This is the first book from my pile that I have been reading and I wanted to share a couple of key lessons that are actually quite applicable to me right now and have been reinforced by some recent communications with Trevor.
I am only half way through the book so there is likely more to come but here’s a little of what I have learnt.
Firstly the book examines the science and consequential behaviours around the human decision making processes. Are we driven by emotion or logic? What allows us to override instincts in certain situations? What makes a good decision maker?
- Lesson 1: It is fundamental to human nature to learn
One of the first things I found fascinating in this book is what the scientists call the “Oh shit” circuit (technical term anterior cingulate cortex ACC). A part of the brain that deals with things that we don’t expect and as a result freaks us out. It is alerted by our Dopamine neurons that something didn’t happen as expected (for example feeling our car bang something when reversing when we thought the way was clear) It is alerted by a mismatch in what we know and what we feel (our brains are fundamentally a combination of emotional unconscious thought, and rational conscious thought) and it jumps into frantic action kicking off all our systems in a panic, increasing the heart rate, making our palms sweaty etc. Isn’t it amazing that there is a part of our brain that does this? It seems to me a bit like a survival circuit because it also helps us learn from these “oh shit” moments to make sure they don’t happen again (I take more time to look when reversing next time) In days where all we had to worry about were hunting, eating and sleeping, I am sure this part of the brain would allow us to learn things like “don’t try and hunt when your prey is down wind from you because they can smell you” etc. The is the first example of how critical learning is to us all.
- Lesson 2: We should praise our kids for the effort they make and not their innate intelligence
The next lesson I learned has already changed both my behaviour and the hubby’s around the little one. In this book, Lehrer refers to an experiment done by a Stanford Psychologist called Carol Dweck to determine the impact of praise on kids. One by one kids were taken out of a class and given a simple test consisting of nonverbal puzzles. After, half the kids were praised for their intelligence and the other half for their effort. They were then offered a choice of two subsequent tests. The first choice they were told was harder, but they’d learn a lot from attempting it. The other test was a simple one similar to the one they’d just taken. 90% of the kids praised for their effort chose to take the harder test while most of the kids praised for intelligence went for the simpler test. Interesting isn’t it? Her studies continued and eventually she showed that the kids praised for their efforts improved their fundamental test scores by an average of 30% while the ones praised for their intelligence didn’t improve. We used to say “aren’t you clever” to the little one all the time. We have changed our language and now use phrases like “you did really well at that” or “well done for keeping at it”
- Lesson 3: We should focus on what we learn from our mistakes and not the result we achieved at the end
We’re all familiar with the concept of learning from our mistakes and we know that it’s pretty much impossible to learn from other people’s mistakes as effectively. We also may have a tendency to regard experts as those people who are all knowing. Whereas, in reality, experts are usually people that have made lots of mistakes and learned from them – furthering their knowledge and expertise. For them, they will never be satisfied that they know everything, they will constantly be making mistakes and using them as an opportunity to learn.I think the most famous quote around this is the Thomas Edison quote “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work”. In this book, Lehrer profiles a couple of people who are renowned for being the best in their field (TV and film directing and poker playing) and looks at what makes them so good at what they do. What is the decision process that allows them to make the right decisions? His conclusion seems to be that these are people who focus, not on what they have achieved, but on what they need to do better next time. I am in the middle of this right now. I have been struggling a lot this past week with a flood of memories that are niggling at me and making me feel sad. I have been turning it into “I’m being crap and useless”. Even though, for the most part, the pain has been removed from these memories. And I’ve been getting really frustrated with myself for failing to move on. But, as Trevor keeps telling me, it’s all about learning. I have managed to move on from using these as an opportunity to put myself down. I am now focussed on what they are all about and what I can learn from them. They might just still be the screen burn-in that I mentioned in a previous post, or maybe there really is something I can gain from them. A lesson to help me move on. I’ve not found it yet. But now I’m focussed on the learning I can gain, I have been able to step away from myself a little bit instead of being in the thick of it.
I really recommend this book if you are at all interested in how and why we think the way we do. It’s an interesting and easy read with lots of practical case studies to make things clearer. I’m sure I’ll be using it for more lessons and sharing more of it with you as I continue to read it.