Archive for April, 2011


April 29th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

This is what the dictionary says about ‘faultless’:

“Without fault, flaw or defect; perfect”

In experiential learning and behavioural change, it is better to adopt a literal definition – fault less – rather than confuse faultless with fault-free.

Performance is not about absolutes but, rather, all of the shades that exist between unlikely, polar extremes (utterly hopeless, utterly perfect).  The same extremes, and their irrelevance to performance, apply to consciousness,  The dictionary defines ‘conscious’ as:

“Aware of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc”

And yet one fundamental aim of experiential learning is to remove ‘conscious’ from the performance equation, to operate below the conscious level.  But this should never be taken to mean that you can also remove awareness and attention from the equation.

There is no such thing as a human autopilot, performance that is free from human (self) intervention.  When operating below conscious level, you may not be aware that you’re aware, but you are aware.  When operating below conscious level, you may attend to your attention but you are attending.  One implication of operating like this after much practice is the inability to describe what you’re actually doing when you’re doing the ‘acting’ for the ‘why’ is being handled subconsciously.  It is possible to describe the ‘how’ but, in the scheme of things, the ‘how’ is relatively unimportant.

But even highly automated behaviours carry the risk of error, for this risk is never set to zero.  It is possible for even the most experienced performers to slip from subconscious to ‘unconscious’ performance.  Not literally, of course, unless they faint but the chance of slipping below minimum levels of (subconscious) awareness is ever-present.  We’ve all heard people say – “What was I thinking?  I’ve done this a million times before.” – as though practice, competence or expertise should provide  immunity from mistakes.  But “it can happen to anyone of us …. cos I made a stupid mistake’:

Faultless isn’t.  Tomorrow, when you’re leaving for school or work, please double-check that you’re wearing trousers!

How Close? How Far?

April 27th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

As an experiential learner, you cannot be a passive consumer of experiences for your learning will be less effective and much less efficient.  While learning opportunities are a feature of the immediate world around you, they are incidental rather than ingrained.  You must actively pursue them rather than just wait for them to roll past.

But there are limits and so direct experience can and should be complemented by vicarious experiences.  Learn directly by doing and learn indirectly by engaging with the doing done by others for it will comprise both shared and independent experiences.  It’s good to ‘walk a mile in their shoes’:

But the answer to ‘when to learn vicariously’ is not whenever, for there is one application that appears to have costs greater than benefits.  Self-control seems to be hindered by ‘wearing other shoes’; in this circumstance, watching may be better than wearing!

In Other Shoes, ‘tis nobler stressed the value of distance to enhance self-control – Putting yourself in other shoes can help you succeed in your own.  Distance, whether it is physical or psychological, is one way to enhance self-control and maintain your own journey – but there is distance and then there is greater distance.  And greater distance seems better than distance in this instance – can you see now why wearing might be better than watching?

The vicarious experience of ‘wearing the shoes of another’ may provide useful insights into self-control but recent research indicates that this distancing may not be sufficient to overcome its costs.  Those that ‘wore the shoes of another exercising self-control’ were subsequently unable to match this level of vicarious self-control whereas those that ‘watched’ (actually read about someone practising self-control) demonstrated subsequently enhanced levels of self-control.  Insufficient distancing exacted a price.

Both direct and indirect experience can be valuable but this is not guaranteed.  In many ways, indirect may mean insufficient.  And insufficient is neither effective nor efficient.  Can you untangle proficient, sufficient and efficient in order to guide your learning journey?

For Others

April 25th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

We’ve all had the experience of being completely and utterly bewildered.  Then along comes someone who, in the blink of an eye, sorts things out.  To compound our ‘misery’, they proceed to explain what they did in language we can barely understand – ‘the problem was that the hotchclocker wasn’t interfacing sequentially with the floudleflap, so I’ve reglunted the squizzlepepple to offset the gain in the off-centre centrifudge.  Got it?’

Absolutely, with both hands.  Clear as a bell.  We just weren’t familiar with it.  Does this sound familiar?

