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Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Mind matters.
The brain is the most complex device we know of, and you got one for free. Lucky bastard!

The Couch: A Look at Human Lifestyle

Posted by Peet Brits on January 7, 2009

Tempting Sofa

Tempting Sofa

I might not be posting anything anytime soon after this article as my studies started this week. (Whoohoo!) It already feels like I am behind! Now I quickly need to get this topic off my mind in order to focus. Focus comes from self-discipline, which is partly what this article is about. All right, enough advertising. Hope you enjoy my latest idea.


Often one might notice people striving towards a goal, or living a healthy lifestyle, but as soon as they reach their aim, they abandon the good habits and relax in the comfort of it. For example, a person being fit and healthy in high school gets fat the moment they start earning their own money. Another person’s dream was to get married, and the moment they cross that milestone they start behaving in a very different manner towards their partner.

What happened? Why did it happen?

I call this idea The Couch.

How Does It Happen?

Path To Couch

Path To Couch

Consider that we are all walking along a path. This is the path of human life. We could reach two types of milestones on this journey: one of comfort and one of a challenge. Comfort represents life’s luxuries, such as your first income or a raise. Challenges represent problems, especially those seeming too big to overcome.

This is where the couch comes in. It tempts us to sit down and rest when we are not yet tired. If we fail to overcome these milestones, whether by relaxing in comfort or defeated by our challenges, we end up sitting down on the couch (hypothetically speaking). This poisonous state of rest is the danger zone that keeps us from progressing on the road of life.

Many people might still be aware of this and attempt to get up. They would try to move one, but many times all they end up doing is walking right around it and then sit back down again. Once they enter this cycle they rarely move on without a huge amount of effort or help from some external motivator.

What the Couch Is Not

The couch is not a bed. A bed is a well-determined state or rest. You sleep totally; maybe a little lazy over weekends, but then you get up and go through your regular daily activities.

With the couch, you are neither sleeping nor awake. You are in some undefined state in between. It is like watching too much television: it makes procrastination feels good. This state of neither good nor bad is the main reason for the lack of motivation to change our behaviour.

To give another example, this is probably why people find it so hard to stop smoking, even once they know it is bad for their health. It feels good and they do not see any immediate damage done by it, so there is no threat to make them change.

They Come In Different Sizes

There is not a single path passing along a single couch, rather many different paths representing different areas of our lives, and many types of couches appearing on all of them. There are smaller ones, which you can easily get up from if you tried. The medium sized ones require a lot of effort to get up from, and you have to keep yourself in check for a few months in order not to sit right back down again. The big couches are almost impossible to move away from without additional help.

The longer you sit on a couch the more hard-wired it becomes in your brain and the harder it gets to move on. Self-control is in my opinion the biggest challenge any human being could possibly face. One can enforce self-control by healthy habits and routines, but then you must be aware that it becomes easy to overindulge once we break away from these routine. Overindulgence is an enjoyable form of self-abuse, coming from excuses like “well I am on holiday”. Urges have consequences, and we should prepare ahead [1].

Observations and Tips

Before people reach the couch it would seem like they are living towards a goal, but because this goal is not concrete, not written down or well thought about, it quickly fades away over time. Enjoying every moment of life is important, but one must never do so without any concern for the future or in ignorance of the past.

Some people live in denial. I have personally heard people say that they hate something, but once the wheel of fortune turns in their favour they immediately become what they once despised. I think they actually envied it, hating not having it.

Do you think this is ironic? To be able to pretend is uniquely human [2]. No man can lie like the man lying to himself.

One thing that I learned over the last year is to stop thinking about what you should be doing, how long it is supposed to take, how nice it would be once it is done, and just do what you are supposed to be doing.  That is right, stop idle planning and JUST DO IT.



  1. I read this tip in a 1Time airplane magazine.
  2. This is from an article in Scientific American, comparing human two-year-olds with monkeys.

