Posts Tagged ‘cognitive bias’

Will Concrete Make Us Happy?

December 21st, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Yes, and there’s an irrefutable reason for this outcome.

According to Wikipedia, concrete is the most common man-made material.  Concrete is everywhere.  Now, where can we find happiness?  Rather than consult Wikipedia again, ‘tis nobler consulted other experts, for DJ Andi and Stella know the answer to this question:

It’s in the ocean, yeah!

Happiness is all around, happiness!

It’s in the sunlight, yeah!

Happiness is all around…  

Are you following ‘tis nobler’s line of reasoning?  The syllogism goes like this:

Concrete is everywhere.

Happiness is all around.

Therefore, concrete IS happiness.

In the movies, it is never true when people say “There’s just one problem”, and it’s not true here either.  The first and most fundamental problem is that the use of ‘concrete’ in this post’s title referred to the adjective and not the noun.

Both the past and the future are obstacles to overcome in the pursuit of happiness.  On Monday, ‘tis nobler noted that we change the meaning of the past to conform to the present, something that prevents us from learning from our errors in predicting what will make us happy.

And this failing is compounded by the temptation to view the future in abstract ways.  In theory, something will make us happy; in practice, however, happiness may prove elusive because it is pushed aside by reality.  It’s like the Tomorrowland that never arrives, in which all these magical tools are promised but fail to materialise; it’s summed up in the name of the Scottish Indie music group “We Were Promised Jetpacks”.

Flights of fancy can play useful roles in problems solving and creativity but the link to happiness may be more fanciful.  The gap between the concrete and the abstract can be huge and assessments of future happiness based on ‘the promise of jetpacks’ will only ever be a letdown.  Dreams must be realised, hopes must be achieved and happiness must be pursued – will anything of consequence happen if dreams, hopes and happiness remain abstract, poorly defined and a long way away?

Concrete is a great way to cement your emotional state in happiness.  As always, though, balance is required.  Too abstract can just be a mess but too concrete can weigh you down and prevent you from making progress.

Finding ways to transform the abstract into the concrete, the hoped-for into the happening, is a great start for the pursuit of happiness.

Will This Make Me Happy?

December 19th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Naturally, ’tis nobler is flattered that you might interpret ‘this’ as this post.  But we need to think more generally.

Forecasting backwards is a contradiction in terms – how can you predict the past?  In terms of actions, the past is fixed; in terms of meaning, the past is much more flexible.  Even though you can’t change what happened, you can change its meaning – at the very least, the meaning it has for you – or you can forget that what happened did happen.  What does this have to do with happiness?

Happiness is an awkward, nebulous and (unfortunately) often ephemeral condition.  Predicting what will make us happy would be hard enough but it is made even harder because we mess up the prediction process.  And this means that it is very difficult to learn from past predictions and refine our pursuit of happiness through experiential learning.

How do you assess these lyrics in Kid Cudi’s “Happiness”?  He sings that he is:

“…on the pursuit of happiness and I know everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold

I’ll be fine once I get it, I’ll be good …..”

It’s true – the pursuit won’t be perfect and you will be fine when you get it.  But the imperfections in the pursuit will often work against you.  A series of studies indicated the nature of the prediction process and its inherent problems – ‘tis nobler will keep the details brief in order to keep you happy.  People are generally poor at predicting the happiness that will come from future events, people are poor at remembering their past predictions and people are poor at controlling the influence of how they feel during and after the event on their past predictions.

As a result, people don’t learn from the experience of past predictions and just accept that their current emotional state is what they were expecting.  In terms of predicting happiness, the present is not always a gift – you change the meaning of the past by sending the present meaning back in time.  You don’t learn anything for you think there is nothing to learn.

It’s hard to learn anything when you change the meaning of the past to conform to the present.  And you do need to learn what makes you happy.

‘tis nobler will conclude today’s post at this point.  Are you happy now?

Tweaking The Talk

December 14th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

There’s a well-known distinction between those that do and those that talk about doing – walking the walk compared to just talking the talk.

You don’t often hear about tweaking the talk.  But tweaking the talk – modifying the content of your talking over time – is a very common feature of our interaction with others.  ‘Talking the talk’ is tweaked all the time such that your talking becomes more impressive and more remote from any and all instances of actually ‘walking the walk’.  It is likely that when you talk the (particular) talk today, it will deviate substantially from the first time you talked that particular talk.  Embellishment is an inextricable component of expression.

We often create false memories 

Thinking we know, often without either knowing or thinking, can create all sorts of problems.  One example is in the false memories we have of our performance and behaviour.  To fill in the short-term gaps, we ‘remember’ things that never happened, we assume or infer rather than recall.  How often have you heard people explain their mistakes by saying “I thought that ….” when this thinking is at odds with the situation?

And our recollection of past events is not a process of neutral recall:

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.

