Look around you. And then explore, analyse and establish. Can you see the design floors?
A design floor is the ultimate and fundamental design flaw. Individually, design flaws are often simple to identify and, with the right tools, rectify – at least in part. Perfection is an asymptotic concept; striving for constant improvement will get you closer and closer without ever actually arriving. Don’t be fooled though, design flaws can be persistent, ingrained and resistant to change. Flawless is a nonsensical objective but ‘flaw less’ can be attained.
But the design floor might appear impossible to overcome, for it must be achieved through revolution rather than evolution. Design floors can’t be tinkered with, they must be tossed out! A design floor is the foundation on which a program, policy or pursuit is based, a foundation that allows certain things and constrains or eliminates other things.
Floors are low, not deep; when you think about it, floors can be viewed as a shield against the deep. And low is close to the lowest common denominator, low is close to shallow and low is very close to face validity. Low is about appearance rather than substance, low is about the bottom rather than the deep and the deep is the only way to get to the top.
Foundations can be strong but this needs effort, insight and persistence. Foundations can be weak and this just requires disinterest and a willingness to tolerate the design floor; despite these weaknesses, things often keep rolling on:
It’s another fundamental choice in experiential learning and behavioural change. Will you tolerate design floors and pretend that things are as good as they can be? Or will you actively work to rectify design flaws and realise that things can be better than they are?
The last ‘Slow Down Sunday’ post had a strong numerical theme; ‘tis nobler thought numbers could feature in this post to explore some fundamental themes in experiential learning and behavioural change.
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10.
That’s arithmetic – in experiential learning and behavioural change, you’ll use much more sophisticated mathematics without really being aware of it. And you’ll do this even if you think you’re no good at maths. In the artificial world of the classroom, you might struggle with maths but, in the real world of learning and changing, you’re a maths wizard!
10 > 1 +2 +3 +4.
That’s synergy, in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Life and learning are not additive pursuits. When you devote effort to the 1s, 2s 3s and 4s (etc), this experience produces something that is greater, more elegant, more effective and more efficient. Mindlessly following a recipe is a recipe for ‘disaster’. Transcend the mechanical.
2 + 2 = 4, NOT 5, 6, 3.5 or any other number suggested by someone else to satisfy specific circumstances.
That’s a reflection of values. While mathematics is the one absolute and universal discipline, undisciplined or expedient behaviour can be applied to mathematics and, more broadly, the scientific method, to distort the truth. Thinking, saying or doing ‘calculations’ in which 2 + 2 = 5 is the slipperiest of all slippery slopes. Stay true and stay truthful, for numbers don’t lie:
Finally, remember that any number (and the distance between any two numbers) equals infinity. Apparently straightforward tasks possess depth and complex tasks have great depth. It just doesn’t make sense to think that you can skate over the surface and cope with all the challenges.
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10. But there are infinite ways to get to 10.
This week has seen ‘tis nobler explore the concept of happiness. Apart from the ‘slow down’ post on Christmas Day, this is the last post of 2011. ‘tis nobler can see a personal link between those two statements but would be disappointed if readers made the same connection.
To finish off for the time being, it’s now or never, and variations thereof. ‘Now or never’ is often said with a motivational purpose, so what is the connection with happiness? There is a connection; in fact there are many connections, which is why you must always find your own way. There is no other way to navigate experiential learning and behavioural change; anybody who tells you different is selling you short or sending you off (your) course.
This connection is as much about principle as it is about evidence, it is as much about emotion as it is about reason and it is only about you, no-one else. It is about trying to learn from the past rather than alter its meaning (see Monday’s post) and it is about trying to change the attractively abstract into the contentedly concrete (see Wednesday’s post). And, perhaps most of all, it is about now and it is not now, or perhaps ever, about ‘about’. Or is it, for these choices are yours alone?
There is evidence that ‘small and often’ is more potent that ‘large and occasional’ in producing happiness. ‘Small’ can be a very discriminating predictor – a momentary delay during a pleasant experience can produce higher ratings of happiness as it creates the perception of two pleasant experiences. And two is better than one. Similarly, there are many studies investigating the relationship between money and happiness; in summary, it seems some helps but more doesn’t help more.