If you search for ‘Familiarity’ on Wikipedia, you are automatically re-directed to the entry on ‘Intimate Relationship’.  ‘tis nobler will not enquire whether you are familiar with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; if you are, how do you find the time?  But this post is about another aspect of familiarity – its breeding capacity.

Familiarity breeds contempt, a shorthand way of describing the expertise bias.  When I am able to do something, I find it difficult to understand why you, as a berginner, can’t do it.  I compare your ‘now performance’ with the ‘now me’ rather than compare it to the ‘beginner me’.  I can’t imagine how the ‘beginner you’ can be so hopeless.  After all, I have done this many, many times and it is so easy to do.  What is wrong with you?

In ‘Overpowering’, ‘tis nobler wrote:

In learning situations, you shouldn’t necessarily attribute the behaviour of others to their character but rather to the way they are dealing with their circumstances.  Context trumps character, specific, short-term needs override general, longer-term orientations.  It is possible for situations to turn saints into sinners and sinners into saints; between these extremes is the fuzziness of life.  To learn about situations, place more emphasis on understanding the action rather than passing judgement on the actors.

But the expertise bias operates the other way – I’ll explain your behaviour on the basis of who you are simply because what you do is, for me, so easy that your performance can’t hold the explanation.  I find it so easy to walk in a straight line that I can’t imagine you being unable to do so.  Yet, when your inexperience imposes a ‘blindfold’, look what happens:

Unfortunately, familiarity can breed contempt, contempt for others.  Effort will remove the ‘blindfolds’ that are inescapable for novice performers; squashing this effort through unfair criticism or inadequate explanation is inexcusable.  Everybody begins at the beginning!

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

April 24th, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative.  Enjoy!

NASA celebrates the Space Shuttle.

Are bacteria ‘driving’ our brain and behaviour, or perhaps putting us into one of just three groups?  

Wanderlust – the greatest journeys in history.

Can we harness the magnetic properties of light to generate power?

Where does good come from?

A research expedition to Antarctica’s Mertz glacier.

What A Wonderful World – The Painting.

How Green?

April 22nd, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

It is not really a fact but, through extensive use, has become folklore.  And folklore can morph into apparent fact when it remains unquestioned:

“The grass is always greener on the other side.”

But aren’t proverbs like this built on a foundation of fact?  Doesn’t our everyday experience of our own lives reinforce the view that others, whether friends or strangers, are having – must be having – easier, more fulfilling, happier lives?  Wouldn’t we be like them if we could only get to the other side, the side that they are on?  Isn’t it always greener on the other side?

Research findings paint a different picture.  We have a tendency to underestimate the ‘problems’ on the other side; we estimate that those on the other side have many less negative experiences and emotions and slightly more positive experiences and emotions than ourselves.  It might be expected that we’d be more accurate when friends rather than peers are the subjects of our scrutiny but closeness doesn’t seem to exert much influence on our accuracy.  Others, all others, face fewer problems and have better lives because they live ‘where the grass is greener’.

In addition to the ‘greener’ effect, our estimation issues also reflect the ability of others to hide their ‘less green’ experiences and emotions.  Even though this is what we ourselves do, we appear unable to recognise when others erect similar shields.  And so we persist in believing that we struggle relative to others.  We answer ‘OK’ when asked how things are, even though things might be (much) less than OK, yet we accept ‘OK’ from others as an accurate summary of their situation.

There is a range of ways in which the ‘greener’ fallacy affects our learning journey and our efforts at behavioural change.  Think through what these might be.

Experiential learning has a substantial solo component and yet you are never alone, your experiences are rarely unique and your difficulties are seldom unshared.  Believing that things are ‘less green’ for you than they are for others is untrue.

It’s always as green on the other side!

What Is The Answer!

April 20th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Experiential learning and behavioural change are grounded in questions.  How do I do this?  Can I sustain this?  Why does that happen?  What is the answer?

However, what is the answer need not be a question; it might also be a statement that answers a question.  And the question has to do with attention.  It’s very important to pay attention to attention, especially as you only have a finite amount of ‘mental money’ with which to pay.  As well as you paying, attention also has an inbuilt cost.  As the world around you often presents more information than you can handle, attention excludes the unimportant and less-important stuff.

