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If we wish to change the person we find ourselves to be, we must change our thinking.

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LISTENING FOR INTENT

December 13th, 2019

 

This episode is dedicated to Bret Weinstein who is an evolutionary biologist and creator of the Dark Horse Podcast.  You can connect with him on Twitter @BretWeinstein

 

 

Bret Weinstein is credited with creating and popularizing the phrase Bad faith changes everything.

 

It sounds great and for those who know what he’s talking about it makes a lot of sense.  The best example to help elicit just what he’s talking about is the ‘gotchya interview’.

 

This is where an interviewer is looking to trap someone in their own words and either make a fool of this person by entangle them in their own story in a way that makes that person look guilty, usually through contradiction and hypocrisy.  Accomplishing this malicious task is not difficult, it’s akin to gaslighting and it merely requires the ability to be more agile with one’s use of language.  Unfortunately, language is not equipped with a framework that is airtight in the way that mathematics appears to be when compared together.

 

Such an interviewer who is looking to undermine their companion in dialogue is said to be in bad faith, as Bret would say. 

 

The phrase in bad faith, however, does not communicate all of this.  The phrase requires a fair amount of context, as the word faith is a fairly complicated one given it’s religious overtones.

 

To have good faith in conversation is to attempt the opposite of the ‘gotchya’ style interview.  When someone engages with good faith, they do so with the assumption that communication will not be perfect, that things will be misunderstood, and because of this our companion in dialogue needs a lot of leeway to negotiate all the vagaries of language and communication. 

 

At core, what is the aim of such a person?  One who seeks to converse in good faith?  What is such a person looking for?

 

The answer is simple.  Many of our mistakes are forgiven on the basis of this answer: 

 

it intention.

 

Intention counts for a lot in communication and human relations.  Or at least, it should.

 

There is a world of difference between situations where we’ve been hurt by a friend and it wasn’t intended, and an identical circumstance where the hurt was intended.  The intention not only clarifies the past and explains what’s gone wrong, but it goes beyond this and describes something important about the future behavior of such a friend. 

 

A person who converses in good faith is searching for the meaning that a person intends to communicate.  In some sense this means taking everything with a grain of salt because what’s said most likely does not honor the intention behind the message because of inevitable problems with language and communication.  But further, it means that we must give our companion in dialogue a chance to clarify their message so that it achieves higher fidelity to their intention, and we can aid in this process by asking thoughtful questions.

 

To converse in good faith is to listen for a person’s intention, and actively search for it.  This is how dialogue can be so powerful.  What a person says is often just a blurry view of what they have in mind.  The right question can become an aid like cloth to a lens covered in oil.  Each question and answer sharpens the view, allowing intention to emerge.

 

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 607: Listening for Intent

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Tinkered Thinking


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VICARIOUS ADVICE

December 12th, 2019

 

Is there any experience so ripe for inflating the ego than when someone asks for your advice about what they should do with their life?

 

It’s flattering.  Someone views what you are doing and sees something in the process so admirable that they’d like to steer their own life with some of that influence. 

 

So how does a person approach the difficult answer to this request?  Perhaps some don’t find it difficult at all, but are all too willing to rattle off their own brand of wisdom.  However, doing such is often accomplished by editing the narrative of one’s own life. 

 

We are all plagued by the “mistakes” that we have made over the years and far too much time is spent wondering what could have been if only we’d had the wisdom we have now to make a better choice.  This, unfortunately, is terrible logic.  As clear as the past might look, hindsight has about as much resolution as our plans for the future.  That is, we can sure imagine it clearly, but how much they accord to reality is an entirely different story.  A different decision in the past would have lead to a completely different future, and just like the future ahead of us at every point, it too would be full of uncertainty and invisible variables that would throw our plans.

 

And yet when asked for advice from another, we instruct in a way so as to avoid the mistakes we’ve made.  This is a selfishness.  It’s as though we’ve taken the balloon of our own ego from the person who started inflating it with an ask for advice and continued the work of pumping that ego up.

 

Certainly there is some standard practical advice that is good to hand out, particularly the advice that is not taught in schools, like finances, the importance of exercise, and perhaps even a word or two about meditation. 

 

But otherwise what is a person to do?  There can’t be a standard formula for a good life because they are categorically different.

 

If anything, what a person is looking for is information about how to hone their own tools for navigation. 

 

Do we make decisions out of fear and security, or do we make them out of curiosity and adventure?

