Kelly Goldsmith, PhD is "The Manipulator"

business identity permission purpose research transition May 10, 2022
Kelly Goldsmith, The Manipulator

May 10, 2022
Season 2, Ep. 6: Prof. Kelly Goldsmith, PhD, The Manipulator

Prof. Kelly Goldsmith, PhD is a brilliant researcher in the space of marketing and human behavior. She was the person who helped America understand why we were hoarding toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. It was her work to understand scarcity that helped people laugh at themselves in the midst of a stressful situation that was out of their control.

In this episode of AMPstigator, we talk through what the research says about setting goals, finding happiness and living with perceived scarcity. Goldsmith explains how to overcome our human nature to better pursue a life with more meaning and purpose.

PLUS! We delve into her 24-day stint on Survivor and her strategies for making it on and staying on the show.

This episode is for you if: 
- You love witty fast-talkers with high IQ’s (Kelly is GOLD for this)
- You geek-out over research on human behavior
- You want to better understand why you never reach your goals
- You want to understand why you’re afraid to take the leap and live with purpose
- You want to hear about Kelly's stint on Survivor


What's in this episode?
Prof. Kelly Goldsmith, PhD brings her 20+ years of research into bite-sized and simple ideas that help you understand human behavior and better harness it to live a life with purpose. We start by discussing goals and why we usually don’t meet them: we have unrealistic timelines, we don’t make them quantifiable, and we just give up.

We also talk about happiness - more specifically - why we don’t try to be happy. Most people perceive happiness as something others can impact. When people perceive their level of happiness as something they can control, their overall measure of happiness improves.

Goldsmith specializes in scarcity - which is how consumers respond to not having enough. In this episode of AMPstigator, she applies her research in scarcity to a person’s fear of changing their lives or living with purpose.

She also discusses her 24-day stint on Survivor Season 3. Her account of getting on the show is laugh-out-loud funny and what it taught her about herself and others.


📝 Show Notes & Mentions 📝

Amy Cuddy, “Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges” Research in embodied cognition (fake it till you make it)

The Mere Urgency Effect


Connect with Prof. Kelly Goldsmith, PhD
TedX Talk:
Survivor stint:


(corresponding to the video version)

0:00 - Intro
1:02 - Kelly’s a researcher
4:13 - What research teaches us about a goal
7:50 - Making ephemeral goals quantifiable
9:05 - Research says this about your happiness
12:31 - Changing your attitude
13:21 - Upside and downside of “fake it till you make it”
15:53 - The benefit to having multiple “selves”
19:29 - Kelly’s research on scarcity
22:50 - How to apply the principles of scarcity to finding purpose
27:19 - What is Post-traumatic growth
32:19 - Kelly’s research brings more compassion
34:15 - Kelly’s hilarious story of being on Survivor in 2001
39:35 - Best time in her life
41:05 - Worst time in her life (getting her Masters and PhD)
44:25 - Greatest moment of clarity (how people “give to get”)
46:32 - Where Kelly struggles



Episode Transcript
- Kelly Goldsmith is a brilliant researcher in the space of marketing and human behavior. She was the person who helped America understand why we were hoarding toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. Yeah, it was her, her work, that helped us understand scarcity, and it helped people laugh at themselves in the midst of a really stressful situation, lockdown. I wanted her on AMPstigator because I wanted to understand what her research could teach us about ourselves. Why are we so afraid to step out and live with purpose? She explained it's all in how we're wired. So this is Kelly Goldsmith.

- Okay, so, Kelly Goldsmith.

- That's me.

- You are an amazing researcher.

- Aw.

- And I love all the things that you're doing, as it deals with human behavior and scarcity and how we can really understand who we are and why we do the things we do, the things that we just do and don't even realize we're doing it. But you have taken this whole thing in your life to say, "Yeah, okay, a lot of us are doing this particular thing. Why?" so I really wanna dig into your research today and specifically understand how we can take some of that and say, "Okay, all right, for any of us who wanna live a life with purpose, for any of us who want to choose something for ourselves that may feel against the grain, what are we going against in our own psyche and our own makeup to still have to overcome that and make it happen?" So I'm looking to you for all of the information.

- Oh, sure, I'm gonna solve all the problems. First of all, thank you interested in my research. As an academic researcher, oftentimes, you do all these experiments, and you publish in these elite academic journals, and no one reads them besides your mom. So it's very flattering to me that you read some of this and you care. It is very kind. Yeah, I got into the field in 2004 when I went and got my Ph.D. at Yale in behavioral decision theory, which is essentially... It's a lot like behavioral economics, but it's more geared towards taking an understanding of psychology and using it to better explain everyday choices and decisions that we make. So a lot of my early research was on goals specifically: "How can we stack the deck in our own favor with respect to pursuing our goals and staying motivated? And what gets us off track? And how do we stay on track?" That was of great interest to me. And then from there, once I got my first job, which was at the Kellogg School of Management, I moved into studying scarcity, how consumers respond to not having enough, which, I think, happens a lot, people. And I actually think it's interesting 'cause the longer I am in the field, the more I realize: I think scarcity and goals have a lot in common.

- Hmm.

- And I do think that one of the things that keeps us motivated is not having enough, not having enough of something: "I'm not strong enough. I'm not smart enough. I don't have the job I want. I don't have enough money in the bank." Those are the... That puts gasoline in the engine.

- So you call that scarcity.

- It is. It is scarcity. Scarcity is whenever you look at whatever you've got; could be... We mainly study quantifiable resources, like money or time, not ephemeral things like love or companionship.

- Right, right, right.

- But you look at your bank account, and you're like, "Okay, my goal was to have a million dollars in the bank by the time I was 40, and I'm looking at my bank account, and I've got $850,000 sitting there in a savings account."

- Wow.

- Wouldn't that be great? I don't.

- Can we trade?