Some recent evidence emphasises the social nature of this embellishment process.  We embellish for others and because of others, not just by and for ourselves.   Conformity is a frequent characteristic of group performance – don’t stand up, don’t stand out, just stand in line as that makes it easiest to toe that line.  These studies demonstrated that conformity can affect memories in an enduring way.   Socially-imposed illusion, even ones that are known to be wrong by individuals, can supplant individual memories; these will often remain in place even when the original illusion is shown to be false.  It’s seems true that two (or more) wrongs can make an individual’s right (memory) turn into the same wrong.

Do you often talk to be typical, of your friends, of your generation, of your experiences?  Conversation is often typified by a desire to conform rather than communicate.  Conversation is often the outcome of memory and emotion.  Conversation is not just about facts and passive discourse; it can also be about fictions and ‘theatre’:

Fact may be stranger than fiction but fiction is more frequent than fact.  How do you find your own way through this quagmire?  Do you do it by tweaking your talk?

How Typical

December 12th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Is that heading a statement, probably pejorative in nature, or is it a question without the question mark?  What’s that – you think it’s a statement?  How typical (which ‘tis nobler confirms is not a question).  Sorry, that sounded unintentionally pejorative, which is not typical of ‘tis nobler.

And, with your interest in experiential learning and behavioural change (why else would you be reading this?), it’s not typical of you either.

But what is typical, particularly when most of these judgements concern ‘global’ concepts, concepts that may have concrete definitions that mask their abstract nature?  Are you a typical teenager?  Are you a typical learner?  Are you typical of those trying to change their behaviour?  Are you a typical driver?  Are you typical?

The short answer to these questions is that people regard others who are similar to themselves as typical.  You are typical if you are like me for I like to regard myself as typical – I fit the ‘model’, I am the archetype.  There’s an interesting interplay going on here:

If you are like me, you are typical (for I consider myself the standard), and/or

If I like you (or what you are doing), you are typical (for I consider myself to be or do exactly like that too).

As Jamie Foxx sings in the song ‘Just Like Me’ – You’re just like me and I’m just like you …… How typical. How typical?

Think about and through the possible processes going on.  There may be elements of efficient pattern matching intertwined with perceptions of personal qualities that are influenced by self esteem in this judgement process.  It seems that concluding that someone else is typical is typically complicated.  The implications of this process can be equally complicated when you think about ‘Islands’:

There is evidence that, if I think you are similar to me and you are behaving poorly, I am more likely to behave poorly.  Further, if I think you are dissimilar to me and you are behaving poorly, I am less likely to behave poorly.  In both these cases, I don’t need to know anything about you other than your level of similarity.

Assuming someone is typical because they are like you is typical.  Of course, people are books but you can only see their ‘covers’ in judging whether they are typical or not.

Do you judge a book by its cover?  How typical is this cover of the book?  Does your pattern matching transcend the cover?  Based on the way you answer these questions, should ‘tis nobler apply the statement, the question or both?

How typical.  How typical?

It’s Extraordinary

December 9th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

It is extraordinary.  If it wasn’t for the plentiful evidence, it would be unbelievable.  And the effect that it has on our behaviour is both extraordinary and extra ordinary.

It is extraordinary that we have a predisposition to focus on the extraordinary.  It’s a twist on the usual ‘forest and trees’ connection; in this case, we can’t see the trees all around us as we focus on the chance that a sasquatch lives in the forest and the danger this would represent.  What makes something extraordinary is precisely why this focus is misplaced.  If it was just a question of misplacement, it would be less of an issue for priorities can always be rearranged.

However, concern does grow when displacement enters the cognitive arena.  Displacement is close to replacement; once the crucial focus on the very common ordinary is replaced by an unwavering focus on the very infrequent extraordinary, the risks we (fail to) perceive and the decisions we make accordingly affect our behaviour adversely.

How many falling branches, snakes, spiders, cliffs or weather conditions do you tend to overlook because you think that the real danger is found in the possible presence of an angry Bigfoot?  It’s extraordinary that the extraordinary is so extraordinarily influential.

This music video for the song ‘Extraordinary’ assembles many extraordinary events and piles them one on top of the other but, as you watch it, you have to remember that ‘extraordinary’ is almost never the problem.  However risky you perceive this behaviour, it should never distort your perception of risk towards the extraordinary:

One of the many benefits of effortful experience is the ability to see the bigger picture.  But operating at the level of the bigger picture should not and does not arrive at the expense of only seeing/looking for the biggest risks.  It’s an interesting contrast – experiential learning allows you to cope with the many ordinary risks automatically while you concurrently focus on the extraordinary risks intentionally.

‘tis nobler hopes that you achieve extraordinary things, perhaps just by doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well.  This will involve some risk management – skilled yet ‘ordinary’ performance that should not be distorted by an intentional focus on the extraordinary.

