Why Some of Us Stay Home And The Others Not

Selfish. Stupid. Dangerous. Evil. These are the words being used to describe people who are still going about their lives as if nothing has changed.

These past weeks we have seen rising death tolls, unprecedented government responses to COVID-19, and daily life being radically altered for much of the world.Many of us have adapted to a life of staying at home. However, confusingly and alarmingly, we are also still seeing photos of full beaches and busy streets.

Given the now thoroughly saturated news cycle, it seems impossible that people don’t know that they should stay home. So, why are some people still behaving dangerously?

Emotional epidemiology

In 2009 Danielle Ofri1 wrote about a phenomenon she observed in her patients. She found that there was a psychological contagion of myth and suspicion that put people and their families in danger during the H1N1 (‘Swine’) flu outbreak. She wrote:

“Just as there are patterns of infection, there seem to be patterns of emotional reaction (emotional epidemiology) associated with new illnesses”

Diseases, especially ones like COVID-19 (and at the time, H1N1) that can lurk asymptomatic within anyone we meet, capture bothour imagination and our fears. We become scared and uncertain.

And, scared and uncertain people often do two things:

  1. Assume the worst in others
  2. Act irrationally

Let’s discuss both of these.

Fundamental attribution bias and COVID-19

Because we cannot see what people are thinking, we need to try to deduce it from how they behave. A core aspect of what psychologists call theory of mind is the ability to attribute things like intent, emotions, or knowledge, to others. But most of the time, this just means that we are guessing why people do what they do.

In the current pandemic, this also leads us to automatically make ethical assessments of other people. It can lead to us thinking that people are intentionally doing or saying things that will increase the spread of this disease, even though we have little way of knowing their actual intentions.

Theory of mind is fallible and can quickly lead to fundamental attribution errors. According to Paul Andrews2:

The “fundamental attribution error” (FAE) is the tendency to assume that an actor’s behavior and mental state correspond to a degree that is logically unwarranted by the situation.

In other words, just because someone is acting in a way that may lead to the death of others who become infected by COVID-19 does not mean they don’t care if their actions cause people to die. But our brains naturally jump to that conclusion. We assume that people who act badly, are bad, even in uncertain and complicated situations like a global pandemic.

Andrews frames this within an evolutionary argument: That our brains are programmed to err on the side of caution to survive. Caution in the context of a pandemic is assuming that people are dangerous and selfish, because if we accidentally trust a person who is ill we play with death.

But this conclusion is not based on rational decision-making. It undervalues the importance of community and support to make it through a crisis. Instead, it is based on a bias that we jump to because we are scared, and we default to automatic and simplified thinking.

Why we act irrationally during a pandemic

Let’s set aside our fundamental attribution error, and consider other options. While the odd person might be acting out of selfishness or malice, some other reasons why we may not heed advice to socially distance include that:

  1. We can’t grasp it. Humans struggle to grasp big, complex, problems. It feels like we are in a dystopian movie, rather than real life. The almost impossibility of grasping this pandemic can lead to ignoring or denying the scale and reality of it altogether.
  2. We engage in wishful thinking. In the digital age, it doesn’t take long to find an article that tells you what you want to hear. Wishful thinking can lead to cherry-picking statements that minimize or catastrophic the severity of the situation. If you have the misconception that the world is ending, you may stockpile to excess and deplete resources for those in need. If you have the misconception that it’s no worse than the flu you put others at risk by socializing as you normally would.
  3. We don’t believe it. Our news feeds have long been filled with sensationalised stories. If we are constantly told that our world is in crisis, we may not take the news seriously when it tries to convince us that this crisis is different. We may have become desensitized by the news that cries wolf.
  4. We are confused. We don’t know what we should do. What we did yesterday whilst following Government guidance may today be seen as a faux pas. This leads to a learned helplessness where we may just give up trying to figure out how to behave correctly and instead use our intuition as our guide.

Knowing about these biases can help us to overcome them. The safest way to proceed during the COVID-19 epidemic is to heed the advice given by our governments’ epidemiology experts. They have far more knowledge and data than we can hope to gain by trying to figure out the appropriate response ourselves. They may not always get it right, but they will get it more right than any one of us can on our own. This is the time to crush those intuitions that are telling us that we are cleverer than international experts. We aren’t.