- No, just send me checks, people. No, I would love that. It's @Kelly-Shriner on Venmo. No, anyways, so, you look at your bank account. Let's just say hypothetically you've got 850,000. Your goal was to have a million. It's that deficit that really motivates you to do something about it because we look at your bank account and your goal was to have a million and you've got 1.1 million. Why would you do anything? So I always try to convince people that feeling of scarcity, that feeling you don't have enough, it's really a goal with bad branding, right? So you're gonna have to dust off the bad feelings of "oh, I'm not where I wanna be" and actually use that to get you fired up and to get you motivated to close the gap.

- Okay, well, I feel like there's so much here. So let's kick it back to goals. Let's start there because people really understand goals. So if I say, "I wanna lose 10 pounds"... And this is just... I'm throwing it out, right? "I wanna lose 10 pounds six months from now." What is right or wrong with the goal that I just set? And what do I need to be thinking about to make it happen?

- There's a lotta factors, so I'll cover just a few of the big hitters. One thing is it's good to set a specific quantifiable goal, so saying you wanna lose 10 pounds is better than just saying, "I wanna lose weight" or "I wanna do my best to be healthy." It sounds nice to say I wanna do my best to be healthy, but that actually doesn't move the needle, in part 'cause you can't measure it, right? So a specific quantifiable goal, "I wanna lose 10 pounds in six months," you're already starting off in a pretty good place. But then what you really need to make sure you do is instead of responding to that goal as a threat, 'cause goals can be threatening-

- Yeah, they can.

- Of course, they can. You get on the scale. And you wanna see it 10 pounds lower, and some days, it's gonna go up despite all your best intentions, so rather than seeing it as a threat, which can lead to maladaptive responses, like compensatory consumption, so maybe you feel bad about yourself-

- I love how you say this in scientific terms.

- Well, but you know what I mean, right?

- I do. I do.

- You look at the scale, and you wanted it to go down, but it went up, and you don't know what happened 'cause you were on the Peloton: "Why me?" So rather than respond by doubling down on the goal, it can be tempting to say, "I need to feel better." And when we need to feel better, the things we do for mood repair are sometimes... They have deleterious consequences. That's fancy academic term to say they undermine our goals, right? So if I wanna feel better and therefore I drive to HiFi Cookies and eat three cookies-

- Are you speaking from experience.

- I'm speaking from personal experience just yesterday. That's gonna undermine my fitness goal. They taste delicious, it makes me feel better in the moment, but again, it hacks away at my long-term interests. So I think that's the real problem is it's not like... You already set a great goal, so the goal-setting piece you've got. Not everybody has that. You need think specific quantifiable goals that you can measure and track. The second part is not getting down, staying the course, 'cause one thing that's true... I know I'm talking on and on.

- I love it, by the way.

- You're very kind. I'm like, "God, this"-

- You are the one who talks in this. I talk very little. I'm gonna be hard to edit because I just won't stop. So one thing that's true about all people is that when we set goals, we tend to have unrealistic timelines because... And it's human nature. When we set a goal, we're not thinking about all the life stuff that's gonna get in the way. We're not thinking, "Oh, there's gonna be a carnival at my kid's school, and I'm gonna be pressured to eat a snow cone." We've not thinking there's gonna be a holiday party. You just don't think about all the life stuff, and because you don't think about the life stuff, you tell yourself, "Oh, this is gonna get done in the next six months," when in actuality, it might take longer. And when we don't see the progress we want, either 'cause weight is influenced by a lotta stuff and maybe it doesn't always go down even though we think it should, or when we don't see the progress we want in the timeline that we expect, it can be really demotivating. And a lotta times, that can lead us to give up, and therefore, that's bad, right?

- Yeah.

- Giving up is bad for goal pursuit. So I think really, the name of the game with goals is sticking with it and sticking with it having strategies for staying positive and remembering the goal and not interpreting it as threatening over the longer time course.

- Gosh, I feel like that becomes, then, this internal conversation that you have to have with yourself and almost an awareness with this kind of thing of knowing, "Okay, I see what I'm feeling right now," being able to recognize it, and being able to turn it... Identify it, and then be able to say, "Wait a minute," have the self talk almost like-

- It's hard.

- You are the coach of your own life and saying, "Wait a minute. We know this is happening, but we're gonna stay the course here." How do you apply that to, as you're saying, more ephemeral things, things that can't be measured? And do we try to make something quantifiable if it's not otherwise quantifiable?

- This is a really good question, and I think, 'cause... You take a problem like loneliness, which is a big issue in the United States. It's a big issue before the pandemic. It's a bigger issue after the pandemic. We have seen a massive increase in what they call these diseases of despair that are related to feeling lonely and socially isolated. And you can die from these things. So how do you tackle an issue like feeling lonely when you can't really set a specific quantifiable goal? I'm sure there's different schools of thought on this, and I'm gonna just give you mine, which is that it really is helpful to try to make it quantifiable, which is to say... And I honestly... It's a little embarrassing to admit, but I've done this. When I moved to Nashville, I didn't know anybody, right? And so I'd make a spreadsheet that was literally the names of all the people I had met, right? I still have this spreadsheet. It's a Google Doc. And it's "Nashville_Social." And then I would track. I'd write the dates that hung out with them like, "Actually, do I need to circle back?" or, if I'm feeling lonely, "Go look at the sheet. Who have you not talked to in six months? Send them a text." And it sounds goofy, and it is goofy, but honestly, it's hard to feel lonely when you've got a list of 20 people that you haven't texted in six months, right? That's on you. So I think with those more ephemeral things, one thing you can do is try to break them down and make them more quantifiable. Another thing that's really helpful... And we did this. I did some research on happiness. And what we found is a lotta people wanna be... Of course, everybody wants to be happy. Right? It's normal.

- Yeah. But people don't actually take steps to pursue happiness, in part... There's a variety of reasons. One is we think happiness is supposed to happen, and we don't think we're supposed to work for it. So that's one reason why people don't actually try to convert happiness. Another thing is people don't sit through and think about "okay, well, what can I do to make sure I'm happy? What are the daily"-

- People don't do that?

- They don't. They don't. They don't do these daily... We developed this process called the daily questions, and we did this study with tens of thousands of Fortune 500 employees by now. And they were asked to reflect every day on "did you do your best to be happy?" And we had this in contrast with the classic employee-engagement survey, which would ask you, "Are you happy at work?" And what we found is if you ask people, "Are you happy?" people tend to say, "No, no," right?

- "No."

- Because if you ask people, "Are you happy?" What... And it's really interesting me from the psychological perspective what comes to mind, 'cause if I ask you, "Are you happy?" or if you ask me, "Are you happy?" automatically, I start thinking, "Well, did I get any papers accepted? Did I get any validating emails? Did any students laugh at my jokes?" So it's almost like you look to the outside world for validation when we're thinking about if we're happy, which is weird because also we are people in the universe that have some control over this. So if you ask people instead, "Did you do your best to be happy?" people don't think about "oh, did I get that nice email?" or "did I get that compliment from a student?" What people think instead is "well, what did I do?"

- Yeah, it's an effort question.

- It's an effort question, and it's like... You look at your own behavior. So when we ask people, "Did I do my best to be happy?" almost nobody says, "10 outta 10." People really reflect, and they say, "Ya know, I knew I shoulda called my mom. It woulda made me feel great to hear her voice, and I'm gonna do it tomorrow." And we found those daily questions that ask people to introspect on if they did their best are very helpful for these more amorphous goals because it shifts your focus to the behaviors you can engage in to actually make progress towards them.

- Okay, so, this is really interesting, 'cause what I'm... What I'm getting from what you're saying is when you ask someone simply, "Are you happy?" it almost allows them to let others be in charge of that.

- Exactly! Exactly.

- But if it's "what did you do to try to be happy? What was your best to try to be happy," that does put the onus on self for self to execute and try to go after happiness.

- I think that's important.

- It's interesting.

- It's weird for these more amorphous goals that we don't automatically recognize ourselves as agents in constructing our own happiness when we are, right? We are the decision makers for the most part in terms of... You can't even... 'Cause I've dealt with people at companies where they say, "Well, I can't change what I do during the day. My day is very prescriptive, and I have to do all these tasks for work, so of course, I'm unhappy." And then my pushback is "well, you can change how you think about it. Or you can change what you're thinking about while you work on those tasks, right?" God knows there was a stage in my career when I had to suffer through infinity really long boring faculty meetings about things like the color of the chairs in the Ph.D.-student offices, things that were not super important in life. But what I would do is I would use that quality time to make myself a beautiful to-do list of thing that's we're gonna do after the faculty meeting. And it's not... I wasn't the most involved employee in those faculty meetings, but seriously, do you need 32 professors voting on the chair color for the Ph.D.-student room?

- No.

- You do not. So I changed what I was thinking about during the meeting, and I allowed myself to enjoy the time more.

- Is that... I'm wondering if that's quantifiable. I do agree with you that changing your attitude is everything, but I'm wondering what does the research say about changing our attitudes as it deals with any situation that we don't totally love or maybe don't think we have control over.

- I think it can be tough to measure changing your attitude, but it's much easier to measure changing your behavior. And I think changing your behavior changes your attitude.

- Oh, okay.

- You know what I mean?

- Yeah.

- So if you say, "Did you do your best to be happy?" and you think, "Urgh, during that faculty meeting, I was ruminating on how much I hated being there. And I was getting myself worked up in this negative state. Next faculty meeting, I'm going to make a list of all the old friends I need to get in touch with or something else during that time that's gonna make me feel a little more fulfilled," then I will end up happier if I actually follow through on those behaviors.

- I love what you're saying, because I do feel like there's a... I know I felt this for a while of "okay, I'm gonna fake it till I make it. Am I happy right now? No. Yeah, but I'm gonna have to be what I really want. I'm gonna have to act the way that I really want things to be. Act as if things are that way. And it almost feels like when you continually put yourself the act of putting yourself in that place, then you can then begin to believe what you're actually acting through." That's interesting.

- I think there's something to that. There's the Amy Cuddy research, and she has a book called "Presence," and she has one of the top TED Talks of all time. And she talks about this fake-it-till-you-make-it idea, and if you stand in the power pose, you feel more powerful. And she does have... Some of the data's a little shaky, but a lotta the data is good showing that it does... It's called embodied cognition. If I sit in a more expansive posture when I'm talking to you, I feel like I'm more in control of this interview, that kinda thing. I think there's something to that. So that's the fake-it... And her whole thesis was... She'd always felt insecure, so she was gonna fake it until she made it. And she had a dance background, so she used her body to sit in more powerful ways, and by doing so, she felt more powerful. She ends up being a professor at Harvard, has one of the most successful TED Talks of all time, best-selling book, so I guess she made it, right? So good... Hand... High five to Amy Cuddy. But the one downside, I would say, to this fake-it-till-you-make-it perspective is for some people, I have seen it where you feel like there's an offscreen/onscreen version of yourself. And that actually can get pretty depleting. If you feel like when you're at work, you're on stage and then when you come home, you're a different person, over time, that can feel like... Yeah, I know. See? Look at you. I'm looking right at you. It can feel... It kinda erodes your-

- It does.

- I don't know what to say, 'cause it's hard to manage. It's hard to manage.

- It is.

- It's hard enough to manage one self. So it's really hard to manage two selves, right? I've been the person, too, where I've got my work clothes and I've got my home clothes and I've got my weekend clothes. It's like-

- Well, and on top of that, you and I are the same in that we came... I guess we achieved things under our maiden name, kept our maiden name professionally, get married, but you also took on your married name. And so I actually... In addition to feeling like I'm two different people sometimes, I actually live with two different names. You know what I'm saying?

- Very stressful.

- I think for women who have done that, have their professional identity, have their mom identity, that does become... Because you start using your married name as it deals with your children, ya know?

- And then you're like, "Who am I today? I'm confused. What are you calling me?"

- [Lauren] I know. I know.

- It's batty.

- There's a lotta that, right?

- There's a lot.

- And that's depleting.

- It's depleting, and it's really interesting to me 'cause I've been a professor in a business school for infinity years, it feels like, but, I think, in actuality, like, 15 years. And the students, to me, today say different things than they did 15 years ago.

- Tell me more.

- Yeah, today, they say things like... Well, one of these students was talking about if he should take a job at a big famous company. And he said, "I'm just worried I can't bring my whole self to work." And I was like, "Oh my God, I can't even bring 10% of myself to work. What are you talking about?" What is this bring-my-whole-self-to-work idea, right?

- [Lauren] Wow.

- And I think the younger generation... And you're very young but younger than me-

- I'm not college-co-ed young, Kelly.

- Well, fair enough. But it seems like younger people have this idea that they want to be consistent. They wanna be authentic, and they wanna be the same person in all areas of life. I was never raised with that expectation. And I thought having this super-polished work self and a totally different home life was... Two different names, operating under two different identities, I thought that was fine, and so it's interesting for me to see that younger people now are moving away from that. And I think with respect to knowing who you are and feeling confident about who you are, there's a lot of benefits to just having one self. But also, secretly there's some cost because there is research showing that if you have... We're gonna call it multiple identities. That sounds a little bit like a psychiatric disorder.

- But we won't treat it as a disorder.

- [Both] It's not a disorder.

- But there is some research showing that for example, with undergraduates, if they have a strong social self and they have a strong academic self... Having these multiple different selves, if one of those selves takes a hit... If you get dumped and you're heartbroken but you have a strong academic self in undergrad, you respond a lot better and faster because you've got this other person that you can still be. It's not like your whole world is shattered. And the same is true the opposite way. You have strong academic self and strong social self. If you get terrible grades, at least you can... You've got friends, you know? And so there are benefits to literally feeling like you have separate identities, because if one takes a hit, you got somewhere else to go.

- Gosh, that's so interesting, too, because I feel like... I'm in my late 30s, and so now at this point, I have lots of friends who are having almost parallel paths where they're having amazing professional careers and then, at the same freaking time, some majorly detrimental situation in their marriage, ya know? So they're on these parallel paths, best year of their life professionally, worst year of their life personally. I'm hearing that research, and I'm thinking, "Wow, what does that do for us as adults when we're going, 'God, my marriage is failing,' or 'gosh, I'm about to lose my job, but hey, at least my kids are healthy'?" Where do we take that from this college study to, then, adult life?

- I definitely think there's something to that. I have seen... I've had million girlfriends with a million boy problems over the years, and I've definitely seen women who repeatedly date the wrong guy. And it's like...

- You've read this book before, girl.

- I've read this book. I could write this book myself, meaning we've seen... We've all seen this, right? You got the friend who repeatedly dates the wrong guy. At least in what I've observed, oftentimes, it's those women who are kicking butt in their careers. And it's in part because well, if this self is not panning out, I wanna do well at something, right? These are all smart capable talented people. If you're not gonna lean in this direction, you're going to lean in that direction. And it is, like I mentioned, this compensatory behavior. It is a little bit compensatory because if I... You don't have perfect control over your love life, right? So if you can't get where you wanna be in your love life, well, my professional career may be more under my control. I've got milestones. I've got goals. I've got a boss. I know what the boss wants to see. And so you can achieve over here.

- Right, that's really interesting. Let's talk about scarcity. I know a lot of your work came... It's been prominent for a while.

- You're sweet.

- But when COVID started, that became a thing.

- It did.

- You were interviewed all the time about scarcity.

- I was.

- Because God knows, everyone was buying toilet paper-

- I never thought-

- And everything else, right? Let's talk about scarcity as it deals with your research, and then we'll delve more into it.

- Yeah, so, I started studying... It's so funny looking back on it, because I started studying scarcity, really, in 2009-2010, which I considered coming out of the Great Recession, right? I thought it was important to understand what happened when everyday folks, whether or not their objective resource levels took a hit... Whether or not you actually lost your job or lost money, we were still constantly bombarded with these reminders that the world was running outta stuff. There weren't enough jobs. There wasn't enough money. There was climate change issues. And so how do these daily scarcity reminders affect our behavior? And so that was what I got interested in studying. And what we generally observed in our early work was that these reminders of resource scarcity, what we call resource scarcity... We call it a resource 'cause it's specific and quantifiable. These reminders of resource scarcity generally led to more selfish behavior. So if we brought our participants into the lab and had half of them think about not having enough of a specific quantifiable resource and the other half; they'd in the control condition; think about something else and then we had them divide up money between themselves and other participants and it was an anonymous thing where nobody was gonna know if they kept it all for themselves, the people who had thought about scarcity did keep more for themselves. Or if we had them do... In a different experiment, we gave everybody an extra dollar for showing up, and we asked them if they wanted to donate the dollar to UNICEF. And we found that people who had scarcity on their mind were more likely to keep the dollar for themselves and less likely to donate.

- Ne, ne, ne, ne, no.

- [Kelly] The children of Sudan-

- The dollar stays here.

- They can wait. The dollar stayed there. So that was how the research got started was basically this... Again, these were Northwestern undergraduates or online participants. And so what we found was with these populations, which... I call them everyday people 'cause they're not extreme in terms of their own resource levels. We found that these reminders of resource scarcity made them more self-focused. And pursued self-benefiting behavior is what we called it. And so that... We got the paper published, and it was great, and that was in 2015. And then the pandemic hits, and everybody's hoarding toilet paper. And I'm like the only... 'Cause it's funny 'cause by the time my paper got published in 2015, we would enter into the longest bull market of all time in the United States. So nobody cared about scarcity anymore, right? So I had to browbeat people to think this is remotely interesting. And I'm not even confident I persuaded my parents, right? I got it published, but I'm not sure anybody read it. Then the pandemic happened, and all of a sudden, it was like, "Oh, does anybody ever studies this?" And I was like, "It me. I did."

- [Lauren] "Pick me. Pick me."

- Yeah, so yeah, I did a ton of press around it, and it was... Nothing about the pandemic was cool, so I already am eating my words, but it was interesting for me as a researcher to see that we did find these "everyday people" when they had their everyday resources being threatened did protect themselves. And I think what, for me at least, was nice about having done the research is it was much harder for me to be judgemental about people during the pandemic no matter what they did, because I think, everybody was trying to cope. And people have different coping strategies based on their beliefs or based on what makes them feel better. And for some people, just knowing they've got enough toilet paper made them feel a sense of security. It was something they could control in these very bizarre times, right? So it was validating, I guess, to see the behavior actually map onto what we'd seen in the lab.

- Well, and I'm thinking, "Where else do we see scarcity?" Again, let's go to the things that are more amorphous. And what are the things that we are doing that are holding us back with this idea of scarcity? 'Cause I think of it as... For my purposes in what we're doing here, I'm trying to encourage people to live the life they're supposed to be living. So what is that? I can't tell you what that is. That's something you have to do through this deep introspective dive. But what keeps us from executing on that? Is it a scarcity issue where we think, "Hey, I can't go there because there might not be enough. There might not be money. There might not be security"?

- Yes, all the things.

- What is that?

- Okay, first of all, that deep introspective dive, people are not into doing that for the most part, for a variety of reasons. One, what if they find something hideous about themselves? Spoiler alert, you won't, right? But a lotta people have that worry: "If I like"... You have kids, right? When I had kids, they do all these scans and blah, blah, blah. And I swear to God, I was concerned they'd... "What if they find my car keys?" You worry when they start doing all these scans, "What if there's something in there that's not supposed to be there." Same with this-

- Wait; it's so funny to hear someone who thrives on information be afraid of information.

- But I am, right? And I think it's especially true in domains where we don't feel like we have control. Pregnancy's a good example because-

- [Lauren] Oh yeah, your body does what it does.

- Yeah, your body is doing what it... Which is terrifying for a type-A control freak like myself. It's gonna be what it is. Gonna make the baby it makes. It's gonna take the time that it takes. That is the deal.

- And you're gonna be okay with it.

- And you're gonna sit there and take it. No, it's terrifying. So again, I was trying to control what I could control, which, I'm sure, manifested all kinds of insane behavior. Apologies to my husband. I was really worried about... More information was scary. And information can be scary, especially when it's those dark recesses of your brain where you don't know what you're gonna find. And what if you discover you married the wrong person? Or what if you discover that you pursued the wrong career? That's threatening, right? So number one, there's the problem that people are scared of what they're gonna find. Number two, there's the issue that this deep introspective dive does take resources in terms of time, time and effort and energy.

- And money. And it can take money.

- It can take money. It can take all the things, right? And so it's really easy to push off those types of activities when you've got things right in front of you that need your time or your money or your energy. And I think there's good research by Meng Zhu and Chris Hsee and other people that do the same kind of a research that I do that shows that we prioritize urgency over importance.

- 1,000%

- Right, they call it the mere urgency effect. Even stuff that is really trivial, if we feel "oh gosh, well we gotta get... This thing has to get done today," you're going to prioritize that. And everybody's life... I hate to break it to you. I'm sure you know this, but your life will always have fires to put out. It is what it is. So in order to allow yourself to do that kinda deep dive, you have to make peace with the fact that you're gonna have to slow down your response time on the fires, which is threatening, and devote some cognitive energy and effort to this self-focused pursuit. So that's another reason why, I think, it's hard to kickstart the introspective journey. And then also... That's the big pieces, but there's also the how piece. I have seen people, dear friends, family members, who wanted to find their true purpose, and they don't know where to begin with the actual steps you can take. Now, I will say in this day and age where we have increased access to information, you could get every book on audiobook and stream it while you're multitasking. There's ways to get access to great minds who will break it down for you about how you can do that type of introspection. There's workbooks. There's all kinds of stuff. But you gotta go out there. and I think people worry sometimes, especially when they're getting started. I had a good friend, really good friend, super-smart girl, super successful career-wise, who wanted to go on this journey. But she was like, "Well, if I pick the wrong workbook, then I'd get the wrong answer."

- I'll get the wrong result.

- Yeah, and "I ruin everything. I'll leave my husband and quit my job and end up goat farming in Brazil if I do it wrong." I would say we need to demystify that. I don't think that's accurate. And also, I don't think... Whatever you uncover, it's not a dictate. That's another thing, right?

- Right, right, right. Take it if it works for you, and if it doesn't, that's fine.

- Yeah, let it fall away. Right, absolutely.

- Let it fall away. I think it's interesting, too, the way the pandemic has affected so many of us. It has forced introspection because it took everything away. There was zero urgency. Think about the only other time in our lives where we've had nothing on our calendar. I have a distinct memory of this magnet calendar we keep on the fridge, and I was erasing it, and I was going, "Wow, there's literally nothing on here." So I think for the first time for many of us, we had to... The only thing we could do was re-evaluate life. But I feel like some of that trauma causes growth.

- Oh, 100%, yeah.

- Are you seeing a difference, almost, in people now as opposed to before?

- I think that the short answer is yes. It's complicated, but this notion of post-traumatic growth is real. And I don't think it gets enough airtime. And I think we see... One more obvious way that we see this manifest is this notion of the Great Resignation, that a lotta people quit their jobs, and the job market, the labor market, has shifted completely. You go to high-end restaurants, and they seat half the tables 'cause they don't have enough wait staff 'cause people quit those jobs. There's a huge issue with nursing. There's a huge issue with teachers. There's a huge issue with police officers. A lot of people have quit their jobs. I think the most straightforward explanation is when you take a step back and do some introspection, they realized it wasn't for them. Even though the Great Resignation has been problematic with respect to workforce management, I also think it's good for people to take that step back and have that pause and evaluate if they like what they're doing or if they wanna make a change. I think that's the most obvious example we've seen post-pandemic of people operating a little bit differently.

