The Psychology of Change-making

Nathaniel BarrSt. Paul's GreenHouse

I was fortunate to join the GreenHouse group in early September in an attempt to impart some wisdom from a psychological perspective as to how to realize their dreams of becoming successful and influential innovators solving real and important social and environmental problems.

On each day, we focused on different levels of analysis. On Day 1, we focused on the micro-level processes that underlie creative thought and social innovation. On Day 2, we focused on the macro-level processes that relate to success and happiness.

A major focus was understanding thinking in terms of representations and processes. In such a conception, creation of novel solutions becomes a matter of having lots of knowledge (i.e., representations) that we think deeply about (i.e., process). To maximize this process, one must optimize learning and cognitive function through strategies and lifestyle, and we discussed the means by which to do one's best. Diet, exercise and time in nature all benefit the sub-processes that together comprise human thought.

By understanding these principles, one can attempt to exploit the principles of learning, attention, and memory to their benefit -- to make the most of one's mind by understanding how it works.

Another critical component of understanding how to be successful comes from work on happiness, which shows that rich interpersonal inter-connections drive not only social success, but also is related to earnings and other indices of well-being. Happiness is love.

We also discussed the fact that failure is a necessary pre-requisite for success in nearly all facets of life, and how understanding this fact allows us to carry on and try again. We also talked about the fragility of life and consciousness, and the idea that we are so extremely lucky to have a chance to take on the problems facing the world.

By understanding the precious nature of life, one can attempt to make the most of one's time and life and the students at GreenHouse are ready to do just that.

We discussed what we already know, what we plan to learn, how we will go about spending our lives, and perhaps most importantly, talked about what life means to us and made personal commitments to honour the true meaning in our lives.

Together, knowledge of the micro- and macro-level determinants of creativity, thinking, success, and happiness will hopefully aid the achievement of the inspirational ambitions of the students at GreenHouse.

Nathaniel Barr is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo working primarily with the Vision and Attention Lab and the Laboratory for Research in Reasoning and Decision Making. His primary areas of interest are reasoning, memory, attention, motivation, and creativity. You can get in touch with Nathaniel at:

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