It is just as dubious to conclude that money or small pleasures cause happiness as it is conclude that money or small pleasures will cause you to be happy. Understanding the former can be assisted by this insightful and accessible article while understanding the latter can be assisted by appreciating the deep and durable power of ‘Find Your Own Way’.
Being happy now – as they say, ‘IN’ your life – or pursuing happiness – as they say, being happy ‘ABOUT’ your life – are not mutually exclusive or perfectly and consistently relevant to you. Not now does not mean never, just as now does not mean always! You must make personal sense of all of this rather than expect the meaning derived by others to apply to you as well; you must create it yourself rather than receive it from others. After all, effort is essential. And that message is a good way to see out 2011.
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.
One aim of experiential learning is to make sense of the world around you. Armed with this understanding, you are better able to cope with the ‘usually usual’ and its variations. Sense comprises a number of dimensions – good/bad, valid/invalid, possible/impossible, right/wrong, expected/unexpected and many more.
It is not application of these polar extremes within a given situation that enables you to manage effectively but your ability, developed through extensive experience, to discern and act on all of the subtleties that may appear between them. Being able to appreciate the rich detail between these poles, the many shades of grey rather than just black and white, is an indicator of expertise.
Today’s post focuses on another dimension – true/untrue. There is self deception, something that ‘tis nobler has written about here and here; let’s look at social deception in this post. There are various guides to language, both verbal and body, that present indicators of deception. These indicators are similar to the ‘poles’ of sense, perhaps helpful at a general level but rarely relevant at the specific level. Deception interacts with intention to make the implausible plausible and the unreasonable reasonable. This is absolutely true – if you don’t believe ‘tis nobler, believe The Eurythmics:
Do people lie to you? Of course they do, for communication is not restricted to a neutral process of information transmission. There are no ‘one size fits all situations’ recipes – life is not that neat and predictable. There is, however, some evidence-based guidance that is summarised below; be warned, some of this guidance is drawn from the literature and some of it is concocted. How and why will you establish the difference for therein lies the real value in this message?
Those seeking to deceive:
Say as little as possible to avoid tripping up. Or do they hide their deception by speaking a lot?
Justify what they are saying while saying it. Or do they fail to provide a justification?
Pay close attention to your reactions as they speak. Or do they pay little attention to the reception of their story?
Will speak faster as the story unfolds. Or do they speak slower to make sure they remain consistent?
The statements are correct. Or are the questions correct? Perhaps some statements and some questions are true. Confronting the need to discern truth from untruth is an ongoing challenge as part of your mission to make sense of the world. It is unlikely you will encounter the logical absurdity of the Liar’s Paradox; it is much more likely that you will need to resolve issues on a relative basis.
And in a relative, probabilistic and imperfect world, the one thing you can always apply to this task is effort. Would ‘tis nobler lie to you?
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.
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.
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?
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.
We realise from the last post that around is not forward. Around is around, and around is anything but forward. Around can be a backward step in many ways, and not one of those ways is forward.
Trying to unpack ‘forward is not straightforward’ can also lead us in many directions. One of the main reasons why forward is not straightforward is that going around is comfortable and non-threatening. How do you break away from going around (in circles) in order to move forward?
It’s interesting that the last thing to do is often the first thing done – reduce the challenge and complexity involved in breaking away to simple catchcries and empty slogans. If ‘just do it’ enabled people to ‘just do it’, then ‘it’ would always get done. It’s just not that easy. There is some general guidance from research studies that might make moving forward more straightforward (and remember, be positive, think comparative).
To move forward rather than around, realise firstly that everything is more important than it may appear, for the opportunity to move forward is ever present. This does not mean that everything is crucial or critical; neither does it mean that you must never miss an opportunity for you will miss many, many opportunities. But if you move forward more often because you understand that things are more important than they seem, it’s a step in the right direction! And these steps form a pattern, and we all know how important patterns are to learning and behavioural change.
At the tipping point for moving forward, implement rather than create. Thinking ‘on your feet’ might be all you need to decide that it’s safer to go around rather than forward. Make symbolic changes as a means to an end; many think that symbolic change is an end in its own right for it is, after all, a change. Real change, demonstrated by moving forward, can be made more likely by making small changes that symbolise a commitment to change.
