Blindness of Experts and the Need for Democracy: Credentialed authorities are comically bad at predicting the future. But reliable forecasting is possible.

The bet was on, and it was over the fate of humanity. On one side was the Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich. In his 1968 best seller, The Population Bomb, Ehrlich insisted that it was too late to prevent a doomsday apocalypse resulting from overpopulation. Resource shortages would cause hundreds of millions of starvation deaths within a decade. It was cold, hard math: The human population was growing exponentially; the food supply was not. Ehrlich was an accomplished butterfly specialist. He knew that nature did not regulate animal populations delicately. Populations exploded, blowing past the available resources, and then crashed.

In his book, Ehrlich played out hypothetical scenarios that represented “the kinds of disasters that will occur.” In the worst-case scenario, famine rages across the planet. Russia, China, and the United States are dragged into nuclear war, and the resulting environmental degradation soon extinguishes the human race. In the “cheerful” scenario, population controls begin. Famine spreads, and countries teeter, but the major death wave ends in the mid-1980s. Only half a billion or so people die of starvation. “I challenge you to create one more optimistic,” Ehrlich wrote, adding that he would not count scenarios involving benevolent aliens bearing care packages.

The economist Julian Simon took up Ehrlich’s challenge. Technology—water-control techniques, hybridized seeds, management strategies—had revolutionized agriculture, and global crop yields were increasing. To Simon, more people meant more good ideas about how to achieve a sustainable future. So he proposed a wager. Ehrlich could choose five metals that he expected to become more expensive as resources were depleted and chaos ensued over the next decade. Both men agreed that commodity prices were a fine proxy for the effects of population growth, and they set the stakes at $1,000 worth of Ehrlich’s five metals. If, 10 years hence, prices had gone down, Ehrlich would have to pay the difference in value to Simon. If prices went up, Simon would be on the hook for the difference. The bet was made official in 1980.

Humans Are Bad at Predicting Futures That Don’t Benefit Them 

Is It Possible to Predict the Next Pandemic? 

In October 1990, Simon found a check for $576.07 in his mailbox. Ehrlich got smoked. The price of every one of the metals had declined. In the 1960s, 50 out of every 100,000 global citizens died annually from famine; by the 1990s, that number was 2.6.Ehrlich’s starvation predictions were almost comically bad. And yet, the very same year he conceded the bet, Ehrlich doubled down in another book, with another prediction that would prove untrue: Sure, his timeline had been a little off, he wrote, but “now the population bomb has detonated.” Despite one erroneous prediction after another, Ehrlich amassed an enormous following and received prestigious awards. Simon, meanwhile, became a standard-bearer for scholars who felt that Ehrlich had ignored economic principles. The kind of excessive regulations Ehrlich advocated, the Simon camp argued, would quell the very innovation that had delivered humanity from catastrophe. Both men became luminaries in their respective domains. Both were mistaken.When economists later examined metal prices for every 10-year window from 1900 to 2008, during which time the world population quadrupled, they saw that Ehrlich would have won the bet 62 percent of the time. The catch: Commodity prices are a poor gauge of population effects, particularly over a single decade. The variable that both men were certain would vindicate their worldviews actually had little to do with those views. Prices waxed and waned with macroeconomic cycles.Yet both men dug in. Each declared his faith in science and the undisputed primacy of facts. And each continued to miss the value of the other’s ideas. Ehrlich was wrong about the apocalypse, but right on aspects of environmental degradation. Simon was right about the influence of human ingenuity on food and energy supplies, but wrong in claiming that improvements in air and water quality validated his theories. Ironically, those improvements were bolstered through regulations pressed by Ehrlich and others.

Ideally, intellectual sparring partners “hone each other’s arguments so that they are sharper and better,” the Yale historian Paul Sabin wrote in The Bet. “The opposite happened with Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon.” As each man amassed more information for his own view, each became more dogmatic, and the inadequacies in his model of the world grew ever more stark. 

