Photo by Steve Harris on Unsplash

Amazing Ways We Fool Ourselves

Historically, April 1st should be the most light-hearted day of the year.

If ever we needed a splash of levity in our sea of seriousness, it’s now.

It’s a day of hoaxes, pranks, and practical jokes with people we love. The best part is nobody gets offended, at least they’re not supposed to. If the recipient responds with cursing or tears, you know things have gone too far.

It’s a chance for self-deprecating humor. It acknowledges that there’s a certain amount of folly that resides in each of us.

Back on April 1st,1976, the BBC nailed it. British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at 9:47 AM, a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur. Listeners could experience this in their very own homes.

Due to this unique alignment of planets, the earth’s gravity would be reduced by a certain level. Whoever jumped with all their might at just the right time could possibly float in the air! People worldwide who hadn’t noticed the date were jumping up and down, hoping that they could achieve levitation. Other classics are the penguins of King George Island taking flight and the great spaghetti harvest.

Special day aside, there some amazing ways we fool ourselves year-round. Sometimes this comes with tragic consequences. It’s become more evident and rampant over this past year. That’s what I’m writing about this month.

Nobel prize-winning economist and social psychologist Daniel Kahneman states that we have two thinking systems. One thinking system is “fast” and the other, “slow.”

Fast thinking is the area where we can often fool ourselves.

We apply mental shortcuts, “hacks,” or biases when problem-solving or deciding things. It’s the realm of gut instincts, snap judgments, and hardwired systemic flaws in our thinking.

Slow thinking is a more deliberate examination of thoughts and motives.

We need both systems.

Biases are those deeply ingrained codes in our caveman software that can’t be quickly unlearned.

They have a profound impact on the following:

  • Our Perception – how we see people and perceive reality.
  • Our Attitude – how we react towards certain people.
  • Our Beliefs – how we interpret and respond to events
  • Our Behaviours – how receptive/friendly we are towards certain people.
  • Our Attention – which aspects of a person we pay most attention to.
  • Our Listening Skills – how much we actively listen to what certain people say.

It’s helpful to think of them as optical illusions. You know- things that appear to be there but really aren’t. Or that photo distortion app that makes for a very unflattering selfie.

Here are just five of the biases I’ve run into recently.

Negativity Bias (Good Plus Bad=Bad)

We want to think we’re rational, well-adjusted human beings, but our brains are naturally hardwired toward the negative.

Have you ever found yourself over-thinking a mistake you made a while ago? Are you replaying in your head a conversation that didn’t go so well?

That’s the negativity bias at play: not only do we register negative stimuli more readily, but we also tend to dwell on these events for longer.

A Queen’s University research study estimates the average person has about 6,200 thoughts per day. Other studies indicate that a high percentage (67%- 80%) are negative, and up to 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.

So…if 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% of them are repetitive, we have a serious “built-in” flawed perception problem.

Quite simply, negative events have a more significant impact on our mental state than positive ones.

Kahneman suggests an end-of-day exercise where we intentionally reflect on at least three good things that happened that day to bring positive counterbalance to our natural tendencies.

While the negativity bias may have been a helpful survival mechanism for our ancestors, today, it has a powerful—and often unconscious—impact on how we behave, think, and make decisions.

Groupthink Bias

Groupthink is a genuine phenomenon that happens when a group of well-meaning people makes dumb decisions to identify or belong to a particular group.

Another term for this is conformity bias.

In this scenario, any kind of dissent is unwelcome. Any reasoned questioning automatically makes one a social leper.

This bias is often fueled by a particular agenda—plus the fact that group members value harmony and coherence above critical thinking.

This bias causes people to simply “follow the herd” rather than thinking things through and using their own independent ethical judgment.

History is riddled with tragic examples of groupthink. The mass suicide known as the  Jonestown Massacre is just one of them. Hence the dark meme “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the strong tendency of people to seek out information that exclusively supports views they already hold.  Evidence and information get interpreted in ways that affirm their pre-existing beliefs, expectations, and hypotheses.

Any contradicting evidence or information that may lead to a different conclusion is ignored.

A humorous illustration of this is the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy, where the cowboy unloads his pistol at the fence and then paints a bullseye around the closest cluster. He wants to believe he’s a good shot and manufactures proof to support that notion.

A close cousin to this is the Belief bias. If I believe something strongly enough, it must be true.

The question to be asked. Is this really true? Or do I just want it to be?

This thought pattern can easily lead to conclusions that are inaccurate or even unethical.