Don’t focus on the process and ignore the occasional stumble; remember and reinforce the reason for moving forward. You can avoid the process and the stumbles by going around but you also avoid the reason for breaking away from just going around at the same time. Regardless of how you do it, the principle underpinning all of these strategies is a simple one:
Don’t hold back, just push things forward!
Forward does not necessarily mean straight so only you can decide whether ‘crooked’ is forward or around. Straight or ‘crooked’, though, forward is never straightforward. Can you get your head around that?
This is the fifth (of six) ‘strategic’ post in a row, which hardly seems random (for the sole reason that it isn’t). Yet the appearance of randomness influences learning and behavioural change in a host of ways. Let’s start with a few questions.
Would your friends describe you as fantastic or bombastic? Would your friends describe you as gymnastic or inelastic? Would your friends describe you as enthusiastic or plastic? Would your friends describe you as ecclesiastic or scholastic?
Would your friends think these rating are drastic or exaggerated? Exaggerated? EXAGGERATED?? That doesn’t fit the pattern!
The use of ‘exaggerated’ isn’t sarcastic – it’s stochastic. Actually, it’s not stochastic, but ‘tis nobler is trying to make a point. And the point has to do with how you go about explaining things, for your explanations can affect everything you do.
Stochastic means random, a messy word that might be best defined as unpredictable, although this might just mean things are happening according to a pattern of which we are unaware. Just because things look random doesn’t mean that they are – even many sets of ‘random’ numbers are, in technical terms, pseudo-random rather than truly random.
The difference between things appearing mostly random or mostly predictable is you!
Everybody knows the saying, ‘S#@t happens’. Is this just ‘bad luck’? Was it unavoidable? Was it a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was there anything you could have done differently? In order, ‘tis nobler suggests that the answers to these questions are improbable, probably not, possibly and absolutely.
How would you answer these same questions?
Stochastic systems aren’t entirely chaotic; they have both predictable and unpredictable elements – just knowing how they start out doesn’t guarantee that you’ll know how they finish (if it did, the system would be deterministic, not stochastic). Traffic is stochastic – you can predict reliably, but not perfectly, what most other drivers will do because most behave in accordance with rules and social norms most of the time. You can predict that almost every driver will stay on their side of the road almost all of the time but you can’t be completely sure that, as you round the next corner, you won’t be faced with another car coming straight towards you on your side of the road. Welcome to the stochastic world!
Unpredictability is always from a particular viewpoint – an event may appear unpredictable to you but not to others. An event may appear unpredictable to you simply because you didn’t notice the things that led up to it. It may have been surprising (to you) but it wasn’t unpredictable. If you don’t see something, does this make it inherently unpredictable?
Being ‘unpredictable’ doesn’t mean being unavoidable; the key dimension is time. You can ‘predict’ something just as it is about to happen but that’s not much of a prediction. The challenge is to operate ahead of time, to anticipate so that you have the time to work out what to do and then do it. Anticipation is a hallmark of experience.
Until now, we’ve talked about stochastic things as things you have to anticipate, avoid or cope with. But there’s another side that is exciting:
“What’s the point of living it without a tiny little bit of ….”
Don’t be determined by others or by events that you think are beyond your control. Be determined to find your own way, even when the process appears stochastic. Appearing random can be transformed into being in control through that essential element – effort.
It will remain a partially stochastic behavioural world. Stochasticity is part of the challenge but it’s also part of the fun.
Learning and change can be great fun, producing memorable experiences that just seem to flow. But these don’t last forever.
Learning and change can be real ordeals, producing difficult periods that you just can’t seem to shake. But these don’t last forever.
Between the fun times and the ordeals, learning and change can just be! They remain a part of your day to day life, even though they may be swamped by apparently more pressing matters.
How should you treat the highs? How should you cope with the lows? And how should you persevere when you are in the much, much larger ‘space’ between them? There is much guidance on overcoming procrastination and much assistance on perseverance – much of which you can find by browsing these archives or exploring elsewhere. None of this information has real meaning unless you derive it personally. Without this investment of effort, just empty words remain.