The pattern is by now familiar. In the 30 years since Ehrlich sent Simon a check, the track record of expert forecasters—in science, in economics, in politics—is as dismal as ever. In business, esteemed (and lavishly compensated) forecasters routinely are wildly wrong in their predictions of everything from the next stock-market correction to the next housing boom. Reliable insight into the future is possible, however. It just requires a style of thinking that’s uncommon among experts who are certain that their deep knowledge has granted them a special grasp of what is to come.

Tetlock decided to put expert political and economic predictions to the test. With the Cold War in full swing, he collected forecasts from 284 highly educated experts who averaged more than 12 years of experience in their specialties. To ensure that the predictions were concrete, experts had to give specific probabilities of future events. Tetlock had to collect enough predictions that he could separate lucky and unlucky streaks from true skill. The project lasted 20 years, and comprised 82,361 probability estimates about the future.The result: The experts were, by and large, horrific forecasters. Their areas of specialty, years of experience, and (for some) access to classified information made no difference. They were bad at short-term forecasting and bad at long-term forecasting. They were bad at forecasting in every domain. When experts declared that future events were impossible or nearly impossible, 15 percent of them occurred nonetheless. When they declared events to be a sure thing, more than one-quarter of them failed to transpire. As the Danish proverb warns, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Even faced with their results, many experts never admitted systematic flaws in their judgment. When they missed wildly, it was a near miss; if just one little thing had gone differently, they would have nailed it. “There is often a curiously inverse relationship,” Tetlock concluded, “between how well forecasters thought they were doing and how well they did.”

Early predictions in Tetlock’s research pertained to the future of the Soviet Union. Some experts (usually liberals) saw Mikhail Gorbachev as an earnest reformer who would be able to change the Soviet Union and keep it intact for a while, and other experts (usually conservatives) felt that the Soviet Union was immune to reform and losing legitimacy. Both sides were partly right and partly wrong. Gorbachev did bring real reform, opening the Soviet Union to the world and empowering citizens. But those reforms unleashed pent-up forces in the republics outside Russia, where the system had lost legitimacy. The forces blew the Soviet Union apart. Both camps of experts were blindsided by the swift demise of the U.S.S.R.

One subgroup of scholars, however, did manage to see more of what was coming. Unlike Ehrlich and Simon, they were not vested in a single discipline. They took from each argument and integrated apparently contradictory worldviews. They agreed that Gorbachev was a real reformer and that the Soviet Union had lost legitimacy outside Russia. A few of those integrators saw that the end of the Soviet Union was close at hand and that real reforms would be the catalyst.
The integrators outperformed their colleagues in pretty much every way, but especially trounced them on long-term predictions. Eventually, Tetlock bestowed nicknames (borrowed from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin) on the experts he’d observed: The highly specialized hedgehogs knew “one big thing,” while the integrator foxes knew “many little things.”Hedgehogs are deeply and tightly focused. Some have spent their career studying one problem. Like Ehrlich and Simon, they fashion tidy theories of how the world works based on observations through the single lens of their specialty. Foxes, meanwhile, “draw from an eclectic array of traditions, and accept ambiguity and contradiction,” Tetlock wrote. Where hedgehogs represent narrowness, foxes embody breadth.Incredibly, the hedgehogs performed especially poorly on long-term predictions within their specialty. They got worse as they accumulated experience and credentials in their field. The more information they had to work with, the more easily they could fit any story into their worldview.Unfortunately, the world’s most prominent specialists are rarely held accountable for their predictions, so we continue to rely on them even when their track records make clear that we should not. One study compiled a decade of annual dollar-to-euro exchange-rate predictions made by 22 international banks: Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and others. Each year, every bank predicted the end-of-year exchange rate. The banks missed every single change of direction in the exchange rate. In six of the 10 years, the true exchange rate fell outside the entire range of all 22 bank forecasts.

