Deal With Stress

The Perils of Thinking You Know What I’m Thinking

City Business WomenEven though you probably know this intellectually, it may elude you in the heat of your day to day interactions.  That can lead to all sorts of miscommunication and conflict.  In this post, we’ll look at the huge ramifications of a powerful insight and how we can work with it to work better with each other.

We live in our own little worlds, filtering everything that happens and everything that others say and do through the lens of our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs at the moment.  I call this The Law of Perception: “What you experience is the result of where you are coming from at any given time.”

Now, this filtering activity is very important.  Without perceptual filters, we would be bombarded with an overwhelming amount of input from everything and everyone around us, as well as from our own inner worlds.  Who doesn’t feel on the edge of information overload these days?  To be able to focus your attention and take in just what you need to right now is a powerful skill.

Yet most of this filtering happens subconsciously, so we don’t notice it.  We think that we just “see things the way they are.”  This leads to conflict when someone else sees things differently—which is more the rule than the exception.  Even in my relationship with my wife, whom I’ve known for 20 years, I have to watch out for this tendency to interpret what she’s saying through the filter of what I’m thinking and feeling.

How often do you find yourself reacting to what you think someone else is thinking, saying, or doing, only to find out later that they had something completely different in mind?  How often does a conflict get resolved when you find yourself saying, “Sorry, I thought you meant ‘this,’ but I now see that you really meant ‘that.’  Now I get it.”  Because we are all filtering the world through the limited lens of our personal history, needs, and interests, it’s natural that this will happen all the time.

So, what can we do about it?

The first thing is to be consistently aware of the fact that what you are experiencing is the result of where you are coming from.  When you are aware of your current perspective and understand that it is just one way of looking at things amongst many possibilities, you free yourself from getting locked into a limited point of view.  You open up to the notion that, no matter what you see happening, there are a variety of ways to look at it.  You realize that the world is much bigger than how it appears to you at any given time.

This leads to a second internal action: let go of your preconceptions and open your mind to take in another’s perspective.

Once you know that your viewpoint is just a viewpoint—and not the only one—you are more open to other points of view.  This not only widens your perspective, but it creates an environment for understanding and working with others.  How many conflicts would be avoided or resolved if you were able to clearly state where you are coming from and be open to truly hearing and respecting where the other person is coming from?

I’ve found that is an ongoing practice which I need to keep at the forefront of my mind every day.

Deal With Stress

The Perils of Quick Thinking

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailWhat if many of the judgments and decisions you make had little to do with facts or even probabilities?  What if the bulk of what you are thinking was automatically triggered by random circumstances in the environment?    What if that tendency was the source of many arguments, conflicts and poor results in your life?  Would that surprise you?  Would you be a little alarmed?  Could knowing this really help you?

I’m reading a fascinating book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman.  In it Kahneman describes two thinking systems that influence our experiences, judgments, and decisions—what he calls System 1 and System 2.  In a nutshell, System 1 is quick, intuitive, emotional, automatic, and efficient.  System 2 is slow, methodical, rational, deliberate, and time and energy consuming.

In our fast-paced, get-it-all-done-yesterday culture, it’s no wonder that most of us use System 1 as our default mode most of the time.  This has obvious advantages in helping us speed through life and not get overwhelmed.

For example, as quickly as you can, answer the following simple math problem:

Together, a bat and a ball cost $1.10.  If the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

If you answered 10 cents, you’re not alone.  Many people give that answer.  That’s a quick answer that seems intuitively correct.  That was a System 1 response.

Let’s do a little System 2 math to check it:

If the ball is 10 cents, then the bat would have to be $1.00 to add up to $1.10.  $1.00 minus 10 cents is a difference of 90 cents.  We were told that the difference between the two prices was $1.00, so this answer is incorrect.

The correct answer is 5 cents for the ball and $1.05 for the bat, which leaves a difference of $1.00 between the two and they add up to $1.10.

As you can see, System 1 has some drawbacks.  It may be fast and efficient, but it can lead to wrong answers.  It turns out that System 1 has all sorts of tendencies that lead us to false information and beliefs.  For example, System 1 is biased by what is easiest, what agrees with what we already know, what we like and don’t like, what happened most recently, what was emotionally intense, what is reported in the media, and even words we just read or heard.

Here’s another example to check your own inner process.  When you are asked a question, how often do you take time to define terms, understand exactly what is being asked, survey relevant evidence on different sides of the issue, question the validity of that evidence, and then express an opinion based on which evidence you consider to be the strongest?

When I turn that lens on myself, I am amazed at how quickly I answer without doing any of the above.  I often have an intuitive “quick hit,” then I will go on to tell a story that backs up my quick response.

The next time you end up in a political discussion, notice if you do something like that.  Do you really know what you’re talking about?  Do you really understand the complexity of the issue, the evidence on the different sides of it, and the credibility of that evidence?  Or are you quickly reacting from prejudgments, biases, and personal likes and dislikes?  Which is it really?

Kahneman’s book shares a wealth of research revealing how we make judgments, form beliefs, and make decisions.  Surprisingly, in some of our most important life decisions we are “winging it” on the basis of false assumptions we’re not even aware of.

So, what’s the quick moral of this story?  For me, it’s this:

Mindfulness is invaluable.

In other words, it is well worth the time and energy to slow down and pay a bit more attention to what we’re thinking, feeling, assuming, and believing—especially when it comes to things that are important to us.

If you have an important judgment or decision to make, call in System 2 to help you out.  Slow down and clearly define the issue.  Seek as much evidence as you can on different sides of the question.  Gather a wide range of opinions from others.  Ask yourself, what if the opposite of what I’m thinking were true?  Seek proof for and against your position.  Check your sources.  Double-check your calculations.

It’s not that intuition should never be trusted.  Intuition is the source of our most amazing insights.  At the same time, our “quick hits” can mislead us.  Understand that subconscious biases often take over and lead you to false conclusions.  So bring in System 2, when things really matter.  Use your intuition to come up with a range of possible solutions, then test and fine-tune those solutions with your rational mind.

Can you see how using both systems can help you come to better solutions?

Can you see how that helps you work better with others?

Together fast and slow thinking lead us to more conscious, compassionate, accurate, and effective solutions.