Learning isn’t consistent, progress isn’t linear, change isn’t guaranteed and perseverance isn’t unchanging. While there will be times when you feel like you’re making great progress, it’s probably more likely that you’ll be feeling as though there’s nothing left to learn (which is wrong because you’ll continue to improve for many years). It’s a rollercoaster ride – sometimes you roll along, sometimes you coast and sometimes you struggle to cope because it’s a rollercoaster. All the time, however, you are riding.
Even when you don’t think you are in ‘the game’, you ARE in ‘the game’.
Still, there will be many times when you’re going to feel as though you are frozen, something which (you and) others may not understand. But, when you unfreeze, just look at the response!
At different times, actions, learning, motivation and progress can appear frozen. Learning and change should not be icy. Instead, learning and change should always aim to be ‘I See’. Think of effort as the great defroster! Think of what will get you moving again!
Last week, there was nothing and this week it is all about nothing. Nothing changes, and therein can be found a key dimension of experiential learning and behavioural change. It’s not that nothing changes for nothing does change – if you see what ‘tis nobler means.
Neither is it that nothing changes into something, for nothing has been something all along. If some think that nothing is nothing, ‘tis nobler wonders whether this is why some also hold the view that nothing changes. And they hold this view even when nothing changes! T here is much ado about nothing; not for nothing is nothing this week’s theme.
Zero separation suggests absolute proximity or the closest of close contact. You might hear people say that you can’t tell two things apart or that they can’t split them. Zero separation indicates equivalence and difficulty. But, for experiential learners and behavioural changers, zero separation is often the first and always the easiest thing to do.
Unfortunately, being first and easiest can create problems, and this is the downside of zero separation.
It is easy to identify things that reside completely beyond your learning and change challenges – those things that have zero probability of occurring. Separating these things from things that have a chance of occurring is straightforward for you only need to concentrate on the most extreme of events – your diet being threatened by winning a lifetime supply of donuts or crashing your car after swerving to avoid space junk that had just fallen from the sky. The simplicity of removing the impossible may however spill over into a biased view of the possible – a sort of ‘simple is as simple isn’t’!
Separating the possible from the ‘impossible’ adds little value to your learning/change journey and neither does separating the possible from the ‘certain’. All of the value can be found in how well you distinguish the probable from the less probable, realising at the same time that these probabilities change continually.
Once you leave zero behind, all you have to do is zero in – as much as possible – on the possible for it is in the way you cope with the richness of experience between zero and not zero that will define you. The value of effort and experience is clearly demonstrated in the knowledge that beyond zero is everything:
It’s certainly possible to manage the probable but everything depends on you.
Vapid – offering no stimulation or challenge, insipid, flat, dull or tedious.
Vacuous – lacking in ideas or intelligence, mindless, stupid, inane or empty.
Vague – having uncertain, indefinite or unclear meaning, imprecise, inexact or unfocused.
Be Yourself – a catchcry of the self-help and life coaching industries.
Which ‘v’ word would you apply to the catchcry ‘Be Yourself’? You might consider ‘Be Yourself’ in more directly positive terms – valid, valuable, venturesome or virtuous. Actually, ‘tis nobler thinks one of the first three – vapid, vacuous and vague – is positive, fundamentally and inescapably positive.
And that word is vague. Vague isn’t vaguely positive, it’s very positive.
It can be good sometimes to know exactly how you’re going – whether learning or changing – but do you really need to know exactly? There is a body of evidence that indicates that precision of feedback can have negative consequences; knowing exactly leaves you little room to ‘be yourself’ as a learner or changer, leading to motivational and/or attitudinal problems. It’s also another argument against ‘spoon-feeding’ for your (perhaps) messy contribution to your own learning is supplanted by a more defined yet less effective contribution from an outsider. The traditional teaching and training model sees vagueness as an enemy, replacing it with concise definitions and clear prescriptions. This model replaces your vagueness with its clarity to the detriment of your learning.