And yet it remains extraordinary that we continually act on our predisposition to focus on the extraordinary.  In what way will you be extraordinary?

The End Of Fooling

December 2nd, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

That must be good news, surely – the end of fooling.  However, where fooling ends is not necessarily the end of fooling.

In a 1939 radio address, President Franklin D Roosevelt uttered these words:

Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.

This is undoubtedly true in principle.  A fiction does not become a fact simply through the process of being repeated.  But the evidence indicates that it is not always true in practice, particularly where an individual and management of their own behaviour is concerned.

Unless we are vigilant, monitoring and managing our behaviour, the ‘lies’ we employ can and do transform into our ‘truths’.  Fooling ends because we no longer consider ourselves to be fooling and that is, perhaps, the ultimate foolishness.  The Doobie Brothers acknowledged this in their – What A Fool Believes – when they sang that ‘what a fool believes, he see’:

Fooling can end when we ‘see the light’.  However, fooling can also end when we hide the light so deeply that we forget that this particular light exists, replacing it with the false illumination produced by our deceptive behaviour.

The approach known as bounded rationality does not mean that our rationality is applied in leaps and bounds; it means that our rationality can be constrained.  Our rationality is not bound (in the sense of ‘heading for’) the right reason or understanding.  Rather, it is bound (in the sense of ‘tied up’) to just a slice of the situation we find ourselves in.  Within this situational slice, it is both easy and tempting to distort things to suit your needs and then consider this distortion as truth.  Are lies the new honesty?

What a fool believes, he sees.  If you see it often enough, what you see eventually becomes true for you.  The end of fooling is determined by what you remember and what you forget.  Will you remember to not believe your own lies or will you forget that your own lies are (and will always remain) lies?  Do you repeatedly transform your own lies into truths?

Who Are You Fooling?

November 28th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

It’s not so much a foolish week at ‘tis nobler this week as a fooling week.  Think of this week’s theme then as ‘tisfoolery’.  The first post raises an interesting ‘chicken and egg’ question; sometimes, cause and effect does not always operate in the direction it appears to.  Untangling cause from effect, effect from cause and effect as cause of a subsequent effect is a constant challenge, especially when these causal relationships are accompanied by a host of correlates that muddy the water. Correlates rarely clarify, and never cause.

And carousels only circle, but whether they circle as a cause, effect or correlate is a matter of some conjecture for your experience of them can be ‘deceptive’:

The real point for presenting this video was to illustrate the circular nature of deception and the many other elements that swirl around this process.  An effect can be described but this description is usually limited to the effect, a linear process that begins with ‘this happened’ and ends with ‘this is what happened’.  And the line continues.

An effect can be explained and this explanation transcends the effect, a non-linear process that begins with ‘this happened’ and ends with ‘this is what happened, this is why it happened and this is what it means’.  And the behavioural ‘space’ is unpacked and re-packed.

But much of what we do falls between description and explanation for the former is too glib and the latter requires too much effort.  Welcome to the land of the pretend explanation, a land overrun by justifications, rationalisations, opinions, bias, strategies and stratagems.  In this land, the aim is to prevail rather than understand.

And it is here where deceit and deception can run rampant.

At some times, we deceive others and then believe our deceit to be true.  At other times, we deceive ourselves in order to better deceive others.  And then we deceive ourselves yet ignore the consequences of our self-deception, or we ‘pretend explain’ these consequences by compounding self-deception.  There is compelling evidence that (self-) deception can be a powerful influence on our own behaviour and the ways in which we interact with others.

But it’s not really a question of causes and effects, of lines and directions. It’s a question of circles.

It’s worth remembering that there’s a lot of (self-) deception going around.  Who are you fooling?

Just Must

November 23rd, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

What is the relationship between ‘just’ and ‘must’?  It sounds initially like an imperative relationship – You JUST MUST do this, go there or see that.  But there’s a deeper connection – there’s always a deeper connection.

The deeper connection is similar to the connection between fairness and fault.  If you view the world as just, often a series of ‘must’ statements follow to reinforce this view.  For the world to be just, the bad things that happen to people just must be their fault.  When you have a choice between the world and a ‘victim’, it’s easier to blame the ‘victim’ than modify your world-view.

Do you remember when ‘tis nobler wrote:

As a strategy, blaming others is much, much more common than it is effective.  Why is it that being seen to be doing ‘something that is really nothing’ is more favoured than just getting on with the job of doing ‘something that is something’?  Pretending that the problems are ‘elsewhere’ because that is where you prefer to look is never a solution.

Think of the choice that is available to all of us all of the time – we can examine and explain or we can believe and blame.  The former takes a lot of effort and may not always be possible or successful but the alternative, while simple and tempting, will invariably be counterproductive.  This is not an argument against beliefs; it is a suggestion to review the connection between belief and blame.  Does it make sense for specific blame (it must have been your fault and you got what you deserved) to flow from a general belief (the world is a decent place)?