You can only identify the important, less-important and unimportant stuff through experience.  This is never a case of sorting stuff into static categories, as stuff moves from category to category (and back again) as a function of time and situation.  The standard question – are you paying attention? – is a very difficult one to answer validly.  You know when you do it (and you can find out when you’re not doing it), but you are doing it without (conscious) knowing.

The ‘where’ or spatial attention is driven by the relative locations of information and many people think ‘where’ is attention’s most important factor.  An interesting set of studies demonstrated the effect of hand orientation on attention; when objects appeared on the grasping side, they were responded to more quickly than when they appeared on the back side of the hand.  But this isn’t just a ‘where’ outcome; it seems to ‘tis nobler that it’s an indication of the overriding effect of ‘what’.

‘What’ is the answer.  Where follows what, where is directed by what.  ‘What’ is understanding; ‘what’ sorts the wheat from the chaff, ‘what’ knows where the wheat and the chaff are more likely to be found.  ‘Where’ is here, there and there; ‘what’ may be anywhere or everywhere.  Novices try to find ‘what’ by pursuing ‘where’; the benefits of experience allow you to use the sophisticated ‘what’ you’ve developed to identify, very efficiently, the ‘where’ at any point in time.

Anybody can direct their attention to a ‘where’ – it may not be the most appropriate ‘where’ but it is still some ‘where’.  Only those making the effort, sustaining their learning and effectively self-managing their behaviour will gradually but inevitably unearth the ‘what’ they seek and need.  A ‘where’ orientation accept what it is for what it appears:

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The message embedded in this post is not to accept what it is but to shift things around.  There is a world of difference between ‘what it is’ and ‘what is it’.  ‘What’ is the answer and ‘where’ is then found by ‘what’.  Is this the best way to pay attention?

Pushing The Sky Higher

April 18th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Apparently, it’s much better to get 81% on a test than it is to get 79%.  It is obviously ‘better’ but the point of this post is that it’s apparently much better!

People get sentenced to 200 hours of community service and not 204 hours.  Some might argue that there’s no real difference between 200 and 204.  Why would a sentence of 197 hours be perceived then as much less appropriate?.  Isn’t any number able to be monitored and communicated just as easily as any other?

A success rate of 40% in some endeavour might be considered excellent.  Why would a success rate of 38.4% be perceived as much worse than it actually is?  Why are people more motivated to increase this rate of 38.4% to 40% than they are to get from 34% to 38%, even though the latter is a greater improvement?  Imagine if you were achieving 41.7% – what would you do to protect this result over time?  Would you stop completely?

There is evidence that we assign greater importance to round numbers.  Further, we are more inclined to increase our efforts if we are just below a round number than if we are just above it.  Being just above a round number can trigger ‘protective’ behaviours that aim to preserve this achievement.

We often establish learning milestones that are round numbers and many are prepared to persevere in order to reach the milestone.  It’s nice to have neatness and order in your learning aims, although the world in which your learning is occurring is messy.  A round number is a neat number but it is not necessarily a meaningful number.  A milestone, round or otherwise, is not a destination; it’s merely another signpost along the way that indicates where you are and where you’ve come from.  And it implicitly emphasises the need to continue.

At every stage of your learning journey, it is important to consider:

“If I could reach higher,

Just for one moment touch the sky,

Know that I’ve tried my very best ……”


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Learning is not about reaching higher in order to, for one moment, touch the sky.

Learning is about constantly pushing the sky higher.

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

April 17th, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative.  Enjoy!

A comprehensive timeline of conflict.

A trillion times brighter than the Sun – lucky it was so far away!

Great demonstration of stereotyping in toy advertisements.

50 years ago this week – First Orbit.

Is it possible to improve photosynthesis?

You need a new pen. The one you’re using makes a lot of mistakes. It must be foreign.”  

Kiva Ford – artist, technician, glassblower!

Not A Bother But …

April 15th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Not a bother but will it help?

Finding your own way need not and should not be a solitary exercise.  The social side of experiential learning is very important in many ways; it only becomes a problem when you delegate responsibility for your own learning to others.  In fact, this is a problem for all forms of learning.  Being passive may be polite in some circumstances but it is to be avoided in all learning situations.