Can you see how vagueness relates to effort? From the fuzzy logic of the real world, you create and validate patterns through your own efforts and these patterns guide your behaviour. The fuzziness, though, is never eliminated. This is where the real value of ‘being yourself’ can be demonstrated, just as Audioslave do in these lyrics;
And even when you’ve paid enough, been pulled apart or been held up, With every single memory of the good or bad faces of luck, Don’t lose any sleep tonight, I’m sure everything will end up alright, You may win or lose, But to be yourself is all that you can do ……
If you think it through, ‘be yourself’ is positively vague and therefore very positive. If you don’t think it through, then ‘be yourself’ is vaguely positive and therefore very irrelevant (just like most other things are when you’re a passive recipient).
The only way to deal with vagueness is to find your own way, not once, twice or occasionally but each and every time. There is nothing vague about that.
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.
The previous post may have been considered quite inflammatory, given the enormous value placed on perseverance and resilience. But, if being resilient becomes the main game rather than allowing you to remain in the (more important) game, resilience can become an obstacle and not a support.
Nothing in experiential learning and behavioural change comes free of charge and everything is, in a sense, finite. There are benefits and costs, risks and rewards, failures and successes. Optimal applies much more often than maximal.
Resilience has an absolute and significant value but it can also have relative and significant costs. Now there’s evidence that remaining resilient in the face of unachievable goals has a price, with those unable to disengage from an unattainable goal showing poorer health status (associated with higher levels of inflammatory processes). The price can be physical, it can be psychological and it can be emotional. While finding your own way is crucial within a specific pursuit, finding your own way is also vital in leaving one specific pursuit and engaging with another. If effort remains intact, this change is never about quitting!
There are many words that could be written to explore this particular issue; ‘tis nobler will avoid the temptation (please hold the applause) and encourage you to think through all of the concepts in these two videos:
You can pay the price for staying the course as a little boat or you can feel the wind in your hair and see the blue sky above if you change. In specific circumstances, what is the best thing to do? There is no real answer to this question – it would be nice if there was a recipe to follow but this stuff doesn’t work that way.
Perseverance and resilience can be both valuable and costly. Find your own way, sometimes in a little boat and sometimes in a car.
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?
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
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.
Goals are funny things if you stop to think about them, not that many people do. Goals are usually and blindly accepted as good things:
People often assume that having goals is a good thing, and it is. People often assume that these goals are a source of motivation, and they might be. People often assume that a fixed attachment to their goals is both required and desirable and they are wrong. Goals are an end, but they can also end the means, yet another behavioural paradox!
Goals aren’t neutral, defining an end and then waiting passively on the sidelines for you to act accordingly in order to arrive. For as long as they exist, they will have an influence and you must decide, actively and continually, whether this influence is positive or negative at any point. In the post linked above, tis nobler stated:
If you see your future as fixed, you are less likely to arrive there.
And if you imagine that this future is positive, you are also less likely to arrive there – you should expect the positive and imagine the negative! Reasonable (in size and probability) expectations of success can direct your efforts towards goal achievement; in contrast, low expectations of success can see you heading somewhere else (which is not necessarily a bad thing if you think it through. It’s healthy to think of ‘failure’ as delayed success).
Now, here’s another finding to throw into the decision making mix – there are benefits in breaking goals down and breaking goals up. The direction doesn’t matter as either direction can keep you heading in the right direction. Reframing goals into more easily digested, bite-sized pieces is the key. ‘tis nobler isn’t talking about global goals that can be fixed, fuzzy and forever out of reach; ‘tis nobler is talking about concrete, shorter term goals that affect the next few months or a year or so. These goals – think of weight loss as the example – require regular effort.
Framing a commitment as ‘3 hours per week’ seems less likely to be sustained than its reframed version of ‘less than half an hour a day’. It just appears easier and effort is maintained when things are a little easier:
Making things seem a little easier is not the same as making things easier. Perception is the issue, not effort. Making things seem a little easier is NOT avoiding the harder stuff; it’s a way of making the harder stuff more likely to occur. You can construct a better future by deconstructing your goals, and you can do this without altering them. How easy is that?
Should I turn left or right? Should I just keep going? Does it make sense to backtrack for a while? What does that mean anyway? Where should I head next? How do I know if I’m heading in the right direction? Isn’t there a path I can follow? Everything looks the same, nothing makes any sense, progress is very difficult to detect and I’m starting to wish I’d never set out.