‘tis nobler has examined this music video.  ‘tis nobler cannot explain it.  Nor can ‘tis nobler believe it.  However, ‘tis nobler is not about to blame The Who for their ‘failure’:

Blame is an attractive proposition for it protects your belief that bad things happen to people who deserve these things.  Which path will you take – the ‘examine and explain’ journey or the ‘believe and blame’ shortcut?

You have to choose either the ‘Es’ or the ‘Bs’ as this fundamental choice determines the direction and distance of your learning.  You can move forward and keep moving or you can stay where you are and just go through the motions without much progress.

Choose? You just must.

The Damage Done

November 21st, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

There is a media inquiry in Australia at the moment.  Apparently, according to newspaper reports and the testimony of newspaper executives, this inquiry is completely unnecessary as Australian newspapers are perfect.  It is a vendetta orchestrated by non-newspaper people – at least that is how it is being reported in, um, some newspapers.

At the heart of this examination are balance, bias and behaviour, systemic issues that could intentionally or unintentionally present inaccurate information as news.  Still, some may think that inaccuracies – deliberate or otherwise – can be remedied with a retraction, clarification and/or apology.  Is it a case of no real damage done?

The evidence indicates that this apparently reasonable approach of retracting and correcting your mistakes is not the remedy many believe it to be.  Retractions and corrections are the equivalent of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted – they do not ‘place the horse back in the barn’, they just close the door on the original error.  When the damage is done, the damage (or parts thereof) remains ‘done’ despite efforts to undo it.

And the damage remains ‘done’ as it can resist multiple correction efforts, although stronger corrections are better but still not perfect – what is ‘done’ cannot be completely undone.   This remains the case even when corrective efforts are understood and accepted and the original error was relatively innocuous.  Complicating matters further and rendering corrective efforts even more impotent is being receptive to the original error through processes such as framing, priming or confirmation bias – if the error makes sense to you, you will resist attempts to overturn it.

Despite what Beyonce sings – I can have another you by tomorrow, so don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable – the damage done through misinformation errors is often irreplaceable:

How do you reconcile this resistance process – the continued influence effect of misinformation – with the effect that the retrieval of memories has on their content, which ‘tis nobler wrote about here?  The key message is set out below:

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. 

For ‘tis nobler, this underscores the importance of a systemic approach, the centrality of self management and the need to address the efficiency of interventions and not just their effectiveness.  It’s a continuing challenge to ‘connect the many dots’ on an ongoing basis in the most meaningful way you can; however, this is always better than placing your faith in fixed ‘solutions’.

How will you incorporate the message that the damage done cannot be fully undone into your learning and behavioural change efforts?  If redress is undressed for it fails to address the incorrect information expressed, what will you do to sort out the mess!

Skilful Or Superstitious?

November 11th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Birds of a feather flock together, for they say like attracts like, whether they like it or not.  If you combine sufficient and sufficiently robust ‘likes’ together, a pattern is produced.  But what does ‘of a feather’ actually mean in practice?

More importantly, when any two or more things flock together, does this mean they are ‘of a feather’?

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that subjective assessments determine the presence or absence of beauty.  What about patterns – are they also in the eye of the beholder?  Are one person’s patterns another person’s coincidences?

The development, refinement and ongoing validation of patterns underpin skilled performance.  The generation of such patterns could be considered the primary objective of experiential learning.  As you now know, patterns afford greater effectiveness and much greater efficiency of performance.

You take a big chunk out of the required effort to do something because you’ve put in the required effort to establish chunks!

Nevertheless, each and every pattern is affected by transient outliers; such novelties could the unusual forms of the usual or usual forms of the unusual.  In contrast, patterns are usual forms of the usual, which usually apply most (but not all) of the time.  Sorting out the unusual ‘usual’ (unexpected variations), the usual ‘unusual’ (unexpected novelties) and the usual ‘usual’ (expected routines) is the essence of validation – what do these things mean and how do they link together?  This is another area in which distortions can appear.

Validation is a product of continuing experience.  ‘Flocking together’ does not, by itself, make a valid pattern, even if you initially assign meaning to these apparent links.  Coincidental connections occur all the time and mean little or nothing.  Experience will diminish and delete these connections but only if you stop clinging to them, defying the evidence of experiences to protect personal superstitions. And ‘when you believe in things that you don’t understand ….. superstition ain’t the way’:

The distinctions between cause, correlate and coincidence can be difficult to learn for experience and personal meaning are common to all three dimensions.  Patterns can contain real and illusory elements – making sense of the former and seeing sense on the latter is all part of your learning journey.  Will you be skilful or superstitious?