- Yeah, where they're asking themselves the questions. I think that's so interesting. What else do you think isn't getting enough... You're saying the post-traumatic growth isn't getting enough airtime. What else are you thinking needs to be part of the conversation that's not?

- Well, I think post-traumatic growth as it... I've studied it in the context of scarcity. A lot of good things can come from not having enough, which is why I think that scarcity is just a goal with bad branding. That feeling that we don't have enough because there's not enough toilet paper on the shelves or because we had a financial goal and we are below it or because whatever our thing that we wanna achieve is... That feeling of not having enough can feel so bad that... And there's a million fires to put out, so we're focused on the fires, and we have this lingering sense of a lack of achievement that can stay with us for a really long time. And so I think it's really great. Anything that you could do or I can do to help people actually stare that in the face and realize it doesn't have to be so scary... And it doesn't have to be a bad thing. All it is is a call to action. All it is is some recess of your brain telling you that there's something you wanna do or something you wanna achieve and you're not there yet. So do it.

- So do it. Don't be afraid.

- Don't be afraid.

- Look it in the face.

- And the fires are the fires. One thing people don't do enough is enlist social support: friends or spouses or co-workers or family members, whatever it may be. If your life that's in front of you is truly out of your control, try to get some help, and if you can't get some help, take this thing in the back of your mind, stare it in the face, and break it down into specific concrete actions that you can take that will make you feel like you're making progress. Put them in a spreadsheet, or make a to-do list, or put it in a journal, whatever. Get it out of your head, and get it on paper. Those kinda things will make you feel better. I actually think that achieving your goals sometimes doesn't feel as good as being empowered to acknowledge them and actually write down the steps and then evaluating if that goal really even means something to you. What I'd love for people to be able to start to get rid of is that lingering sense of not having enough

- It's an albatross, too.

- It is.

- It just hangs, and-

- It's not doing you any favors just sitting there making you feel bad about yourself. I think we can turn it into something good or we can stare it in the face and realize we don't care about it and say goodbye. But don't let it sit there and torture you.

- Yeah, I'm glad you say that. And something, too, that I'm thinking as I'm listing to you is this realization. Maybe this has come with age, this realization that I'm not the only one who feels that way.

- No, everybody feels that way.

- All of us have something that's lingering, that's sitting on our shoulder. Can I tell you one of the things that I've been working on, but I haven't even been working on it. And you just saying that makes me think I need to do this. I am chronically three, four, and five minutes late. And it really bothers me. It's only five minutes. Why can't I just leave my house five minutes earlier? And instead of actually turning around and looking at it in the face and being like, "I can actually address this. I am powerful enough to."

- You can do it.

- I can make one choice, and I can do it, but I'm letting it linger. And literally, every time I leave my house, I look at the clock, and I'm like, "What am I doing?" What am I doing? Why am I doing this to myself when I could make a simple choice. Obviously, that's really simple and really easy to control.

- No, but it's... No, I like that.

- There's much bigger stuff.

- But I like that because it's something you can change.

- It is. It absolutely is. And I think your thinking of that as a call to action is a great way to look at it instead of feeling the weight and crumbling under the weight of things that we feel like we either need to do or the weight of things we haven't done or need to do. I almost wonder, too, if your research has allowed you to give more people more grace when you start to say, "Wow, okay, we're all this way."

- Yes, unfortunately, for how I... I was a reality TV-show contestant, right? So I self-identified as being manipulative and understanding... And I'm a marketing Ph.D. I sell stuff, right? So I'm an evil scientist. That was a big part of my identity. And fortunately or unfortunately, through studying scarcity, I have developed what I consider to be an insane amount of empathy with people. And so now I do find it... Here's the upside. Though I had to say goodbye to my reality TV-show evil-scientist identity, the upside is I don't get mad at people anymore, because I do feel like everybody's just doing their best and everybody's living their values and everybody's trying to be a good person. And if somebody is a jerk in the parking lot, it's probably because they've got something on their shoulder that's nagging at them and this trip to the grocery store was too much. I can't be mad at people anymore, and I think in terms of my day-to-day... I am unambiguously a happier person because I'm not mad at anybody anymore. As I used to go through life, I'd be judging people's motives, and then I'm, "Let that go." Again, it's sad that I could no longer be an evil scientist.

- Do you think most people are good?

- I do. I think almost everybody's good. You can look at the base rates on... Sociopathy in the population's tiny, so in general, most people are good. It's that the behaviors they engage in to make it through their own day are different person to person. And sometimes, they're hard to understand if what they need to make it through their day makes no sense to us. If we view it at a surface level, it can be difficult, but if you actually think it through, we're all trying to be people in a very confusing universe where lots of stuff is out of our control, and it's hard. Yeah, most people are good.

- Just briefly, tell me how you got on "Survivor" and how you lasted so long.

- God, I didn't last that long. I got on "Survive." This was back in the day.

- It's, like, 20 years ago, right?

- It was totally 20 years ago. It was 21 years ago.

- [Lauren] Wow.

- I was an undergrad, and I was obsessed with season one 'cause again, I'd, even from a young age, identified as this evil-scientist type. I was obsessed with the behavioral implications, and I was obsessed specifically about who got voted off and why and the social dynamics. I was really into it. But that was season one, right? Now they have, like, 42 seasons or something. I thought I was an expert 'cause I watched one season, which is now hilarious. I watched season one diligently. but again, back in the day, there was no... I didn't record the episodes and rewatch them, that kinda thing, which people do nowadays, right? People really are experts.

- Oh, wow.