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Beware: The Personality Test

Posted by Peet Brits on July 30, 2008

[Article relates to psychological personality tests]

Recently I decided to take a personality test, more out of curiosity than anything else.  When I was younger I used to enjoy the results from a personality test I did, and as I am always trying to figure out what is going on inside people’s minds, I thought something new would be exciting.  I ended up with the MBTI (Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator).  As I am not familiar with a lot of personality tests, this one seemed rather popular, plus they provided a free online test.

Findings and Frustrations

When I did some research on the online wiki (Wikipedia) page, they seemed to have some interesting points, especially on the way and order people prefer to use and express their psychological functions, which you can read about for yourself at the wiki page:  After getting my test results, and paying a little closer attention to the scoring system, I was frustrated to find that I could easily fit into not one but four of the sixteen possible categories.

At first I thought I made a mistake with the test, but on reading some of the resulting pages I found that all four descriptions seems to fit with me in some way or another.  This was not mentioned by the test result page, so my guess is that most people would not even have noticed it.  (On hindsight, I have discovered my most dominant category, but I still lean towards these other groups).

The wiki page mentioned above has a rather negative “Criticism” section, but from my own observation I realised the fatal assumption: The test results assumes you have a high percentage score on each of the four tested dichotomies (that is, four opposite pairs of scoring).  In my mind, for each dichotomy where you do not have a high result, (where high > 60% and medium > 30%), it doubles the amount of resulting types a person could potentially fall in.  This would explain the rather low retest value as mentioned on the wiki page.

Test Suggestions

Even though they have some great ideas, I think the MBTI is trying to be too general.  So, here are a few suggestions on what I would like to see in a proper personality test.

1. Lines, not blocks

When you work with lines/dots on a graph it is easier for the user to interpret the intensity of the score.  When you put someone in a block/box, you are also subconsciously limiting their potential.

Consider the simple attached picture.  Let’s say the two black lines represent two dichotomies, and the coloured lines are the actual test results of three different people.  The lines are drawn by connecting the dots of the resulting score from the test.

Although these three people all belong to the same dominant personality type, which is labelled “III”, they really are very different people.  Person “A” is the only one that can be said to truly belong to this group.  There are times, like in a less familiar environment or among less familiar people, where person “B” and “C” might appear to those around them as very different people, belonging to “IV” and “II” respectively.  This is because, as they do not perfectly fit into “III”, they sometimes fall over into the secondary personality.  If the test result only told them they all belonged to “III”, then person “B” and “C” might be confused as to why certain elements of “IV” and “II” still apply to them.

A popular example would be the DiSC assessment, which gives the results as dots on a graph.

2. Beauty in simplicity

If I had to choose a motto in life, this one, namely “beauty in simplicity”, would be second on the list.  (The first is “better late than never”, but that is a whole different topic altogether).  Over-complicating things just makes it harder to figure out, and it is too difficult to spot the mistakes.  A complicated system might impress the crowds, but the little things give the quality away.  Further more, a complicated test has got a longer list of questions, and nobody wants to fill out a thousand-line questionnaire for a silly personality test.

Another popular yet simple test is the four temperaments, as originated from the Greek doctor Hippocrates.  I just noticed that my definition of the four temperaments differs slightly from that found on the wiki page, but it has been around for so long that it is expected to have more than one interpretation.

As a side note, an interesting topic for future research regarding the “middle grounds” might be the fifth temperament, as mentioned in the following wiki article:

Final Comments

Personality tests are wonderful tools of self-knowledge, but due to incorrect usage a lot of people end up avoiding or even hating them.  As no test will ever be a 100% complete, one must always remember the following points:

  • The test is meant as a starting point of knowing yourself, not as an end point of who/what you can or can not be.
  • The focus must be growth, not closure.  This sounds simple, but it is rather common for people to mistakenly say things like: “this is who I am, you just have to get used to my weaknesses”.

Even though test results show strength or preference, I strongly believe that with enough practice and determination, and willingness to get up after falling, a person can be whatever he wants to be.

Posted in Psychology | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »