The Power of ‘Lately’: How to Ask Personal Questions that People Want to Answer


You’ve probably been in the following situation: you’re talking to someone whom you don’t know very well, and in an effort to get to know you better, they ask something along the lines of “what’s your favorite movie?” or “what’s your favorite book?”

Odds are that you now have to start racking your brain in an effort to decide which movie or book you’re going to pick. After all, there are so many great ones you like; it’s hard to pick just one. Besides, there are all sorts of favorites. There is the one that’s most epic, the one that makes you laugh, the one that inspires you, and so on.

The following example illustrates this pretty well:

I always hate it when someone asks me, “What’s your favorite book?” since I never quite know what to say. I have so many books that I love, many of which are in wildly diverse categories. I usually end up telling them that I don’t have a single favorite book, or even a category.

From a discussion on Reddit

This is why questions along the lines of “what’s your favorite X” are generally a bad choice in conversations. Luckily however, you can modify these questions a bit, to make them easier and more fun for people to answer.


The power of ‘lately’

Instead of asking people what their favorite film is, ask about a good movie that they watched lately.

This makes your question easier to answer for several reasons:

  • It narrows the number of options that they have to pick from.
  • It makes the decision less significant, which takes some pressure off.
  • It focuses the decision on recent experiences, which are easier for people to remember.

You can substitute ‘lately’ for other variants, such as recently. The goal is the same: to make the question about an experience they had not too long ago.

An added benefit of doing this is that it makes your discussion feel more like a casual conversation, and less like an interview. It also helps you stand out and make a positive impression, since most people will go with the default “favorite X” questions.


Other types of good personal questions

There are other ways to modify personal questions that you ask, so that they will be easier and more fun for people to answer. All these options revolve around the same theme, which is to avoid asking the other person for a single, definitive answer. Some of the options you can use are:

  • What’s one of your favorite books?
  • What movie really made you laugh?

You can combine this with using ‘lately’ if you want:

  • What book did you enjoy reading lately?
  • What movie made you laugh lately?

Similarly to adding ‘lately’, these variations also makes your question feel more like a part of a natural conversation, and less like an interview.

Note that different people will respond differently to the various questions, so you can modify the type of questions you ask based on the person you’re talking to, and based on the context of your conversation.


Summary and conclusions

  • A lot of people hate answering questions in the format of “what’s your favorite X”.
  • The problem is that these questions are difficult to answer, as it’s hard to pick a single, definitive answer out of all the available options.
  • Instead, you should ask questions about things that people encountered lately, such as “what’s a good movie that you watched lately?”
  • You can also modify these questions further, by asking people about specific types of books/movies, such as a movie that made them laugh.
  • Doing this makes your questions easier and more fun to answer, while also making the conversation feel more natural.


Avoiding Miscommunication: A Brief Guide to Using the NATO Phonetic Alphabet

Representation of alphabet.


Miscommunication can arise in a variety of situations, such as when talking on the phone in an area with bad reception or with a lot of background noise. This is especially frustrating if you’re trying to communicate an exact term, such as a name or a street address.

Using the NATO phonetic alphabet allows you to avoid miscommunication issues, by helping you spell out words in a way that is intelligible regardless of the situation. This can be valuable for everything from talking with tech support, to contacting emergency services. In fact, it’s so effective that there have been calls for using the NATO alphabet among medical professionals, where accurate communication can be a matter of life and death.

The following guide will explain to you how the NATO alphabet works, and how to use it. The concept behind it is very simple, so you will be able to implement it almost immediately and with good results.


The concept

The idea behind the NATO alphabet is very simple: you replace the letter you want to say with a word that starts with the same letter. For example:

  • B  is replaced by BRAVO
  • G  is replaced by GOLF
  • O  is replaced by OSCAR

While learning the actual NATO alphabet can be useful, the most important thing is to remember how the different letters are represented. By simply remembering this one principle, you can enjoy most of the benefits of the phonetic alphabet, without much effort on your part. Furthermore, this principle is useful in locations where people use different variants of the phonetic alphabet (such as the LAPD radio alphabet), as they all rely on the same principle.


The NATO phonetic alphabet

As you just saw, understanding the principle behind the alphabet allows you to enjoy most of its benefits, without having to learn the alphabet itself. However, you can still benefit from learning the alphabet, for two reasons. First, because it’s standardized and widely used, meaning that a lot more people are likely to recognize and understand it. Second, because the words in the alphabet were chosen based on extensive testing, as they ensure mutual intelligibility between speakers from different linguistic backgrounds.

