Better decisions ~ Better outcomes

 

On “Banes and Biases”. Fears large and small that hold us back

First the Banes

Once upon a time, there was a king of great fortune and power.

He ruled his empire with tyrannical zeal.

History has it that he wasn’t particularly gifted in either administration or military prowess. He made a futile attempt at rebranding himself as a “philosopher-king”. He even hired Plato as an executive coach for a while. Like most tyrants, he wasn’t very coachable, so that whole thing didn’t pan out.

One day one of his pandering courtiers commented. “Gee. It must be really cool being King with all that luxury and power and stuff!”

His reply: “Oh yeah? You just try it and see if you can last a whole day!”

Note to reader: I’m paraphrasing liberally. 

So arrangements were made for this up-sucker to be King for a day. Unbeknown to him, the King arranged to have a heavy sword suspended directly over the throne by a single hair from a horse’s tail. He wanted to convey the imminent and ever-present threat of fear and peril faced by those in positions of great power.

Of course, when the dude became aware of the hanging sword, he started pleading with the King to get out of the deal. He departed in shame and disgrace.

This anecdote, known as “Sword of Damocles” originated in the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse around the 4th Century BC. This story has survived 25 centuries and surfaces frequently in popular culture, including novels, feature films, television series, video games, and music.

It’s one of the better examples of a “bane”.

Bane -A cause of harm, ruin, or death or thing or situation which causes a prolonged state of impending doom or misfortune. IE Superman and kryptonite, Green Lantern and Sinestro, etc.

A bane has a fear-enhancing, debilitating, and paralyzing effect.

Example 1 
As a kid in the days of the cold war nuclear threat, I remember drills at school where we’d have to curl up tightly under our desks whenever the siren wailed. It occurred to me that if I was to be vaporized by a Russian nuke, I’d at least like the dignity of being seated upright. My friend, weird Freddy, reasoned that the “curl-up-tight” instruction was so that we could kiss our collective rear ends good-bye. He may have been right

To this day, when I hear that certain siren noise, my heart rate goes for sprint and I’m instinctively looking around for a desk to crawl under.

Example 2
In an address before the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 25, 1961, JFK said:

Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman, and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.”
– John F. Kennedy 

Eventually, Kennedy’s message took hold. The threat of mutually assured mass destruction via a superpower grudge match subsided. Corrective steps were taken through detente and nuclear nonproliferation agreements.

Example 3
It wasn’t that long ago we were all about to be fried to a crisp by that massive hole in the ozone layer caused by aerosol overuse and bovine methane emissions. That was about the same time the world was about to be thrown into complete mayhem by the Y2K bug.

These days, the new “bane of our existence” is more about rapid global warming, being awash in a sea of our own garbage and the specter of rogue AI.

It’s worth noting that the true fear factor of the sword and the siren represent possible harm.

“We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than reality.
— Seneca

Nothing close to the extreme outcomes that were portrayed actually happened. The mere prospect raises primal fears.

Politicians, news outlets, home alarm salesmen and others understand this well. All too often this foible of human nature gets exploited by playing to our deepest fears.

There are times when the danger is very clear and present. In these instances, swift appropriate action needs to be taken.

If it’s something that only appears to be potentially dangerous, that’s a different story.

The key here is to distinguish between what’s “possible” and what’s “probable”.

Many scary things are possible. Most of them aren’t probable.

Now on to the Biases 

These are much more common garden variety type fears.

“Bias” is a geometry term referring to a slanted line. These days it’s better known as a reference to a slanted viewpoint based on emotions
or misplaced beliefs that misinform our decisions and actions.

Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

My crack at the explanation:

Because we’re inundated with tens of thousand bits of data and we can only process about 40 concepts at a time, our brain goes into “hack mode” and automatically starts spitting out answers from our caveman software memory bank.

•           We all have firmly held beliefs that aren’t necessarily factual
•           We all don’t know everything.
•           Therefore, some of those beliefs are incomplete, misguided, or wrong.