The distinction to keep in mind is that others can supply useful information but you must make your own sense from it.  If you don’t actively process it, don’t reflect on the outcomes of your analyses and don’t personalise it, then your learning becomes a pale facsimile of somebody else’s learning.  And, given that you (rightly) accept contributions from many others, you run the risk of becoming a mish-mash of others rather than an authentic (and only) version of yourself.

Asking for help, though, remains a challenge because, in part, this act is grounded in an acknowledgement of your own shortcomings.  There is evidence that people place more emphasis on the ‘inconvenience’ being imposed on others by your request.  There is also evidence that people underestimate the willingness of others to provide help.

But the biggest challenge of all is to overcome the gap in perspective between the person asking for help and the person being asked.  ‘tis nobler would ask you for help because ‘tis nobler believes you are in a position to provide it – you are more experienced and more capable.  However, you will provide help from this very position, and ‘tis nobler may be a long way away from it:

“I just don’t seem able to do this.  I’m sorry to bother you (inconvenience) but can you give me some help?”

“Sure (willingness)!  It’s easy (perspective gap – it is easy for you but not for me!), just concentrate (that’s easy for you to say but it makes no practical sense to me).

Inconvenience, willingness, perspective gap and irrelevance all wrapped up in one simple exchange.  A simple request for help, should you overcome your reluctance to make it at all, can vary greatly in helpfulness.  It is always easier and more productive if you ‘speak the same language’ for then help is invariably helpful:

It is difficult to remember what it was like as a learner, it is uncomfortable to put yourself in their (inexperienced) shoes.  Without these adjustments, though, you must always attempt to reverse engineer this help to make it suitable for your own situation.

And always remember to say ‘Thanks’.

Don’t Pay Twice

April 13th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

In Up, In and Towards, ‘tis nobler introduced the concept of counterfactual thinking:

The actual content of the past may be fixed but its meaning and consequences can always be altered when you think about it.  And thinking about it is exactly the point.  It is appealing to re-write your past in your head, generating despair for what happened or relief that things, while sometimes bad, weren’t worse.  You think over and over – think counterfactually – that things might have turned out better or worse and this can lead to regret for the things you did or did not do, for the things said or left unsaid. If you remain stuck in the past, constantly re-writing what might have been but wasn’t, the past becomes a millstone.  As a millstone, your present and your future will always be less than they otherwise could be.  If you use the past positively, affirming that things will be different and better, the past becomes a springboard.  As a springboard, your present and your future will always be more than they otherwise would be.

Some recent research has uncovered another aspect of counterfactual thinking, this constant internal re-writing of the past.  And the key to understanding this aspect can be found in the word ‘constant’, for the same inability to ‘alter course’ that keeps people mired in regret is the same inability that produces poorer multi-tasking.  As a millstone, this inability actually improves performance on single tasks (after all, ‘regretters’ usually do regret very well) but experiential learning and skilled performance always requires multi-tasking.  And this millstone makes you a prisoner of the past:

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Counterfactual thinking has a direct cost but it also has an opportunity cost.  An inability to shift – whether it’s from regret to optimism, re-writing the past to writing the present or from one task to another – is, regrettably, more commonly associated with regret.

In experiential learning and behavioural, nothing comes for free.  But there are ways to avoid paying twice for past mistakes.

Easy To Believe

April 11th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

It’s a common saying – easy to believe.  Appearances can be deceiving, even to an experienced performer, which is why experience builds in multiple redundancies.  Looked at in one way, an appearance can be deceiving; when looked at in different ways or when different things are looked at concurrently, the ‘deception’ can be revealed.  Still, notwithstanding the various fail-safes we use, we are never safe from failing, underscoring the need for robust self-management in addition to skilled performance.

But nothing’s perfect and even robust self-management has its lapses.  This is where deception can make an appearance; this appearance is all about deceiving!  If it was just a bit of harmless deception, the little ‘white lies’ that are often used to lubricate the wheels of interaction, this post would come to an early conclusion.  However, it’s more than that for the ‘lies’ are not as ‘white’ as they might seem.