- It's crazy. I was a... Relative to what people who are fans today do, I was a very casual fan. I watched the episode when it came on on television on CBS on Thursday nights, and that was it. I watched season one. I watched season two. And I would've applied for season two, but I was too young 'cause at the time, you had to be 21 to apply. So I applied for season three. I'm gonna tell you the long version of the story. Apologies for the edit on this. In season two, 'cause I'd been tracking some of the writings 'cause I was trying to be manipulative and schemy... And so in season two... It was still the number-one show in the country, but the first time the ratings took a dip was when Jerri Manthey was voted out. And Jerri Manthey was the "bitch" of the season, so I was like, "Okay, perfect, they're gonna oversample bitches in the next season 'cause they know that's what's selling. So if I come out swinging like I'm this hideous bitch, boom, I'm getting on the show." And that was good for me because I couldn't sell... I can't sell girl next door. I can't sell athlete at all. I'm wildly unathletic. I'm not a camper. I'd nothing going for me. So I'm like, "Bitch, I can do that, right? I can lean in." So I made this video in my cheerleading uniform with a T-shirt that said, "I make boys cry." And I was hideous, so bratty. And I was a Duke undergrad. I was privileged and bratty and terrible. And I'm grateful that that's no longer on the internet.

- Well, and you did that on purpose, right?

- I did.

- But you sold it as "this is who I really am."

- Correct, yeah. When I tell people... I talk to a lotta people who wanna go on the show now, and I always tell people there's getting on the show and being on the show. Getting on the show, you have to sell a character. Being on the show, you can do whatever you want. So that was my route to get... I wasn't actually that hideous in real life. I was a little hideous but not that bad.

- [Lauren] Marginally hideous.

- Marginally hideous, Duke University-sorority-girl level hideous. No shade, girls. You're lovely now. But this is... Cut it back to the '90s. Anyways, I was a little hideous but not too bad. Portrayed, though, I leaned heavy on hideous. I made it past the first interview, but oh my God, I was really trying. Every question they asked me, I was like, "What would a bitch say?" I was trying so hard.

- This is acting. This is acting 101.

- It was like acting. I wore a dress I'd worn to my sorority formal and a diamond necklace to apply for "Survivor." It was ridiculous, right? But I made it past the first round. And then they flew me out to CBS for the second round of interviews. And you were there for, like, two weeks, and you're doing all this psych testing, which is crazy. I don't know if they still do that now, but it was a long process back in the day. But it was the number-one show in the country. So I'm doing all this psych testing and the psychologist guy takes me aside. I think he felt sorry for me 'cause he was from San Diego and his kids went to school where I'd gone to school. So he was trying to be nice. And he is like, "Okay, good news, bad news. Good news, you're not a bitch. Bad news, you're not gonna get on the show." So he said, "Look, if you were bitchy, you would be testing differently. You're not selling this anymore. So I'm gonna give you a tip. Of all the people that are left in the mix, you have the highest IQ, so why don't you lean in to being a nerd?" And I was like, "On it." It just so happened. I had built out this predictive model on Excel 'cause you see the other people auditioning. So I'd built out this predictive model to try to predict how long people were gonna last in the game with all these cells in the spreadsheet. And for my next interview when I was there, I was like, "Look, guys, this is why I'm gonna win. And there's all this math behind it."

- Wow.

- And they were totally like, "Oh no, she seemed to... She did a lot of homework, so we should just put her on the show." So they forgave me for not being bitchy, and I got on by being nerdy, which was good 'cause I could sell that too. Nerds aren't expected to be able to run very fast, so I leaned into that.

- I love everything about that. How many days did you last?

- I was on it 24 days out of 36, which is a scientific miracle. I'm asthmatic. I hate camping. It was a bad... Again, I was really into this psychology piece because none of the rest of it was compelling to me at all. But yeah, no, 24 days. I will say in terms of where you find resources of strength, being on my favorite TV show as a kid, as someone who was 21 years old, they coulda made it much harder, and I still would've been like, "Yay!" So I was very happy to be there. I loved everything about it. I loved seeing the cameras and seeing behind the scenes. If they had said, "Okay, you're not on the show, but you can be a PA, and we're pay you $0," I would've been like, "Sure." It was just... Seeing the behind-the-scenes part was awesome.

- You're like, "Can I get a T-shirt? Can you sign it?"

- Literally, so happy, the nerdiest fan to be there. So that part was really fun.

- Okay, I can't let you go without asking you the series of questions I have to ask everybody when they're on this show.

- Let's do it.

- Okay, well, it's a game, but it's not really a game, but it is a game, maybe your kind of game.

- [Kelly] I'm excited.

- This is not quantifiable. It is totally just whatever you wanna answer. When was the best time in your life?

- I have to say the best time in my life is... So this depends on how you define best time in your life. Is it what's the most meaningful? Is it when I was the most happy? I would say when I was the most happy, pure unadulterated joy, other than having my kids... I love my kids, but there's also drama with kids, right?

- Yeah.

- So that's hard to describe as pure unadulterated joy. I was really happy in high school, which I know is not everyone's answer.

- No.

- But I freaking loved every minute. I loved the SAT test. I loved being on the yearbook. I loved doing the plays. I was class president. I loved everything.

- Stakes are low in high school, really low.

- I loved it. I loved it. And I feel blessed that I got to have such a positive high school experience, 'cause I know a lotta people don't. But I was in Southern California. It was sunny. I was blonde. It was great.

- I feel like that makes you a less-than-one percenter. You know, we usually think of it as a financial thing. I think, to me-

- Having a good high school experience?

- Yeah, you're like a one percenter.

- I do feel really fortunate, though there's cost to that, too, 'cause you assume the rest of your life is gonna be that blessed. And then you realize you're just a normal, everyday human. So that was a bit of a comedown, but no, high school was a lot of joy.

- All right. When was the worst time?

- The worst time for me was probably... Tough call 'cause basically, after high school, it was all downhill from there. But I would say grad school... After college was, in general... The age of 22, honestly to, like, 30 was hard. After I did "Survivor," I moved to Los Angeles. One of my best friends passed away. That was really hard, having my best friend die so young and all the stuff she missed out on. And then I went to grad school almost immediately after that, and grad school for me, 'cause again, I thought I was the shit because in high school I'd been good at everything. And then I get my Ph.D. at Yale where I'm taking econ classes. This shows you my hubris. I took econ classes with Ph.D.-level econ students at Yale. I had never taken econ 101 as an undergrad, so I knew nothing.