 

A Balancing Act

November 9th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

It’s not fair.  It’s not right.  It’s not valid.   It’s definitely not balanced and, while it is not an act, it influences many of our actions.  Whichever way you look at it, where ‘it’ is the ways you think about yourself and others, the way of looking at it is unequal.  Where does this fundamental problem come from?  Who could be responsible for this inequality? As ‘tis nobler asks these questions, the answer is clear – ‘tis nobler.

Of course, if you are asking the very same questions, the answer is equally clear – you.  Along with wide shut (see previous post), everyone is also unbalanced:

I know myself better than you know yourself.

I know you better than you know me.

My ‘group’ knows your ‘group’ better than your ‘group’ knows my ‘group’.

Your actions ‘speak louder’ (say more about you) than my actions (say about me).

My thoughts ‘speak louder’ (are more consistent with who I am) than your (less consistent) thoughts.

And yet this lack of balance is generally ignored.  Indeed, the suggestion that ‘you know me better than I know myself’ is be a popular theme in literature and music:

But this contention is not supported by the evidence.  The origins of ‘Know Thyself’ are somewhat murky and the application of this saying to daily life is equally problematic.  We think others know us as an open book but our senses and thinking can be ‘wide shut’ and we think we know others much more than they know us because we lack balance.  How can we know ourselves when our perspective is so unbalanced?

Insight can be a marvellous quality but it (and other forms of thinking) can be distorted in many ways.  When you use insight, what is literally and figuratively in sight?  Can you think through these issues in a balanced way?

Find your own way through and around these distortions – it’s a balancing act!

Wide Shut

November 7th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

If you look up, what do you see?  If you’re indoors and taking this question literally, you might answer ‘the ceiling’.  If you’re outdoors and thinking atmospherically, you could answer ‘the sky’.  There is one answer that is independent of location and almost certainly correct regardless of where you are, who you are or what you are doing.

Any ideas on what this could be?  It’s not really a trick question although the answer does involve trickery.  This ‘thing’ must always be above you for you are always under it.

What are you always under?  An illusion!  Being under an illusion – that you are as clear to others as you are to yourself – is a constant companion in your experiential learning and behavioural change efforts, simply because you are you and you are therefore not somebody else.  Of course, they (being all the others) are under the same illusion that you are; this turns the shared illusion into the reality with which we all must cope.  It’s crowded under there!

We all think that others will understand us as we understand ourselves.  We believe this should be straightforward as we consider our feelings and actions to be an ‘open book’, unambiguously there for all to see and comprehend.  Further, as our ‘book’ is open, we should all be on the same page all the time.  But even ‘open books’ present many challenges:

Can you imagine the ways in which misunderstandings flow from our mistaken belief that we are transparent to others?  Can you imagine the ways in which this illusion is compounded because we also assume that the actions of others are as transparent to us as our own actions are?

As a learner and changer, it’s never easy being ‘you’ for you are continually monitoring, identifying, analysing and resolving challenges.  During this process, you will be selective, sometimes to your advantage and sometimes not, you will be suspicious without necessarily knowing the cause and you will be caught short-handed for demands may exceed your capacity to cope.

It’s hard enough being you.  With the ‘book’ metaphor, it is challenging enough to establish where you are, what is happening and what it all means, even when you know the page, paragraph and preceding chapters.  Can you really expect others to ‘read what you are reading’ and therefore understand what you understand?

Try to be transparent, for valid connections with others can only help your journey.  Never just assume that you are transparent, for even though you consider yourself to be an ‘open book’, you will still often appear as an enigma machine to others.

Bobbing Cork, Sailing Craft

November 2nd, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

If ‘tis nobler said that this post was ‘hicoec’, would you realise that it is about choice (or, less cryptically, choice about)?  Perhaps this unusual opening indicates that the spelling of choice is adaptive – that is, it can be changed to adapt to a different situation.  And in this case, the different situation involved a need to be cryptic.

Exercising choice is inherently adaptive in a way that is much deeper and much more important than you might realise.  If you stay on the surface, it is easy to be dismissive of your role in making choices, something which happens many times every day.  After all, many of these choices are straightforward, many of them don’t need a second thought (in fact, many of them don’t even need a (conscious) first thought).  These choices are made to preserve patterns that provide the foundation for skilled performance (and patterns can be known as mental models, schema, mental representations etc).

The methods we use to make our choices are subject to many distortions and biases and yet we strive to avoid losses while trying to gain some benefits.  Most of the time, we’re OK at this (with OK being some distance from ‘good’); some of the time, though, we’re absolutely hopeless.  Again, if you stay on the surface, you can just look at the rewards within a given choice and then bounce from choice to choice.  This sort of behaviour could be considered specifically adaptive and generally positive (adaptive behaviour is designed to make things better).

But choices provide the opportunity to go deeper than this, should we so choose!  It is possible to transcend the rewards within our choices and reap the rewards that exist beyond specific choices, rewards that are found in the act rather than the outcome of choosing.  A bird in the hand might be worth two in the bush but a bird in the hand will always be worth less than the three birds you can obtain by making the effort.

