Researchers Just Discovered A Way To Trick Your Brain Into Success

First, figure out whether you’re an early bird, night owl, or “permanently exhausted pigeon”

Hey, it’s cool, Obama: We do our best work when we’re tired.

When a test, project, or deadline looms, do you apply yourself harder or binge shows on Netflix? If you’re prone to the latter, you probably realize on some level that you’re engaging in “self-sabotaging” behaviors. In other words, your brain is trying to soften the blow of potential failure by manufacturing circumstances that prevent you from carrying out a stressful activity.

But a new study out of Indiana University (IU) reveals something surprising about self-sabotage: Whether you’re a person who identifies as a “morning person” or a “night owl”—terms that correlate with your peak hours of alertness and energy—you are most likely to undermine yourself when you should theoretically be at your best.

Why? Because avoidance takes nearly as much effort as actual work. “You can get yourself more worked up about something when you have the resources to be able to think it through,” says Ed Hirt, lead study author and professor of social psychology in the IU department of psychological and brain sciences.

Though Cori Magnotta, a product specialist in Portland, Connecticut, identifies as a night owl, she jokingly refers to herself as a “permanently exhausted pigeon.” In a recent example of self-sabotage, she needed to clean the house for her two-year-old’s birthday party but “was a sloth all day and then around 8 p.m. started running around and cleaning like a maniac,” she says.

Having bitten off too large a task to complete in the time, Magnotta stayed awake for “almost 24 hours straight to finish before the guests arrived.” The root of this behavior, she says, “comes from a place of feeling overwhelmed. Shutting down doesn’t take much effort, but dealing with the anxiety of knowing that I should be productive takes effort.”

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]Self-sabotaging is almost always related to the woolly emotional monster that we call fear.[/quote]

Morning people suffer from self-sabotage, too. Antonia Malchik, a Montana writer and morning person who finds the brittle hour of 4 a.m. her most productive, has figured out how to sabotage her peak hours by staying up too late. “I know perfectly well that if I don’t go to bed by 9:30 at night, I won’t be getting up at 4 a.m.”

And she doesn’t stop there if she’s on a self-sabotage streak. “I’ll use up all my morning work time by checking Twitter,” she says, tracing this behavior to a fear of failure. “It would make a lot more sense to deal with fear by just doing the work, but there are times when the fear is overwhelming and I end up giving into panic.” TV is her drug of choice when the anxiety comes.

“Self-sabotaging is almost always related to the woolly emotional monster that we call fear,” Dr. Juli Fraga, a San Francisco psychologist, says. “People may self-sabotage when they are afraid of failure, or success for that matter… The fear of failing is larger than failure itself, [which] is really just an opportunity for self-growth.”

To understand these fairly common habits of self-sabotage, the IU research team administered intelligence tests to 237 students (male and female), either at 8 a.m. or 8 p.m., in accordance with whichever time the students identified as their peak hours.

Half of the group was told that stress would affect performance on the test, and the other half was told it would not. The research team then allowed students to use “recent elevated stress” as an excuse for why they would not do well on the test—in essence, testing to see who would self-sabotage by claiming stress.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]It would make a lot more sense to deal with fear by just doing the work, but there are times when it’s too overwhelming.[/quote]

“What we found was those people who were at their peak times were the ones who took advantage of that stress opportunity. Whereas people at their non-peak times, they didn’t exercise their opportunity to handicap in that situation, which seems against the odds,” says Hirt, adding that having “full resources and being more alert” is more likely to cause a person to engage in self-sabotage.

In short: Morning people should try working at night, and night owls should do the opposite.

The study also found that people who talk about their fear of not doing well—thus anticipating and articulating negative outcomes—are even more likely to sabotage themselves during their peak hours. For that reason, Hirt’s team is also studying how to help people focus more on the positive to drive them toward habits of success. “If you can shift … away from thinking about the negative and more toward approaching the positive and success, the [sabatoging] behavior seems to disappear.”

Meanwhile, Fraga recommends the following tips if you tend to destroy your chances at success: Start small—perhaps breaking scarily big tasks into manageable bits. And when you recognize that you’re feeling fear, try confronting it (rather than avoiding it) by asking yourself, “What would I do if I weren't afraid?”

But the best move might just be the simplest, no matter how counterintuitive: Work when you’re tired. Your brain and body will be too exhausted to get in your own way.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less