Psychology – Litemind Exploring ways to use our minds efficiently. Mon, 01 Jan 2018 20:43:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Relativity Mind Trap: How Comparisons Can Lead Us Astray Mon, 12 Apr 2010 11:54:27 +0000 Our minds make sense of the world by making comparisons. It’s human nature, but it can also lead us to think irrationally and make bad decisions. Learn how this mind trap works and how to escape it.

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How do you compare?

Our minds make sense of the world by making comparisons. For instance, how do you tell if something is cheap or expensive when shopping? It’s mostly by comparing it with other products, isn’t it? And so it happens for everything in our lives: we’re constantly comparing — everything, all the time.

It’s true that making comparisons is human nature, but judging everything only through comparisons can get us to think irrationally and make bad decisions. It eventually makes us feel miserable when we realize that our choices weren’t really that good, after all.

Learn how this mind trap works and how to escape it.

Relativity in Our Daily Lives: Pens and Suits

Picture yourself in the following situation: You have two errands to run today — buying a new pen and a new suit for work.

At an office supply store, you find a nice pen for $16. You are set to buy it, but you remember the exact same pen is on sale for only $1 on a closeout 15 minutes away. Do you buy the pen for $16 or go for the $1 one?

OK, on to your second errand: Let’s go get your suit. You just found a nice suit for $500 and while waiting for the cashier, another customer tells you that you can find the same suit for $485 on a store just 15 minutes away. Do you buy your suit for $500 or drive 15 minutes for the $485 one?

Take a moment to think about your choices. What would you have done?

A similar situation was presented to a group of people in a study (by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, the same brilliant guys from another great famous framing experiment). The results? They found that most people chose to drive to buy the cheaper pen, but happily parted with $500 for the more expensive suit.

What’s going on? Can you spot the contradiction here?

A Dollar is a Dollar is a Dollar — Or Is It?

Clearly, our minds are fooling us. In both situations your choice boils down to saving $15 or 15 minutes of your time: The absolute price of the item you’re buying has no importance whatsoever (and is the red herring used in the experiment to elicit the contradictory behavior the researchers were looking for).

Whether you save $15 from buying a pen, a suit, a car or a luxury yacht, the end result is the same: $15 in your pocket. The only question that matters here should be: “Is 15 minutes of my time to save $15 worth the $15 I’m saving?”

What’s happening here is that your mind can’t decide, without external aid, if a $15 discount is a good deal: it needs something else to compare the discount to (in this case, the total price of the item).

And this is the problem: we look at things in life relatively, comparing differences, instead of looking at each thing’s value on its own.

Making comparisons and evaluating things relative to each other is a many times a useful shortcut, but as demonstrated above, in many occasions it severely hinders our ability to make wise decisions.

Relativity Traps are Everywhere

Not surprisingly, relativity kicks in not only when buying pens and suits but in almost everything in life.

Relativity, along with the bad comparisons it entails, can make you feel bad about yourself, get you in debt, and lead you to make life-changing decisions that are just plain stupid. In short, it can make your life miserable.

The examples are countless; here are just a few.

  • Comparing yourself with others. This is a biggie. If you assess your worth by comparing yourself with others (in any dimension you choose to use), you’re set for disappointment: there will always be people better than you in any measure you pick. I’ll further explore this theme in a subsequent article, but for now it suffices to repeat something you already know: avoid comparing yourself with others; it’s always a no-win situation.

  • Keeping up the Joneses. The richest person in a poor neighborhood is usually happier about his net worth than the poorest person in a rich neighborhood — regardless of how much they actually have! In light of relativity, people compare themselves with their neighbors, and don’t like the feeling they’re behind “everyone else”. This is an endless cycle: the more people have, the higher they set the bar for the people they compare themselves with.

  • Winning (and feeling like you lost). Isn’t it true that the silver medal usually tastes bitterer than the bronze medal? Despite the absolute value of the medals, earning the silver medal usually comes in the context of failing to win the gold one. The bronze medal, on the other hand, is earned in the context of getting any medal instead of no medal at all.

  • Taking advantage of “great deals”. It’s a well-known sales technique to offer customers the most expensive products first. Those overpriced items establish the context for people to see the other products as being cheaper. Oftentimes those “cheap” products are not cheap at all, but thanks to relativity, you walk away thinking you made a great deal. (Note, though, that you paid the ‘absolute’ amount of money for your product! It may be relatively cheaper but you may have parted with a great deal of your hard-earned money, anyway.)

    On the flip side, people may go for the more expensive item because the difference in price to the less expensive one doesn’t look as big. People find it easy to spend $3,000 on leather seats for their new $25,000 cars (the $25,000 serves as the comparison number), but have a hard time spending the same amount on their living room sofas (that usually don’t have a clear figure to be used for comparison).

How to Overcome the Relativity Trap

Is it possible to escape the mind trap of relativity”? Dan Ariely, in his brilliant book Predictably Irrational (from which I got most of the inspiration to write this article) hints at the solution.

The way to escape thinking in terms of comparisons and relative terms, is — not surprisingly — thinking more in absolute terms: you got to escape the trap of doing local comparisons and think more broadly.

Going back to our example of buying the pen and the suit: Resist the temptation of looking at the $15 savings relatively to the item’s total price (the immediate, most salient comparison). Escape that local comparison and put the savings into a broader context instead. Ask yourself ‘What can I do with the $15 saved?‘ and see how that can better inform your choices.

Maybe you will buy a book? Save the money? Donate it to charity? Moreover, ask yourself: “Is $15 worth a drive downtown and 15 minutes of my time?” In short, see beyond the immediate situation.

In 15 minutes, maybe you can go back to work and earn more than $15? Or maybe a 15-minute break is what you need right now? Regardless of which way you decide, remember: this has nothing to do with the price of the pen or the suit, but with what you are actually saving (time? money? hassle?) means to you in a broader context.

This was an easy example, but if you think about it, you can apply it to just about everything in your life. How about stop comparing yourself with others and assess how you feel about your life broadly — on your own terms? How about focusing on the value of your silver medal instead of the other guy’s gold medal?

Think outside your immediate context, escape easy comparisons and start seeing things in a broader perspective. When you think about life this way, everything can be seen under a new — much more positive — light.

Try it: make notes of some of your important decisions (and some of the not-so important ones) then write down your impressions from a relative as well as an absolute perspective. Are your decisions better one way or another? Why? How?

While simple in theory, thinking in absolutes is not the way we’re wired to think, so doing it always takes a great deal of conscious effort and practice. But it’s absolutely worth it.

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: The Relativity Mind Trap: How Comparisons Can Lead Us Astray.

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Overcome Fear of Failure, Part II — 6 Powerful Strategies You Can Use Wed, 09 Sep 2009 12:46:51 +0000 In the first part of this series, we focused on building an effective mindset for overcoming fear of failure. Now it’s time to get down to action: here are 6 powerful strategies you can use to conquer fear of failure right off the bat.

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Overcome Fear of Failure

In the first part of this series, we focused on building an effective mindset for overcoming fear of failure. Now it’s time to get down to action: here are 6 powerful strategies you can use to conquer fear of failure right off the bat.

1. Acknowledge Your Fear

There’s a good reason why acknowledgement is the first step in every 12-step recovery program: we can’t fight an enemy we can’t see. Unless we can fully acknowledge our fear of failure, the psychological armor we built against it won’t be of any use.