This applies to everyone, including me. Admitting I’m wrong about something I firmly believe means admitting I haven’t fully thought things through. Herein lies the ultimate stuck-ness.
Fully aware that I’m wrong about something, but unable to admit being wrong about anything. Huh!

Biases cause great ideas to get stymied, resolve to evaporate and produce unreasonable anxiety over one’s capabilities.

Our friends at Wikipedia have listed approximately 200 plus biases.  Workwise, I run into some of these all the time. The Ostrich bias and Information bias come up a lot.

Most of these biases adversely affect belief formation, business and economic decisions, and human behavior in general.

The  “Knowing-Doing Gap” was one of the first leadership books that explained at a granular level how individual and group biases actually prevail in preventing knowledge to be turned into action.

Sometimes it’s a bias for the plain old status quo can derail ideas and thwart progress.
Does “but we’ve never done it that way before” sound familiar?
Ok if the status quo is working well. Not ok if it’s not.

Admittedly, I have a few personal biases that may not be listed anywhere that I believe are useful.

For example, I have a firm bias against standing in a long line up for coffee at you know where. (starts with S)
It’s my Life’s- just- plain- too short- to -stand in line bias.

Another useful one is my Anti – BS bias.

I can usually dial my BS detector down around teachers, nurses, farmers and pilots because their personal incentive to deceive is near zero.
Then again, there are otherwise good, honest people who spout nonsense and promote wild ideas based on beliefs that are shaped by the power of fears, paychecks or social status.

In conclusion, – banes and biases. We all have them. Once you know exactly what they are, you can name them, face them and develop some workaround strategies that move you forward.

Until next time.

Lorne

Got any cool or unusual biases you care to share? 

Shoot me a note or leave a comment. I’d love to hear about it.

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Every month you can look forward to a hand-crafted, expertly curated blogpost and update from me on the 1st of every month except when that falls on Sundays. That’s because I like to slack off on Sundays and do other super cool things that others might not understand.
 
I write about life, leadership, faith, relationships, hard work and connecting the dots to try and make it all come together. I love learning new things and I love helping others do better. My goal with this monthly reach out is to propel us toward excellence in becoming better servant leaders. Most importantly, it keeps us tracking with each other and our work together.
 
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 Dealing With My Monkey Brain
 
 So I’m at Starbucks with my friend Brad, solving the world’s problems over a Grande Americano and he asks a vaguely disquieting question.

“How are you really doing with this whole resignation thing? “ I could have easily skated around that one with a stock “doing ok.” In a moment of radical candor, I had to confess there were times I was  was dealing with the monkeys in my brain on this one.

This doesn’t happen often for me, but it does happen. You know how your mind can race around in 14 directions?
 
Monkey Brain Syndrome is “brain gone wild” due to excessive multi-tasking and hurried activities fueled by addictive technology, media stimuli overload, and the rigours of everyday life demands.
Our 86 billion neutrons in our brain that regulate our thinking/feeling processes get over charged and start crashing into each other at warp speed. The next thing you know, the thinking/feeling train starts coming off the track.
 
Engaging in this frenetic brain activity has diminished our ability to complete simple tasks accurately, think clearly, accomplish a fulfilling day’s work, maintain a healthy body, develop meaningful relationships, grow and have fun.
We may be at risk of losing control of our most important personal asset,- focussed brain power.
 
The term “monkey brain” was originally attributed to Buddha more than 2500 years ago, 
He described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly.

Today in the 21st century, his observations are as relevant as they were then. The digital age and smartphones are actually re-wiring our brains to have shorter and shorter attention spans.
A 2015 survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft concluded that the average adult attention span has fallen to 8 seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000.
We now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish!   
 
We think in McNugget time. Informational flotsam and jetsam flows unfiltered, along with the meaningful stuff in an eternal stream. We get a feel-good hit of dopamine from the perception that we’re getting things done.

