Monday, January 24, 2011

Questioning Assumptions

"Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.”
Thomas Jefferson

So much of our model of the world is based on unquestioned assumptions absorbed from our culture, our families and friends. Unquestioned assumptions are life denying when they limit your choices and cause you to repeat patterns that no longer serve you.

A great learning metaphor that demonstrates this is the story of a young woman cooking a roast. She’s about to cut the meat into two, to put into the baking tray when she wonders why she is doing this. She decides to call her mother and ask. Her mother, perplexed by the question, says “I don’t know darling, that’s just the way I was taught. You’ll have to ask your Grandmother”.

The girl calls her Grandmother. “Grandma, how come when I cook a roast I have to cut it in half? Why do I do that?” “Oh darling” says the older woman, “You don’t have to cut it. In fact, it’s better if you don’t, that way the meat won’t dry out as much”. “It all started with your Great Great Grandmother. Back in her day, the stoves and baking dishes were very small. So to fit a roast in the tray you had to cut the meat in half. She taught her daughter that way, who taught my mother that way, who taught me. In turn, that’s what I taught your mother, and she taught you. It’s just the way we’ve always done it. But no, now that you’ve asked, you’re right, you don’t have to do it that way any more”.

This story is so typical of many habits and patterns, many assumptions, we have and do in our life. We learn things from family and society and unless we question the assumptions that these learnings and patterns are based on, we end up doomed to repeat the inefficient and unproductive patterns of the past.

Many practices from the past, especially those embedded in our culture, come from a time of scientific ignorance and superstition. Unless questioned, these practices cause you to metaphorically cut your roast in half. Leading to dried out, shrivelled results in life.

Question everything!!!

It's life enhancing to begin to question everything. All the old patterns and habits in your life. Ask yourself “Why do I do X?” Figure out the purpose and outcomes of your behaviours. Question the assumptions inherent in each of the patterns in your life. Then use the NLP Success Formula below (and described in the blog post on Living your Dreams).

NLP Success Formula:
  1. Clearly know your Outcome – know exactly what you want and ensure your outcome is well-formed, that it’s positive, achievable, believable and ecological.
  2. Take positive Action – congruently and wholeheartedly take action to achieve your outcome.
  3. Learn from Feedback – use your sensory acuity to determine if your actions are moving you closer or further away from your outcome. There’s no such thing as failure, just great feedback, cause if what you are doing is not moving you closer to your outcome then you need to perform the next step –
  4. Flexibility – change and adjust your behaviour (step 2) till you move closer to your outcome.

Apply this to the patterns in your life...

So get clear on your outcome, take new action, use your sensory acuity to learn from feedback and with requisite variety, change and adjust your behaviour flexibly to keep moving closer to your explicit outcome. Throw away old patterns that are a life denying enemy to your happiness and replace them with new patterns that serve you. Be honest with yourself. Question the presuppositions and patterns that form the basis of your life. It is life enhancing to question your assumptions!

Awareness Questions – Questioning Assumptions

Ask Yourself:
  • What is this behaviour or pattern based on? What are the assumptions this action is based on? Why am I doing this?
  • What outcomes and purpose does this pattern achieve? How else can I achieve the positive intent in a more useful and productive way?
  • Does this behaviour still serve me? What else can I do to achieve more life enhancing happiness?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1956, Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger heard about a group of doomsday cultists who were predicting that the Earth would be destroyed by aliens at midnight on December 21st of that year. Festinger and his students decided to infiltrate the group and covertly study what happens to people when their strongly held beliefs are disproved. What he discovered lead to the powerful and life enhancing theory of Cognitive Dissonance.

So what did happen, in the minutes and hours after midnight, when the prophesied destruction and the predicted appearance of alien spacecraft to save the faithful didn’t occur?

Initially there was shock and disbelief by the members of the group; many had left jobs, colleges and spouses to prepare to escape on the flying saucer supposed to rescue them. Within hours however, people began to deny they ever believed in the doomsday prophecy. They were saying things like “I didn’t really believe it, I was just going along for the adventure.” Or, “Because of our strong faith, the aliens chose to save the planet”. Basically, they said and thought anything other than the truth which was that they’d all been duped.

Based on this research and thousands of subsequent laboratory and real-world studies, Festinger posited that the unconscious mind does not like what he called ‘dissonance’ and will do anything to remove it. Dissonance is the disagreeable feeling we get when faced with mismatching cognitions or beliefs. Our mind likes harmony and congruence between our thoughts and beliefs and will utilise a number of unconscious strategies to remove cognitive dissonance. The tension of cognitive dissonance leads people to change either their beliefs and attitudes or their behaviour.