 

The gulf between these two possibilities is based solely on how a person’s internal compass is calibrated.  And bizarrely, both perspectives can have the same fuel – that is: how precious life is.  We can fear losing it and the fact that it ends and seek to protect it.  But in recognizing such preciousness, we can also honor it by living to the fullest.  It’s as though both perspectives are looking from the same place, but it’s an optical illusion, and upon first glance some people see the later, and some the other.

 

Helping a person confront this duality in their own values may be the most useful thing we can do when asked for general advice.  But this is not necessarily something that we can simply tell someone.  It’s something we must try to evoke, with questions, in order to create a thoughtful space where options can be explored and rearranged.

 

We may find that the best advice is to simply lead by example, and in this case, we can only grow more effective by being curious about the person asking.  In so doing, we might just pass on some of that curiosity.

 

 

 

 

This episode references Episode 57: Compass and Tinkered Thinking’s all time most popular Episode, number 6: What’s Your Passion?


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Podcast Ep. 606: Vicarious Advice

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HALO OF IGNORANCE

December 11th, 2019

 

The Dunning-Krugger effect is a phenomenon described in psychology.  It’s when a person grossly overestimates their ability to do something.  We’ve all seen this in some form or another.  Perhaps with a children’s recital where it’s quite understandable and potentially adorable, but also with adults.  Chances are, most of us have also been guilty of this delusion at some point.  Reality eventually comes knocking and we get a cold hard slap in the face, suddenly we realize we aren’t so talented or skilled.

 

This phenomenon exists on a sort of coin though, or perhaps a spectrum.  There is a symmetrical experience which is perhaps even more pervasive.  It’s when you are so aware of your inability that you become paralyzed, and you don’t even make any effort whatsoever.  The logic is: what’s the point?  It’s not going to result in anything good because I can’t do it.  At most I’ll just embarrass myself for trying.  As opposed to the Dunning-Kruger which encapsulates an obliviousness to one’s situation, this other experience is the result of being hyper aware of the possibility of falling victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

 

This second experience might seem like a safe bet.  And in the short term it is.  Comparatively, there’s no risk of embarrassment at all.  But in the long term, this switches.  Playing it safe in the long term in this way might end up being a total waste of the precious gift of time and life.  Nothing could possibly be worse.

 

Risking embarrassment is a pretty tepid cost for ensuring that one’s life is not wasted.

 

The thing about the Dunning-Kruger effect, or rather, someone suffering from it, is that they are far more likely to improve because they are putting something out into the world with their expression of ability (or rather inability) and this creates the opportunity to receive honest feedback.

 

The person who simply remains paralyzed out from fear of embarrassment has far less opportunity for improvement: 

 

How are you supposed to get feedback if you do nothing?

 

It’s because of this asymmetry that most older people will say that they don’t regret what they did, they only regret what they didn’t try to do.  It’s an exercise worth doing.  That is, to politely ask people in the later decades of their life if they regret anything.  It’s amazing how receptive the older generations are to this question, and 99% of them give that same answer.  They wish they’d taken more chances and tried more things.

 

It’s only by trying something and potentially making a fool of one’s self that we ever develop any abilities whatsoever.  Think of an infant trying to make that black and blue leap into toddler-hood.  It requires standing and wobbling and falling and stumbling and bruised knees and of course the ego takes a lot of humbling blows during this whole process.  But the child slowly learns, and soon enough that kid is scoring goals on ice skates, or flipping skateboards in midair.  Could there be any better example of how we can benefit from the Dunning-Kruger effect than an infant who sees adults who effortlessly walk around, and then stands with the bold assumption that they can do the same, and then that kid falls flat on their face?  The thing with learning how to walk is that the feedback is instantaneous and it’s ruthless.  Gravity is quite honest.

 

And that’s the key:  Honesty.  The only real reason that the Dunning-Kruger effect can last for any length of time is because a person deluded in such a way is not getting honest feedback from the people they have around.  We fake smile, and clap and say that something was ‘very good’, or perhaps we say euphemistically that it was ‘interesting’, and these less than honest comments create a halo of ignorance around a person.  Echo chambers present a very similar concept, and they are maintained in the same way: the delusion festers without fresh input that challenges what we know.

 

For anyone seeking to get very good at something, this halo of ignorance is a very important problem and part of the learning process.  Friends who are confident enough to give honest feedback are beyond valuable if for this reason alone.  In essence, such rare people become mirrors for our performance – reflections offering a perspective on our work that is impossible for us to manufacture otherwise, as we are limited to just our one experience.