Acknowledging our fear of failure, however, is not always easy. Many times, fear of failure comes disguised in subtle forms like anxiety, procrastination and other forms of resistance.

One great way to expose fears is plain old journaling. Another technique that works wonders is chatting with a rubber duck: many times, verbalizing your problem is all you need to clarify it.

Explore the nature of your fear: What is it that you fear about? Is it what people will say about you? What exactly are you concerned about? Try to unearth as many details as you can: the more precisely you can define the reasons behind your fear of failure the better.

2. Take a (Tiny) Step Now

Once we have acknowledged our fear of failure no other strategy beats simply taking action. Taking action and seeing results is the best motivator there is. The trick here is that we don’t need to take bold, courageous action: tiny action works just fine.

Tiny actions bypass the automatic fear response in our brains. We may get paralyzed when tackling big challenges all at once, but not when concentrating on tiny actions. And as soon as we have our first small success we start building the confidence to go on.

Small actions also serve another very important purpose: they are excellent feedback mechanisms. Each small step can be used to correct your course of action. A plane is slightly off-course most of the time, but since it continually uses its instruments’ feedback to correct its route, it’s able to get to its destination with precision.

So, think of the tiniest action step possible in your project — one that you’re absolutely sure you can accomplish — and do it now. After you’re done with that, just get to the next one… then lather, rinse, repeat. The tinier the steps, the better.

3. Reduce Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a major source of fear and anxiety. Our fear usually manifests itself because there’s at least one aspect of the challenge ahead that is unfamiliar or unknown to us.

The problem is exacerbated as we usually don’t distinguish the known parts of the problem from the unknown ones: we just mix them together into a large blob of fear and anxiety in our minds.

Getting clear about which tasks create the most uncertainty helps boost our mental energy to deal not only with those tasks, but with all tasks in the project.

Many times we tend to reassure ourselves by doing the easy tasks first and putting off the uncertain ones — and that’s fine in the beginning to help us get going — but if you keep postponing the most uncertain tasks, they will not stop haunting you and sapping your energy. So, after we get a little momentum (by taking tiny steps), the most uncertain tasks are the ones we should go after.

Make a list of tasks in your projects identifying the ones that are major sources of uncertainty and then tackle them as soon as possible.

4. Batch Ideas Before Executing Them

Have you considered that fear of failure might be a signal that you may be approaching the problem from the wrong perspective?

If that’s the case, why not have more ideas before jumping into action, then? “Any idea is a bad idea if it’s the only one you’ve got,” someone once said — and I agree.

Having no options is frightening: we start believing ‘success is our only choice’. We believe that the single outcome we envisaged is the only way out, that we must get it right, or else… Obviously, the problem is in the scarcity of alternatives and the terror that this ‘all-or-nothing’ situation elicits.

The way out of this situation is to have many ideas. Lots of them — after all, quantity breeds quality. You’ll not only have plenty of alternatives to make yourself feel safer, but may also solve the problem using a much better idea than the original one.

Refuse to execute an idea if it’s the only one you’ve got. Use any one of the many idea-generation methods available — my favorites are lists of 100 and idea quotas.

5. Plan for Failure

As we discussed in part I of this article, failure is part and parcel of life. What does this mean? In a nutshell, if you are doing things right you wil fail. Often.

I roll my eyes when I see dialogue (especially in war movies) along the lines of “What’s the contingency plan?” and the reply is the clichéd “Failure is not an option here.” Guess what, no matter how important the outcome may be, failure is not only an option — but a very likely one.

Especially when we’re doing innovative work, failure is not an ‘unlikely case we should be aware of’. Quite the opposite, it’s the norm. Expect failure and be prepared for it. Instead of pretending failure won’t happen, be prepared to fail intelligently — and learn from it.

Let’s be clear: this is not the same as setting yourself for failure, but simply not getting caught by (too much) surprise when it happens.

One thing you’ll notice is that — and this may sound counterintuitive at first — when you consider failure as a likely result, your rate of success will drastically increase. You’ll think more thoroughly about your problem and become more prepared and confident.

Before jumping to action and simply hoping that you won’t fail, stop for a moment and plan for what you will do when things won’t come through as expected.

6. Redefine the Game

We all want to be successful, but have you paused for a moment to consider what ‘being successful’ really means?

I could not finish this series without mentioning that we’re free to define success in any way we want. I know this may sound iffy, but the definition of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are entirely up to you: you don’t need to adhere to any existing standards — really!

What if you measure success not by the usual notion of looking at the outcome per se but, for example, by how much fun you had along the way? What if you’re in for the learning? What about the excitement of trying new things? There are so many ways something can be successful that it’s really a pity to ignore them all and focus solely on how it can fail.

Let go of the idea that there’s only one successful outcome — and that all other alternatives, by exclusion, are failures: each outcome is successful in its own way. You may not have had the outcome you expected, but you may have learned something new about yourself. Or maybe you have developed your resilience. Or maybe you just had a good time all along.

By all means, be honest with yourself — don’t just pretend you don’t care about the outcome at all: this is not an attempt to fool yourself when you fail, but a genuine attempt to change your mindset and release yourself from the limitation of single outcomes.

Closing Thoughts

This ends this two-part series about fear of failure. As long-time Litemind reader ReddyK wisely pointed out, overcoming fear is part courage and part discernment. Hopefully, with the help from the ideas in this article (along with those in the first), you now have tools to better tackle fear of failure whatever the case may be.

Failure has become a dirty word when it shouldn’t be. Make failure your friend: unless you truly embrace failure, you will never really appreciate what it means to succeed.

Now it’s your turn: What strategies do you use to deal with fear of failure? Share in the comments!

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Overcome Fear of Failure, Part II — 6 Powerful Strategies You Can Use.

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Overcome Fear of Failure, Part I — Building the Right Mindset Wed, 26 Aug 2009 12:18:39 +0000 Does fearing failure paralyze you? Learn how to create a first line of defense — a “psychological armor” — against fear of failure and stop being held back by it.

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Overcome Fear of Failure

Does fearing failure paralyze you? Of all the reasons for inaction, the strongest one is not lack of ideas, tools, time or money. Usually, the enemy is entrenched much deeper inside our minds. Unless we learn to tackle our fear of failure, we’ll never be able to get the most out of our lives.

In this first article of a two-part series, the focus is on how to create a first line of defense — a “psychological armor” — against fear of failure. Here are 6 ideas to help you look at failure from a different perspective and stop being held back by it.

1. Failures are just steppingstones

“There is no failure. Only feedback.” –Robert Allen

We give too much importance to failure, don’t we? We overemphasize it, seeing failure as the final result — as an undesired outcome of something we fought hard for. We miss the point, though, that failure is just part of a larger process — the process of learning and growing.

Have you noticed that some people — contrary to all expectations — seem to only become stronger when they fail? How do they manage?

If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that they have developed a unique mindset: they realize that failing is an intrinsic part of succeeding. They know that every time they fail, they’re learning from their mistakes. A failure is a message that says that something could have been done differently — that there is room for improvement. And that’s why these people don’t seem to care much about failing: they never see the failure as an isolated event — but as part of a much larger process.

In life, failures are not end points: they’re steppingstones. They’re only as permanent as you allow them to be. They’re only final if you accept defeat and stop trying.

