Psychology of Effectiveness: Starting the New Year Well

Personal Effectiveness

Merry New Year (tomorrow)!

If you were expecting JustHeath to talk about New Year’s resolutions, then I’m afraid that I’m going to have to disappoint you.  You see, I do not make them…never have, never plan on doing so in the future.  I’m certainly not against them or the concept, but my personal decision is more related to the trendiness or fad-like nature of New Year’s resolutions.  I am very goal-oriented, and I make a myriad of both short-term and long-term goals…just not revolving around an arbitrary date on the calendar.  For those of you who do choose to make resolutions, I wish you much luck in fulfilling your goals and the enjoyment of realizing you’ve succeeded in them.

Today, I’m going to highlight a few research studies related to personal effectiveness with the hope of readers taking the results to mind in order to live the good life in 2013.  Psychology Today recently published an article in which David Rock described five major studies of the past year that are related to self-improvement.  I encourage you to check out his posting because I’m only going to cursorily address three of them.

To make the most of the New Year,

1.  Take Lots of Naps!

Yeah, I know!  Isn’t it great that science is telling us to do this to be more personally effective?  Payne et al. (2012)’s research involved a staple of cognitive psychology: memory and word pairs.  Essentially, the research team had people memorize a set of related word pairs (e.g., dog-cat) and a set of unrelated word pairs (e.g., dog-apple) at different times of the day and retested them at different intervals.  They didn’t find a relationship for successful remembering related to what time the words were learned, but what they did find was that those who slept in between testing intervals scored significantly (statistically) higher than those who were awake during the interval.  Thus, taking naps should help you remember things better which should improve your overall quality of life.  Where’s my pillow?

 2.  Distract Yourself Occasionally!

David Creswell, neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon, recently completed a study examining the effect of distractions on complex problem-solving.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the final research has been published yet, so I’m going to have to relay to you the information David Rock somehow obtained early.  My understanding is that Creswell and his colleagues divided participants into three groups and had them determine which car was best to purchase based on some criteria (i.e., a complex problem-solving task).  One group had to make a decision almost immediately, another had some more time to consciously think about it, and the final treatment group was presented with a problem and a distractor task before actually making the decision.  The final group performed better than the other two, so these results indicate that taking a short distraction break can improve complex decision-making.  Now, let me check Facebook…

3.  Think About Others to Enhance Creativity!

Polman and Emich (2011) conducted a series of studies to investigate creativity and self-other decision-making.  One asked participants to draw an alien for either a story they would write or one someone else would create.  The second study focused on having participants select gifts for various people in degrees of closeness to the participant.  Finally, the last one had participants try to solve a prisoner escape problem by either having them imagine being the escaping prisoner or a non-escaping prisoner.  In all situations, the results showed that when participants thought of the “other,” they made more creative decisions than when thinking about the “self.”  Makes you wonder if there’s a correlation between altruistic people and very creative people.

Well, that’s all for now.  Get psyched about the New Year!


Payne, J. D., Tucker, M. A., Ellenbogen,  J. M., Wamsley, E. J., Walker, M. P., et al. (2012). Memory for semantically related and unrelated declarative information: The benefit of sleep, the cost of wake. PLoS ONE, 7(3): e33079. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033079

Polman, E., & Emich, K. J. (2011). Decisions for others are more creative than decisions for the self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 492-501. doi:10.1177/0146167211398362


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