In 2005, Tetlock published his results, and they caught the attention of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, or IARPA, a government organization that supports research on the U.S. intelligence community’s most difficult challenges. In 2011, IARPA launched a four-year prediction tournament in which five researcher-led teams competed. Each team could recruit, train, and experiment however it saw fit. Predictions were due at 9 a.m. every day. The questions were hard: Will a European Union member withdraw by a target date? Will the Nikkei close above 9,500?

Tetlock, along with his wife and collaborator, the psychologist Barbara Mellers, ran a team named the Good Judgment Project. Rather than recruit decorated experts, they issued an open call for volunteers. After a simple screening, they invited 3,200 people to start forecasting. Among those, they identified a small group of the foxiest forecasters—bright people with extremely wide-ranging interests and unusually expansive reading habits, but no particular relevant background—and weighted team forecasts toward their predictions. They destroyed the competition.

Tetlock and Mellers found that not only were the best forecasters foxy as individuals, but they tended to have qualities that made them particularly effective collaborators. They were “curious about, well, really everything,” as one of the top forecasters told me. They crossed disciplines, and viewed their teammates as sources for learning, rather than peers to be convinced. When those foxes were later grouped into much smaller teams—12 members each—they became even more accurate. They outperformed—by a lot—a group of experienced intelligence analysts with access to classified data.
One forecast discussion involved a team trying to predict the highest single-day close for the exchange rate between the Ukrainian hryvnia and the U.S. dollar during an extremely volatile stretch in 2014. Would the rate be less than 10 hryvnia to a dollar, between 10 and 13, or more than 13? The discussion started with a team member offering percentages for each possibility, and sharing an Economist article. Another team member chimed in with historical data he’d found online, a Bloomberg link, and a bet that the rate would land between 10 and 13. A third teammate was convinced by the second’s argument. A fourth shared information about the dire state of Ukrainian finances, which he feared would devalue the hryvnia. A fifth noted that the United Nations Security Council was considering sending peacekeepers to the region, which he believed would buoy the currency.Two days later, a team member with experience in finance saw that the hryvnia was strengthening amid events he’d thought would surely weaken it. He informed his teammates that this was exactly the opposite of what he’d expected, and that they should take it as a sign of something wrong in his understanding. (Tetlock told me that, when making an argument, foxes often use the word however, while hedgehogs favor moreover.) The team members finally homed in on “between 10 and 13” as the heavy favorite, and they were correct.In Tetlock’s 20-year study, both the broad foxes and the narrow hedgehogs were quick to let a successful prediction reinforce their beliefs. But when an outcome took them by surprise, foxes were much more likely to adjust their ideas. Hedgehogs barely budged. Some made authoritative predictions that turned out to be wildly wrong—then updated their theories in the wrong direction. They became even more convinced of the original beliefs that had led them astray. The best forecasters, by contrast, view their own ideas as hypotheses in need of testing. If they make a bet and lose, they embrace the logic of a loss just as they would the reinforcement of a win. This is called, in a word, learning.


This article is adapted from David Epstein’s book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. It appears in the June 2019 print edition with the headline “The Peculiar Blindness of Experts.”

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DAVID EPSTEIN is the author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.
Range is an urgent and important book, an essential read for bosses, parents, coaches, and anyone who cares about improving performance.” –Daniel H. Pink

What’s the most effective path to success in any domain? It’s not what you think.

Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields–especially those that are complex and unpredictable–generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.Provocative, rigorous, and engrossing, Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.

 

RANGE

WHY GENERALISTS TRIUMPH IN A SPECIALIZED WORLD

ABOUT THE BOOK

What’s the most effective path to success in any domain? It’s not what you think.

Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.

David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields—especially those that are complex and unpredictable—generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.

Provocative, rigorous, and engrossing, Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.

REVIEWS

“For reasons I cannot explain, David Epstein manages to make me thoroughly enjoy the experience of being told that everything I thought about something was wrong. I lovedRange.”

— Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author of Blink and Outliers

“It’s a joy to spend hours in the company of a writer as gifted as David Epstein. And the joy is all the greater when that writer shares so much crucial and revelatory information about performance, success, and education.”