2. We can never be a failure

“Failure is an event, never a person.” – William D. Brown

At school we are ridiculed as we fail. As we grow older, the ridicule may become subtler, but it’s always present. That’s one reason fear of failure is so strong in us: failing undermines how we are recognized, accepted and validated by others.

For a long time, we’ve been conditioned to attach our sense of self-worth to the outcome of our actions. Every time one of our ideas fails, it is as though we allow our self-esteem to be eroded. We feel the failure deep inside: it’s almost like we were that idea that flopped.

But you don’t need to think that way. If something you try doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean you are a failure or a loser. It just means you’re actively experimenting, that you’re trying, and you’re learning as a result. In that regard, the expression to be a failure (or successful) doesn’t make any sense.

If people around you don’t get that and are still critical of you or your failures, it’s probably because they are the ones who do not get the idea about experimenting, trying, and learning. But don’t let yourself down by their negativity. As long as you keep an open mind to experimenting, don’t bother if you keep failing! The people who really care about you will always support you throughout your failures. They’ll never lose sight of the person behind your failures.

3. Failing is the only way to go far enough

“If you hit every time, the target is too near or too big.” –Tom Hirshfield

The only way to know that you’ve gone far enough is to go too far. And going too far is called failing.

That means that if you don’t go far enough — in other words, if you don’t fail — you’ll never know for sure where your limits really are.

Race car drivers know this to the bone. They even have a saying for it: “The one sure way to find out if you’re going fast enough is to crash”.

So if you decide to live a life of “playing it safe” — of avoiding failures altogether — you can be safe in the knowledge that you’ll most likely accomplish your goal — after all, that’s a dead easy target to take aim at. Just bear in mind, however, that you’ll never be able to get the most out of your life acting that way.

4. Failing is part and parcel of innovation

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” –Thomas Edison

As much as I like creative idea generation, if you want to achieve marvelous things, having ideas is seldom the bottleneck. Putting them to action is!

That’s the difference between innovation and creativity: innovators are not just people having great ideas in a room, they are the ones who have the courage to go out and test them! And guess what happens when they put their ideas to action?

Exactly. They fail. Most of the time.

But every time they fail, they take note of the lessons failure taught them, improving their approach to solving the problem in subsequent attempts.

One of 20th century’s most influential books (and one of my favorites), Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was turned down by 121 publishers before getting published. And that’s only one story of persistence in the face of failure among the many I’m sure you’ve already heard.

Consider this: If you eventually score one success, people will hardly remember your failures. So, even if you have not overcome your ego problem about failing (see point 2 above), you still have a chance: if you just keep trying and score at some point, all your mistakes will magically be gone. 😉

5. Failing is usually not as bad as we picture it

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes” —Oscar Wilde

OK, failure may not be so bad after all, but would I be going too far in saying that you can actually enjoy failure?

Seriously, there were times when I was so afraid to fail that when I failed — as expected — I felt immense relief. My biggest threat had been left behind as there was nothing to fear anymore: my mind was clear again. Failing can definitely set you free.

Have you failed before? Was it as terrible as you had anticipated? Well, here you are reading this article, so it seems you survived all right. Truth is, failure is almost never as bad as we imagine. Fear of failure is usually much worse than failure itself.

Too often, people who haven’t failed at anything believe that failing is a disaster. And because they’ve never failed, they believe they know it all. They refuse to learn. Every time you fail, then, look for the lesson behind it and take it as an opportunity to grow stronger, to grow wiser — to be a better person.

6. Everybody is afraid — everybody

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” –Ambrose Redmoon

Let me tell you a secret: the next guy is as scared as you are. We’re all afraid of failing. Yes, that includes even the most prolific geniuses you can think of — In fact, they seem to be the ones who agonize more about failing.”

There’s nothing wrong about it. Your fear is perfectly normal: if what you’re doing is at least minimally worth it, fear of failure will always be part of the process. It will never go away completely.

Achievers succeed not because they’re not afraid, but because they overcome fear. Every day. Over and over again. They know fear won’t go away, but they refuse to be deterred by it.

And that’s the fight worth fighting. That’s the never-ending practice we must engage on.

Final Thoughts

I first compiled the ideas in this article for my own reference. Although most of them may not be new, this is the kind of stuff I keep forgetting at the times I need them the most — and that’s why I decided to share them here. I hope you find them useful.

The 2nd part of this article is about specific strategies we can use to overcome our fear of failure: check it out!

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Overcome Fear of Failure, Part I — Building the Right Mindset.

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Top 10 Thinking Traps Exposed — How to Foolproof Your Mind, Part II Wed, 08 Jul 2009 12:28:15 +0000 In the first part of this article, we focused on 5 traps that hinder our ability to think rationally. Now it’s time to complete the list and expose the remaining 5 dangerous traps to be avoided. Let’s dive right in.

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Top 10 Thinking Traps Exposed - Part II

In the first part of this article, we focused on 5 traps that hinder our ability to think rationally. As a quick recap, we discussed:

  1. The Anchoring Trap: Over-Relying on First Thoughts
  2. The Status Quo Trap: Keeping on Keeping On
  3. The Sunk Cost Trap: Protecting Earlier Choices
  4. The Confirmation Trap: Seeing What You Want to See
  5. The Incomplete Information Trap: Review Your Assumptions

Now it’s time to complete the list and expose the remaining 5 dangerous traps to be avoided. Let’s dive right in.

6. The Conformity Trap: Everybody Else Is Doing It

In a series of experiments, researchers asked students in a classroom a series of very simple questions and, sure enough, most of them got the answers right. In another group, they asked the same questions but this time there were actors posing as students, purposefully pushing wrong answers. This time around, many more students provided wrong answers based on the leads from the researchers’ assistants.

This “herd instinct” exists — to different degrees — in all of us. Even if we hate to admit it, other people’s actions do heavily influence ours.
We fear looking dumb: failing along with many people is frequently not considered a big deal, but when we fail alone we must take all the heat ourselves. There’s always peer pressure to adopt the behaviors of the groups we’re in.

This tendency to conform is notoriously exploited in advertising. Businesses often sell us products not based on their features, but by showing how popular they are: since others are buying it in droves, why would we not join them?

Conformity is also one of the main reasons why once a book makes into a well-known best-sellers list, it tends to “lock in” and continue there for a long time. People like to consume what “everybody else” is consuming.

What can you do about it?

  • Discount the influence of others. When analyzing information, shield yourself from others’ opinions — at least at first. This is the best way to decide without being subconsciously swayed by popular opinions.
  • Beware “social proof”. Always raise a flag when someone tries to convince you arguing primarily on the popularity of a choice, instead of on its merit.
  • Be courageous. Be willing to overcome obstacles and defend your viewpoints, despite their unpopularity. Don’t be afraid to point out that the Emperor wears no clothes.

7. The Illusion of Control Trap: Shooting in the Dark

Have you noticed that the vast majority of lotto players pick their own numbers instead of using the sometimes available ‘auto-pick’ option (where the point of sales terminal chooses the numbers for you)? We all know that however the numbers are chosen doesn’t change the chance of winning, so why the strong preference for picking our own numbers?

Curiously, even in situations we clearly can’t control, we still tend to irrationally believe that we can somehow influence results. We just love to feel in control.

Of course, it’s always easier to illustrate this trap with chance games, but the tendency to overestimate our personal control of events influences every aspect of our daily lives.

