That’s Just The Way I Am! (& Problem Solving)

If the doors of our perception were to be cleansed, everything would appear to us as it is, infinite

– William Blake

Sit still for a moment and listen. What can you hear? Scan the environment for sounds. It could be the fan of your computer or the dull hum of traffic noise. Now that you’ve switched your attention to them, you can hear them. Moments before, you had been screening them out. Now focus on your other senses and find out what else you’ve been screening out.

You see, we can’t pay attention to every tiny bit of information that comes our way. If we did, our heads would have to be huge. Instead, in the interests of cognitive economy, we operate a filtering system that screens out a great deal of the information in our environment  So. you just have to pay attention to the ‘good stuff’. In reality we have a self-limited view of the world. Now this is great for keeping us focused on ‘the good stuff’ but it can also mean we miss opportunities and different ways of viewing the world.

Novelty and Consistency
So, it’s just as well that we have a drive for novelty that balances our need for consistency. Getting these competing drives in balance is crucial. Too much consistency and we need consider anything new and too much novelty and we lose all sense of consistency.

All too often routine consistency wins out and when faced with a problem we are inclined to keep trying the same old thing over and over again, just like the fly that keeps head butting the window to get outside. It ignores the open window.

Perceptual Filters
As anthropologist Ruth Benedict says ‘No one sees the world with pristine eyes’. Rather each of us sees the world in a slightly different way through a series of filters that colour our perceptions. Factors such as gender, culture, ethnicity, age, sexuality, peer groups, upbringing, environment and education all have an impact on how we view the world. To this list we can add mood swings, different situations, time of day, whether we are tired, hungry or thirsty, likes and dislikes, needs and values. We filter information on the basis of personal relevance but that doesn’t mean that other information is not available to us. It is. We just screen it out.

Attention and Perception
All of these things also have an impact on what we pay attention to.  All of these filters are used to let through the relevant and screen out the irrelevant or novel. It becomes a closed system, a cycle where perception determines attention which in turn determines and reinforces perceptions. In this way we maintain our view of the world. If we allow our perceptions to narrowly define what we pay attention to, then we limit opportunities for learning and change often characterised by the phrase ‘Well that’s just the way I am’.

Problem Solving
To paraphrase Einstein ‘you can’t solve your problems with the same level of thinking that created them’. This means you need a fresh mindset. So review the categories that define ‘the way you are’ and then imagine approaching the problem from the perspective of someone totally different from you. Think about things as a different gender, race, ethnicity and so on. Think of a resourceful person you know or admire, real or fictional and ask how they would approach the problem. Approach problems at different times of the day. Also, break your daily routine. Go a different way to work, eat a different breakfast and so on. Set your alarm clock half an hour earlier. Small changes in routine can yield bigger changes in perspective. Most importantly of all, focus on solutions. Spend 20% of your time defining the problem and 80% of the time looking for solutions. Consider any solution no matter how implausible or silly. Just write down as many as you can from lots of different perspectives without censoring your thoughts. Review the solutions later.

Whenever you use the phrase ‘That’s just the way I am’ you are denying access to an enormous capacity for resourcefulness.

[Explore your perceptual filters, values and strengths in ‘Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . .Swim Out To Meet It‘ ]


Dematerialization: Crystals & Car Keys

I’m drawn to things esoteric and recently attended a talk about crystals and crystal therapy. Much of the attraction of crystals are their symbolic associations which, in a psychological sense, make them useful tools for focusing the mind. However, when the speaker raised the subject of ‘dematerialization’ I began to shift uneasily in my seat. There’s only so much a healthy sceptic can take.

We are told that crystals have a tendency to dematerialize only to re-materialize at a later time in the place you first looked. Apparently it’s the crystals way of teaching us not to become too attached. The speaker illustrated this by telling us that a particular crystal that he wanted to show us had dematerialized, which can also be translated as ‘he lost the bugger’. Maybe not so. A member of the audience interjected to tell us that his haematite had disappeared from its pouch too!

At this point I felt the urgent need to stand up and shout ‘Oh for goodness sake, wake up and smell the smoky quartz’ but instead opted for a more gentle approach. So, after the speaker had used the word dematerialize for the umpteenth time, I asked ‘Is this the same that happens with my car keys?” Of course, this gets a big laugh and grounds the discussion. Are my car keys teaching me a lesson when they are not in the place I left them only to reappear a while later in the first place I looked and to ensure my lateness?

Do mundane household objects share the same magical properties as crystals or is something altogether more mundane at play? Well there is a more earthly explanation: our perceptions do play tricks on us. When we are tired or stressed our cognitve capacities are reduced. It’s pretty stressful not being able to find something when you need it. So, the words ‘I’m going to be late’ or ‘I’ll never find my keys’ become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not magic, it’s one of the side-effects of cognitive economy.

Habituation is one of earliest ways we learn. Quite simply, we learn to ignore the familiar. That’s why babies make fools of us all with their quests for novelty. Our grinning and gurning cease to effect the same response after a while, so we’ll add silly noises and employ an array of props and paraphernalia in order to get the infant interested again. In short, familiarity breeds cognitive contempt. Often, we don’t lose things but overlook them and when added to the stress and the self-fulfilling prophecy explains ‘dematerialization’ in a psychological way.

Suddenly as I write this I realize that my car keys are no where to be found. I look out of the window and my car is no where to be seen. Damn! Is this bloody karmic retribution for doubting the magic of crystal dematerialization? Er no, the answer again is all too mundane: I DON’T OWN A CAR!

p.s. Speaking of karma. . .before we get lost in the world of crystals, isn ‘t it wise to consider whether or not they are ethically sourced and at what human and environmental cost? No amount of washing them under a tap or rubbing them with sea salt can cleanse bloody crystals, unless of course you buy into the magical at the expense of the bleedin’ obvious.