— Susan Cain, bestselling author of Quiet 

“In a world that’s increasingly obsessed with specialization, star science writer David Epstein is here to convince you that the future may belong to generalists. It’s a captivating read that will leave you questioning the next steps in your career—and the way you raise your children.”

— Adam Grant, bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take

Range elevates Epstein to one of the very best science writers at work today. The scope of the book — and the implications — are breathtaking. I find myself applying what I’ve learned to almost every aspect of my life.”

— Sebastian Junger, bestselling author of Tribe, War, and The Perfect Storm

“I want to give Range to any kid who is being forced to take violin lessons—but really wants to learn the drums; to any programmer who secretly dreams of becoming a psychologist; to everyone who wants humans to thrive in an age of robots. Range is full of surprises and hope, a 21st century survival guide.”

— Amanda Ripley, bestselling author of The Smartest Kids in the World

Range will force you to rethink the nature of learning, thinking, and being, and reconsider what you thought you knew about optimal education and career paths—and how and why the most successful people in the world do what they do. It’s one of the most thought-provoking and enlightening books I’ve read.”

— Maria Konnikova, bestselling author of Mastermind and The Confidence Game, professional poker player

“For too long, we’ve believed in a single path to excellence. Start early, specialize soon, narrow your focus, aim for efficiency. But in this groundbreaking book, David Epstein shows that in most domains, the way to excel is something altogether different. Sample widely, gain a breadth of experiences, take detours, and experiment relentlessly. Epstein is a deft writer, equally nimble at telling a great story and unpacking complicated science. And Range is an urgent and important book, an essential read for bosses, parents, coaches, and anyone who cares about improving performance.”

— Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of When and Drive

“Brilliant, timely, and utterly impossible to put down. If you care about improving skill, innovation, and performance, you need to read this book.”

— Daniel Coyle, bestselling author of The Culture Code

“An assiduously researched and accessible argument for being a jack of all trades. ”

— O Magazine – Best Nonfiction Books Coming in 2019

“Epstein analyzes athletes, artists, musicians and more to demonstrate his belief in the power of learning from a diverse set of experiences in order to become stronger in an individualized area.”

— Time Magazine’s 10 New Books You Should Read in May

“A fresh, brisk look at creativity, learning, and the meaning of achievement.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“Epstein offers an exhilarating vision of how smart, curious people can more skillfully apply their best thinking to change and improve the world.”

— Shelf Awareness

“Equally entertaining and enlightening, this will appeal to readers with an eye on the future.”

— Booklist

“All readers eager to look into the next trench over for innovative ideas to solve their problems will welcome this remarkable, densely packed work.”

— Library Journal
David Epstein in Conversation with Malcolm Gladwell
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
David Epstein and Malcolm Gladwell

What’s the surest route to success? Specializing early, focusing intently, racking up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible? Wrong!

According to bestselling author David Epstein—who has studied the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters, and scientists—it’s the generalists, not specialists, who are primed to excel. Join Epstein in conversation with Malcolm Gladwell (who wrote, “for reasons I cannot explain, David Epstein manages to make me thoroughly enjoy the experience of being told that everything I thought about something was wrong,”) for what’s sure to be an engrossing discussion about Epstein’s new book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

**

It’s Okay to Be Good and Not Great

“Good is the enemy of great” is one of the most popular self-improvement expressions there is. It’s the first sentence of an international bestselling business book, the title of another self-help book, and a mantra that NFL superstar J.J. Watt has used in press conferences. It sounds appealing and rolls off the tongue nicely, but there’s a good chance it’s downright wrong.

We’re told that striving to be great and never being satisfied are necessary to meet the ever increasing pressures and pace of today’s world. It’s the only route to success. But what is it all for? What does success even mean? Rates of clinical anxiety and depression are higher than ever. Some experts believe that loneliness and social isolation have reached epidemic proportions.

