Tag: psychology (page 1 of 11)

B Lane

There’s a lot going on in this short post. It reminded me of a saying of Steve Jobs: “A players attract A players. B players attract C players.”

Now there’s something in that, in terms of the mentality that people bring to working hard and playing hard. But this post is talking about the way that people treat other people.

I’ve definitely noticed in my life, from my own studies to my kids sports teams, the tyranny of the “not quite top-level” mindset. It’s almost like you have to get over yourself to get to the “top”. What that is and whether it’s worth pursuing is another question entirely.


I noticed that when I swam next to the B lane swimmers, they were not nearly as kind and friendly as the C lane swimmers had been when they were my next-lane neighbours. The A lane swimmers were extremely nice, and were generous with encouragement, praise and tips. This wasn’t a hard and fast rule, but I started to notice a pattern: A, C, and D lane swimmers tended to be nice, friendly, and helpful to pretty much everyone; B lane swimmers tended to be nice to A lane and other B lane swimmers but not so much to C and D.

When I stopped doing tris and moved back to field sports, I started to notice the same thing. The very top athletes were nice to everyone and so were the middle and bottom of the pack. The not quite top players, though, were less friendly. They played more political games, and acted out their threatened feelings of being not quite good enough by being snobbish to those below them. (In retrospect, I worry I did some of this, too, especially when I was playing on a top team but was not a top player. I definitely felt a need to prove myself.)

I have since noted the same phenomenon in nearly every domain, including academia. The truly great researchers are generous and friendly; so are many of the middle of the roaders. Those who have something to prove, though, and who feel like they aren’t quite managing to do it, show definite aspects of being B lane swimmers.

Source: The B Lane Swimmer | Holly Witteman

Image: Quino AI

On ‘Executive Function Theft’

This post by Abigail Goben popped up in several places and is one of those that gives a name to someone most people will recognise. It’s an important differentiation on what is often called ‘care work’ as it highlights how something important is taken when repetitive, administrative work is outsourced to other humans.

Executive Function Theft (EFT) is the deliberate abdication of decision-making, tasks, and responsibilities that are perceived as administrative or repetitive, of lesser importance, or aren’t pleasant or shiny, to another person, with the result that the receiving person’s executive function becomes so exhausted that they are unable to participate in, contribute to, or enjoy higher level efforts.


In the workplace, an example of EFT often plays out in the inequality of service labor, and I will specifically use academic service work here as it is my current workplace. Think of the people who end up with more than their share of administrative maintenance tasks — such as organizing get well cards, scheduling workshops, or taking notes. Consider the colleague who has a list of committee appointments a yard long and has just gotten a request to be on Another! Important! (is it?) Committee. These individuals may not be doing these tasks strictly because it is their job responsibility, but because they see a need to be filled or have been asked or tasked with taking on more service that they feel they cannot turn down. And notice how those tasks so often fall to the same group of people — especially when we get to any form of implementation or ongoing commitment rather than the “fun” ideation phase. One way to calculate these service loads would be to count the number of committees and task forces held by and expected of various individuals — who gets a pass and who gets penalized if they don’t say yes.

Quite often there’s a gendered component as to who is tasked with these additional service responsibilities — the office housekeeping as well as the care tasks of the workplace.


I will admit to never having been able to read Cal Newport’s Deep Work all the way through — I got too irritated — but I would point to his dismissive naming of the idea of “shallow work”, which he defines as logistical and often repetitive tasks, such as writing short emails. Newport recommends entirely stopping or poorly performing that work; I read this as encouraging readers to commit EFT against others around them. Too often the dump off of what are critical responsibilities is not to a specifically tasked and appreciated administrator but instead onto the junior, female, minoritized, non-tenure track, or precarious employees. It’s the maintenance work of keeping the workplace going and we do not appreciate the maintainers. Similarly thinking about EFT in the workplace, I was reminded of the guy who got famous with the Four Hour Workweek book and how we were all just supposed to outsource things to nameless underpaid gig workers. Notably, when looking for a summary of that book, I found an article by Cal Newport praising it.

Source: Executive Function Theft | Hedgehog Librarian

Image: Uday Mittal

Actions speak louder than words

This article popped up on my feeds a couple of weeks ago and I recognised the organisation behind the website. Having listened to an excellent Art of Manliness podcast episode featuring Dr John Barry, I knew that ‘The Centre for Male Psychology’ is actually legit.

What this article discusses I’ve found true in my own life. I am by temperament introspective, which means for many years I thought the answer to any form of melancholy came in thinking. But, actually, I’ve found the answer to be in action in doing things such as climbing mountains, running, and doing things with my hands.

The two ways of regulating emotions have implications for the field of mental health, which relies predominately on talking therapy – in particular talking about feelings. Does this not suggest that there could be, and perhaps needs to be, more emphasis on discussing the therapeutic value of action? It may not be practical to conduct therapy while engaged in physical activity such as a gym workout or while out walking in the streets, but the therapeutic discussion can at least focus more on the “doing” aspects of a man’s life. For example a therapist might ask how did problem XYZ make a man act out, along with exploring which physical activities or responses might help him to modulate such emotions more optimally in future. Does riding a Jet Ski, or going for a jog, or building some wooden furniture make him feel better or worse? Does that difficult manoeuvre in the video game remind of difficulties in his relationship with his girlfriend? Does the same video game provide some optimism that if he can get past the difficult manoeuvre within the game then perhaps he can find a way around the impasse with his girlfriend? Activities like these provide a symbolic canvas on which men project, and then work through various scenarios of real life, with potential to shift affective resonances in the process.

When a man talks about how he operated a lathe, did some welding, restored a bit of discarded and broken furniture, might he be sharing a strategy of how he successfully redirected suicidal feelings? Perhaps we should not be so quick to shut down these conversations with accusations of being work obsessed, effectively stymieing natural male expressions with injunctions to talk less about activities and to communicate more effusively with feelings words. For many men, activities are the preferred canvases on which they can process feelings and carve out some genuine psychological equilibrium.

This is probably a reason why men talk so much about work, sports, building things, computer games, recreational activities – it may be their preferred way of communicating the ways they wrestle with psychological issues. Sadly, the therapeutic industry is quick to chastise men’s preference for intelligent actions, conflating them with pathological reflexes such as unconscious acts of aggression, dependence on drugs and booze, and other destructive versions of so-called “acting-out” as they are so often branded.

Source: Men tend to regulate their emotions through actions rather than words | The Centre for Male Psychology