The image below contains the NATO phonetic alphabet:

Chart containing all the letters in English, together with their corresponding code-word in the NATO phonetic alphabet (including pronunciation).


If you want to say a number, you simply say the whole word, with a few minor variations in pronunciation in some cases (compared to ‘regular’ English):

Chart containing numbers, together with their corresponding code-word in the NATO phonetic alphabet (including pronunciation).


The punctuation marks are referred to by name with a few exception: a hyphen (-) is referred to as a dash, and a period (.) is referred to as a stop, while a decimal point is referred to as a point or as a decimal.

(A full table, containing both the letters and the numbers is available: as an image and as a PDF if you’re interested.)


Memorizing the alphabet

If you decide you want to learn the NATO alphabet, you can do it by using flashcards or a memorization software (such as Anki). You could also memorize the code words in order, preferably using a rhythm or a tune that makes them easier for you to remember.

Once you can roughly recall all the code words, start practicing by spelling out different words using the alphabet. These words can be anything you want: from random items you encounter, to the addresses of streets you pass by. If you want, you can also try spelling out random strings, such as those on license plates.


Other things to keep in mind

There are a few other things you should remember when using the alphabet, in order to ensure that you’re using it effectively:

  • Make sure to say the full word you are spelling out, before and after spelling it. This will help the other person understand what you are saying.
  • Make sure the person you’re talking to knows that you are spelling out a word and understands how you are doing it. If they’re not familiar with the concept of the phonetic alphabet, you can use the following pattern when spelling out words: “N as in November, O as in Oscar…”
  • When improvising, avoid words which can be easily confused with other words due to a similar-sounding initial letter (e.g. ban/pan), or where it’s difficult to isolate the initial letter (e.g. the ‘b’ in ‘brain’, which is pronounced together with the ‘r’).


Summary and conclusions

  • There is often miscommunication when trying to spell things out over the phone; this can be frustrating in some cases, and outright dangerous in others (for example, when telling emergency services your address).
  • To solve this, you can use the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, in order to spell out words.
  • If you don’t remember the official alphabet, you can improvise by using words where the first letter in the word corresponds to the letter you are trying to say.
  • Make sure to state the full word before and after spelling it out, and to let the listener know that you are going to spell it out using the phonetic alphabet.
  • If you’re improvising, avoid using words where the sound of the first letter is difficult to identify. The advantage of the official alphabet is that the words there were picked after extensive testing, in order to ensure intelligibility.


Who Should and Who Shouldn’t Eat Before Going Grocery Shopping

Image of groceries in a basket.


A common piece of conventional wisdom states that you should never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. Intuitively, this makes sense: if you’re already full when you go to buy food, you’ll be less tempted to buy extra food items.

However, studies on the topic discovered that this is not always the case. Rather, while this is true for people who are not overweight, people who are overweight sometimes buy more food if they eat before shopping.

In the following article, you will read more about the topic, and see some suggestions for how to decide whether you should go shopping when you’re feeling hungry or when you’re feeling full.


Should you go shopping when you’re hungry or when you’re full?

Studies show that for most people, eating before going grocery-shopping is a good idea:

  • One study found that short-term food deprivation, in terms of not eating for a few hours, led people to buy more high-calorie products, such as candy and salty snacks.
  • Another study found similar results, so that when people were hungry, they were interested in buying more food items compared to when they are full.

However, neither one of these studies differentiated between overweight and normal-weight participants. On the other hand, studies which did examine the shopping patterns of overweight participants compared to participants with a “standard” weight, showed that there is a significant difference between the two groups:

  • A study which looked at purchasing behavior in a large supermarket found that people with a standard weight tend to purchase more food when they are hungry, while overweight people tend to purchase less food.
  • A different study showed similar results, where “normal individuals bought more food if they were deprived than they did if they had recently eaten. Overweight individuals actually bought more food if they had recently eaten than they did if deprived.”

Based on this, the general advice on the topic is the following: if you are overweight, it’s generally preferable to go food shopping on an empty stomach, while if you’re not overweight, it’s generally preferable to go food shopping on a full stomach.

In the next sections, we will see what the science says about this difference between people who are overweight and those who are not, and learn what you can do to make sure that you pick the option that works best for you.


Explaining the difference in shopping patterns

Researchers are not entirely certain what leads to this difference between people who are overweight and those who are not.

One suggestion is that for people with a standard weight, increased hunger leads to increased impulse buying, as evident in the fact they purchase more items than they expect to. Conversely, when overweight people eat before grocery shopping, they might become more focused on food, which preemptively increases their intention to buy extra food.

