flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘attention

Psychologists need poetry

I have one piece of advice for anyone who aspires to be a psychologist.  Read poetry.  Read good novels.

Your College or Department will jump your through a  lot of pseud-scientific hoops.  Jump through them but for a different reason to the one they give.  Jump through them because they will teach you how to ‘fail informatively’.  Yes. Fail informatively.

In the future, you will be able to handle unfamiliar situations by proposing one or more reasonable ways forward.  And then you can set up some experiments.  You can choose the best way forward.  And if you have set up your experiment well, the less favorable ways will also teach you a little more than ‘wrong way’.  This is the reason why you should study science.

To understand people, well, meet a lot of people and do things with them.  And read.

A good read is Paolo Coelho who also blogs and tweets.  Today he posted a 1 minute parable on the meaning of happiness.  It is an easy read.  The ending sums up the meaning of happiness.

For psychologists out there, this parable talks about two important psychological phenonena.

#1  Management of attention.

To manage one’s own direction and to pay attention to what is going on around us.

We need lots of practice at doing this. Computer games help us do this.  TV and reading books does not.  Sport helps us learn this.  Writing does not.  But speaking does.  Make sure you get lots of practice at learning to manage your attention so that you tackle frontiers with greater ease!

#2  We live at our frontier.

To define who we are by what we do.

Not what we feel, or believe.  But what we do in various contexts defined by who else is there.  We are our frontier.  We are our edge.

Perhaps we are a young man who cannot carry two drops of oil and look around a new place.  Or frontier is the new place, the new idea, and our own confusion.  It is here that we are ‘alive’ with our dreams and our hopes, our confusions and our sorrows.

This is a tough challenge for psychologists.  We have nothing to measure.  The definition may even be circular.  That is because psychology is not a thing. It is a goal or a purpose that is supremely personal.  Our goal is to live a our frontier.  The story of our frontier and our confusion is the story we all want to hear.

When we want to do the maths, then we look at whether we were in a situation that covers the whole gamut of emotions and whether we were able to respond appropriately as events unfolded.  Or were we like the young boy, first forgetting the context and then forgetting his task.  Can we recover from confusion and distress or do we get stuck?  Are we so scared of life that we insist that it be plain sailing all day and every day?

Do we approach our frontier or do we hang back?  And under what conditions are we able to approach our frontier and learn to carry the oil and look around despite our initial confusion?

Yes, positive psychologists do know something about this.  But so do poets.  Begin with them.

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New goals to focus the new year

2010 is upon us.  2009 has gone fast.  I began the year overloaded.  I was stressed out in January and was working hard to limit my goals.  That’s the purpose of goal setting, right?  To reduce the number of things claiming our attention.

Do you achieve your goals?  I sincerely hope not!

In the end, I over-achieved some of my goals and under-achieved others.  Why?  Why can’t we arrive spot-on?

Because that is not our job.  Really it is not.

Events, dear boy, events!

Our job is to respond to events.  Events, dear boy, events, as British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once said.  Or as the military say, no plan survives meeting the enemy.

Our job is not to press on regardless.  Or job is to be aware of what is happening around us, to understand what is valuable, and look after that.  We’ve had a good year when we’ve attended to who and what is important.

To be ready for unfolding events, it is a good idea to plan.  Plans mean we have information at our finger-tips and we find it easier to read evolving situations and understand what we need and want to do.

A good year is when our goals unpack themselves and we discover what is ‘good and true, better and possible”

But our job is to learn.  A good year is a year in which our goals unfold.   A good year is when our goals unpack themselves.  We come to understand the richness of the world and gaze upon it with respect and more curiosity bordering on reverence, not to forgive its wrongdoings but alive to what is ‘good and true, better and possible.”

So as we open our diaries for 2010, what has changed for us during 2009?  Putting aside the farce of bailing out banks to the tune of more than half out annual GDP and politicians who rifle the petty cash, for farce is what that is, what changed for us during 2009?

Looking around the world, what do we see that we never used to see?  What poetry & song did we hear this year, yet never heard before?   Whom do we know whose style and approach to life we truly admire?

What brings us alive and takes us bubbling with enthusiasm towards 2010?

Take your first small step that may be the giant step needed by mankind

Often what brings the light to our eyes is deeply personal. We don’t want to expose what we love to the harsh glare of spotlights and public scrutiny.  What we share is not for the sake of sharing.  It is for the sake of nurturing what we feel is beautiful and it is for the sake of encouraging what we would like to see more of.

Of the many beautiful things we have discovered, which are we able to move towards?  Which are we able to do more?  Where and how can we take part and in the process make them more beautiful?