- Nothing.

- And they were geniuses, so I immediately get there, and I go from feeling like... Secretly, I felt I hit a triple, but in actuality, I was born on third base in some ways. So I get there, and I'm like, "Oh my God, I was born on third base. I definitely did not hit a triple. This is terrible. I know nothing. It was a massive crash." I was able... There was times when I thought I was gonna get kicked outta grad school 'cause I was doing bad at everything, and that was not for lack of effort. And so that was really hard on my self-esteem and hard on my self-concept 'cause I had always thought I was smart and talented and here I was being anything but. So that was really hard, really negative, but I did find a way. I did find a way, but it was hard.

- When was a turning point for you, a point where you say, "Wow, everything in my life changed after this."

- Oh my goodness, there's been multiple turning points. I will say... I don't know if this just top of mind 'cause it's been more recent, but I was promoted to full professor almost a year ago now.

- At Vanderbilt.

- At Vanderbilt, And as a professor, getting a job is a big deal. And then getting tenure is a big deal. And then getting be a full professor's a pretty big deal. But then there's no more promotions, right? And so I got promoted to full professor, and I will say it was a turning point in the sense that prior to that, everything was so "well, how's this gonna affect the letters people write for me when I come up for promotion?" or "how are my teaching ratings gonna affect what my colleagues think of me?" It was all very... I wanna say audience focused. It was all thinking about how other people would react to my professional decisions rather than doing whatever I wanted. You don't become an academic for the money. A lotta people become an academic to maximize their personal freedom. And I'd never done that 'cause I'd always been so focused on the next goal and a lot of the way you get where you wanna be is by having other people like your research or like your teaching or like you. So like we talked about with two different identities, it was a very thoughtful identity construction. So once I got promoted to full and I realized I'm never gonna have people write me letters again ever-

- But you also don't need it anymore.

- I don't 'cause there's no more promotions, right? I don't know. I think it's been a real turning point in the way I think about my work, 'cause now it's like whatever I take on, I have to take it on 'cause I like it. And that's good. I think it's good.

- Do you have a moment of clarity in your life where you're like, " Everything makes sense now"?

- That has happened a few times. I will say... I'm like, "Which one should I talk about," 'cause as a researcher, you uncover some of these seminal findings in psychology, and you're like, "Oh my God, understanding other people makes so much more sense." When I started studying resources, I will say, and norms of reciprocity and how people give to get and why that's oftentimes... It's just a part of how we socialize, right? And I started... It really changed the way I view a lotta social interactions because a lot of social interactions, even with friends, there's this implicit "you came to my birthday party, so now I have to go to your birthday party." There's a lot of implicit norms of reciprocity.

- Does that make you angry? 'Cause that kinda makes me angry in some ways. I'm like, "I didn't... Nah, argh. I... You don't have to do that. That's not why I did that."

- Yeah.

- I think there is give-to-get in a lot of situations. A lotta times in a lot of situations, it makes me like, "Stop, stop, stop."

- I don't know.

- "Just give" or "let me just give." I'm not trying to...

- Yeah, well, it's like when someone always wants to give you a present and you're like, "I did this to be nice. Stop. Don't give me that present." I don't know. I think for me, understanding that... And I think a lot of it, though, is we don't even know we're doing it, right? We don't even know we're giving back because someone gave to us. It feels so natural. It's such a part of how we're socialized. I don't know. It's one of those things that made me less judgmental of a lotta social dynamics because I think it's really baked into our culture. And once you accept that, it's like, "Okay," ya know?

- All right.

- I get asked to do... People do me favors, and then I feel like, immediately, they ask me to do them a favor, and it used to annoy me, but now I'm like, "Ya know, this is the way the cookie crumbles. You don't take the favor if you can't give it back." And so that, I think, has actually been... It's been helpful for me.

- Yeah, that's so interesting, too, because you are such a data-focused, numbers-focused person, then to see the fleshing out of the understanding of that data and how it's helped you almost understand the world differently or view people differently. What is something about your nature you've either overcome or you continue to overcome?

- Oh my goodness. I am not... The list is long. One thing that I still struggle with is talking too fast.

- I don't think that's a struggle, though. I love fast talkers, just so ya know.

- I appreciate it, so I'm only gonna talk to you henceforth. I'm really big on inclusion, and I think it's one of those things where this push towards diversity, equity, inclusion has obviously accelerated in the recent years, and I've always been a huge advocate for it, or at least I thought I was. And then you start seeing what you do and actually viewing it through a new lens and asking yourself, "Is what I do truly inclusive?" And one thing is I've always gotten feedback from my international students that I'm hard to understand in class 'cause I talk so fast, and I was... It's really hard for me not to talk fast. For me to talk at a normal speed feels like I'm talking down to people, and so I never changed that even though I knew it was a problem for international students, because I was like, "This is who I am, guys," right? Now I'm trying to be more thoughtful about it 'cause they're right. It's not inclusive if you're speaking in a way that alienates people in your class.

- I get that.

- So that's something that I'm working on, in general, being more inclusive and thinking about where other people are coming from and also recognizing... Again, when you're born on third base and think you hit a triple, you have a skewed perception of how the world works. Recognizing that everybody's coming from a different place and trying to be more aware of the privileges that I've had and, I guess, finding new ways to give back to help other people have more privileges .

- What is your purpose?

- Oh my God, girl. My main purpose is to make it to breakfast. Hmm, what's my purpose? Honestly, I'm pretty purpose agnostic. I'm pretty okay not having a purpose right now. It used to really bother me. I went through a phase where I'm like, "On my tombstone, is it gonna say, 'Here lies Kelly Goldsmith, marketing professor'? What does that even mean?" And in my older years, I've gotten okay with that. Maybe my purpose is to be a marketing professor. I spend a lotta my time trying to help people have a little-bit-better life, and I'm fine with that.

- [Lauren] I love that. Kelly, thanks for being here.

- Thanks for having me. Here lies Kelly Goldsmith, marketing professor. 

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