This is reflected in the fact that people with a standard weight tend to overshoot their estimated bill when buying food on an empty stomach, while overweight participants tend to decrease both their estimated bill as well as the amount of food they buy in practice.

Another possibility which could explain why some people tend to buy more food or more unhealthy food when they’re full, is that when you’re full, you sometimes feel like you’re interested only in comfort food such as snacks or desserts, which are generally perceived as more appealing.

Conversely, when you’re hungry, both healthy as well as unhealthy food looks appealing to you. If this effect is more pronounced in overweight people, then it could explain the difference in shopping patterns between them and non-overweight people.

Finally, it’s also possible that for overweight people, being hungry is more likely to be indicative of the fact that they’re dieting, which could explain their reduced intention to purchase food when they go shopping on an empty stomach. However, it’s unlikely that this could explain the effect entirely, since studies that accounted for this variable still found the same shopping patterns as studies that didn’t.

Overall, it’s difficult to say why exactly this phenomenon occurs, where overweight people buy more food when they go grocery shopping on a full stomach, while people with a normal weight buy less food.

Nevertheless, since this finding was confirmed in several studies on the topic, it’s certainly something worth taking into account when you go shopping. Most importantly, it means that the notion of “never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach” isn’t necessarily true for everyone.


The role of individual variation

When it comes to the psychology of dieting, there is always going to be some individual variation. This means that the various factors that come into play when it comes to deciding what food to buy will affect different people in different ways. A good example of this is the fact that, as we saw earlier, your weight is an important factor, that controls how hunger affects you when it comes to buying food.

However, the guidelines that we saw here represent general tendencies, rather than behavioral patterns which are always observed. This means that if you’re overweight, for example, then you will most likely benefit more from going grocery shopping on an empty stomach, but not necessarily. Rather, it’s possible that personally, you will find it easier to buy less unhealthy food if you go shopping on a full stomach.


Figuring out what works for you

Due to the role that individual variation may play, the best way to find what works for you is to try the different options out, and test which one leads to the best outcome. One way to do this is to keep shopping as you normally do, while paying attention to what you buy, and to how hungry you are at the time.

If you do this, it might immediately become obvious that when you’re hungry or full, you tend to buy a lot of snacks. In cases when it is not so obvious, you can keep receipts from your purchases, and write on each one how hungry you were when buying the food. Then, after you’ve collected several receipts, try to compare the type of purchases that you make when you’re full, compared to the purchases that you make when you’re hungry.

Furthermore, you can also try to actively alternate between going grocery shopping while you’re hungry and while you’re full, so that you can easily compare the amount and type of food that you buy each time.

Regardless of whether you choose to track food purchasing in a passive way, or to actively alternate between shopping when you’re hungry compared to when you’re full, you should try and ensure that your results are accurate by minimizing the influence of external variables (which are known as confounds), such as going shopping with other people versus going alone.

The more information you have on your shopping behavior, based on the number of time you go shopping, the more accurate your results will be in general. However, in most cases, it’s likely that after several rounds of purchases you’ll have a pretty clear answer.

Overall, at the end of the day, it’s important to not only understand what research says works in general, but to also realize that there is a lot of individual variation in terms of which solutions work for different people. In order to find the best option, you should rely not only on the generalized guidelines, but also try things out yourself, in order to find the solution that works best for you.


Summary and conclusions

  • People who are not overweight generally tend to buy less food when they go grocery shopping on a full stomach. Conversely, people who are overweight tend to actually buy less food if they go shopping when hungry.
  • These purchase behaviors are attributed to the fact that when non-overweight people go grocery shopping while hungry, they tend to make more impulse purchases. Conversely, when overweight people go shopping while they’re hungry, they end up feeling less focused on food, which helps them reduce their intention to purchase extra food from the start.
  • This effect of hunger on shopping intention remains significant even after controlling for background factors such as dieting.
  • There is a lot of individual variation involved when it comes to deciding whether you should go shopping when you’re hungry or when you’re full, as evident in the fact that people with different weights generally benefit from different options. Accordingly, these guidelines should be viewed as general advice, which can guide you to make the best decision, but which won’t necessarily indicate which option will work best in your case.
  • In order to find the solution that works best for you, you should track your purchasing behavior over time, in order to identify whether you tend to purchase more unhealthy food when you’re hungry or when you’re full. If you decide to do this, try to control for background factors as much as possible, such as the time of day in which you go shopping.