Archives for May 27, 2018

These Subtle Psychological Hacks Keep Japan’s Trains Running Smoothly

Japan’s trains, including local commuter systems and longer-distance routes that span most of the country, are frequent objects of admiration for their speed, efficiency, and almost excessive timeliness. The system’s overall effectiveness depends in large part on Japan’s unique geography and some very smart alignment between transportation and real estate planning. But on a day-to-day (or minute-to-minute) basis, some fascinating psychological tricks also help keep things running smoothly.

According to CityLab, Japan’s trains rely heavily on so-called “nudge theory,” or small signals that almost unconsciously influence riders’ behavior, keeping foot traffic moving smoothly through crowded stations. These go well beyond the basics of clear boarding indicators, well-designed maps, and fully audible announcements—which too many U.S. transit systems already have trouble executing.

For example, Japanese train systems use calming melodies to signal departures instead of harsh buzzers, which studies have shown prevent injuries by keeping passengers from rushing. Slightly more Machiavellian is the use of ultrasonic sound, inaudible to older passengers, to disperse crowds of potentially disruptive teenagers.

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The use of subtle nudges also extends to train operators, who are expected to gesture with their hands and state any intended action out loud. That increases mental engagement and decreases operating errors.

Much more serious is the use of calming blue lights on certain parts of platforms, which have been shown to reduce suicide attempts by people jumping in front of trains. Suicide in general is a major social problem in Japan, and suicides by train also cause frequent, serious disruptions to the otherwise smoothly operating system.

Preventing small or large disruptions is crucial to the efficient functioning of mass transit—just ask any New Yorker who has ever boiled with rage when new passengers cram into a subway car without letting exiting riders off first. But for American supporters of mass transit, such refinements may take a back seat to the chronic underinvestment that has left systems including the New York subway and Amtrak an increasingly unsafe and inefficient mess.

I Haven't Eaten for 3 Days and It's Amazing

I love food, but I have eaten nothing and drank only water for the past 72 hours.


Partly because I kept hearing from friends and the media that they enjoyed fasting. Since swimming across the Hudson River, I’ve shifted my life from analyzing and planning–what decades of school taught me to do–to experimenting.

I’ve found experimenting improved my life more so I keep practicing.

My motivation

The 4 main appeals to me of a 3-day fast were

  • New experiences: A friend told me day 3 of his 3-day fasts made him feel amazing and I wanted to experience it.
  • Delicious: Many sources told me the first meal after a long fast tasted indescribably amazing. I love food and I love delicious, so I wanted to experience what could only come this way.
  • Curiosity: I grew up hearing of one-day fasts were very hard–I thought bordering on impossible. My hunger overwhelmed me skipping one meal.
  • Vanity: I won’t lie. As I’ve become more fit I’ve found I enjoy the definition on my abs.


Many people claim fasting gives health benefits. I don’t believe any of the health claims from people saying it detoxes, extends life, or similar claims. I don’t disbelieve them. I just don’t find their evidence compelling.

I enjoy watching many videos and reading many posts by people saying they could feel the toxins exiting their bodies and such, but I found this WebMD post, Is Fasting Healthy, most compelling, which said most evidence was inconclusive.

I did find their subjective descriptions of their experiences compelling.

They also made me not afraid of taking a risk with their diversity in age, sex, fitness, and every measure that seemed relevant. Many drank only water for a week or more.

How hard could 3 days be?

One man didn’t eat for over a year, though under medical supervision and he took supplements, just not macronutrients. He started at 456 pounds and my body fat is probably in the low teens, so I have less spare fuel, but I found people with less body fat than me enjoyed their experiences.

The idea seemed mind-blowing

I grew up thinking that 1-day fasts, which people do for religion all the time, were nearly impossible. Hearing that people drank only water for days and weeks seemed impossible.

I’ve learned that believing something is impossible that people do means my belief is wrong. It points to an opportunity for growth.

I get hungry after a few hours. How could I make 72 of them?

A 24-hour test

Hearing random people doing 3 days, I tried one day a few weeks ago. It turned out easy.

I felt shockingly unremarkably normal. Most of the hunger and temptation passed. I was used to hunger subsiding on a few-hour scale. It ebbed and flowed over 24 hours, but no steady rise.

Then I looked for a 3-day period without obligations and before my summer farm share deliveries began on June 5. From then until Thanksgiving, the deliveries flood me with vegetables and fruit too delicious to let go to waste.

It was difficult to find time without food-related activities or other occasions I didn’t want to risk having no energy for. The holiday weekend gave me freedom.

My 72-hour results

It was easy! That it was even possible seemed unbelievable a couple months ago.

I became conscious of many mindless eating patterns.

I became enabled to act against mindless eating habits. I thought I was helpless about many of them. I’m not.

The motivational and emotional skills underlying eating habits underlie many habits. I’m now aware and starting to become experienced in developing and using those emotional skills. I expect I can apply them throughout life.

Hunger passes, though not as much as the videos and posts I read said. Many hours would pass without me noticing I hadn’t eaten in a while.

Since I think about food a lot when I’m eating normally, I’d estimate that I thought about the same or maybe less about food while fasting.

I went outside more. I love eating and my kitchen has delicious food in it, so I decided to go outside more. I got plenty of work done and enjoyed the beautiful weather. I didn’t miss the time I missed in front of a screen.

Not much fat loss. I don’t have a scale or calipers, so I haven’t measured with tools so I’m just gauging by pinching around my belly button and looking in the mirror. My skin feels thinner and my abs show more definition, but not that much difference.

Not much muscle loss. I continued my twice daily burpee-based calisthenics unchanged (3×9 sets of burpees, stretches, and exercises for abs, back, and arms). They make me sweat and out of breath all the time. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to continue them, but I didn’t have to reduce them at all.

The big results

I experienced that it’s not that big a deal.

Why is it not being a big deal my big result?

My horizons were constrained by inexperience. Experience expanded my horizons and therefore my abilities.

I felt helpless to resist food for even one or two meals before. I could do it, but it felt hard.

I just skipped 9 meals and could go longer. I’m more able than I thought. I found I can sit around food for days and choose not to eat it with zero problems.

The skills and abilities that I applied to fasting I can apply to anything requiring similar skills, which exist everywhere in life, not just food.

It reinforced how life-changing activities are under my nose all the time. I found that trend in getting rid of stuff, swimming across the Hudson, performing on stage, trying open mike stand-up comedy, and so on.

I didn’t have to fly to India, jump out of a plane, or even leave my neighborhood.

It cost me zero in time, money, or other resource. I saved money and gained productivity, actually.

Will I do it again? Probably every now and then. I entered this time full of anxiety, which I expect will decrease in future times.