know what Ho Chi Minh is thinking he interviews himself.” I found Willbanks’ words chilling. Continue reading “Avoid Catastrophe, Make Fewer Assumptions”

I Have a Problem with Pedestals

By Angela Noel

April 29, 2018

I’ve been traveling quite a lot lately, which has afforded me excellent opportunities to both learn stuff and share stuff I’m learning. Air travel however comes with drawbacks. One of them is security lines. But security lines after a massive snowstorm when the airport closed down the night before and everyone is a little extra unhappy provide the curious mind with a perfect Petri dish for observation. Continue reading “I Have a Problem with Pedestals”

Peel the Onion: Why We Answer the Wrong Question

By Angela Noel

April 5, 2018

Questions without easy answers abound. But we humans hate that. Our brains like certainty. Tough, complex problems without clear solutions make us very unhappy indeed. In these situations, particularly where public pressure exists to find a fast and clean answer, we’re susceptible to a type of brain elf, Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, calls substitution. He writes, “If a satisfactory answer to a hard question is not found quickly, System 1 (our fast-thinking brain) will find a related question that is easier and will answer it.”

Since being sure of something is our preferred condition, our brains tend to do a lot to help us feel that way. I wrote about our search for certainty before, and how hard we fight to preserve our version of events even when we know it’s wrong. But, this time we’re talking about certainty from another angle. This time, we’re talking about onions. Continue reading “Peel the Onion: Why We Answer the Wrong Question”

The Spotlight Effect: How it Dims Our Shine

By Angela Noel

March 20, 2018

Two months ago, something magical happened: WordPress Discover featured my post, Co-Parenting: Confessions of a Part-Time Mom, as an Editor’s Pick!

I’d submitted the post on January 15 and heard back from an editor within minutes. I had just over a week to prepare for my January 23rd debut. I felt both honored and excited. Who would I meet? Would my words resonate with others? Would I get evil comments or get spammed by bots promoting Viagra?

But as the day approached, mixed with the excitement, an uneasy feeling crept in. Continue reading “The Spotlight Effect: How it Dims Our Shine”

The Hazards of Waterparks and the Lizard Brain

By Angela Noel

March 1, 2018

My lizard brain recently freaked out.

In his 2010 book, Linchpin, Seth Godin writes, “The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny. The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe. The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry.” I would not want to meet my lizard brain in a dark alley.

The limbic cortex, aka the lizard brain, is the part of our gray matter responsible for making it very very hard to be our best selves sometimes. It wants to keep us safe, help us survive, even help us win competitions at work or at play. But all it knows is how to react, not how to respond reasonably and in appropriate proportion to a given situation.

And this is where my freaking out begins.

Continue reading “The Hazards of Waterparks and the Lizard Brain”

Cognitive Bias Series: Our Search for Certainty

by Angela Noel

February 15, 2018

A guy in a ski mask and dolphin shorts ran by me as I walked my dog through our neighborhood park. While it wasn’t strange that a man would be wearing tight nylon shorts in the early 80s, a fellow wearing a full ski mask in Southern California in springtime with his penis flopping out against his thigh definitely stood out.

I hightailed it home and told my mom what had happened right away. I don’t remember the sequence of events exactly. But I do remember my dad grabbing a stocking cap, pulling it low over his eyes and heading out to the park to see if he could find the guy.

My dad acted on the instinct to protect his little girl. But in my nine-year-old brain, seeing my dad in what looked a little like the cap (without the mask) that the penis-waving fellow had worn, confusion reigned. Could the man I saw have been my father? Also, could the fact that I saw a man’s penis in the park make me pregnant?

Both of these questions plagued me, and though embarrassed, I asked my mom for the truth. “No, honey. Your dad was right here. He’d never do that. And no, you can’t get pregnant from seeing a man’s penis.”

Phew.

April and Angela
Here’s me and our dog, April, playing in the backyard. No ski masks in sight.

Just like when my son thought I was a gun-toting criminal, my own younger-self struggled with what I had perceived versus what I believed to be true. I struggled to discern fact from all the noise.

Now, as an adult, I have more information, more concrete ideas of what is and is not true. That sounds like a good thing. But in fact it could be an even bigger problem.  Because I think I know the answer already, maybe I won’t ask those critical questions. Worse, sometimes I don’t want to know the real answer.

Those elves, our cognitive biases, are at it again. Continue reading “Cognitive Bias Series: Our Search for Certainty”

Cognitive Bias Series: Making a Stranger Into a Friend

By Angela Noel

January 18, 2018

I need help.

Few three-word sentences are so loaded with meaning. On the one hand, I could be asking for something simple, like directions or the time of day. On the other hand, maybe I need something more, like a kidney or a cashier’s check payable to a bank in Nigeria. Either way, I’m guessing you react to that phrase. I know I do.

Many of us have a complicated relationship with needing and granting “help.” This relationship, bound up in the shortcuts our brains use–our cognitive biases–can make all the difference in building meaningful, collaborative connections with others. In this post, as I promised in the introduction to this series, we’ll explore how we build relationships, contribute in our communities, and get work done. Believe it or not, this little brain elf is called: The Ben Franklin Effect. Continue reading “Cognitive Bias Series: Making a Stranger Into a Friend”

Why Sarah Silverman is Pretty Radical and Currently My Hero

By Angela Noel

January

Since my last post on performing radical acts of empathy, my friend Hayley posted a story on Facebook about comedian Sarah Silverman’s actions in response to a fellow who called her the c-word.

This twitter exchange, and how the guy responded to her outreach has been shared many times over. No one necessarily needs me to comment on it or to say any more about it. But I’m going to because when this kind of beauty happens just when I’m thinking about what it means to perform radical acts of empathy, I’m pretty sure that’s a sign from the universe. Continue reading “Why Sarah Silverman is Pretty Radical and Currently My Hero”