The Freakonomics Lifestyle: Tips from the Bestsellers Authors

The Freakonomics guys on how to think crazy-smart

Illustrations by Philippe Biancotto/Figarophoto/Contour Style/Getty

You can’t accuse the Freakonomics dudes of thinking small. Starting with their original 2005 mega-bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores Life, Steven D. Levitt (the rogue economist) and Steven J. Dubner (the journalist) have created a Freaking empire: an equally titanic follow-up book, a movie, a radio show, a magazine column, a blog, maybe even a Freakonomics Seder plate. All of it is based on a few deceptively simple ideas:

• Things are not what they seem to be.

• Conventional wisdom is usually wrong.

• There’s a hidden side to everything.

With all of that Freaky brand expansion, one thing was missing: a way to make those ideas work in your everyday life. Until now. Their new book Think Like a Freak takes the pair’s ethos straight into the realm of self-help, inviting readers to challenge the status quo and think unconventionally in all parts of daily living, from careers to relationships—and to achieve greater clarity through simple shifts in perception. We talked to Dubner about the glory of fatty foods, the evils of Facebook and the importance of thinking Freakily at life’s crossroads. 

     See also: Find Your Inner Tortoise 

What’s the ultimate goal of thinking like a freak?

Dubner: Most of us, by the time we get to be 30 or 35, are locked into a bunch of habits and preferences that we were pretty sure were awesome when we were younger. By nature, we cling to these habits—desperately, sometimes. Thinking like a freak helps you reconsider your assumptions and perceptions. It cuts you loose and frees you up to think more productively and creatively.

Can you give an example of a common rut?

Dubner:  So, I’ve had a set of die-hard beliefs that tell me that eating a lot of non-fat food is good for me and that watching TV is bad for me. I also thought that golf is a stupid sport that only old people do. Well then, I’m not going to consider the fact that eating fat is good in moderation. You know, TV might be pretty good in moderation, too. And golf is kind of fantastic exercise. Challenging old beliefs is a great thought exercise.


Sounds good in theory, but how can people actually do it?

 Dubner: Set aside a chunk of time to do pure thinking. Make it a time when you’re not reading, or watching something on TV, or trying to “pay attention” to something. It turns out that most of us make very little time for actual mental exercise. It strikes me as strange that we have such a strong belief about physical exercise and such a weak one about mental exercise. But you need to carve out the time. It’s become gospel that if you’re not physically exercising, you’re either a bad person or a lazy person. Our minds are awesome computers. You will come up to the stuff that matters to you, what’s missing or flawed or broken in your life.

     See also: How to Make Space for Reflection

At midlife, it’s easy to beat yourself up over lost chances. Is it still possible to redirect your life, even if it’s clear you’ll never be a superstar?

Dubner: Diversified portfolios are good for investing. It’s the same with life. In the media, we see things as blockbuster hits or failures. But I don’t need to quit my job as a middle manager and become a surfer to make a substantial change. Maybe I keep my job, but I start doing three hours of surfing a week to shake up my neurons. We’re brainwashed into this cult of never quitting anything. It’s ok to give up, really. I applaud the upside of quitting a big dream to make room for the smaller victories.

Can we rewire our brains to willingly abandon a dream?

Dubner: Ask yourself, for every hour you spend on one thing, what else could you be doing? 

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