I don't judge people.
Sure you do. Researchers from Harvard Business School, who've recently studied how people categorize and perceive others, say that within less than a second, we make what are known as "spontaneous trait inferences." These are remarkably consistent. All over the globe, it turns out, people instantly judge each other on two main qualities: warmth and competence. People who are judged as competent but cold—for instance, a wealthy tycoon—elicit envy or hostility. People who are usually perceived as warm but incompetent (such as elderly people) bring out feelings of pity. We're still judging with our conscious mind when we size people up, adds Michelle B. Riba, MD, MS, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. "Although when we do this, it's ourselves that we're judging, really, more than the other person," she says. "We're trying to figure out how we fit in."
If only I had a million dollars, I'd fulfill my dreams and do_____.
This little self-deluding chestnut? It's disproved every time we see an attorney who aspires to own a pastry shop and bakes cookies to sell on the weekends, or a baker who goes to law school at night. Somehow, though, we are certain—absolutely certain—that we can't take the leap without a financial guarantee or windfall. It's a Truth, we believe, with a capital T. But getting a few friends together and using a workshop exercise from the famed comedy troupe the Upright Citizens Brigade can help convince you otherwise: "It's called 'heightening,' which is one of the fundamental elements of improv," says workshop director Carter Edwards.
"The idea is that the next person must agree with your self-delusional statement and heighten it by adding something funny and absurd to it. 'Right, you can't open a catering business because you need a million dollars, so you have to win the lottery.' Then the next person adds something else, like, 'You can't open a catering business because you have to win the lottery—and see every episode of The Real Housewives first.'" The idea is to continue until the group can't go any further, so that you have to face that your original supposition, the lie you told yourself, is just not viable. "That's the basis of improv," says Edwards, "not to shame, but to support each other and move past what's hanging you up—through humor—so you get at the bigger truth."
More Ways to Tell the Truth