It’s not just deception; it can also be about self-deception, a combination of deception and delusion.  There is evidence that self-deception is resistant to self-correction, in part because we fail to see the need for correction.  In this sense we are, as Smoosh  tell us, our own lies:

We are so afraid to be ourselves …

We are our own lies…


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Pretending that we know is much, much more frequent than knowing that we pretend.  There are, however, choices.  We don’t know what we don’t know but we can discover what we don’t know through effortful practice.  Similarly, we may not know when we are pretending to know but we are not destined to be our own lies.

These are difficult learning paths to navigate – can you find your own way?

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

April 10th, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative.  Enjoy!

The lake as a metaphor for the human microbiome.

The worst jobs in history matrix. 

A curious connection between altitude and goodness! 

Why not micro-charity

Our planet has existed for 45 million centuries, but this is the first in its history where one species – ours – has Earth’s future in its hands, and could jeopardise not only itself, but life’s immense potential”.  Part of the acceptance statement of the 2011 Templeton Prize winner.  But then I read this, which puts the Prize in a different context!

Of all of these photos, the 16th is my absolute favourite! 

Venice backstage – how does Venice work?

Different Versus DIFFERENT

April 8th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

In Flowing Slowly, ‘tis nobler wrote:

First, you need to achieve the flow.  From the flow comes the slow.  And when you’re flowing slowly, along comes the smile!

Unpacking these sentences reveals the links between the attainment of performance fluency, the effect of ‘being in the zone’ and the implications for happiness.

At the very heart of fluency – one of the true hallmarks of expertise – can be found an enduring commitment to effortful practice and reflective thinking.  Smooth never just happens, for smooth requires all the parts to blend seamlessly.  And this is a product of experience, not exhortation.

But you are also aware that quality of experience is also crucial as this introduces efficiency to further enhance effectiveness.  Quality can be an awkward dimension to maintain for we can all regress to the comfortable.  Being in the comfort zone is only a very small part of being ‘in the zone’.  Never think that these two zones are the same!

In fact, it might be better to think of these two zones as ‘enemies’ rather than ‘friends’.  In a study designed to isolate some characteristics associated with ‘being in the zone’, novelty seeking and persistence were identified as key factors.  But that’s not the main message of this post as it might be incorrect to think that all you have to do is be DIFFERENT.  Being and doing ‘different’ is very valuable although this is often interpreted as just occasionally being and doing ‘DIFFERENT’.

For learning to be sustainable, it must be sustained and being and doing ‘DIFFERENT’ is neither sustainable nor, in learning terms, sensible.

Being and doing ‘different’ can simply be your secret:

Being and doing different is a great way to leave your comfort zone and, eventually, be more often ‘in the zone’.  Seeking novel situations persistently increases your chances of arriving ‘in the zone’.  Being and doing ‘different’ is not about being outrageous, being flashy or being ostentatious; it is about all the little differences you are, do and make.

Don’t be or do DIFFERENT.  Do be or do different.  Can you see the difference?

Be Careful, It’s Catching

April 6th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

‘Connect’ is generally a positive thing.  Being connected, in a range of ways, to your experiential learning is always to be preferred.  Connection implies involvement, involvement suggests engagement and engagement indicates sustained effort.

‘Compound’ can be both positive and not so positive.  Compound interest can be very good, while a compound fracture is best avoided (a simple fracture is also best avoided but, if you had to choose between the two, stick with simple).  ‘Compound’ can suggest ‘connect’ or ‘combine’, as in a chemical compound; it can also reflect an inability to ‘connect’ should you find yourself in a prison compound.  If you make a second ‘bad’ decision and make matters worse, you are described as compounding the problem.

‘Contagious’ is generally a negative thing, simply because we most commonly associate it with disease.  ‘Contagious’ does have a relationship with ‘connect’ because contagions do require contact.  Originally, ‘contagious’ has been derived from ‘touch closely’.

