Is It True, Man?

Have you seen ‘The Truman Show’ , a 1998 film starring Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank?  The plot revolves around Carrey’s character unknowingly being on television since birth, the realisation of which gradually dawns on him and he sets out to discover what the truth is.  At the end of the movie, he escapes from his artificial ‘prison’ and enters the real world.

The essential elements of the plot – what is fact, what is fiction and how do you tell the difference? – echo throughout experiential learning and behavioural change.  It is difficult to validly imagine an experience before having it, it can be difficult to accurately understand an experience while you’re having it and it can be difficult to reliably reflect on an experience after you have had it.  As these experiences accumulate, anticipation, understanding and reflection become increasingly refined; while error rates decline, specific errors (perhaps refelcting inaccurate or false memories) can continue to plague performance.

But this doesn’t just apply to the experiences you have, it also applies to your vicarious exploration of the experiences of your peers and the experiences you think you had but never actually did.  Welcome to the world of the suggestion, false experiences and false memories.  ‘tis nobler remembers talking about these things when we all took that balloon ride several years ago:

Using past experiences as building blocks for present performance is not necessarily a neutral process.  Injecting the past into the present can and does assist in meeting current task demands but this can and does change your memories of the past.  You effect their retrieval and they are affected by this retrieval.  The past is fenced off in time but the fence is not impervious to the present.  Over time, facts can soften, fiction can harden and the lines between them can become less visible.

The power of suggestion and the creation of false memories is a standard technique in advertising, they can cause problems in the legal system and they can influence your daily behaviour in many ways (you can view the results of a recent survey into the beliefs people hold about memory here).  It is a subtle, pervasive and insidious process.  Imagine how this process can distort the feedback process and dramatically affect your learning and change journey.

Striving to understanding the real world underpins experiential learning and behavioural change.  Striving to eliminate uncertainties also underpins experiential learning and behavioural change.  However, both understanding and uncertainty are not immune from intentional or incidental manipulation.  Self management must involve the management of both your actual reality and your apparent ‘reality’.

Ask yourself – Is it true, man?

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