Unfortunately, contrary to the lottery example above, the outcomes of our decisions are usually complex and interconnected. It’s hard to assess to what extent we’re responsible for the results we get. While some of the outcomes can be traced back to our own choices, a part of them will surely remain just as well out of our direct control.

What can you do about it?

  • Understand that randomness is part and parcel of life. Although it may be hard to fathom or even admit it, some things are just random — in the sense that they don’t depend on your effort at all. Accept responsibility for the things you can influence, but know that for many others there is not much you can do. Better than assuming or expecting that every event is under your control is to consciously choose how you respond to them.
  • Beware of superstitions. Consider how much of your decisions are based on things you cannot really explain. Make those unknowns explicit and put them under scrutiny — instead of pretending you can control them.

8. The Coincidence Trap: We Suck at Probabilities

John Riley is a legend. He won a one-in-a-million-chance lottery… twice! That makes it a 1-in-a-trillion event — which means that the lottery is rigged or maybe John must have been singled out by Lady Luck, right?

Well, not really. Let’s try a little math: If, throughout the years, 1000 lottery winners keep playing at least 100 times attempting the “miracle” of winning it once more, that adds up to a non-negligible chance of 10% that someone will make it.

This means that the “miracle” is not only possible but — given enough attempts — its likelihood increases to a point of becoming almost inevitable.

Another classic example: it takes a group of just 23 people to make it more likely than not that two of them share the same birthday (day and month).

That’s how unintuitive probabilities are.

What can you do about it?

  • Don’t over-rely on gut estimates. While useful many times, gut estimates will sometimes be way off the mark. Make sure you properly discount their importance or that you understand the ramifications of trusting them.
  • Beware of “after the fact” probabilities. One thing is the probability of someone having won the lottery twice — looking at it in retrospect. Another completely different thing is that a particular person — chosen before the outcome — wins it: that would indeed qualify as a one-in-a-trillion event — and would make anyone seriously doubt the legitimacy of that lottery.

9. The Recall Trap: Not All Memories Are Created Equal

What’s your best guess for the probability of a randomly selected flight ending in a fatal crash? While many people grossly overestimate it, MIT studies show that in reality these fatal accidents happen at a rate of only 1 in 10,000,000.

The fact that people suck at estimating probabilities explains only partially this tendency to mis-estimate: if you ask the same question right after a major airplane accident, be prepared for even more biased assessments.

What happens is we analyze information based on experience, on what we can remember from it. Because of that, we’re overly influenced by events that stand out from others, such as those with highly dramatic impact or very recent ones. The more “special” an event is, the greater the potential to distort our thinking. Of course, no one ever bothers about the other 9,999,999 planes that arrive safely at their destinations — so there’s nothing more natural than forgetting about them.

What can you do about it?

  • Get hard data. As usual, don’t rely on your memory if you don’t have to. Use it, of course, but always endeavor to find data that confirms or discounts your recollection as soon as possible.
  • Be aware of your emotions. When analyzing information, try to emotionally isolate yourself from it, at least temporarily. If you’re analyzing an event, pretend it happened a long time ago or that it happened to someone else unrelated to you. Likewise, if asking for opinions, find people who are not emotionally involved with them or their consequences.
  • Beware the media. The media is notorious for exaggerating the importance of certain events while conveniently neglecting others. Always evaluate information on its relevance and accuracy, and not on how much exposure it gets.

10. The Superiority Trap: The Average is Above Average

A study surveyed drivers asking them to compare their driving skills to other people in the experiment.
Almost all the participants (93%!) rated themselves as ‘above average’.

With few exceptions, people have much inflated views of themselves. They overestimate their skills and capabilities, leading to many errors in judgment.

And this is the reason I decided to close this article with this particular thinking trap. After making ourselves aware of these many thinking traps, we may now become susceptible to falling into a new one: the belief that we’re now immune to them.

Of course, the first step to avoid thinking traps is awareness and constant vigilance, but beware: it’s much, much easier to notice others falling into these traps than us.

What can you do about it?

  • Be humble. Always remember that everyone has blind spots (yes, that includes me and you)!
  • Surround yourself with honest people. If we all have blind spots, nothing better than having honest people around us to point them out to us.
  • Don’t go overboard. These ‘thinking traps’ are inherent parts of us: they make us human. Applying rigor and rational thinking to our decisions is important, but that doesn’t mean that intuition has completely lost its place. Don’t get me wrong: I still think that knowing about our own thinking traps is very useful — just don’t get too worked up about them.

Further Resources

These ten thinking traps barely scratch the surface when it comes to how our thinking can be biased. Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases has more than 100 of these traps, making it a hard-to-beat starting point for further learning.

The references for the studies that back up the data in this article can be found on the respective articles on Wikipedia, as well as on the book Smart Choices. That’s a marvelous book about decision making, and one which I highly recommend. Another great book to check out is Thomas Gilovich’s How We Know What Isn’t So.

I hope you enjoyed the article. And just in case you missed it, here’s part 1, where you can find the first 5 thinking traps we started with.

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Top 10 Thinking Traps Exposed — How to Foolproof Your Mind, Part II.

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Top 10 Thinking Traps Exposed — How to Foolproof Your Mind, Part I Wed, 24 Jun 2009 13:44:21 +0000 Our minds set up many traps for us. Unless we’re aware of them, these traps can seriously hinder our ability to think rationally, leading us to bad reasoning and stupid decisions. Here are the 5 most harmful of these traps and how to avoid each one of them.

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Top 10 Thinking Traps Exposed

Our minds set up many traps for us. Unless we’re aware of them, these traps can seriously hinder our ability to think rationally, leading us to bad reasoning and making stupid decisions. Features of our minds that are meant to help us may, eventually, get us into trouble.

Here are the first 5 of the most harmful of these traps and how to avoid each one of them.

1. The Anchoring Trap: Over-Relying on First Thoughts

“Is the population of Turkey greater than 35 million? What’s your best estimate?”
Researchers asked this question to a group of people, and the estimates were seldom too far off 35 million. The same question was posed to a second group, but this time using 100 million as the starting point. Although both figures were arbitrary, the estimates from the ‘100 million’ group were, without fail, concomitantly higher than those in the ’35 million’ group. (for the curious, here’s the answer.)

Lesson: Your starting point can heavily bias your thinking: initial impressions, ideas, estimates or data “anchor” subsequent thoughts.

This trap is particularly dangerous as it’s deliberately used in many occasions, such as by experienced salesmen, who will show you a higher-priced item first, “anchoring” that price in your mind, for example.

What can you do about it?

  • Always view a problem from different perspectives. Avoid being stuck with a single starting point. Work on your problem statement before going down a solution path.
  • Think on your own before consulting others. Get as much data as possible and explore some conclusions by yourself before getting influenced by other people’s anchors.
  • Seek information from a wide variety of sources. Get many opinions and broaden your frame of reference. Avoid being limited to a single point of view.

2. The Status Quo Trap: Keeping on Keeping On

In one experiment a group of people were randomly given one of two gifts — half received a decorated mug, the other half a large Swiss chocolate bar. They were then told that they could effortlessly exchange one gift for the other. Logic tells us that about half of people would not get the gift they prefered and would hence exchange it, but in fact only 10% did!

We tend to repeat established behaviors, unless we are given the right incentives to entice us to change them. The status quo automatically has an advantage over every other alternative.