 

Diffusion of Responsibility Bias

Diffusion of responsibility occurs when a leader needs to decide but then waits for someone else to act instead. It becomes a ripple effect. The greater the number of people that are aware or involved, the more likely it is that each person will do nothing, believing someone else from the group will probably respond.

Psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané set up a Bystander Apathy experiment where a distress call made it appear that a person nearby had suffered an injury. When subjects heard the cry, and though they were the only ones who heard it, 85% of them helped.  But if subjects thought there was another person who heard the call too, only 62% helped. And if subjects thought that four other people also listened to the cry for help, just 31% took action.

Diffusion of responsibility makes us feel less pressure to act because we believe, correctly or incorrectly, that someone else will do it. When we don’t feel responsible for a situation, we feel less guilty when we do nothing to help.

In this way, diffusion of responsibility keeps us from paying attention to doing the right thing or ignoring our own conscience.

It’s complicated, but there is hope. Here’s a TEDx explainer.

Self-Serving Bias

The self-serving bias is where we seek out information and use it in ways that advance personal self-interest. We often unconsciously make selfish decisions other people might view as questionable.

It can also take the form of a person taking credit for positive events or outcomes, but blaming outside factors for negative events.

The irony is that we can easily spot this trait in others, but we have difficulty seeing it in ourselves.

An example might be doctors who believe that they are immune from the influence of gifts they receive from pharmaceutical companies. Studies show those gifts have a significant effect on what medications doctors prescribe. One study found that 64% of doctors believed that the freebies they received from suppliers influenced other doctors. However, only 16% of doctors thought it affected their own actions.

So, the self-serving bias often blinds us to how we are prejudice in favor of ourselves. Indeed, it can cause even the most well-intentioned of us to overlook our own wrong actions completely.

To summarize, these five biases are just a small random sampling. The good news is that when we encounter them, we can switch to “think slow “ mode and ask some questions.

Here are some helpful questions the I borrowed from Annie Duke’s book THINKING IN BETS

  • Why might my belief not be true?
  • What other evidence might be out there bearing on my belief?
  • Are there similar areas I can look toward to gauge whether similar beliefs to mine are true?
  • What sources of information could I have missed or minimized on the way to reaching my belief?
  • What are the reasons someone else could have a different belief, what’s their support, and why might they be right instead of me?
  • What other perspectives are there as to why things turned out the way they did?

Hope this helps,

Until next time,

 

Lorne

 

 

 

 

Regret Has A Dark Side 

Here Are Three Ways To Overcome It In 2021

Well now. Didn’t see that coming!  Regrettable. Tragic. Heartbreaking. Painful. Difficult.
It’s like the cosmos did a once-in-a-century hit-and-run and there’s no going back to the way things were.

Whether we like it or not, we’re all in some kind of in-between space and dealing with some form of loss.

It’s been a universal public stress test and a very uncomfortable patience-builder.

I firmly believe that we have been changed in profound ways by this year, and probably will continue to be.

Our hopes rise and fall like a yo-yo in tandem with the daily tally of new infections, hospitalizations, deaths, jobless claims, government relief action and inaction, the latest news on therapeutics and vaccines, school opening and closings, and so much more.

Too soon to breathe a collective sigh of relief?

As much as I’d like for that to happen, I think we’re still in for more uncertainty at least for a while longer.

You see, I’m writing as much to myself as anyone else.

I resolved a long time ago to live life with as few regrets as possible.
How’s that going?

Pretty much OK, but I’ve got to admit, the impact of the past year has brought this area back into sharp focus.

Regret comes up a lot. It is a recurring conversation theme with many of my colleagues, clients, friends, and acquaintances.

No one seems immune. It doesn’t matter if you’re an up and coming professional or a hardworking barista, sooner or later you encounter the effects of cumulative loss.

Personal freedoms lost. Opportunities lost. Health or income losses. Time lost. Pandemic fatigue is real and I think we’re all allowed the occasional crank-out or bout of cynicism.

Even the indomitable Michelle Obama is admitting to low-grade depression due to quarantine.

The long term effects of regret (a form of grieving) are well documented. Not only is it detrimental to our mental health, but it also has physiological effects as well.

The litany of nasty side effects can include sleeplessness, heart disease, diabetes, addiction, and eating disorders.

How To Face Regrets Head On 

Practice Intentional Change Adaptation 

Innumerable changes have been foisted on us and there are numerous rationales we feed ourselves that make us resistant to change.

How many times have we needed to “pivot” in 2020? (plans changed, course reversed, gears shifted, etc.)

We all know people who haven’t been able to change with the times. Sooner or later they slide into irrelevance.

Our brains are just wired to prefer the familiar.