 

The lack of such honesty also powers the paralysis of a person who is too fearful to take a chance.  It’s one thing to take a chance and receive honest feedback that is difficult to hear.  It’s even worse to take a chance and remain the fool because no one is willing to give you an honest picture of how you’re doing. 

 

Both the Dunning-Kruger effect and the corresponding paralysis would disappear if honesty was an ironclad default.  Those suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect would be cured of their delusion quickly, and those who are paralyzed could take heed in the fact that any feedback would be honest, and the chance to improve automatically goes up.

 

But still, we generate these halos of ignorance.  We do so, presumably, out of a fear of hurting someone’s feelings.  But again, this is short term thinking.  Given enough honest effort, a person will eventually discover the truth about how their efforts are perceived, and then what will that person think when they look back and compare that discovery to the things said by family, friends and coworkers?

 

 

As individuals we can pull out two principles: 

 

be willing to look foolish by taking chances,

 

and

 

find people who are honest and nuanced in their perspective.

 


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Podcast Ep. 605: Halo of Ignorance

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Tinkered Thinking


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THE ONLY PROBLEM

December 10th, 2019

 

 

No matter what circumstance you find yourself in life, any problem you encounter is a reflection of the only problem.

 

The problem is the way you think.

 

Either you have a classical problem in front of you that may actually have a solution, in which case you need to bang your head against it until you see the solution, or rather your mind changes perspective and suddenly you see that solution.

 

Or,  you just don’t like your situation and then again, such an attitude is indicative of a perspective about your situation.  Ask: is there anyone in the history of humanity that when faced with this situation would be grateful, or unafraid or content?

 

Chances are quite good.

 

And even if such a person hasn’t existed, we can begin to simply imagine what that person would be like, and in so doing, we can begin to import that imagined character’s powers into our own mentality.  This imaginative trick might be at the heart of what good actors do.

 

All problems in life fit into this 2 part framework. 

 

But for what purpose?  For progress or simply being content?

 

In this case it’s either and both.  If we come across a problem that might actually have a solution that we can solve in a practical way, then we are looking at a strategy for progress.  We just need to stretch our mind and wrap it around the problem tight enough to get a sense of what a solution would look like.

 

The second way our thinking can be the problem is when we can’t change the situation.  Like being stuck in the middle of nowhere until the next bus comes along.  In this case our thinking needs changing in order to simply accept the situation and find peace and contentment in the absence of a problem that can be practically solved.

 

Both circumstances place accountability solely on our own mind.

 

We must simply first make up our mind to own this accountability.

 

Any resistance, of course, is a problem in the way you think.

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 604: The Only Problem

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THE ILLUSION OF HINDSIGHT

December 9th, 2019

 

 

Looking back, we all have things that we’d do differently.  As they say

 

Hindsight is 20/20.

 

Like many aphorisms, this is said so often and it’s so widely accepted, and the explanation feels so intuitive that it seems like a no-brainer.  Our confidence in this apparent truth is similar to the over confidence we have when we make a plan for the future. 

 

When we design the path to a goal, people generally shy away from discussing contingencies that imply that the plan might not work.  It’s hard not to imagine that this is because there is some kind of insecurity that’s being touched regarding how good the original plan is.  Doubt creeps in and then suddenly everyone involved wonders why go through with it at all if we don’t think it’s going to work?

 

In an environment where a single commercial can make the value of a company tank by millions it seems as though this binary emotional coin seems to spin at the heart of many financial markets.

 

We are emotional creatures and having confidence about what our next step forward is very important for the vast majority who have forgotten how to relax and have fun with the possibilities. 

 

Our ramped up emotional environment turns our perspective into an either/or machine.  We cease to see the gray space between the staggeringly few options we imagine.  This inability to dance with the present into the future blocks a sense of what’s possible.

 

With the concept of hindsight we apply the same binary thinking to the past as we erroneously do with the future.

 

Looking back it seems so clear what would go different if we’d made this or that different action.

 

But we are again making the mistake that we do with the future.

 

The fact is we can’t be sure what would happen if we’d made a different choice or action.  In all probability there exist other variables that would react to our other set of actions and choices leading to an entirely unknown set of outcomes.

 

Is this the 20/20 hindsight that is so often referred to?

 

While it might feel like the past is far more determined than the future, what we are in fact talking about when we think about making different choices in the past is a different future. 

 

Any future is uncertain, no matter which point in the past we try to branch off from.

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 603: The Illusion of Hindsight

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Tinkered Thinking


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Appreciation can be more than a feeling. Toss something in the jar if you find your thinking delightfully tinkered.