Empathy Gaps - Introduction

  • An empathy gap is the when you think you’ll feel a certain way when you’re planning an activity and you feel something completely different when you’re performing the activity
  • Example: Making a commitment to go to the gym every day, but then skipping out going because you’re busy or feeling lethargic
  • Figuring out how to overcome empathy gaps is an important step in being able to fulfill long-term commitments

Part 1: One of the most insidious barriers to getting things done

  • When you feel one emotion you generally can’t conceive of your motivations when feeling a different emotion
  • When you plan to do something, you general feel positive emotions. When you act on those plans and encounter obstacles, you feel negative emotions
  • These negative emotions can run counter to and override your goals
  • This difference between feelings during planning and feelings during execution is the empathy gap
  • Examples:
    • Trying to rush through a hot shower on a cold morning
    • Trying to stick to a diet while surrounded by rich foods
    • Talking to someone who consistently makes you angry, and trying to avoid an argument
    • Trying to wake up quickly when tired
  • The common thread with all of these scenarios is that your values outside of the situation are different from your values inside the situation
  • We think our values are much more immutable than they actually are

Part 2: Research and Experiments

  • Not only does judgement change, but people can’t predict that their judgement will change
  • Examples:
    • Sexual arousal: people drastically underestimated their willingness to forego safe sex precautions when they were aroused
    • Physical pain: people drastically underestimated the effect that physical pain would have upon their cognitive skills, both before and after pain was applied
    • Bullying: people underestimated the effect that being ostracized had on them, both before and after the ostracism
  • People have a hard time understanding how people in other emotional states feel, even when those other people are past or future versions of themselves
  • People imagine that other people need less motivation than they actually do

Part 3: Why Empathy Gaps Make Sense

  • Empathy gaps are to be expected given the following model of the emotional system: emotional model
  • Emotions depend on environment, perception, and behavior
  • If the environment changes, then our perceptions change, which then changes our emotions and motivation

Part 4: Overcoming Empathy Gaps

  • Awareness
    • Expect empathy gaps
    • Try to imagine how you’ll feel when you’re in the environment in which you’re taking the action and plan accordingly
  • Experience
    • If you’ve ever overcome an empathy gap before (even if it was in a different context), try to replicate the effect
  • Learn from others
  • Change your environment
    • Can you change your environment so that the environment in which you’re doing things is more like the environment in which you’re planning?
  • Change your beliefs
    • Awareness affects you through perceptions, which are filtered by beliefs
    • Can you change your beliefs so that environmental stimuli have a different effect?

Examples of Empathy Gaps

  • Teenagers and pregnancy
  • Power corrupting
  • Empathy gaps can be used to one’s advantage
    • It can be easier to plan going to the gym, and then doing exercise once you’re there than it is to plan to exercise
    • Avoiding unhealthy foods is a lot easier if you add to the empathy gap by putting the food farther away
  • Living in a totalitarian regime
    • Most people don’t think that they’d go along with the actions of a totalitarian regime, yet most do
  • Aging
    • People can’t appreciate the motivations and lives of people significantly older than themselves

Hard Projects Will Be Harder Than You Expect: How To Prepare

  • Intellectual antcipation of difficulty does not prepare you for the emotional motivation to stop that you’ll feel when you encounter obstacles
  • Hot-cold empathy gap → Hard to anticipate how you’ll react in the heat of the moment ahead of time
  • Empathy gaps require willpower to overcome, and the best strategy is to minimize the number of empathy gaps so that you can apply maximum willpower to each one

A Model That Explains Why Your Enthusiasm When Planning Disappears When Doing

  • Emotions react to what you perceive in the moment → when moment changes, motivation changes
  • When you’re planning, you’re thinking more about the end product than the steps required to get there
  • Strategies to deal with empathy gaps:
    • Know about the effect
    • Observe and learn from empathy gaps in others
    • Build on experience
    • Change your environment
    • Change your beliefs