What can you do about it?

  • Consider the status quo as just another alternative. Don’t get caught in the ‘current vs. others’ mindset. Ask yourself if you would choose your current situation if it weren’t the status quo.
  • Know your objectives. Be explicit about them and evaluate objectively if the current state of affairs serves them well.
  • Avoid exaggerating switching costs. They frequently are not as bad as we tend to assume.

3. The Sunk Cost Trap: Protecting Earlier Choices

You pre-ordered a non-refundable ticket to a basketball game. On the night of the game, you’re tired and there’s a blizzard raging outside. You regret the fact that you bought the ticket because, frankly, you would prefer to stay at home, light up your fireplace and comfortably watch the game on TV. What would you do?

It may be hard to admit, but staying at home is the best choice here. The money for the ticket is already gone regardless of the alternative you choose: it’s a sunk cost, and it shouldn’t influence your decision.

(This example is from an earlier article which focuses entirely on the sunk cost effect. Check it out if you want to know more.)

What can you do about it?

  • Be OK with making mistakes. Examine why admitting to earlier mistakes distresses you. Nobody is immune to errors, so you shouldn’t make a big deal out of it — just make sure you learn from them!
  • Listen to people who were not involved in the earlier decisions. Find people who are not emotionally committed to past decisions and ask their opinion.
  • Focus on your goals. We make decisions in order to reach goals. Don’t become attached to the particular series of steps you took towards that goal; always consider how you can better fulfill that goal from now on.

4. The Confirmation Trap: Seeing What You Want to See

You feel the stock market will be going down and that now may be a good time to sell your stock. Just to be reassured of your hunch, you call a friend that has just sold all her stock to find out her reasons.

Congratulations, you have just fallen into the Confirmation Trap: looking for information that will most likely support your initial point of view — while conveniently avoiding information that challenges it.

This confirmation bias affects not only where you go to collect evidence, but also how you interpret the data: we are much less critical of arguments that support our initial ideas and much more resistant to arguments against them.

No matter how neutral we think we are when first tackling a decision, our brains always decide — intuitively — on an alternative right away, making us subject to this trap virtually at all times.

What can you do about it?

  • Expose yourself to conflicting information. Examine all evidence with equal rigor. Don’t be soft on disconfirmatory evidence. Know what you are about: Searching for alternatives or looking for reassurance!
  • Get a devil’s advocate. Find someone you respect to argue against the decision you’re contemplating making. If you can’t find one, build the counterarguments yourself. Always consider the other positions with an open mind (taking into account the other mind traps we are discussing here, by the way).
  • Don’t ask leading questions. When asking for advice, make neutral questions to avoid people merely confirming your biases. “What should I do with my stocks?” works better than “Should I sell my stocks today?”

5. The Incomplete Information Trap: Review Your Assumptions

Harry is an introverted guy. We know that he is either a librarian or a salesman. Which one do you think he most probably is?

Of course, we may be tempted to think he’s almost certainly a librarian. Haven’t we been conditioned to think of salesmen as having outgoing, if not pushy, personalities? Too bad this reasoning may be dead wrong (or at least incomplete).

This conclusion neglects the fact that salesmen outnumber librarians about 100 to 1. Before you even consider Harry’s character traits, you should have assigned only a 1% chance that he’s a librarian. (That means that even if all librarians are introverted, all it takes is 1% of introverts among the salesmen to make the chances higher for Harry being a salesman.)

That’s just one example of how overlooking a simple data element can make our intuitions go completely astray. We keep mental images — simplifications of reality — that make we jump to conclusions before questioning assumptions or checking whether we have enough information.

What can you do about it?

  • Make your assumptions explicit. Don’t take a problem statement as it is. Keep in mind that for every problem you’re using implicit information — your assumptions. It’s usually not hard to check the validity of assumptions, but first you need to know what they are.
  • Always favor hard data over mental simplifications. Our preconceptions — such as stereotypes — can be useful in many situations, but we should always be careful to not over-rely on them. When given the choice, always prefer hard data.

For five more thinking traps, check out part II.

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Overcoming Procrastination Instantly Using Self Talk Tue, 07 Oct 2008 17:28:47 +0000 Changing how we talk to ourselves is the easiest and most powerful way to overcome procrastination. No other method that I know of disarms procrastination so rapidly and at such a fundamental level: that of our own thoughts. The Voices In Our Heads We’re talking to ourselves all the time inside our minds. Even when […]

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Overcoming Procrastination

Changing how we talk to ourselves is the easiest and most powerful way to overcome procrastination. No other method that I know of disarms procrastination so rapidly and at such a fundamental level: that of our own thoughts.

The Voices In Our Heads

We’re talking to ourselves all the time inside our minds. Even when you’re not paying attention, these relentless mental debates deeply influence our feelings and, ultimately, our behavior.

The good news is that just becoming aware of such mental dialogues — noticing patterns and turning them into productive statements — is usually all you need to overcome many unwelcome feelings and behaviors.

Let’s see how this can help us when it comes to procrastination.

The Procrastinator’s Motto

Consider the following thought, which for sure has crossed our minds many times in the past:

“I have to finish this long, important project. It should already be done by now and I need to plow through it.”

Now, tell me you don’t have this thought sometimes. For me, no other passage embodies our procrastinator’s mind so well: as we’ll see, this small, seemingly innocent thought contains almost every mental block that encourages procrastination. That’s why I like to call it the Procrastinator’s Motto.

We all use the Procrastinator’s Motto (or variations of it) every once in a while. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, chances are you repeat it to yourself very frequently — daily, perhaps.

But what’s so wrong about the Procrastinator’s Motto? In what ways do these words encourage procrastination so much — and what can we do about it?

From Procrastinator to Producer: A Step-by-Step Self Talk Guide

To understand what’s wrong with the Procrastinator’s Motto, let’s break it down in parts:

“(1) I have to (2) finish this (3) long, (4) important project. (5) It should already be done by now and (6) I need to plow through it.”

Now let’s consider each of these six parts in turn, replacing each of them with an empowering alternative. In doing that, we’ll turn the original motto on its head and create a productive call to action: a “Producer’s Motto”, if you like.

1. I Have To → I Choose To

‘I have to’ is every procrastinator’s favorite expression. It’s also the most disempowering.

Every time you say to yourself that you have to do something, you imply that you don’t have any choice. This choice of words implies that you feel forced or coerced to do the task — that you don’t really want to do it. That perception, of course, elicits a strong feeling of victimhood and resistance towards doing the task.

The solution to this problem is to replace ‘I have to’ with the immensely more empowering alternative ‘I choose to’.

Everything you do is ultimately a choice (yes, even completing tax forms). Using language that expresses choice reminds you of that and brings the feeling of power back.

For an in-depth exploration about the ‘I have to’ expression, check this early article dedicated entirely to this matter.

2. Finish → Start

When you focus on finishing something, you direct your attention to a vague, highly idealized future. Visualizing a finished project is motivating for many people, but from the point of view of who’s having a hard time starting a task, visualizing a hard-to-grasp future can be overwhelming — even depressing at times.

The solution in this case, then, is not to focus on finishing, but on starting.

Forget for a minute about the finish line, just concentrate on taking the first step. Bring your focus from the future to what can be done right now. We all know that if you start something a large enough number of times, you’ll eventually finish any task.

