Spencer Greenberg || Effective Altruism, Mental Health, & Habit Change

September 10, 2020

Today it is great to have Spencer Greenberg on the podcast. Spencer is an entrepreneur and mathematician and founder of Spark Wave — a software foundry which creates novel software products from scratch, designed to help solve problems in the world using social science. For example, scalable care for depression and anxiety and technology for accelerating and improving social science research. He also founded clearerthinking.org, which offers free tools and training programs used by over 250, 000 people which are designed to help you improve decision making and increase positive behaviors. Spencer has a PhD in Applied Math from NYU with a specialty in Machine Learning. Spencer’s work has been featured by numerous major media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Independent, Lifehacker, Fast Company and the Financial Times. You can find Spencer on twitter at @SpencrGreenberg.

Check out sparkwave.tech/conditions-for-change where you can apply the results of scientific studies to your habit development, from making a decision to cultivate a habit, to taking action, and finally, continuing that habit.

Time Stamps

[00:01:40] How the Effective Altruism movement works

[00:02:55] The role of emotions in Effective Altruism

[00:04:03] How Spencer applies Effective Altruism in his work and companies

[00:06:27] How cultivating automatic if-then rules can improve your life

[00:10:42] How to handle depression using behavioral activation

[00:12:05] Introversion and the hierarchical nature of personality

[00:14:58] Personality traits that are not captured by the Big Five model

[00:18:04] How it is easier to present a scientific finding compared to explaining that finding

[00:20:20] The “psychological immune system” and the five categories of behaviors for dealing with difficult situations

[00:20:55] Facing reality and clarifying distortions of thinking

[00:21:27] Feeling-based and emotion-based strategies for dealing with difficulty

[00:22:10] Action-based strategies for dealing with difficulty

[00:23:27] Refocusing techniques for dealing with difficulty

[00:23:42] Reframing and finding the silver lining

[00:29:47] Whether or not the Big Five personality traits are inherently valenced (i.e. positive or negative)

[00:31:03] Personality as a distribution of traits

[00:33:22] Finding optimal levels of different personality traits

[00:33:59] Tips for forming new habits

[00:38:22] How to determine why behavioral change is not happening

[00:42:07] Tips and heuristics for sparking structured and unstructured creativity

2 Responses to “Spencer Greenberg || Effective Altruism, Mental Health, & Habit Change”

  1. Sachintha Saputhanthrige Don says:

    Please make the podcast downloadable!

  2. Shawn O'Brien says:

    Thanks for another interesting podcast. I’m not sure if I quite “agree” with the discussion about agreeableness. I know it has multiple subdimensions (trust, morality, altruism, cooperation, modesty, sympathy). I wouldn’t want to move towards the negative poles on any of those, and I hope you don’t, either, Scott! Pointing out B.S. and disagreeing when one should can be done in two ways: 1) in a respectful and empathic way that is likely to be given due consideration, or 2) In a disrespectful and hurtful way that is likely to be counterproductive. #1 is agreeable, #2 is not. In other words, it’s not about the content of your message, but rather the style and care with which you deliver it. Habit reflection is similar to a technique used by solution-focused therapists, who have clients think about a problem from their past that they solved, and what they did to solve it. This can lead to ideas for solutions, and even if not, it creates a more optimistic attitude that the client has the ability to solve their problem(s).

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