The good news here is that we can be intentional about metabolizing change. How we feel about it is less relevant than trying to understand why the change is needed, then make the necessary personal or professional adjustments.

Another piece of good news is the more you engage with change the easier it becomes. Keeping a clear sense of personal mission and an end goal in mind makes moving through changes easier.

Fighting the irrelevance that comes with not changing helps keep things on track in the face of discouragement, delays, and setbacks.

Have A Self-Care Routine That Works 

Well-being is a key aspect of living a truly successful, satisfying life even through challenging times. What does that actually mean?

It means tapping into a daily, weekly, and monthly rhythm that supports your health and well-being.

It should, at the bare minimum, include getting enough sleep, fresh air, recreation, and a balanced allocation of time and activity in the seven areas of optimal living (Body, Mind, Spirit, Work, Love, Play, Money)

Body – Our energy levels, diet, stamina and strength, sufficient sleep.

Mind – The ability to focus and learn new things.

Spirit- Care for that intangible life force at the core of our existence.

Work- Meaningful and financially rewarding career, business, or profession.

Love- The quality of our relationships.

Money- How we utilize finances.

Play – Our recreational options.

All of these areas are vital to our existence. If even one of these areas is short-changed, or out of whack, personal well-being gets messed up pretty quickly.

Lead With Gratitude 

This actually works if you dig in and do it.

There’s plenty of scientific data to back it up.

In his book, A Simple Act of Gratitude author John Kralik set out to write 365 thank-you notes over the course of a year.

Initially, he did it as a way to feel less hopeless during a time when he wasn’t sure his life was worth living. But with each letter he wrote and tracked, he was able to literally count his blessings.

At the same time, the act of sitting down each day with pen and paper helped to retrain his brain to focus more on the good things in life and less on the bad.

But Kralik didn’t just write letters. He also made a practice of answering simple “how-are-you?” with things he was grateful for rather than complaints.

“Gratitude gives us a break from regret and despair”

Personally, I’ve found that gratitude gets me out of my own self-absorbed head, and soon it becomes just plain fun.

It is so much more helpful than focussing on all the ways life is unjust or imperfect.

Does that mean I’m turning a blind eye to poverty, racism, social justice, climate change, and other important issues?

Nope.

Color me weird, but gratitude regularly reminds me of the important things I’m standing for, fighting for, and want to see change.

It also is a great way to sustain and build relationships. Relationships are necessary for any good fight. We can’t be in this alone. Telling people that we value them and their contributions is the very least we can do.

For me, giving thanks each day has made truly tough times more bearable. For that, I’m thankful.

Thanks also for the important work you do!

Until next time,

Lorne

Smatterings From My Liminal Summer Brain.
 
Ahh… summer.
I just got back from some serious cabin time. It’s my high country wilderness “analog retreat”.  Here I can read, think, pray and do some blue sky dreaming about how to lead creatively in a world that can get chaotic at times. How to make life richer, more fulfilling, and meaningful for those I love. 
 
I have a confession to make.
It’s an addiction that crops up every now and then. Especially in summer, I definitely fall off the wagon. My addiction fills my deep-down need to create order out of chaos and build things.
 
No, it’s not messing up my life or anything. I don’t think it’s time for an intervention. But still, it’s ever-present, lurking, tempting. 

It’s my struggle with Tetris. There. I said it!

It’s that amazingly simple yet addictive puzzle game where a colorful procession of seven different pieces falls endlessly into a geometric hodgepodge. I have to strategically rotate, move, arrange and drop the tiles at ever-increasing speeds. If I clear as many lines as possible by completing horizontal rows of blocks without empty space, I’m rewarded by achieving a new level. If I fall behind in the process and the unarranged shapes surpass the skyline then –BAM! Game over. 

Tetris Life Lessons (With Some Bruce Lee Thrown In For Kicks)

Let’s face it. Games and sports are hugely analogous to life. The term “Tetris Effect” became a way to describe how players were inspired by the game in everyday situations.
Because Tetris, like the real world, challenges you to establish order out of chaos using an organizational system. There are transferable concepts everywhere in real life. Everything from packing the car trunk, loading a dishwasher, or building a team or an organization. How’s that next thing going to fit for optimum efficiency? That’s the Tetris Effect!
 
Focus, Focus, Focus 
It’s called it being ‘in the zone”. This near-meditative state can happen in all aspects of life, from playing chess to driving in rush hour. Being in the zone is nothing more than achieving a heightened state of focus. A good example is 16-year-old gold medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez set to do a balance beam routine at the 2016 Rio Olympics. There’s intensity in her eyes and she can be seen to mouth the words “I got this“ just ahead of her near-flawless performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfsf2gbR4K8  


Whether you’re playing Tetris or writing a funding proposal, this level of mental intensity is not easy to achieve. Figure out how to get there, then stay as long as you can. When it slips away, take a break. Take 20 or 30 minutes to grab a snack or go for a walk. Let your mind rest, then come back and start again.