Two-thirds of all employees report feeling burned out at work. Surely this isn’t the kind of success that everyone is after.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh offers that true success means feeling content with the unfolding of your life. It is “finding happiness in your work and life, in the here and the now.”

The kind of success that Thich Nhat Hanh champions isn’t about striving to be great all the time. It’s about being at least OK with where you are, about accepting good enough. What’s interesting is that not always trying so damn hard to be great isn’t just the path to being happier; it’s also the path to getting better.

This mindset improves confidence and releases pressure because you don’t always feel like you’re coming up short. It also lessens the risk of injury—emotional and physical—since there isn’t a perceived need to put forth heroic efforts every day. The result is more consistent performance that compounds over time. Research shows that sustainable progress, in everything from diet to fitness to creativity, isn’t about being consistently great; it’s about being great at being consistent. It’s about being good enough over and over again.

A wonderful case study is Eliud Kipchoge, who just shattered the marathon world record. He’s literally the best in the world at what he does. Yet Kipchoge says that the key to his success is not overextending himself in training. He’s not fanatical about trying to be great all the time. Instead, he has an unwavering dedication to being good enough. He recently told The New York Times that he rarely, if ever, pushes himself past 80 percent—90 percent at most—of his maximum effort during workouts. This allows Kipchoge to string together weeks and weeks of consistent training. “I want to run with a relaxed mind,” he says.

Unlike so many other runners who have tried and failed to break the world marathon record, Kipchoge has never been obsessed with the mark. Prior to his record-setting race, when asked about his mindset, he told The Times, “To be precise, I am just going to try to run my personal best. If it comes as a world record, I would appreciate it. But I would treat it as a personal best.” Kipchoge puts running in its place, which, for him, is in the here and now, not in striving to meet ever increasing expectations. “When I run,” he says, “I feel good. My mind feels good. I sleep in a free way, and I enjoy life.”

It’s a paradox. A good-enough mindset might very well be the key to being great and happy. The less you want to be happy, the happier you’ll be. The less you need to perform better, the better you’ll perform. Just think about your own life. During the times you were happiest and performed best, were you striving? Were you chasing after something? Or were you more like Kipchoge—grounded, at peace, and feeling good enough with what was in front of you? This doesn’t mean you should never desire productive change or improvement. Quite the opposite, actually. Though they may run counter to so much of the current ethos, adopting the following core principles of good enough is likely the best route to being happier and getting better.

Accept Where You Are

Ultra-endurance athlete, author, and personal-growth icon Rich Rollonce told me, “You’ve got to train where you’re at. Not where you think you could be, not where you want to be, not where you used to be, but where you are right now.”

Far too often we suffer from magical thinking, convincing ourselves that we’re in a better place than we are. Or we ignore our problems altogether, either numbing or distracting ourselves or striving to make things better without ever acknowledging our true starting point. Though this may save us some short-term pain, it’s not a good long-term solution. Because we don’t address the thing that really needs addressing—whether it’s poor mobility in sport, loneliness in a relationship, or being overwhelmed at the workplace. Progress in anything requires confronting and accepting where you are. It’s only then that you can do something about it.

“Acceptance,” writes the meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn in his bestselling masterpiece Full Catastrophe Living, “does not mean passive resignation. Not at all. It means taking a reading of a situation, feeling it and embracing it as completely as one can manage, however challenging or horrible it may be, and recognizing that things are as they are, independent of our liking or disliking and wanting it to be different.” Only then, writes Kabat-Zinn, can we take the appropriate action to improve our condition. “A desire for things to be other than the way they actually are is simply wishful thinking,” he writes. “It is not a very effective way of bringing about real change.”