Each choice gives you the opportunity to put your personal stamp on things, to make real that which is important to you.  Choice is about choosing – the surface view – and choice is about control – the deeper view.  Choice as control goes to the heart of self management and is fundamentally adaptive.  The previous post ended with these words:

You have the power to choose to stop. You have the power to choose to change.

And now you should realise that you also have the power to control through choosing.  What you actually do is up to you, for you are free to decide:

A bobbing cork at the mercy of the waves and the wind or a sailing craft pursuing the course established by you as captain – you do have the choice.  Find your own way to choose and control.

Faster Than You Know

September 28th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

If you start at the finish (see previous post), there is no real need to be fast.  You arrive before needing to leave – in fact, arrival at the finish can be almost instantaneous – and the only thing you have to do is construct a ‘credible’ basis for being where you end up.  Only you will know that you didn’t end up there, for ‘there’ is where you started.

But there are many occasions in which you don’t know where and what the finish line is; in these circumstances, relative speed plays an interesting role.  Are you faster at believing or knowing?  Further, when novel information is presented, do your beliefs create your knowledge or are your beliefs derived from your knowledge?

‘tis nobler suspects that most people would think that knowledge is faster than belief, for this is the only way in which belief can have a (partial) foundation.  It reflects, and then may transcend, what you know.  This approach would be defensible, logical and reasonable so you realise by now that it’s wrong.

Evidence indicates that we believe and ‘know’ simultaneously – that is, we believe everything – and knowing (as opposed to ‘knowing’) follows subsequently. ‘Subsequently’ might be measured in milliseconds, seconds or minutes; it is also possible for subsequently to never arrive, which means that the ‘knowing’ beliefs are never challenged and knowing is so far back in second place that it is effectively out of sight (and out of mind).

Think about this as you listen to Black Dub  sing ‘I believe in you’:

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In terms of relative speed, ‘I believe in you’ and, perhaps more importantly, ‘I believe you’ might go without saying – belief is the default position.  The quality of your experiential learning may be defined by how and how often you transcend this default position.

Is there a difference between starting at the finish and getting stuck at the start?  Neither option involves movement, just a steadfast desire to maintain the status quo.

It’s crucial that you remember and activate that which lies between the start and the finish.

And that is the learning journey.  Find your own way.

Starting At The Finish

September 26th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Where do you begin?

With an experiential learning and behavioural change focus, addressing this question philosophically or biologically doesn’t add much value; in fact, this enquiry has nothing to do with chronology.  It’s an enquiry related to decision making.

As a fundamental form of thinking, analogous reasoning suggests starting at the start, building up relationships and ending at the finish.  It’s one-way traffic, reasoning from start to finish. It’s reasonable to see your involvement as reason-able and reasoned.

But it need not, and often isn’t, this way – We are not rational information processors, neither are we consistent and predictable logicians; further, we should remember that ….. Life and learning are not exercises in arithmetic in which we operate as disinterested calculators, adding and subtracting neutrally to conclude the best course of action at any point in time.  Foibles, failings, priorities and preferences ensure that reasoning is a two-way street, one in which you can still find yourself going the ‘wrong’ way.

Without being unreason-able, for you are still reasoning, albeit in a motivated rather than objective manner, you can start at the finish and work your way around until you arrive – at the finish (which is where you started!).  After all, starting at the finish and then working backwards to reach the same finish line does ensure that you end up where you wanted to be.  When you start at the finish, it is virtually guaranteed that you finish where you started.

You can take reasoned, reason-able actions that derive the finish from these actions or you can take actions that ensure that you achieve what you wanted.  Think about it – affect aligns with one or more biases and affects thinking effects. In one sense, starting at the finish is like living life backwards:

Where do you begin? It’s a simple question that has dramatic ramifications for the quality and validity of your reasoning.  You can always think of ‘reasons’ to support starting at the finish but they tend to be rationalisations rather than rationales.  And these ‘reasons’ are difficult to detect for people are effective at masking the affective with the apparently objective.

Where do you begin? It’s a reasonable question – is your answer reasoned or known in advance (for you started at the finish)?

Can’t Stop Now

September 19th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Let’s start the week with a riddle:

When does -10 equal +10?

And the answer is “Never, for -10 usually equals about +20.”  This isn’t a radical arithmetical revision, it’s basic psychology.  As we explore this issue, there are some below-the-surface connections with the (potential) downsides of persistence and resilience that have featured in recent posts.

Life and learning are not exercises in arithmetic in which we operate as disinterested calculators, adding and subtracting neutrally to conclude the best course of action at any point in time.  Arithmetic is objective, logical and predictable; as calculators, we should be able to change easily and rationally in accordance with circumstances.  New ‘numbers’ should produce different ‘answers’!  But they don’t, for the process is distorted in a range of ways.