We may have the smallest role to play in their beauty.  But it may be our role in creating a beautiful world.  That small step on the edges of our existence may be a large step for mankind ~ if only we would take it.

Yikes, our psychology is old fashioned

Here we are close to 2010, wrestling with philosophy and physics that was well documented half a century ago.

Let’s look at what most of us think of as science.

If I throw a stone, in theory, I can predict where it will land.   I like that. It is certain. I like that I know exactly what is going to happen.

But, of course, I don’t know where it will land.

  • I am no good at throwing stones.  It could go anywhere.
  • My ability to calculate the physics of the trajectory is limited (I’ve forgotten and can’t do it in my head in real time).
  • And other factors kick in such as the wind.

All in all, that stone becomes unpredictable. Oh, I don’t like that.

I don’t like the idea that what I thought was certain is not. It’s as if the earth shook under my feet.

Let’s look at what we think of as weakness of character

I hate it even more when I become unpredictable.  Yesterday, I woke up thinking a project was hopeless.  By the evening, I was so excited about the exact same project that I could not sleep.  My judgement should not swing about like that ~ at least if I am a person of substance, or so we are brought up to believe.

The truth is that nothing is predictable.  Least of all us.

So why do we persist in believing the world is under our control?

This is how it works. We have is a few factors under our control.  When we focus on those factors, we feel calm.  We feel efficacious.  And therefore we persist in whatever we are doing.

It doesn’t mean that we are effective.  It just means that we are willing to persist.  We pay attention. We are more likely to do what we are thinking about than what we are not thinking about. So we get done what we are thinking about.

In a circular fashion, we think we will succeed, we feel in control, so we persist and therefore we try, and sometimes we do succeed.

There is still a huge factor of chance involved though.  There is  so much else happening around us that can affect an outcome.   We’ve simply narrowed the range of outcomes by paying attention.

Is it a good thing to control our attention?

It’s interesting that in the western world that we put such a high premium on predicting results.  We really want to feel in control, of course.  Not be in control, feel in control.

We aren’t really in control. We are just ignoring what is out of our control. We are just writing a story of us in control. It is the story of being in control that we love! Take that away, and we really feel helpless!

You don’t believe  that we just like to think we are in control?

Let’s look at the west. It is more successful than the rest of the world. It is richer.

Yes, it is. And dirtier. Where do the emissions come from? How much energy is used to make this life style?

We are richer because we consume. That’s what wealth means in this sense. We have learned to consume a lot.

And if that is a marvellous thing, then aren’t we are being silly ~ we are destroying the world’s ability to sustain the thing that we say is so important.

Aren’t we just behaving like a person who barges to the front of the queue? It is true we get there. But at the expense of becoming very unpopular.

The point is that we barged to the front of the queue, not because being in the front was important, but because we wanted to feel in control. Now we are in the front, do we feel in control? No we don’t. All those people behind us will get their own back at the first opportunity! We’ve reduced our control.

High control needs

Now I am an in control type of person. Anyone who knows me, knows that. I like being in control. I look for ways to understand the world. I think we do more when we understand the world

But I shouldn’t mistake

  • My desire to be in control
  • The mechanisms that explain the behaviour of plants, animals, things and other people
  • My ability to control all these things

These are three different parts of the system.

Paradoxically, to be in control, I must give up control and join a system in which many mechanisms interrelate.

Oh, I can carry on being me. Enthusiastic, energetic, zestful. But that is just me being exuberant. Exuberant people are part of the universe. Take us into account in your calculations!

But my wish to control does not make things controllable. It means I will spend a lot of time researching what is controllable. I will not stop trying to make things controllable. But that does not make things controllable. I must distinguish my urge from reality.

The truth is that all the forces of the world exist because other forces exist and interplay with each other. I can learn what is humanly possible. I can learn as much as I can of the considerable knowledge of the world that there we have at our disposal. I can try to use the knowledge.

But I should never confuse my need to control with the ability to control. Indeed if I want to be effective, I should stand back a bit and not confuse the tunnel vision of will with the mindfulness when we pay attention to the world around us.

When we enjoy the world, when we celebrate everything around us, we get a lot more done.

Am I making any sense? This is hard to get.

Cheese on a market in Basel, Switzerland
Image via Wikipedia

I’m not moving until I can see the cheese

And Google is not coming without lots of keywords. This post is about MOTIVATION and all the misunderstandings and controversies that seem to swirl about us endlessly.

1  Motivation is distance to your goal

The mouse runs faster when it sees the cheese!