Seems I can’t wait for a haircut, or stand in line at the bank, or even pause long enough for the microwave to ding, without fighting a reflexive urge to sneak a peek at my smartphone. It seems the last digital micro-high only accelerates the need for another one.

Here are some of the symptoms of Monkey Brain Syndrome

    • Inability to stay on-task longer than 10 minutes
    • Checking emails or texting more than 5 times an hour
    • Dissociative or distracted interactions
    • Random irritability at slightest delays or interruptions
    • Can’t remember what you did 30 minutes ago
    • Difficulty solving normal problems or making decisions
    • Feeling of being pulled in too many directions
    • Feeling like busyness is out of control *
    • Not enough time to get things done*
    • Making frequent mistakes
    • Nearly impossible to quiet your mind (trouble sleeping)
  • Strained relationships with people you care about

**Hurry Up Sickness **is closely related to Monkey Brain Syndrome


 
To some degree, we all have monkey minds with dozens of monkeys all clamoring for our attention. Fear is an especially obnoxious monkey, sounding the alarm incessantly, pointing out all the things we should be wary of and everything that could go wrong. Ego, is very loud, pushy monkey and wants a lot of airtime. Then there’s Doubt, Not-Good- Enough, Rationalization. Perfection and Procrastination and Rebellion all on a rampage, swinging from limb to limb, agitated and noisy.
 
I’ve been around long enough to have developed a few personal antidote strategies.

    • S-L-O-W D-O-W-N. Not to the point where my productivity lags, but enough to remember that I will get everything done eventually – it doesn’t have to be right now. Manana is sometimes a good day to get things done.
    • Take a few deep cleansing breaths – I prefer an outside walk and imagine the new air circulating through my body, revitalizing and refreshing me.
    • Take a mini break. Nearly all well-known creatives do this. IE Einstein was well known for his violin breaks. Me, I prefer guitar.
    • Have routine daily quiet time meditation.
    • Count blessings – instead of the numerous tasks at hand. We are all blessed with so much goodness in our lives– we just need to remind ourselves of those special things and people in our lives.
  • Stay positive – The game plan for each day emerges from God’s drafting room. Even with its hang ups and bang ups, I need to give it a chance to unfold. Trust more. Stress less. Dial up gratitude. Mute grumbling. Stay true to what I’m about

Author Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life) has three great questions to help manage our emotions.
 
1. “What’s the real reason I’m feeling this?” 
Maybe the answer is fear or worry. Maybe it relates to something someone said to you years ago that was never resolved. 
 
2. “Is it true?”  
Is what you’re feeling at that moment true? Have a good listen to what you hear yourself saying . You’re acting like you’re the only one trying to do the right thing in the whole world! No. That’s not true.” 
 
3. “Is what I’m feeling helping me or hurting me?” 
Will you get what you want by continuing to feel this way? A lot of feelings we have seem natural, but they’re actually self-defeating. 
Let’s say you go to a restaurant, and the service is extremely slow. You wait a long time to be served, and then a couple comes in 15 minutes after you and gets their food before you do. You get increasingly more irritated until you feel something welling up inside you. 
What’s the real reason you’re feeling that way? You’re hungry! 
Is it true? Yes. You’re frustrated because the service is slow. But is your emotion helping or hurting? It’s hurting. Do you get better service by getting angry with the server? Absolutely not. 
Does nagging work? Has it ever worked? When somebody tells you all the things you’re doing wrong, does it make you want to change? No! All it does is make you defensive. 
When you ask yourself these three questions, you get a better grip on why you feel the way you do and what you need to do to help the situation. 
That’s called managing your emotions. 
 
Brad’s deadpan assessment?
 
“Don’t feed the monkeys!” 
 
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Have great month of March! 
 
Got any monkey’s you’re dealing with right now?  I’d love to hear about it.
 
Seriously, hit me up. Here to help.  

Lorne