Welcome to the labyrinthine world of experiential learning and behavioural change:
Despite many and ongoing attempts to present the learning and behavioural change ‘world’ as simple, straightforward and structured, the reality is that it’s messy. But this doesn’t mean that it’s a mess for it is always possible to find your way and find it in a way that becomes increasingly effective and efficient.
Perhaps the most famous, yet mythical, labyrinth was that constructed by Daedalus – no bull! Actually, there was a bull (well, that’s half right) but that’s another story. You might like to ponder what implications Daedalus’ son’s behaviour also has for learning – his son was called Icarus – but that’s also another story. The story to be told today concerns the way that Theseus found his way in the labyrinth and slew the Minotaur, the half man, half bull. He used a simple ball of yarn; he overcame the labyrinth because of (his) strings attached.
Regardless of the complexity, the seeming impenetrability of Daedalus’ design, there was a simple solution. And this is diametrically opposed to experiential learning and behavioural change, for there are no simple solutions. ‘tis nobler suggests that acceptance of two guiding principles will ensure that you will always find your own way through each and every learning and change labyrinth:
There is no one right answer, but there can be many right answers.
Conversely, history tells us that there have been many wrong answers, but there is no reason why any particular answer should be wrong.
The only truly right answer is the one you provide to yourself through your effort and engagement; looking for others to supply it will ensure that you’ll remain lost in the labyrinth. At any point in your journey, being ‘lost’ or confused is never an indication that you’re going the wrong way – change of direction is much, much less important than maintenance of momentum.
Just keep going and, while you never escape the learning labyrinth, many of the internal walls do disappear. Navigate the labyrinth your way, no strings attached.
‘tis nobler wants you to think of someone who has acknowledged expertise. Don’t select an ‘expert’ for there are ‘experts’ everywhere; expertise is somewhat thinner on the ground. For every person with expertise, there are many others who profess to be experts. Expertise doesn’t involve doing the extraordinary – it’s about doing the ordinary competently, confidently, convincingly and consistently. Those with expertise, that is, those who have made a sustained learning effort, can recognise expertise in others for it presents as another recognisable pattern. You may not be able to explain the pattern adequately – they are just good at what they do – but you do know it when you see it.
‘Competently, confidently, convincingly and consistently’ leaves out the concept of certainty. Those with expertise must be certain in what they’re doing; after all, they have done it many times before. Surely, then, a ‘certain’ expert (c.f. an uncertain novice) would be more persuasive in communicating the ways to behave. They know because they do so well; they do so well because they know.
However, the relationship between expertise, certainty and persuasion seems more surprising. When those perceived as lacking expertise appear more certain, they are seen as more persuasive. Conversely, when those perceived as having expertise appear less certain, they are seen as more persuasive. Apparently, and sadly, if you don’t really know what you’re talking about, speak with great conviction in order to persuade others; why do politicians spring to mind as an appropriate example? Alexander Pope suggested that ‘some people will never learn anything because they understand everything too soon’. An unshakeable belief in their own message can override the shaky foundation on which it is built.
The ‘uncertain expert’ received support from George Santayana who said that ‘the wisest mind has something yet to learn’. Can you imagine how these issues relate to your learning journey and its many features? Can you unravel and re-connect elements such as certainty, effort, (over)confidence, motivation, curiosity and perseverance?
Certainty should never be an outcome of experiential learning. Certainty can never be a pre-condition for continued (lifelong) learning. Nobody knows everything in a given area or specific skill, even though this is exactly what some may profess. Everybody does know something of potential value to your own learning journey – keep your ears, eyes and minds open along the way. Remember, however, others are describing what they do (or what they think they are doing) and description is not explanation. Explanations are constructed from your own efforts yet, as a product of your cumulative experience, your own explanations often remain hidden from you (and are thus even further away from others).
As you know, though, there is an exception to every rule. To end this post, watch this short video; it encapsulates great expertise, total certainty and compelling persuasiveness:
Is this post persuasive? ‘tis nobler is certainly not certain – if it is, that must mean ‘tis nobler is an [complete this sentence using a noun that begins with the letter ‘E’]. 🙂