The Destiny Trap

The ego issue: You feel flattered when a stereotype seems to work in your favor. Of course you're good at giving; you're a woman! Of course you're good at science; you're a man! But watch out, found psychologist Angelica Moè, PhD, after testing men and women in spatial relations, an exercise in which males were presumed to have the upper hand. While we might expect men's scores to soar after a perceived ego boost, they actually performed worse than usual. Pride gained from an unearned advantage turned to anxiety about living up to it.

The fix: If you're ever told that you're naturally gifted or look the part—or that you have any other advantage having to do with genes or destiny—break the evil spell it'll have over you by saying, "Oh, please. That's just a stereotype." When Moè told test-takers that a cultural stereotype was the underlying reason why men outperform women in math—not superior "math genes"—everyone scored better because the "biology-as-destiny" expectations were lifted.

The (Secretly) Superior Trap

The ego issue: Yes, it's narcissistic, but many of us think that our own lifestyle choices represent the universal ideal. For instance, couples often think that single people would be better off in a relationship, and singles think that couples secretly feel trapped, found researchers at Stanford University and the University of Waterloo. What's even worse, is when smugness turns into bias: In the study, people gave same-status job candidates more positive ratings in a mock job interview than those with a different relationship status (everything else being equal).

The fix: The next time you catch yourself evangelizing your own lifestyle, imagine it changing (after all, everything changes...eventually). The research found that the more people perceived their relationship status as fixed and unchangeable, the more they defended and idealized it, and the more biased they were against those who were different. However, when they were prompted to effectively channel their inner Buddhas—that is, to think of impermanence as a fact of life—they became more understanding of the other side's position.

The Cool-and-Collected Trap

The ego issue: To quote Thomas Jefferson, "nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances." But there's a price to such power and invulnerability: You end up suppressing yourself or denying things that actually do matter to you.

The fix: Watch this clip from Oprah's Lifeclass, in which psychologist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, describes how she reminds herself to let down her guard. She says that she keeps "permission slips" in the pockets of her jean jackets to remind herself that's it OK to be excited, passionate, goofy, heartfelt and short, to free herself from the restraints of coolness, which she compares to armor.

Next: How your posture can make you dishonest


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