Starting — all by itself — is usually sufficient to build enough momentum to keep the ball rolling from then on. This is what Mark Forster calls the “I’ll just get the file out” technique, and it definitely works.

3. Long Project → Short Task

Constantly reminding yourself how long and challenging the upcoming undertaking is only adds to the feeling of being overwhelmed, and thus of procrastination.

Any undertaking, no matter how daunting, can be broken down into small steps. The trick is to, on each step along the way, focus solely on the very next smallest, doable chunk of work. Ignore the big picture for a while and just tackle that next short task.

Make it in a way you can easily visualize the outcome coming about very soon. Don’t write a book; write a page. If it still looks intimidating, you may try committing to a time box instead.

Of course, keep the big picture in mind, but use it for motivation and direction as needed, and not to frighten yourself before action.

4. Important Project → Imperfect Step

“This project has to impress everyone; I really can’t blow this opportunity.”

Placing such high hopes on a project only adds to anxiety and fear of failure. Perfectionism arises and only fuels procrastination even more.

The way to overcome this mental block is to simply give yourself permission to be human. Allow yourself to be imperfect just in this next small task.

Focus on giving an imperfect step; remember that you can always refine your work later. Better yet, make it in a way that you can’t possibly fail.

If you’re a serial perfectionist, go one step further and commit yourself to make a sloppy job on purpose, at least at first.

5. It Should Already Be Done by Now → I’ll Feel Terrific

The expression ‘should‘ is usually associated with blame and guilt. When you say you should be doing something (instead of what you’re actually doing), you focus on comparing an ideal reality with your current, “bad” reality. You focus not on what is, but on what could have been. Misused ‘shoulds‘ can elicit a strong message of failure, depression and regret.

The solution is to focus not on how bad you feel now, but on how good you’ll feel after you take action. Yes, directed action — even the tiniest of it — towards a goal is the best motivator I know of. The trick is to bring that expected feeling of accomplishment into the present — and know that the real joy of it is only a small task away.

6. Need to Plow Through → Have Plenty of Time for Play

“I’ve got to work all weekend”. “I am trapped in this laborious project”.

Long periods of isolation can bring an enormous feeling of resentment. This feeling generates a strong sense of deprivation and resistance towards the task.

The way to overcome this mental block is to not allow long stretches of work to creep in your activities. Schedule frequent breaks. Plan small rewards along the way. Have something to look forward to — not far away at the end of a long stretch — but in the very near feature. When rewards are small, frequent — and deserved — they work wonders.

Truly commit to leisure time. In fact, go ahead and make it mandatory. This “reverse-psychology” can by itself bring you to a whole different mindset, both more productive and enjoyable.

How Far Have We Come?

Time to check what we’ve accomplished with all the word substitutions. We started with:

“I have to finish this long, important project. It should already be done by now and I need to plow through it.”

And ended up with:

“I choose to start this task with a small, imperfect step. I’ll feel terrific and have plenty of time for play!”

Quite a change, eh?

Every time you catch yourself repeating the Procrastinator’s Motto or any of its parts to yourself, stop and rephrase it. Then check how you feel.

While it may seem just a matter of word choices at first, when you try this simple way to reframe your thoughts, you’ll see how instantly it changes your attitude towards working on your tasks. Moreover, if you turn it into a habit, you’ll be slowly reprogramming your thoughts, leading to a positive, permanent change in your mindset.

The whole idea of using self talk to overcome procrastination first came to me first via Neil Fiore‘s great book The Now Habit, from which I learned a great deal.

While the book deals with much more than self talk (self talk is just one of the many chapters, check a summary of the book if you’re interested), that chapter alone made the most profound changes on how I deal with procrastination today.

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Sunk Cost Bias: How It Hinders Your Life and 4 Ways to Overcome It Tue, 01 Jul 2008 17:09:15 +0000 The sunk cost bias can make people literally waste their whole lives on. The good news is that the biggest step to overcome it is simply becoming aware of how it works.

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Sunk Cost Bias

The sunk cost bias is a thinking trap that not only slows down personal improvement efforts, but one which can make people literally waste their whole lives on — something I’ve seen happening with disturbing regularity. The good news is that, like most thinking traps, the biggest step you can take to overcome it is by simply becoming aware of it.

Suppose you pre-ordered a non-refundable ticket to a basketball game. However, on the night of the game, you simply don’t feel like going anymore: you’re tired, there’s a blizzard raging outside, and the game will be televised. You regret the fact that you bought the ticket because, frankly, you would prefer to stay at home, light up your fireplace and comfortably watch the game on TV.

But the fact is that you did buy the ticket — and it was quite expensive and hard to get. What would you do?

The Sunk Cost Bias Exposed

Sunk costs are costs that are irrecoverable. It’s something that you already spent and that you won’t get back, regardless of future outcomes. It’s like that gym club membership you bought: whether you get its benefits or not, the money is gone and there’s no way to get it back.

In the basketball game ticket example, the point is that the money is already gone, so now you are better off doing what pleases you best. So, unless you can sell the ticket, just forget about what you paid for it. You are better off using it to help fuel the fireplace while you comfortably enjoy the game on TV.

This is, of course, easier said than done. There are many psychological blocks in the way of simply discarding an expensive ticket. And if that holds true for a mere basketball game ticket, imagine how strong that effect is when it comes to, say, abandoning a long-time relationship that you invested so much time on, but that just isn’t working anymore.

That’s the sunk cost bias. It’s what you may have heard as “throwing good money after bad”, but it isn’t just about money: any type of investment you make — time, money, effort, anything — is subject to this thinking trap.

Are You a Victim of the Sunk Cost Bias?

Persisting with bad decisions due to our irrational attachment to costs that we cannot recover has become so common that you can find them just about anywhere. Big organizations and governments excel at it. (A government that insists on a war so the lives already spent “are not wasted” comes to mind, but I digress…)

The fact is that this mental trap permeates our decision making and affects not only organizations, but it deeply affects us at a personal level, too. Check out some examples:

  • Bad overall life decisions: What would you say about persisting on an unfulfilling job or career, just because you ‘invested so much time in it’? Or persisting on a bad relationship, just to ‘make all those years worth it’? These are the saddest cases of the sunk cost effect that I know, since people can literally waste years — if not their whole lives — because of it.
  • Bad financial decisions: Do you know anyone who refused to sell something for a perfectly reasonable price, just because they spent so much money in it (maybe property or stocks)? What about casino gamblers that simply won’t quit, claiming they need to make the money that they already lost “worth it”?
  • Bad Everyday Decisions: You ordered too much food, but you eat it anyway despite being full. You keep useless clutter in your home, if only because you paid for it. You watch a bad movie up to the end, only because you started watching it. The examples just go on and on. The consequences for each of them may seem trivial at first, but if you think about it, we make these mistakes so often that they add up pretty quickly.

Why Do We Fall Into the Trap and How to Avoid It

So, if dwelling on sunk costs is a bad idea, why do we do it? More importantly, how do we overcome this thinking trap? Here are 4 main reasons why we do it, along with ways to overcome each of them.

1. We Want to Make the Investment Worth Our While

This is the fundamental reasoning behind how we deal with sunk costs. We have a genuine interest in making our efforts worth our while. We don’t want to feel that we spent anything in vain — time, money, anything. However, even if we know deep inside that our approach is wrong, we still have trouble abandoning it.