There is something else that has a tremendous impact on our likelihood to stay home: behaviour contagion.

Behaviour contagion

According to Christy Duan and colleagues in the book Psychiatry of Pandemics3, we need to study behaviour contagion to understand our psychological and behavioural response to pandemics. According to their research:

“Behavior contagion can herald, mirror, and match the actual physical contagion of an infectious illness in an outbreak.”

In other words, just like one person having COVID-19 is likely to spread the disease to two or three other people, the same is true for behaviour. One person refusing to socially distance may influence two or three others to do the same.

This can lead to literal transmission of the disease between those who are not socially distancing, and it can lead to a wider ‘transmission’ of the psychological error that it’s fine to go on with life as usual. This behavior contagion is particularly relevant in highly stressful situations and can create a vicious cycle.

But this is not all bad news, because the reverse is also true. Adhering to advice given by epidemiologists is also contagious. If we stay home we are likely to motivate 2-3 others to also stay home. This is how every one of us can make a difference not just by preventing the virus from spreading locally, but by potentially influencing people around the world to stay home.

In conclusion: Stay home. Don’t let your brain trick you into assuming that people who aren’t socially distancing are necessarilyselfish. And to convince others to stay home, the best thing you can do is… stay home.

Attention Deficit Disorder Test

ADHD/Attention Deficit Disorder Test

Do you often find yourself unable to concentrate even when the task at hand is extremely important? Do you find yourself daydreaming at inappropriate moments? Is your work, your home life, your relationship or any other area suffering as a result of these problems?  

Psychology: To Eat or Not To Eat

Psychology: To Eat or Not To Eat

All scientific studies clearly say that the most important ingredient for a long and healthy life is to: ingesting less calories.

That’s eating less and eating smarter. Chewing properly, fasting a few times a year, balancing diets. All of that helps maximize the return of investment on the food you eat. Let’s not stop there.

Being fat has absolutely no benefits. Being fat is way harder than being non-fat. You’re always concerned with what you’re going to eat because you’re always hungry. So instead of deep thinking more important stuff, you’ll be thinking about food. You’re also more likely to get cancer, diabetes and heart diseases. The cost of living is also higher, you get tired a lot faster. And you have a narrower choice of the opposite sex.

Working out will not only help you burn calories, but during that chemical burning of the calories, electrical energy is produced and the lymphatic system is put into motion. That means that exercising actually feels amazing!

There’s a common myth that says it doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you exercise. In reality you can actually substitute dieting with exercising and the viceversa. Up to a point. That point relies on balance, which most of us don’t have. We don’t have time to eat healthy and we don’t have time to exercise. The good news is they’re both simple.

Take running for example. I’m not sure if you’re the kind of person that’s ever had a new year’s resolution to lose weight, and have a transformation, but I was. I started off with a one month subscription to a running track. The weather was cold in November, and so I only went for three sessions until I gave up. Giving up felt awful. I would find excuses every weekday and tell myself that I’d go during the weekend. But then I’d stay late on Friday night so as to wake up late. I’d do the same on Saturday night too. I wasn’t doing it on purpose, I just felt an anxiety towards going to bed early. However I thought about it, I could never get myself to look forward to go and run again. My subconsciousness was telling me something. I wasn’t ready for this. I had to change something else.

I knew that losing weight was half-part working out and half-part dieting. So after failing the first one, I changed my priority to lose weight through dieting first, then go to the gym and also take some classes of wrestling and combat sport.

It took me about 15 days to rewire my eating habits towards dissociated eating. But I did it and actually was easy enough after first 8 days ( that 8 days were crushing).  After that, I didn’t feel hungry anymore, I just lost weight and gained energy. I’ve literally improved my calorie conversion ratio.

Working out should be incremental. Always do some walking, stretching and basic aerobics to warm up your muscles. Always stretch. Then try planking. Just plank for a minute or two. The effects of planking are unbelievable. In one minute your heart rate goes up. In two minutes you start to feel all the muscles in your body. After three minutes of planking you start sweating and trembling. That’s it, your three minute workout without even moving.

