The Secret To An Awesome Weekend

John Peterson, founder of The Nudge, helps us understand the psychology of how we can stop being lazy & have an awesome weekend!

It’s 6pm on a Sunday. The sunlight is dimming in your apartment. And then it hits you: The weekend is over. Did you make the most of it?

Your answer is important, because life blossoms when we spend our free time well. A weekend spent to the fullest sends out positive ripples, making us happier for the rest of the week. How can we answer “yes” as often as possible? The psychology of decision making (known as “prospect theory”) has some answers.

Let’s use you as an example. The weekend is here, and you’re considering two prospects:

  • Prospect A: Lazy weekend - Hang around the apartment, watch Netflix … whatever you do when you’re lazy.
  • Prospect B: Adventurous weekend - Go on an overnight backpacking trip.

First, your brain lays out the possible outcomes for each prospect:

  • Prospect A: Lazy weekend
    • 100% chance of standard lazy weekend
  • Prospect B: Adventurous weekend
    • 10% chance of soul sucking traffic, oppressive weather and a regrettable trip
    • 90% chance of an awesome adventure

Second, because Prospect B has 2 options and is not immediately comparable with Prospect A, your brain will try to find the average of the 2 options (think of it as an expected value of Prospect B). That's exactly where the sabotage occurs:

  1. Your brain undervalues any positive prospect that doesn’t have 100% certainty. So the 90% chance of an awesome adventure seems less likely
  2. Your brain overvalues any negative prospect even if it has low certainty. So the 10% chance of a terrible weekend seems even more dreadful. Here the negative prospect is relative to your personal baseline, which for most people means avoiding negative outcomes of any kind

Combining those two tendencies, and Prospect B: Adventurous weekend looks much less inviting, so we laze away the weekend. The below diagram explains the two steps visually.

Click to see full size

Are you having an "omg that's totally me" moment? Well fortunately, there are easy solutions:

  1. Knowing is half the battle. Simply knowing that this is how our mind works can help us overcome it
  2. Reduce the attractiveness of Prospect A: the lazy weekend. Remember that personal baseline you have? Instead of setting it around avoiding negative outcomes, set it around avoiding not making the full use of your time. In the diagram above, that would shift the personal baseline out to the right (no longer overlapping with "Neutral") so that Prospect A may be partially or fully to the left (and anything to the left is to be avoided!)
  3. Increase the certainty of Prospect B: the adventurous weekend. Check the traffic. Check the weather report. Rent camping gear or rent climbing gear or rent snow clothes from Last Minute Gear. Get texts from The Nudge. Every step you take will make the adventurous option look more like a 100% positive outcome
  4. Loop in friends & family. This will increase the certainty of Prospect B, but moreover, our innate desires for community & social approval are powerful. If everyone else is onboard, you don't want to be the one who backs out
  5. Commit in advance. Beyond increasing the certainty of Prospect B, psychologists have shown that we’re much more likely to undertake demanding tasks if we commit to them in advance. Think of it like a mini New Year's resolution, one that is much easier to keep!

Hopefully next time the sun sets on Sunday, you can greet it with a smile of sweet satisfaction!