Sure, we all expect to have a good return on what we invest. It would be insane not to. Just make sure you’re not on a situation solely because you made the investment in the first place. You don’t make a bad move any better by dwelling more on it, unless you can effectively make something that changes the expected outcome.

Stop spending resources on a bad move — throwing good money after bad — immediately and start spending these resources on a new one: Cut your losses and move on!

2. We Fear Failing and Looking Foolish

We live in a success-oriented culture. Cutting losses means admitting you made a mistake, if not in public, at least to yourself. Our egos will always stubbornly try to hold us to our commitments, so we don’t need to admit our imperfections. If you made a public commitment, you’re even less likely to break it, as there will probably be a lot of explaining to do.


Allow yourself to make mistakes. Quickly admitting your mistakes is much more productive than entrenching yourself in a situation just to “save face”. Be aware that quitting is not failing (actually, sometimes it’s exactly the opposite).

Better yet, do like Socrates and think differently: become proud of admitting your errors. Change your attitude from hiding mistakes to actively exposing them. Look for them: the more, the merrier. You’ll surely feel defenseless and uneasy at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll feel invulnerable to harsh criticism.

Moreover, instead of focusing on the sunk costs, take pride in having recognized the costs associated with sticking to the old approach.

3. We Become Attached to Our Commitments

After we decide to do something, we feel attached to what we committed to. And the bigger the commitment, the harder it is to let go. Not only that, but it’s a human trait to be overconfident that everything we set ourselves to do will pay off. We’re biased when we evaluate the probability of success of already-made commitments. (This is known as overly optimistic probability bias.)


Be aware of the natural bias to stay on your current course of action. While considering other options, evaluate the status quo as it was just another option, rather than the front-runner.

Also, try to detach yourself emotionally from your past decisions. Be especially careful with things that worked at some point in the past as this is not a guarantee that they’ll work in your favor again.

I like to practice what I call “zero-based thinking”. Forget about the past and consider this very moment as your “point-zero” in time: act like all you have is the present. I often do this by pretending that I just woke up with some sort of amnesia. I imagine myself in my current situation, but without any knowledge of how I got there. This way, it’s much easier to focus on my current situation, instead of clinging to past decisions that would drag me down.

4. We Lose Sight of Our Underlying Goals

Sometimes we become so preoccupied by how much time and effort we put into something that we lose sight of its relevance in the greater scheme of things. We become attached to the means and forget about the ends.


Always be mindful of long-term objectives. Don’t confuse any greater goal you want to achieve with the specific means of implementation you’re attached to. Don’t get caught up in justifying your current actions.

Moving away from the basketball game example, suppose your original goal was to have fun, so you rented a movie. If the movie turns out to be a bad one, don’t forget that your goal was not to spend two hours watching a movie, but to have fun. So, turn it off and go have fun, somehow.

Let Go of the Past, Move On

I’m not recommending that you become a quitter by any means. The point is to be always aware of your current situation. If you decide to stick with your current approach, that’s great. Do it consciously and for the right reasons.

And remember that the greatest example of sunk cost you pay is with your own time, and which you will not be able to recover: all that you lived up until now is gone — you just can’t reclaim that time. Stop clinging to the past and make the most of your life right now.

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Sunk Cost Bias: How It Hinders Your Life and 4 Ways to Overcome It.

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How to Develop Your Visualization Skill Tue, 18 Dec 2007 17:14:06 +0000 The ability to see things before they actually happen is what enables us to pursue our dreams and ultimately achieve them. In fact, the better we visualize the future we want, the better our chances to make it happen. How do we develop and apply the powerful skill of visualization?

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How to Develop Your Visualization Skill

This is an article by guest writer Albert Foong of UrbanMonk.Net.

Think about this: everything we do begin as a thought. Every action, every word, every human creation exists first in our imagination.

The ability to see things before they actually happen is what enables us to pursue our dreams and ultimately achieve them. In fact, the better we visualize the future we want, the better our chances to make it happen.

Training the Mind is Training the Body

Your brain cannot differentiate well between real action and mental action. There has been research done showing that thinking about an action — even while your body is at rest — will fire the neural pathways in your brain just as you were actually doing it.

To see this for yourself: hold a piece of string and let it dangle. Then, keeping your hand as still as you can, imagine twirling the string around. Most likely, the string will begin to move, ever so slightly.

And that’s the good news: mental training can improve almost all our skills and fast-track us towards our goals.

For instance, many psychologists and life coaches recommend mental rehearsal for all sorts of things. Usually it is social or work-related: to enhance assertiveness, smooth out an interview or a meeting, or even to enhance a date. Athletes at the highest level are also encouraged to use visualization to improve their technique, motivation and drive. When interviewing Olympic gold medalists, they discovered that several winners used visualization, not just for the sport technique, but also to capture the feeling of being awarded a medal.

5 Applied Visualization Techniques

How do we develop and apply the powerful skill of visualization?

Here I present five basic exercises in order of difficulty. Do them in order, moving on to the next one only when you have mastered the first. You can take as many days as you like to get really good at each level, there is no rush.

1st Exercise

Find a photograph, and take your time to analyze it. Memorize every detail you can. Then simply close your eyes and try to recreate it in your mind. Bring in as much as you can: the colors, the birds in the sky, the freckles on the skin — whatever is there. Open your eyes to get more detail if you have to. Remember that this is not a test: do it until you get good at it.

2nd Exercise

For the second exercise, we’re going three-dimensional. This time, take up a small object: perhaps your pen or your keys. Again, analyze all the details and memorize it. Take your time.

Now, close your eyes, and see the object mentally. The challenge here is to start rotating it. See every detail, but from all angles. If you feel comfortable, begin to bring in some surroundings. Place it on an imaginary table. Shine a few lights on it and imagine the shadows flickering.

3rd Exercise

This third exercise builds on the second, and can be hard for some people, although others will find it very easy. This time, recreate your little object, but with your eyes open. See it in the real world, right in front of you. Again, move it around, rotate it, play with it. See how it interacts with the objects in front of you. Imagine it resting on your keyboard, casting a shadow on your mouse, or knocking over your coffee cup.

4th Exercise

This is where things start to get fun. This time, we’re bringing you into the picture. Think of a pleasant location. I like to use my favorite beach. Now, imagine yourself in it. It’s important to be in the scene, not just thinking of it.

Bring in your other senses, one by one. What can you hear? Are the leaves rustling, are there people talking in the background? What about the sense of touch? Can you feel the sand you are standing on? What about smell? Can you imagine eating an ice-cream, and feeling it slide down your throat?

Again, make sure that you are in the scene, not just thinking of it. Make this mental movie as strong and vibrant and detailed as you can.

5th Exercise

And in the final exercise, we’re going to make things a bit livelier. Bring up the mental location from the previous exercise. Now — begin moving around, interacting with things. Pick up a rock. Sit on a bench. Run in the water. Roll around in the sand.

Then, bring in someone else. Perhaps you could bring in a lover, and then choreograph a dance with him or her. Or you could imagine a friend. Hold a conversation with him or her. Imagine them smiling as you tell them a joke. Now, imagine them slapping you on the shoulder playfully. What does that feel like?

Detail and Realism

The reason we emphasize detail and realism is simply because practice doesn’t make perfect. As you might have heard, only perfect practice makes perfect.