Be Patient

Most people want results now. But generally speaking, results don’t work like that. Consider diet. Drawn to the latest and trendiest approach, many people who are trying to lose weight constantly bounce between fads: low-carb, high-fat; low-fat, high-carb; South Beach; Atkins; DASH; Zone; Ornish; intermittent fasting—the list goes on and on. The continual switching is actually detrimental to losing weight. A 2018 study out of Stanford University compared low-fat and low-carb diets, also tracking randomly assigned participants for a year. The best predictor of weight loss wasn’t which diet the participants were assigned to but whether or not they adhered to that diet. Writing about these results in The New York Times, Aaron Carroll, a physician and researcher at the Indiana School of Medicine, explains that “Successful diets over the long haul are most likely ones that involve slow and steady changes.”

The same theme is true for just about any persistent change, whether it’s in performance, happiness, or both. If you rush the process or expect results too swiftly, you’ll end up disappointed over and over again. When I was going through an immense challenge in my own life, one of the best pieces of advice I got was from a doctor who told me, “Be patient, it’s a nine-inning game.”

Be Present

Our society celebrates “optimization.” So it’s only natural that we would want to optimize ourselves. But our brains don’t work like computers. Studies show that when we multitask, our brains either constantly switch between tasks or divide and conquer, allotting only a portion of our cognitive capacity to a specific task. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that though we think we’re getting twice as much done when we multitask, we’re actually getting only about half as much done.

It’s not just our performance that suffers when we’re all over the place but our happiness, too. A Harvard study found that when people are fully present for the activity they’re doing, they are much happier than when they’re thinking about something else. Unfortunately, nowadays we’re more distracted than ever, almost always thinking about something else. We may think that if we’re not online 24/7 we’ll miss out on something and fall behind. But perhaps it’s the opposite that’s true. If we’re online 24/7, we’ll miss out on everything.

Be Vulnerable

Social media is full of people making posts as if everything in their lives is perfect. It’s an illusion—and a costly one. Researchers from Stanford University found that social media portrays an overly rosy view of life. As a result, many people think they are more alone in their emotional difficulties than they really are, a misperception that can lead to distress. Moreover, trying to live up to an inflated public persona—be it your online self or your workplace self—creates what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, or an inconsistency between who you portray yourself to be and who you actually are. This inconsistency is often associated with anxiety.

Stop trying so damn hard to be invincible, and just be yourself. The research of University of Houston professor Brene Brown demonstrates that the more you can bring your entire self to everything you do—the good, the bad, the sad, and the ugly—the better you’ll feel and the better you’ll be. You’ll not only eliminate emotionally draining cognitive dissonance, but also forge more genuine connections with others, opening yourself up to support when you need it. “Vulnerability doesn’t come from trust,” Brown writes. “Trust comes from vulnerability.” Recent experimental data suggests that this is because deep down inside, most everyone dislikes having to pretend they’ve got all their shit together. When you let your guard down and get real, others feel relieved and gain the confidence to do the same.

Foster an “In-Real-Life” Community

Perhaps one of the most detrimental consequences of digital technology is the illusion of connection. We think that if we can tweet, post, text, e-mail, or even call someone, we’re good. After all, digital relationships save us the time and coordination of meeting in person, which in turn allows us to be überproductive—or so we tell ourselves. But here’s the thing: nothing can replace in-person community, and our failed attempts to do so come at a grave cost.

In their book, The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century, Harvard psychiatry professors Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz profile the rise of loneliness and decline of meaningful relationships. An increased focus on “productivity and the cult of busyness,” they write, has led to a sharp decline in deep communities and a rise in social isolation and related mood disorders. Other researchshows that physical touch itself is critical for happiness, comfort, and belonging. In-person community is also key to performance. Multiple studies show that wearable technologies don’t come close to the power of “in-real-life” friends when it comes to making positive behavior changes. And this is true at all levels. Defending New York City Marathon champion Shalane Flanagan has repeatedly credited her training community (not her Instagram followers) for her longevity and success. “I don’t think I’d still be running if not for my training partners,” she says. “These women support me through both highs and lows.”

Bottom line: The extra effort it takes to regularly be with others “in real life” is worth it.

Brad Stulberg (@Bstulberg) writes Outside’s Do It Better column and is the author of the book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.

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