Motivation is not constant.  We aren’t motivated by cheese.  We are motivated by distance to the cheese.

Motivation gets stronger when we can see what we want and our goal comes tantalizing closer as we move toward it.

2  Motivation blinds us

When the mouse sees the cheese, it moves towards it . . . and the mouse trap.

That’s why business people and politicians like greedy people! So easy to dazzle.  So easy to trap.

3  Motivation is never so strong that we ignore a better cheese

So we put the cheese where the mouse can see it, and the mouse takes off . . .  Will it keep going, no matter what?

Yes, . . . unless we put a better cheese next to a dull cheese, or a duller cheese a little closer.  Our mouse is as fickle as the English weather.   It doesn’t matter whose day it spoils, the mouse will go where it is easier or better.

We make rapid calculations about what we will gain and change direction in a flash!

4  Motivation makes us stupid

Yet, when someone moves the cheese, we are temporarily confused. The trouble is that seeing the cheese focused our attention. And we forgot everything else. We forgot that other cheese exists. We forgot there are other routes to the cheese.

Take away the cheese suddenly, and we get cross and disoriented. Though there are plenty of alternatives, for a moment we can’t see them or remember them.

5  Motivation needs to be simple

And if we put two equally attractive cheeses in opposite directions, one to the left and one to the right, we get a confused mouse.

Come on cats, now is your chance.

Worse, if two or more mice are discussing which way to go, we may be there all week.

We need to toss two coins – the first to see if we go together or in different directions, and the second to see which way we go.  Most times we just argue. We don’t think of laying out the problem so tidily.  Two cheeses – we can have one or the other.  Shall we go together or not?  If not, who goes first and in which direction? If we are going together, in which direction?

Action is hard . . .

We can’t move, we won’t get moving, until our choices are simple and the end is in sight. We are easily distracted by alternatives and paralyzed by thought.

.  .  . and action it is also dangerous

We are easily entrapped by our greed – or to be kind to ourselves – easily engaged by the plain fun of scampering towards our cheese and wolfing it down.

Someone has to manage the cheese

We do have to work hard to keep the cheese-system simple and to fend off distractions.  While we are busy managing the cheese, we make ourselves vulnerable because we are just as blinkered in that goal as the cheese-chasers are by the cheese-chase.

So we need people to manage the people who manage the cheese

This is beginning to sound like a nursery-rhyme.

We do need lookouts to watch out for when we are getting blinkered.

We also need our lookouts to challenge us and to ask why we need to chase this cheese at all?  Well, the answer is as always, for the fun of it. We’ll chase something, just for the fun of it.  So, the question is which cheese will we chase?  And who will be sufficiently above the action to referee the debate and not get blinded by the thrill of the chase?

We do need some people to manage the people who manage the people who chase the cheese.  That will be their job, their only job.  Because if they get involved in the action, they will be blinkered too.  We will give them their share of the cheese if they ask us, over and over again, whether we should be chasing the cheese at all.

We must have these people.  Or the cats will have us

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Durrell in his final years, with Cottontop Tamarin
Image via Wikipedia

In My Friends and Other Animals, 10 year old Gerald Durrell taught me the most important trick of leadership.

He wrote a list of everything he wanted for his birthday, divided it up, and sent everyone to their favorite shops – his sister to buy cotton wool and pins for his butterfly collection, his author brother to a book shop, and his outdoorsy brother for supplies like formalin.

In all the years that I have spent teaching and consulting, I don’t think I have come across a better description of leadership.

There are three questions to remember about leadership.  That’s all, three questions

1 What brings us alive?

What lifts my soul? And what lifts the spirits of my companions?

What do they like to do, and what brings the light to their eyes?

2 What excites me about my companions?

What do I find fantastically good about the people I am with?

What do they do with ease and grace?  What do I love to watch?  What do I think they do magnificently well?

What brings out my smile and an impulse to applaud?

Even when they have been irritating me horribly, I must bring myself back to their story and their attributes that bring so much pleasure and opportunity to my life.

What makes me want to clap my hands in pleasure?  What can I say about this person to someone else?

What am I so confident that they will do so well because they always have.

3 Is this collective project sufficiently important for me to give it my full attention?

Will I be watching as events unfold?  Do I care enough – or was I just ranting?

And what will be watching? Can I play it through in detail in my mind and will it hold my attention as events unfold?

What information can I pass on to each person that will help them do better what they do so well?  How can I keep the light in our eyes?

Is this the most important project for me right now?

“. . . this is all, this is perfect, this is it . . .”

Does my project raise my compassion and my ease with the world?

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