Losses and gains don’t just differ by direction for they also differ in perceived magnitude.  We dislike losing much more than we like winning, usually the ratio is around 2:1 (does the -10, +20 relationship make some sense now?).  But this post is not about winning and losing, it is about their implications for learning and behavioural change.

The more you do something, the more likely you are to continue doing it simply because of the time and effort you have invested in it.  This emotional ‘demand’ to receive a dividend from this investment prolongs (unsuccessful) effort and prevents change.  When you’re on a good thing, you stick to it’; when you’re on a ‘bad’ thing, you also stick to it for you hate to lose.

It might help if you view both continuing and changing as ways to get a return on your invested effort – why is change (of direction) seen as a loss?  If you focus on sunk costs, you will continue to sink for flogging a dead horse does not bring it back to life.  As the song goes – ‘alright, already, the show goes on’ but it need not remain as the same show until you find the ‘show’ that is all right for you and you are ready for it:

How will you balance persistence, resilience and change of direction?  Does it help to think of effort as fixed and independent of direction, in which you always give it your best shot until you realise it is time to change rather than continue?  Does it help if you think of direction as flexible and continually created by you, for which the concept of ‘loss’ does not apply?

Many people say ‘can’t stop now’ as they believe continuing is more important than changing.  What is stopping them from saying ‘can’t continue now’?  If you lose the current direction, it’s not necessarily a loss.

I Believe I Know

September 9th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Believing you know something is different to knowing that you know.  Believing you know something is also different to knowing that you believe.  When knowledge and belief go head to head in a fight for supremacy, which one emerges victorious?  Do you know the winner is belief or do you believe the answer is knowledge? T hen again, you could believe the winner is belief or just know that knowledge prevails.

The winner is belief, which raises another important question.  Why does ‘tis nobler continually emphasise that effort is essential?

As learners or changers, our default position is paradoxically the status quo.  We often go through the motions for this ensures that there is no motion involved.  It’s comfortable enough right here; the best way to stay where we are is to go around in small circles, the appearance of effort sufficient to avoid the presence of progress.  We will go to great lengths to protect our beliefs and the best way to achieve this is to ‘stand still’.

We are not rational information processors, neither are we consistent and predictable logicians.  Most everything is at the mercy of subjectivity and we are naturally at the very heart of the ‘problem’ for we are our own and our only subject.  We go to great lengths to protect our beliefs; however, in the face of direct and contradictory evidence, surely it is reasonable to assume that we incorporate this information, revise and adapt.

But we don’t do this.  In fact, information ‘confrontation’ doesn’t just encourage us to protect our beliefs by refusing to move from where we are for it serves to strengthen our beliefs.  This can see us set off in a direction opposite to where we should be heading.  Information ‘confrontation’, which should be a source of learning and a motivation for change, can often be a hindrance to both.  Being exposed to information that should boost often backfires:

This is another example of why effort is essential.  Experiential learning and behavioural change can and do present ongoing challenges; both are made more difficult by the subordination of knowledge to belief.  The ongoing resistance to new knowledge that is inconsistent with our beliefs may be the single greatest reason why we stand still or go backwards.

And yet all the time we still believe we’re moving forward.  Can you believe that?

On Trials

September 2nd, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Things will always go wrong.  Error is a constant companion as you learn and try to change your behaviour.  There is no place for the apostrophe and the space (but there is always time for a rhyme):

I’m perfect never applies; imperfect is one of your defining qualities.

Trial and error learning is based on maximising the trials, learning from the errors and then minimising the mistakes.  However, learning from your errors is easier said than done.  Regardless of the ‘lessons’ contained within the experience that didn’t go to plan, you also have to learn how to cope with these experiences.  After all, getting things wrong can be dispiriting and distressing.  And remember, error is just one cause of negative experiences in your learning and behavioural change journey.  What should you do in order to cope when things do go awry?

Thankfully, research findings do present a view on this question and the answer is that it depends on your view of the situation and/or the situation that you are viewing, assuming these aren’t similar.  The Mynabirds must have been aware of this as their song ‘Ways of Looking’ has these lyrics:

I lose my sense at the sight of you

The effortless way you take the worst news

You said “You can move mountains with your point of view”

Doesn’t have to be so hard

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You may not be able to move mountains but your point of view can be a useful coping mechanism when negative experiences happen.  Coping strategies must change in relation to the perceived severity of the ‘problem’ that has occurred.  When severity is lower, you are encouraged to be more positive in your assessment – you cannot and should not take everything to heart.  Minor bumps in your journey may provide additional learning value but it might be best to move on quickly for getting stuck (or, even worse, going backwards or giving up) is a much worse outcome.  Don’t over-analyse these minor bumps; giving them more attention than they deserve can paralyse.  Be positive, see them in the right perspective, push them aside and keep going.