You can’t always get what you want (Rolling Sones) 
You build and build and wait for a “straight” piece to clear off a whole bunch. Guess what? The stick is just one of the 7 pieces that fall, so chances are 7 to 1 you won’t get what you want. Not right away, at least. You’ll get something you think might work, but then you’ll get something that doesn’t fit at all, and you’ll get three or four clunkers in a row. In real life, this translates to settling for something that’s not quite right or ending up in a job that pays the bills but shrivels the soul. Know what? It’s not the end of the world. Patience my friend, Eventually the right piece shows.

But if you try sometimes you might find, You get what you need (More Stones)
I used to think “Tetris or nothing” stacking and stacking, holding out way too long. Sometimes I would get a stick at the right time, and get my Tetris. Most of the time, however, I would just stack everything up to the top and that would be the end of my game. Sometimes it’s ok to knock off two or three lines at a time and keeping everything manageable and mediocre while waiting for the big move. The key is to sustain and survive until you see your opportunity for that big move. Keep your end goals in mind, but don’t feel bad about making some mediocre moves along the way.

You gotta have faith.
You know what you want. Just a bunch of shapes that come together then the stick piece at just the right time. right? Well, take heart and know that there is always a stick piece coming. Good things are out there, but you must be patient. Keep at it, have faith, and eventually, the right pieces fall into place.

You can’t rely on faith alone.
Strategy helps. The Tetris powers that be seem to favor those who indulge in a bit of planning. Faith is important because there is definitely a stick piece coming.  Having a strategy and plan is equally important. Sure, the left side of the screen tracks each piece, but it doesn’t give you the bigger picture or help you predict the immediate future. A little forethought can go a long way. Keep your game manageable as you practice patience. Get a line here and there, keep yourself in the game. Before you know it bingo, you’re on a roll. 

Bias for action beats doing nothing.
The number one killer in the game of Tetris is overthinking and hesitation. “Should I put it here, or flip it over there?” This might translate into, “Should I take this course or apply for this position or that one?” Speed in dealing with circumstances and opportunities matters in business and in life. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study.
 Spend too much time mulling as the pieces fall, and you miss out. Think about what you do, but DO SOMETHING!

The more you do it, the better you get.
The more time you spend playing, the higher your average score. The same goes for life. A great photographer takes a lot of pictures to come up with several that are exceptional. If you’re a writer, write a lot of stories. Little by little, more and more of them will be good. Same with anything. Keep at it, you’ll get better.

It doesn’t get easier
Your reward for doing well? You get to it all again, only tougher!
 
In Bruce Lee’s final film, the hero yips, yowls, and Eee…yahs! his way to the top of a multi-level pagoda, crushing bad guys of different fighting styles on each floor. His quest is to retrieve something sacred, though it’s never named.
 
On each floor, the opponents are more badass-y than the last. On the top floor, he faces the towering 7’2” Kareem Abdul Jabbar, whose martial arts style and prowess match his own. 
5ed85440-d472-421e-b1de-6f2f865b0586.png
 
You can watch this epic battle here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ic2k2P_FG0 
When he discovers the big man’s vulnerability to light, that’s the tactical advantage our feisty little hero needs to prevail.
Remember. No one is asking you start on the 19th level. But if you’ve already gotten past the first 18, then why not try?

Turn off the music.
When I’m driving and looking intently for a street address, I instinctively turn off the music to help me look.
Don’t know exactly how that works but it does.
When you stack your pieces too high, the music in Tetris speeds up. This creates the illusion that the pieces are moving faster. They aren’t. Don’t cave or freak out.  Music distraction only diverts your focus. Know your deadlines, but don’t worry about them. Keep your objective in mind, and finish strong.

I love it when a plan comes together
The whole reason I and millions of others play Tetris is that every now and then you get that perfect coming together. Piece-piece-piece-TETRIS! Piece-piece-TETRIS! Sometimes it just flows, and it all fits together perfectly.

I love that feeling. It’s the best. No one expects life to work like that all the time, but sometimes it does.

Love it, appreciate it, and know that it’s ok to look forward to it.
 
 What’s your favorite summertime game obsession? And why?

Visit me at https:// LorneEpp.com and drop me a line. I’d love to hear what’s going on for you this summer.

Until next time. 

Lorne