Our conscious awareness has a limited number of ‘chunks of attention’. In order to make sense of the huge amount of information that our senses take in each moment from the world around us, we unconsciously filter it.
We have to do this filtering. If we didn’t, our brains would be overloaded and the world would appear as a booming, buzzing riot of smells, feelings and colours, just as it must appear to a new-born baby.
These are some of the filtering processes that our brain uses to protect us:
Deletion. We just don’t notice certain things, especially if we are not interested in them. So in every situation, there is more going on than you realise. Most of the information we delete may be irrelevant, but sometimes we overlook things that would help us if we noticed them.
Psychologists have identified various ‘cognitive biases’ that distort our view of the world:
Generalisation. We look for commonality and predictability. What we expect to happen is influenced by our perceptions of previous events. For example, gamblers and stock market investors tend to see a ‘winning streak’ after three good results, even though ‘streaks’ are a natural feature of any random sequence.
Usually, these ‘cognitive shortcuts’ work in our favour. Thinking is time-consuming, and expensive in energy terms. If we had to think every single thing we did through from first principles, we would be unable to act at all.
But sometimes, these shortcuts work against us – we miss relevant information, jump to conclusions, or view people through a lens of prejudice.
What you experience is not reality.
By the time you become aware of experiencing something, it’s already been filtered. So your ‘reality’, as you are experiencing it right now, is subject to the deletions, distortions and generalisations of your filters.
A good map is one that is useful.
Since all maps leave out information, the real issue is not “Is this map true?” but “Is this map useful?” A map is useful to the extent that it helps you find your way to where you want to get to.
Yours is not the only truth.
Each person has a different viewpoint. They will notice things that you have missed and vice versa. Their view of ‘reality’ is as valid to them as yours is to you. People who believe that everyone sees the world in the same way that they do are setting themselves up for constant bewilderment; people who believe that others should see the world as they do are setting themselves up for constant disappointment.
People’s actions make sense from their map,
Which we can never fully know or understand. Often their actions would seem crazy or wrong when judged in the context of our map – so when coaching or communicating with them, suspend judgement.
Some ways to make this principle work for you
Believe it or not this applies to both positive and negative behaviour. Take procrastination. It may support a person’s avoidance value of failure because actually attempting something and failing would be worse than not trying at all! Look at potentially limiting behaviours and find more empowering alternatives that will serve you well such as drive, intent, focus and curiosity and analyse the results. Risk taking, for example, may be perceived by many people as a negative behaviour due to potential consequences but if it gets you positive results towards your outcome then great!
Example: If you are responsible for help the performance of other people always consider this assumption. Deal with their behaviour and remove judgement on their identity because there may be underlying motivators that are unconsciously driving their actions. Even though they seem totally ridiculous
Not making cold calls – wants to avoid stress because they find themselves in a values conflict. They personally wouldn’t want to be disturbed with someone selling them something outside of work hours so by doing so their value of integrity is not being met. Even though they accepted the job their need for income was placed them in this position at a conscious level however they didn’t consider their unconscious values in the decision-making process.
In order to fix the problem begin understanding their set of values and how together you could make them fit with the activity. Perhaps they need more belief in the product of service? Perhaps you could provide them with case studies of customers who have found their experience as a positive one.