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Dr. Ai, Peanut Allergy, & Poverty IQ

By: Michael Blankenship |

“No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”
~ Epictetus

Greetings from LA and Hawaii.

This week we share advice from Dr. Ai, who quit her job as a teacher to start her own business, share a few productivity playlists, use peanut allergy as a metaphor for raising antifragile kids, explain the Premack Principle, and discuss the IQ score of farmers. Our challenge is for you to answer the following question: what do you want?

Dr. Ai

This week we spoke with Dr. Ai Addyson-Zhang, the founder of Classroom Without Walls, a company with the goal of educating parents about America’s broken education system and empowering teens to cultivate real-life skills that will help them land their dream jobs.

Classroom Without Walls — which Dr. Ai founded after spending 15 years as a teacher — has been featured in publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inside Higher Education, and numerous other media outlets. Fortunately, Dr. Ai is passionate about sharing her knowledge with others.

When we asked her what she thinks has contributed to her success she said,

“The biggest factor that contributed to my success is this firm belief, start BEFORE you are ready. I started my business before I was ready. I launched my first live streaming show before I figured out how to run a show. Getting started before I felt ready has helped me get to where I am today. Had I waited for the perfect moment to get started, I probably would still be a college professor. What I have learned from my journey is that taking action is one of the best ways to give oneself clarity on one’s business.”

Indeed, other entrepreneurs second this advice — Alec and I included — to start before you understand exactly what you’re getting into and to approach everything with a desire to learn and grow.

When we asked Dr. Ai what she would teach someone who’s trying to live a life like hers, she said,

“I would tell this person to never stop learning. Invest in oneself before investing in anything else. Learning is the best investment that one can make. Many people feel that learning only happens in a classroom, or that you only go to a school to learn. That’s far away from the truth. In fact, real learning happens after school is over, and at my company, Classroom Without Walls, we believe the best education happens outside the classroom. Constantly learn and invest in oneself. Leaders are readers; leaders are also learners.”

If you want to learn more from Dr. Ai, follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter or pick up her book, Skip the Degree, Save the Tuition: Your A-Z Pathway to Teach Yourself a Money-Making Online Skill Set.

Productivity Playlist

Like to whistle while you work?

Check out these playlists from Owl Labs — they’re created for people working from home who want to increase their productivity.

Peanut Allergy

In the mid-1990s, a measly four out of every thousand children had a peanut allergy. By 2008, using the exact same measurement standards, that rate had tripled to 14 out of every thousand.

Why the sudden spike?

In the 1990s, schools and parents started limiting kids’ exposure to peanuts to ensure that allergic children wouldn’t be harmed. But this had unintended consequences.

In 2015, a study was published that had recruited 640 infants at high risk for developing peanut allergies. Half the parents were told to follow the traditional advice and avoid exposure to peanuts. The other half were given a snack containing peanut butter and told to feed it to their children at least three times a week.

The researchers followed the children for years and by the time the kids were five years old, they were tested for an allergic reaction to peanuts. Among the children who’d avoided peanuts, 17% developed a peanut allergy. Among those that had been exposed to peanuts deliberately, only 3% had developed a peanut allergy.

It turned out that peanut allergy was on the rise precisely because adults and schools were trying to “protect” their children from peanuts.

It’s now well-known that consuming peanuts at a young age massively decreases the chances of a child developing a peanut allergy.

This research specifically relates to peanut allergy, but it’s a powerful metaphor for the importance of exposing children to things that are difficult or even uncomfortable so that they may grow — while it might seem counterintuitive, doing so makes children stronger… not weaker.

In a recent email from Ana Lorena Fabrega (as part of her Fab Fridays newsletter), she gave the following advice to parents who want to raise antifragile kids…

“It’s not easy to see a child suffer, so it’s normal for adults to want to intervene when a child is upset. In cases, however, when we feel like we’re protecting our kids, we really aren’t…

Let kids experience discomfort and deal with difficult people. Let them take a few bruises, bumps, and scars in a relatively safe environment, like school or soccer practice. Just like exposing kids early on to germs will help them develop stronger immune systems, exposing them to difficult situations and reasonable risks will help them become more resilient, independent, and self-confident…

It’s about keeping a close eye, but not intervening all that much; making kids feel safe and protected, but not that much either. Doing nothing is often better than doing something. Although difficult at first for both kids and parents, stronger, antifragile adults will thank us in the future.”

Premack Principle

Why are kids more motivated to eat their dinner if they know they’re going to get dessert afterward? Why are you more motivated to get your work done if you know you’ll be able to watch TV as soon as you’re done?

This is called the Premack Principle.

Here’s the formal definition…

“The Premack principle, or the relativity theory of reinforcement, states that more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.” (Source)

Practically speaking, that means if you postpone “probable behaviors” — things you are very likely to do: read, play video games, watch TV, take a nap, eat ice cream, etc — until after you’ve done a less probable behavior — things you should do but maybe don’t want to do: exercising, eating healthy, running errands, etc — you’re far more likely to accomplish the less probable behavior.

This is a great way to hack your productivity throughout the day, postponing rewarding behaviors until you’ve done what needs to be done. You can learn more about using the Premack Principle over here.

Poverty IQ

Do poor people have a lower IQ score than well-off people?

Often, they do. But maybe not for the reasons you expect.

One group of researchers (according to PBS) — Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir, and Jiaying Zhao — put together a study where they induced thoughts about finances in their participants before testing their cognitive ability. Doing so reduced cognitive performance among poor people but not among their well-off counterparts.

Next, they “examined the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle.” Farmers are perfect for this study because before the harvest, their finances are tight, and after harvest, they are much more financially secure. The researchers “found that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich.”

Their conclusion?

“It appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity… We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks.”

This Week’s Photo

China Daily via Reuters

“Wild Asian elephants sleep together in a group in the Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province, China, on June 7, 2021. A herd of 15 wild elephants trekked hundreds of kilometers after leaving their forest habitat in the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, according to local media.” via The Atlantic

Extra Stuff

Here’s some extra stuff that caught our attention this week…

The Weekly Challenge

This week we’re challenging you to ask yourself a simple but complicated question: what do you want? That’s a big question to answer. But if you don’t know what you want, then you’ll probably never get what you want. Take 30 minutes this week to write out your answer.

Until next week,

Mike & Alec

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