Call me sick and twisted, but one of my favourite psychological studies found that many people would rather give themselves
electric shocks than sit alone and unstimulated for up to 15 minutes.
The research, published in 2014, nicely illustrates how painful it can be to experience your own thoughts and emotions without anything to distract you. It’s part of the reason why meditation is so hard for so many people (including me): You can’t escape yourself.
And while meditation per se isn’t necessary to be a fully functioning person, that process of getting to know yourself just might be.
One of the best strategies? Mindfulness, which means being aware of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and environment, and accepting your thoughts and feelings without judging them.
In other words, Konnikova said, you want to get really good at observing and understanding your emotions. That’s because con artists will seize on those moments when you’re emotionally vulnerable — so you need to be able to identify when you’re in that state and not get caught up in it.
As Konnikova told Business Insider’s Richard Feloni in March:
“There’s one thing in particular that makes anyone, intelligent or not, a good victim. And that isn’t a personality trait. It’s not a demographic trait. It’s a situational kind of thing: Where are you at this point in your life? People who are going through life transitions become more emotionally vulnerable and con artists can spot that.”
The con artist, Konnikova said, often succeeds because they’re selling meaning and certainty at a time in your life when you’re feeling uncertain. And unfortunately, it’s really difficult to know when you’re getting scammed.
That’s where mindfulness comes in.
Here’s what Konnikova told Altucher:
“The number-one thing is trying to take a step back from your emotion. Our world is clouded by our emotions — how we’re feeling, how someone makes us feel, how a situation makes us feel, how we’re just generally feeling that today. …
“[Con artists] play on that. They actually excite your emotions. They are very good at eliciting certain feelings which then cloud your judgment. … The second you’re emotional, you’re no longer logical. You’re no longer reasonable.”
So how do you become more mindful and more attuned to your own emotional experience?
Konnikova said she personally meditates for about 10 minutes a day, which can be helpful.
She also recommends one simple but challenging experiment: Go for an hour-long walk in nature … without your phone.
Konnikova said you might initially experience a moment of panic. But ultimately the experiment will show you what it’s like to really be alone with you.
“Mindfulness isn’t just noticing things about the environment,” she told Altucher. “It’s noticing things about yourself. It’s being able to pay attention to your thoughts, what’s going on inside your head, how you’re feeling, to actually read your own body and your own emotions.”
When you become adept at pinpointing your psychological and emotional states, you’re less susceptible to the work of a con artist.
As Konnikova said, “The only way that you can then account for [your emotions] and that you can make accurate judgments is if you are able to understand yourself.”
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