What ties ‘connect’, ‘compound’ and ‘contagious’ together in a learning and change sense?  Think decision making – if you feel ‘connected’ to another, you may ‘compound’ the errors of their decision making by continuing to make the same errors, as though poor decision making was ‘contagious’.  And that’s nothing to sneeze at.  Be careful, it’s catching.

In experimental studies, the ‘connections’ did not need to be very strong; in fact, it was more affiliation than connection.  Even when the relationship was anonymous and the connection tenuous at best, subjects continued the poor decision making of their counterpart.  Perhaps you don’t have to be touched closely to catch PDMD (poor decision making disease).

The ‘connect-compound-contagious’ link finally gives ‘tis nobler an opportunity to embed this video.  If you ‘connect’ with your child and ‘compound’ or ‘combine’ two sounds, the result is highly contagious!

How will you balance the ‘connect-compound-contagious’ relationship?


April 4th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

That’s not a spelling mistake, for this post is about being flex-able, the ability to be flexible (just to prove that ‘tis nobler knows the correct spelling).  And it’s also about control, something that you can either be in or out of.  There is a link between control and flexibility that is worth exploring.

If you believe you are in control of a situation, if you believe you have the ‘power’ to manage the situation, your behaviour is likely to be much more consistent with the demands of the situation.  Perceived control produces real consistency.

Conversely, if you do not believe you are in control of a situation, if you lack the ‘power’ to manage it, your behaviour is more likely to be inconsistent with external demands.  Being out of control creates gaps between what you do and what you need to do.

And this is where flexibility comes in.  When situations change, ‘powerful’ individuals adapt by changing their behaviour to suit the new circumstances.  Without this flexibility, less ‘powerful’ individuals apply the same recipe(s) across different situations; they are always out of step with the world around them.  Regardless of the detail, they tend to trot out the same old story:

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Control should not be confused with rigidity, for control can also allow you to be very different.  Control opens up new possibilities and is central to effective self management within and between situations.

Bend by being in control.  Be in control by bending.  The only constant is change and the only change is to shift from ‘out of’ to ‘in’ control.  And this is achieved through effortful practice.  If you are unable to bend, then ask yourself where the control can be found.  Is it with you or are you being controlled by the situation?

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

April 3rd, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative.  Enjoy!

Advice from Michael Palin on how to keep a diary. 

A brilliantly simple idea that is simply brilliant for a renewable energy source! 

The largest indoor panoramic photograph (with a link to the photograph). 

The 12 virtues of rationality

The Music Box – only those who listen can hear. 

The most detailed analysis of Earth’s gravitational field to date.

Stunning time lapse video of the Aurora Borealis,  and here’s the explanation for the phenomenon.

Weakly Woes

April 1st, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Is something always better than nothing?

Is being halfhearted more desirable than not having your heart in it at all?  Does having something of a clue put you in a better position than being completely clueless?  While being strong might be an advantage, is being weak better than having no strength at all?   Is a half-truth any better than a lie?  Is damning with faint praise better than straight criticism?  Is being there better than being absent?  Isn’t a positive statement better than saying nothing?  Isn’t something always better than nothing?  At face value, many people would say that something is better than nothing; after all, nothing can be worse than, well, nothing.

Sometimes, though, something isn’t better than nothing, an outcome that might be described as weakly woes.  ‘tis nobler thinks you should do lots and lots of practice because that will make you better – while defensible, this often-trotted out argument can be seen as weak at the individual level for many reasons.

And what happens is that this weakness attracts the attention of each individual and it is a short step between attraction and dismissal.  A weak argument in support of a positive objective is rejected and the objective becomes less likely to be achieved.  Flimsy fuels failure.  Think of this in the same way as the relationship between babies and bathwater.  In the absence of externally-supplied but weak arguments, individuals may supply their own, stronger information.  Perhaps it’s just not possible to be weakly convincing!

It may be that you always need a song beneath the song, as Maria Taylor sings:

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A weak message can appear to send the right message and yet still produce the wrong reaction.  A weak message can be worse than silence.  Like songs, messages and motives require substance.  Without substance, they are nothing but words.  Even when you think that your messages and motives are self-evident, being shallow, in every sense, can backfire.

In your learning and change, it is always better to have a song beneath the song.