After you’ve mastered 3-minute-planks you can do mostly anything. Just remember: warming up and stretching are very important because they keep you away from injuries. Don’t hesitate to join online forums on health and fitness. There are lots of such places with many beautiful and inspiring people ready to lend you a piece of advice. Team up and get up!


Recommendations for a better understanding of your meals and wellbeing.

Psychology: To Eat or Not To Eat

Plan and Implement

How To Plan and Implement Ideas

The difference between a good day and a good life is the ability to scale up the lucky moments and scale down the unlucky ones.

Fortunately, we’ve pretty much nailed the formula for luck. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than dumb luck. You just have to  👉  👉  👉  👉  👉  👉  👉  gotcha, kiddo! There’s no formula. It’s just a series of productive habits that add up to exponential return. That’s what this book is about: acquiring those habits.

Doing things without planning is like range shooting without a target. Sure, you might achieve something, whatever that may be. You might even do it well, because you’re skilled and all. But how would you improve if you can’t exactly explain to yourself what you did? How would you teach others to follow your footsteps if you can’t quite place your finger on it? Think about it!

A good plan involves doing your homework, understanding what needs doing and giving yourself a enough time for further research. There are those things you’ve done plenty of times before and got to do them well. Let’s call them the “known knowns”. Then you’ve got the things you didn’t do yet or you can’t do too well. They need extra work. We’ll call them “known unknowns”. Then there are the things that never bothered your mind that you might run into.

They might be big, they might be small, they might be easy, but they might also put a stop to your project altogether. Those are the “unknown unknowns”. In my personal subjective opinion, you should always start researching the unknown unknowns and fill in the blanks as you go.

The more ambitious the project, the more chances are it would fail because of unknown unknowns. And the faster you fail, the faster you learn. The upside is that you might enjoy learning and doing that step from scratch. You might even be good at it.

A good plan also involves taking notes and giving numbers and setting deadlines to the tasks. Why numbers? Because A might be equal to B, but doing A first and B second is different than doing B first and A second.

Doing things ordered in one way rather than another might yield different results. Not to mention those things that can only be done in a certain order. Why deadlines? Because your priority system might break from time to time. If you can’t estimate a deadline it means you haven’t done your homework properly and you should go back to square one. Setting deadlines is one of those “best” best incentives to get yourself to actually doing what you planned.

Considering you’ve done your homework and planned each step with a decent margin of error, implementing should be a piece of cake. Plain, simple, good old grunt work. This is where it all goes to hell for a lot of people.

Because expectation vs reality, because life happens, they realize that their beautiful plan can’t be implemented. And they go crazy. Their plan is wrong. Or something came up and ruined the plan. It’s never an option that they just pick up the eraser, scratch that and update it with what they’re actually doing. But in fact that’s the only option. It’s called adapting. No, I haven’t missed any steps.



Plan and Implement

Adapting is the one thing that our beautiful subconsciousness does better than our active minds. We adapt everything all the time. Can you hear your reading voice while you’re reading this sentence? You can, even though you know there’s no voice. It’s your mind adapting text into voice. How cool is your mind? Adapting works with or without a plan. Some people are really good at improvising. But as good as they are at adapting the plan to reality, they suck at planning. To be fair, they suck as much as the next guy.

The secret is to measure the difference between the initial plan and the adapted implementation. And of course, to update the plan. This simple secret will result in much better planning in the future. Better estimations, safer margins and a much better overall understanding of your project. That means better scalability.

So what exactly does scalability do for you? That’s an easy one: improvising works great on a fresh mind but works like crap when you’re tired. But if you have your own recipe book, you can “cook” while you’re sleeping. Being able to repeat a process you’ve previously planned and have seen through gives you an edge on pretty much most of the population.

You’re not only prepared, but you always know where you are and how long you’ve got until you finish. And you don’t have to remember, you don’t have to assume things. You can look them up in your notebook. You can teach others. You can put a price on it because you know how long it takes.

Does this work on new projects or just on matured ones? You tell me. So far I’ve only been getting better at planning and estimating. Better at understanding and preparing for the unknown unknowns. Better at channeling my energy to solve the things I never thought I’d ever run into. In one sentence: yes it does.