If I asked you to imagine the execution of your goals — whether it be doing well in a business meeting, or a date, or sports — you probably saw yourself doing it perfectly straight away. You win big, you look cool, and everyone falls in love with you. This feels good, and can increase motivation but, to put it bluntly, it’s mostly a waste of time.

Realism is the most important consideration in visualization. Soldiers train in almost exactly the same gear they are going to wear in combat. None of them got really good just by playing shooting games on the computer or by playing paintball.

It is the same with mental training. Everything has to be as realistic as possible. I used to be an amateur boxer, and developed my visualization to help me train. My first mental movies were of me moving and punching like Muhammad Ali. But reality soon hit me in the face — the first time I met a live opponent in training, I got destroyed.

My mental imagery up to that point had merely been fantasies — building castles in the air. I had been wasting my time.

But when I began visualizing properly, I found that I made all my usual mistakes, even in mental rehearsal. My heart was beating fast, my fists clenched, and I felt overcome with the same fear. And all this, while I was sitting on the couch!

Did that mean I failed? No, it meant I succeeded. From then on, my mental training began working for me. Because I carried over all my flaws and fears into my mental arena, any improvements I made there would also begin to carry over into the real world.

Applying Visualization to Your Goals

Now, what if we’re not dealing with a physical skill? What if you had set a goal for something like money, a new career or a holiday?

Visualization applies in much the same way. Here are some tips for applying it to your goals:

  1. Focus on the positive. A common mistake is focusing on the opposite of what you want. When I wanted to lose weight, I initially made the mistake of posting pictures of my fat belly all over my room, thinking it was motivating me. But that was the wrong way: by focusing on my fat, I was just keeping the fat there. I should have been visualizing the stomach I wanted.
  2. Have it, don’t want it. Think of something you really, really want. Now, do you have it? Probably not. Most often, wanting is the opposite of having. So when you visualize, don’t think about wanting something, see yourself as already having it.
  3. Be consistent. You have to really work hard on this. Your mind is a muscle, just like your body. The top bodybuilders didn’t get to where they are by working out for two minutes a day. They worked hard for it. Make your goal your burning obsession, a passion and purpose in life.
  4. Be specific. Most people have vague goals. They vaguely want to be rich, or they want to travel somewhere nice. Where? Oh, never thought about it much. It’s like getting into a car with a vague goal of wanting to buy… something. Not going to happen, right? You want to have a specific goal: I’m going out to the supermarket to buy myself some shampoo and a toothbrush. It is the same with your goals. Set it in as much detail as you can: a specific amount of money, a specific outcome from a meeting, whatever it is.

Visualization is a very powerful tool for helping achieving your goals, and I’m grateful that Luciano is giving me a chance to share it with his audience.

About Albert Foong:

Albert runs UrbanMonk.Net, a practical personal development blog that has enhanced the lives of many readers, moving them out of suffering and into a life of joy, love and success. It draws upon ancient spirituality, modern psychology, real life experiences, and everything in between.

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: How to Develop Your Visualization Skill.

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Overcoming Procrastination by Avoiding ‘Have To’s Mon, 20 Aug 2007 12:20:51 +0000 Procrastinators try to force themselves into action by saying they ‘have to’ do some task. Despite the good intentions, this is the worst expression to be used if you want to get motivated into action. Sadly, it's also the most commonly used.

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Overcoming Procrastination Avoiding 'Have To's

Procrastination is probably the single biggest success killer out there, as it affects everyone to some degree or another.

At first sight, it may seem something simple to get rid of, but telling a chronic procrastinator to just get on with it is like telling a heavy smoker to just stop: it just doesn’t work that way.

Procrastinators usually already know exactly what they should be doing. That’s why typical approaches such as ‘getting organized’ usually don’t work. Of course, there are several tools that do help, but the fact is that procrastination is a complex psychological behavior and, as such, should be tackled at the psychological level first.

Watch Your Language

We engage in mental dialogs with ourselves all the time. Just like when talking to other people, paying attention to how we talk to ourselves is extremely important if you want effective communication.

When procrastinating, we often talk to ourselves like this:

  • “I have to go to the dentist.”
  • “I have to fill my tax forms.”

Procrastinators try to force themselves into action by saying they ‘have to’ do some task. Despite the good intentions, this is the worst expression to be used if you want to get motivated into action. Sadly, it is also the most commonly used.

Why ‘Have To’ Is So Bad?

1. You Send Disempowering Messages to Yourself

When you say to yourself that you have to do something, there are many implicit messages that go along with it, such as:

  • "I don’t want to do it."
  • "They’re making me do it."
  • "I have to do it… or else!”

These subliminal messages generate negative feelings such as stress, victimhood, resistance and confusion – all of them draining valuable energy from your brain.

2. You Put Yourself in a No-Win Situation

When facing a task you have to do, there are only two possible outcomes.

If you don’t do the task, you will be somehow punished by the environment or at least just by your own conscience. On the other hand, if you end up doing the task, you have the feeling you are making something against your will.

3. You Engage in Non-Productive Dialog

The ‘have to’ script is a behavior learned in your childhood. At that time, you had other people deciding most of your life for you – and in many occasions, the best explanation given when you argued was just “because you have to” – creating anger and frustration.

Now you just repeat those conversations, but playing both roles at once: the authoritarian and the victim. That just serves to drain your energy and drive your attention away from the task.

The Power of Choice

Procrastinators usually try to avoid the negative responses above by telling themselves they “just need more discipline”. That statement only makes things even worse – as it reinforces the fact that they don’t really want to do the task. We should use a different approach instead.

Be honest with yourself. Do you really have to go to dentist? Do you really have to fill your tax forms?

No, you don’t.

Deep inside, you know it’s your choice. You are the one deciding against having rotten teeth. You are the one deciding against having trouble with the government. It’s obvious, but we often forget about it.

So, next time you catch yourself using ‘ I have to’ in your thoughts, just try this instead:

  • “I choose to go the dentist.”
  • “I choose to file my tax return.”

By using this empowering alternative, you show total control of the situation. By rephrasing your thoughts using choices, you take your focus away from the work involved in the task and put your attention back on the benefits and reasons why you are doing it.

Just contrast these two statements, with their implicit explanations that your brain inevitably fills out for you:

  • “I have to go to the dentist (…and because of that I won’t be doing something fun instead).”
  • “I choose to go to the dentist (…and because of that I will have even healthier teeth).”

Suddenly you forget about the negative emotions associated with the dread of the task, and start enjoying the positive emotions associated with its outcome. You focus more on the solution than on the problem. And that alone often brings you back the motivation to immediately tackle the task.

You will also reclaim the energy you were wasting by your old thought pattern and channel it back entirely into the task at hand.

This simple word substitution sounds almost too simplistic to work. But it’s amazing how it can alone break a long chain of negative and repetitive behavior. When it comes to overcoming procrastination, it all starts by being in the right state of mind.

What If I Still Don’t Want to Do the Task?

If even after using this technique you still don’t feel like doing the task, this may be a hint that you shouldn’t bother doing it at all.

Remember, now you’re dealing with a legitimate choice. Using ‘I choose…’ is not just mind trickery – you do really have the power to decide. If you end up deciding by not doing the task – so be it, then!

Live the consequences, move on and don’t worry about it anymore.

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Overcoming Procrastination by Avoiding ‘Have To’s.

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