- 10 Jan
Let’s think about thinking……
What you will learn:
Let’s think for a moment about thinking and consider three perspectives: how we evaluate the past, how we perceive the future and how we experience the “here and now”. As a consequence, you might find yourself in a place of curiosity, experience the “observer self” in action and even discover a pathway to “mindfulness”!
New Sam Wilko Advisory Blog by Peter Wilkinson
It’s the time of the year where we typically reflect on what’s happened in the last 12 months. You might also be imagining what the coming year holds. One might even spend some time experiencing what’s happening in the present – not an easy task for many.
So let’s think for a moment about thinking and consider three perspectives: how we evaluate the past, how we perceive the future and how we experience the “here and now”. As a consequence, you might find yourself in that place of curiosity, experience the “observer self” in action and potentially discover a pathway to becoming more “mindful”.
Ever notice that when considering a significant past event – say a holiday or completed project – we readily recall the highlights and lowlights (rather like a movie trailer) but forget the feelings associated with the sometimes long and boring times in between?
Daniel Kahneman is an Israeli-American psychologist who specialises in the psychology of judgment and decision-making and its application to behavioural economics (for which he was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize). His empirical findings, explained in his 2012 book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” challenge the assumption of human rationality which is a fundamental plank of modern economic theory.
In his book Kahnemann explains two related psychological effects which come into play when we remember an experience:
- The peak–end rule, in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e. its most intense point) and at its end; and
- Duration neglect, which refers to how people neglect how pleasant or unpleasant an experience was or how long it lasted in evaluating the experience.
Kahnemann describes an experiment that was formulated to verify these effects, in which subjects were asked to undergo a painful experience with their hand held in unpleasantly cold water. He was able to demonstrate circumstances where, by slightly reducing the coldness of the water towards the end of one trial in comparison with a similar trial of a shorter duration, subjects would willingly choose to re-subject themselves to pain of a longer duration!
When we consider the future we are typically subject to what is termed affective forecasting – the prediction we make about how we are going to feel in some future situation. As it turns out, we’re not good at it. We’re not good judges of what will make us satisfied or unsatisfied and we have trouble seeing through the filter of the now.
Accordingly, we are prone to over-estimate the pleasure we will experience as a consequence of, for instance, a major purchase such as a car. Think about when you actually experience pleasure in relation to a motor vehicle. Is it when driving it? We are typically thinking about other things when driving. Or is it only during times when you are actually thinking about the vehicle?
Professor Stanley Jack Rachman is one of the leading figures in the research and treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other anxiety disorders. His work concerns the fear of future events that can in some cases result in anxiety-driven compulsions such as repetitive washing or checking. What he finds is that the actual experience of the thing that was feared is less fear-inducing than the person imagined. This principle underlies Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) treatment in which patients learn management strategies to break the links between anxiety producing thoughts and the potentially destructive behaviours triggered by these thoughts.
So what is it like to fully experience the present?
Mindfulness is a hot topic in Western psychology and is increasingly applied in diverse fields including coaching in its various forms. There is increasing recognition of mindfulness skills as an effective way to improve performance, reduce stress, enhance emotional intelligence, increase life satisfaction and develop leadership skills.
Although mindfulness has only recently been embraced by Western psychology, it is an ancient practice found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism, Taoism and Yoga. Mindfulness involves consciously bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience with openness, curiosity and receptiveness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world authority on the use of mindfulness training in the management of clinical problems, defines it as: “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
In mindfulness, you come to see that a part of you is a watcher or witness of everything you think, feel and do. Although English has no word for this dimension of yourself, it is widely termed the “observer self” because it enables you to observe and notice your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.
Curious? For further details you might like to refer to the excellent resources provided by Andrew Leitch and Melinda Booth at True to You.
About the Author
Peter Wilkinson is a Director of SamWilko Advisory, a company that provides specialist consulting and coaching services to businesses in the transportation, construction and technical services industries. Peter believes that “business, like many of life’s challenges, is all about luck. The best business people work hard and smart and are well prepared for when the luck comes along”. Peter brings 25 years’ plus experience to helping entrepreneurs, business leaders and senior managers who wish to "get lucky" by implementing smart, effective and innovative strategies to better manage time, increase revenue and improve return on equity. Peter's expertise is in developing, implementing and managing transportation and construction businesses and major projects. He specialises in outsourced services and has extensive experience in both private and Government funded infrastructure involving procurement across the full spectrum of contracting methodologies. Peter has applied his asset and systems development and management expertise in the mining, transportation, defence, utilities, property and infrastructure industries both locally and overseas. Peter has refined his project development skills both locally and internationally. Peter has held Executive Management positions within Transfield Services, GHD Pty Ltd and Serco Asia Pacific and has previously held positions with UGL and in the Public Sector with NSW State Rail Authority (now Sydney Trains).