The importance of this is that it leads people to denying reality and deleting or distorting their cognitions and perceptions. Cognitive dissonance can be incredibly life denying if it leads to denial of reality and un-sane distortions or behaviours. Of course, cognitive dissonance is like any tool or process, it can be used positively or negatively.

For example, you can use cognitive dissonance and the unconscious mind’s response to it to assist you in a life enhancing way to positively align your thoughts, values and behaviour. However, when cognitive dissonance occurs outside your conscious awareness to minimise your life and lead you into ignorance then it is a dangerous enemy.

The key to using cognitive dissonance constructively is to be aware of what are known as ‘Dissonance Signals’ and track for them in your life. When you notice them, you need to pattern interrupt the typical dissonance removal strategies and replace them with more useful strategies and behaviours. To do this you need to know about Dissonance Removal Strategies and your own Dissonance Signals.

Typical Dissonance Removal Strategies

There are a number of unconscious strategies that people’s minds normally use to remove cognitive dissonance.
  • Avoidance – people avoid information that is likely to lead to dissonance
  • Distortion – people delete and distort facts and beliefs to reduce dissonance
  • Confirmation – people are attracted to or perform selective bias on information that confirms or bolsters their cognitions
  • Reassurance – people look for reassurance from others that their cognitions are correct and ok
  • Re-valuation – people change the importance of existing and new cognitions to reduce dissonance

You should also note that research has shown that the more effort and time invested in a decision or the forming of a belief, the larger the potential dissonance created if mismatching evidence is discovered. Therefore, the more important the outcome the more likely your unconscious mind is to perform the above strategies. For example, if you purchase a low cost item, you are unlikely to experience buyer’s remorse. However, for an expensive item that you spent a lot of time evaluating, you are more likely to experience buyer’s remorse and therefore more likely to go seeking confirmation and reassurance after the purchase.

By being aware that your evolved animal brain doesn’t like negative change, that it doesn’t like things that don’t match, you can begin to transcend this potentially un-useful pattern. The facts are our friends and knowledge is power. Denying reality and ignoring facts just because the evolved patterning system of the brain desires congruence, is dangerous and crazy. Use the following success strategy to learn about and track for cognitive dissonance signals and then support yourself in facing reality, in looking at all the facts and evidence. Don’t let your unconscious mind seduce you into the enemy of ignorance. Instead, build life enhancing patterns in your life of overcoming cognitive dissonance and using valid, valuable feedback and knowledge to gain greater happiness and meaning in your life.

Thinking Tools:
The facts are our friends!

Success Strategy – Tracking Cognitive Dissonance

1. Remember a time when you experienced cognitive dissonance. A time when you were faced with facts that challenged one of your beliefs, or a time when your behaviour didn’t match your values or self-concept. Role-play and re-live that situation. Fully access what you were feeling then, seeing then, hearing then and thinking then. Totally associate into re-living the experience now. Once you are totally in the dissonance state, track for and note what feelings you are doing in your body. Track all of the pressures, movements, flows, temperatures, textures etc. of the experience. Many people experience dissonance in the gut region or heart region. Notice also the submodalities of any pictures and sounds. Write these onto a piece of paper for you to remember.

2. Pick two other cognitive dissonance experiences/times and note the dissonance signals for these. You should find that the three experiences have similar signals and components.

3. Determine what the main indicators are for the state of cognitive dissonancing. Think about how you can now remember the signals so that in the future you will know when you are doing dissonance and be able to become more aware of your own unconscious processes.

4. Think about what you can do to overcome cognitive dissonance in a positive way, without giving in to it. What can you say to yourself? What can you do to support pushing through the dissonance to face reality and not deny it?

5. One very powerful way to overcome dissonance is through humour. By laughing at the dissonance feeling, by seeing it as humorous, you can shift your cybernetic loop to one of positive feelings. Anything that helps you overcome the negative emotions of dissonance will help you push through and stop the typical dissonance strategies.

6. Finally, by being aware of the possibility of cognitive dissonance and knowing your dissonance signals you can float above the dissonance feelings by just acknowledging them and telling yourself “Oh, that’s just cognitive dissonance – I can ignore and transcend it, it’s just an animal response, I’m better than that!

Well, there you are, a quick primer on the powerful process of Cognitive Dissonancing. I hope you found it interesting and useful. It can be truly life enhancing to be able to track for and control dissonance in your life, your mind and your world.