When severity is higher, however, being overly positive is negative.  In these situations, it is important to review the ‘problem’ as honestly as you can, while seeking feedback from others if this helps you.  The additional learning value in these situations is much greater – they represent the real ‘errors’ in trial and error learning – and dismissing them with a positive attitude is counterproductive.

You have to decide whether situations are bumps or BUMPS and whether, as a consequence, you should be overly positive or objectively analytical.  In trial and error learning, trials will always have errors but there is no reason why these errors need be a trial.

Wearing You Down Weakly

August 26th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

From previous ‘tis nobler posts, you are aware that self control – an important component of self management – can be affected by a range of factors.  If you browse the archives, you’ll find posts on the self control benefits of psychological distance (the greater the ‘distance’, the better the self control), the self control trap that is the restraint bias (you’re not as ‘strong’ as you think you are so don’t challenge your self control by seeking temptations), the connection between self control and procrastination (more self control = less procrastination) and the benefits of exaggerating the threat that temptations pose (called counteractive construal):

Perhaps this evidence indicates that it can also be good to go the other way, exaggerating the cost of temptations in order to maintain self control and (longer term) goal adherence.  Be neither a saint nor a sinner for you won’t be perfectly good or perfectly bad.  You’ll just be – doing your best more often than not, dealing with the obstacles and temptations as best you can at the time and making forward progress despite the occasional steps back……If you exaggerate the costs of losing your way whenever temptations appear, it may enable you to continue finding your own way. How do you construe this message?

And this last issue – exaggerating the threat of temptations – introduces the additional concept of strength.  Given all of the interacting elements, how does the strength of a temptation – weak or strong – affect your ability to maintain self control?

By definition, you would expect strong temptations to pose a greater challenge to self control; after all, one of the ways to interpret strong temptations is that they are much harder to resist.  Almost irresistible must mean frequent loss of control – how can you resist when the temptation is almost overpowering?  On the other hand, weak temptations should be more like water off a duck’s back.

However, the evidence reverses these expectations, with a series of studies indicating that weak temptations represent a greater threat to self control.  The explanation is that, effectively, insidious beats irresistible in the self control challenge.  It is true that ‘every little bit hurts’ but because there are so many more ‘little bits’ or weak temptations, their individual and aggregate effect is to undermine self control much more than the infrequent but much stronger temptations:

The message is that you are more likely to be worn down weakly, for weak temptations (and your relative weakness for them) occur daily.  Can you see how this position is consistent with the value of ‘distance’, the operation of restraint bias and immunity through threat exaggeration?

In experiential learning and behavioural change, there are no single answers and no watertight guarantees.  For self control to be sustained, active management of complexity rather than blind faith in a simple recipe is required.

Affecting History

August 24th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

They say history is written by the winners, which makes some sense.  Those who attain (or regain) power are in a position to define, or perhaps rewrite, past events to suit their current needs.  They have the capacity to say ‘This is what really happened’, even if it didn’t.  Of course, it’s an ongoing and dynamic process. In ‘The Changing Of The Reasons’, ‘tis nobler referred to evidence that indicated that our reasoning in support of our actions is unstable over time; yesterday’s reason might not apply today and today’s reason might be changed tomorrow.  Combined with the hindsight bias – past uncertainty is dismissed for the result was ‘never in doubt’ -, history is affected by the winners in many ways.

Of course, winning allows the winners to hide their mistakes, sanitising the past so that they appear in the strongest possible light.  Errors of omission (things they should have done but didn’t) and errors of commission (things they did that they should not have) are removed, leaving an impressive but misleading track record.

They say winners are grinners, which also makes some sense.  Personal achievement warrants celebration although the exaggerated triumphalism that accompanies relatively modest results can be annoying.  Still, success produces smiles!

What does it mean if you try to combine the rewriting and the grinning?  Is there a relationship between changing the past and enjoying the present?  What is the relationship between predictions of the future and affect?  For emotional measures, recent evidence suggests the relationship takes this form:

We are inaccurate in predicting how we will feel after an action or event takes place.

We are revisionary in that we alter our past predictions to accord with our current emotional state.

There can be an emotional dimension to many of the decisions we make – doing this will make me feel good or better.  ‘tis nobler wonders whether these findings encourage you to either place more emphasis on other decision making factors or downplay the role of your anticipated feelings as a reason for acting.  Welcome (yet again) to the labyrinth.

If you knew how you were going to feel, would you be happier?

This is yet another example of how our current version of the past is modified by current experience.  Time can be both a coin and a sword – it can have two sides or be double-edged.  Think about this when you use the way you think you’re going to feel in the future, once you have done what you have decided to do.  Your predictions are most likely wrong and you’ll rewrite the past to cover this up.

The anticipation of affect affects what you do but this does seem unreliable.  How else would you act if using (future) affect as a criterion was history?  That’s something to think about right now, for past, present and future feelings are linked in ways that you may not expect.