Give time, and you may get some back

So I was politely accosted by a psychology student running an experiment while going for lunch. The task was to solve brainteasers (arg! my only weakness!) in 2 minutes. Each right answer increases your chance of winning a $200 draw. I immediately felt a sense of certain doom. I was stuck right on question 2! Right then, a lost looking student asked me the direction to a library, and so I stopped thinking for a few seconds to point him along. He confirmed the direction again, and asked if the library had a water fountain; and the whole conversation took about 20 seconds.

I got back to my task and, strangely, saw the answer to Q2 right away, just when the time is up. This was when I suspected that the student who asked me for direction was a partner in the experiment, and the point of the experiment was to see how people react differently in social situations when stressed for time. It turned out that my guess was spot on. The hypothesis is specifically whether you would be less willing to give time, when you feel a perceived lack of time, and a perceived value placed on your time.

The student didn’t count on the fact that I have chronic migraine and work in a “0.6 programmer, 0.4 everything else” position. Being starved for time is a main theme of life. But there was a surprise ending to this, and it surprised me too…

I was the only respondent in his study who managed to answer more than 1 questions so far. The brainteasers were deliberately difficult to induce the necessary stress. In fact, most respondent didn’t manage to answer even one of the brainteasers.

And I am terrible at brainteasers… I hate them with a fiery passion! What I think happened was that the act of giving time to help a stranger allowed me to overcome a mental block. Or perhaps it was because I felt a bit better after helping someone, getting a jolt of dopamine to block out the bad feeling of being stuck at “questions that may be linked to my IQ.”

The bottom line is, state of mind matters a great deal, and we certainly can control it to make our life and work better. Often, when you give time, you get more back.

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