Want to learn more, get a copy of my book: Avoiding the Enemies to HAPPINESS!

life enhancing thoughts and wishes,

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ignorance is Dangerous

"Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.”
Thomas Jefferson

The start of a new year, and a good time to explore some life enhancing distinctions on how we create our world through what we learn, what we pay attention to, and what we ignore...

If ignorance is bliss, why aren't there more happy people?

It might seem obvious... but ignorance and stupidity are life denying and dangerous. They can kill you. At the very least, they severely impact your success and happiness.

Some of the dangers of ignorance are:
  • You can’t prepare
  • You can’t see what’s coming
  • It limits your choices and power
  • Amplifies consequences
  • Leads to more mistakes and greater costs

Whilst most people would agree with this, nevertheless, the majority of people are largely ignorant of the most important things and processes in their life. They don’t know how their mind, brain and body works. They don’t know how they unconsciously generate their own reality and happiness. They don’t know the enemies to their success and happiness. They can’t even articulate their values and core beliefs, let alone improve and refine them for greater success in their life.

Such ignorance means they end up living average and unhappy lives. They make stupid mistakes that cost them peace of mind. They bounce from failure to failure in their relationships, finances, careers and health. The outcome of this blog and upcoming posts and the skills you’ll gain from reading them is to change all of that. The first step is awareness. The next step is gaining and expanding your knowledge. Finally, through practice you’ll have achieved new skills and mastery.

Knowledge and choice provide power and control. By instilling in your unconscious mind a desire for learning, and a passionate move away repulsion of ignorance and deception, you can make an incredible and life enhancing difference to your happiness.

Denial of Reality - A Story

One of the most life denying enemies to knowledge and happiness involves denial of reality. While philosophers might argue over it, for the rest of us, reality exists and denying or ignoring any part of that reality can cause problems and issues in your life.

A great story that shows the futility of denial is the one about the guys driving across the desert. They drive and drive and eventually run out of fuel and become dangerously stranded in a barren and hostile environment, miles from help. The passenger looks at the fuel gauge, which is still sitting on full, and asks the driver “Hey, how come we’re out of fuel?” The driver turns to his stranded companion and says “Yeah, I don’t understand it, I disconnected the wires from the gauge, and it’s still showing a full tank. We should still have plenty of fuel!

What foolishness you might think. What craziness! Yet, how many people live their lives exactly like that. They delete and distort their model of the world; deliberately ignoring facts and evidence ‘til the consequences impact their lives so painfully that they can no longer deny their reality. How many people ignore the evidence of infidelity in their relationships? Or the warning signs of failure in other areas of their lives? The indicators of ill health or financial difficulties for example.

It reminds me of another story, a very real story. One of my father’s work colleagues, we’ll call him ‘Old Bill’ had an excavator, a large machine used for digging dirt and soil. It was a very expensive machine and was the main component of his business. One day he was servicing it. He had the side of the machine open, when the phone rang and he had to leave it and take the call. When he returned, he saw some kids running away and noticed some sand and gravel sticking to the edge of the opening into the side-case of the machine.

Now I have to explain that this particular machine is filled with very expensive and complex hydraulic motors and pumps and sand in the internals would destroy them in a matter of seconds. Well, Old Bill decided that it would be a huge amount of work to strip down the machine and clean out any sand, if the kids had thrown it into the machine. So he figured he’d just ignore the evidence and pretend that nothing had happened. He finished the service, re-assembled the machine and started it up.

In a matter of seconds, he heard terrible noises and the machine ground to a halt. The kids had definitely filled the side-cases with sand and gravel. Now not only was Old Bill faced with having to clean out the hydraulic system, he was also faced with the incredible expense of replacing all the pumps, lines, filters and motors. The machine was a wreck. His denial of reality caused him even more cost and delay than if he’d faced up to the truth from the start. This was a valuable lesson for both Old Bill, and for me when I heard it. Never ignore the facts. The facts are our friends.

Thinking Tools:

The facts are our friends!
Ignorance is NOT bliss. Ignorance is dangerous

As we've now seen, ignorance is NOT bliss! Ignorance is risky and dangerous. Ignorance can kill you! Lack of knowledge, stupidity and deception of yourself and others are all life denying and can destroy happiness and meaning in your life. Replace them immediately with a life enhancing desire for knowledge, wanton curiosity about your world and an ever increasing store of wisdom and skills. Remember: Knowledge brings choice and control.

And in coming blog posts we'll explore some more key skills and distinctions on how to embody learning and overcome the largely unconscious processes of ignore-ance.

Want to learn more, get a copy of my book: Avoiding the Enemies to HAPPINESS!

life enhancing thoughts and wishes,