95% of Your Behaviors are Unconscious and Automatic

Sometimes I run into a description of intentionality that illustrates the topic far better than I ever could.  This happened recently when I was reading an interesting book called Sink, Float or Swim.  Here’s the quote, illustrated:

95

paraconscious

fraction of

 

I love the vivid examples of living unintentionally (or paraconsciously) as they ring true.  I hate when people use their phones while having a conversation, and yet I find myself slipping and doing it as well.

I’m not fully successful yet, but I’m just trying to keep myself a bit more in the conscious sphere and heading towards that ‘much better way.’  And I’ll recommit by putting my phone down right now.

Onward and upward,
Meredith

The Values You Eat

Between the Wedding Diet and my more recent approach to counting calories, I’ve obviously been thinking a lot about food.  Part of the point of The Wedding Diet was bringing consciousness to certain foods and figuring out how I reacted to cutting each one out.  But as I’ve moved past that approach, I’ve started to think less narrowly (i.e., what happens when this one thing goes away?) and more broadly (i.e., what happens when I eat anything?).  Physically, emotionally, and otherwise, what life do I create as I ingest each bite?

A good friend told me that “food is the place where we develop and exert our integrity.”  This is not just integrity in the sense of following through on our commitments – our ability to stick to a diet or maintain our veganism over time.  Beyond that, our food choices also reflect our integrity of living in alignment with who we are and what we value.  I, for example, variously value health, convenience, appearance, social connection, cultural experience, tradition, sustainability, and frugality when I decide what to eat.  Not all of those values are reflected in this morning’s espresso or my mid-day fried rice (real-life menu choices for today), but my choices are the more-or-less successful reflection of a constellation of values I strive to honor.

I am what I eat – from the molecules that make up my food to the values which my food reflects.

And you are too.  You can imagine that we all eat from a veritable pu pu platter of values every day.

values we eat
But here’s the thing about values.  You can’t honor all of them all the time.  It’s tough to find the afternoon snack which is at the same time frugal, healthy, and communicates your sense of adventure.  So we make trade-offs.  We give up some things to accommodate others.

I know that I won’t always be the perfect reflection of my values.  But my hope is that I can keep on consciously choosing what I eat.  I’ve learned over the past months that I don’t live better by excluding sugar or including dairy.  I’ve learned that I eat best when I eat consciously – conscious of not only the basic gastronomical dimensions of what and how much, but also the why and the how.

And with that, I am finishing defrosting the ratatouille – the most tangible manifestation of my values of health, appearance, and frugality you’ll see from me all day.

What values do you aspire to eat?  What values did you eat today?

With love,
Meredith

These Are a Few of My Favorite Biases

I often think that if we all become more aware of how we’re acting and choiceful about how we want to be, we’ll live more in alignment with ourselves and with each other.  Sure, the future won’t always turn out exactly as we intend, but at least we’ll be consciously trying in a direction we decide upon.

What I often forget, though, is that awareness is not just a consciousness of our intentions and actions, but also a consciousness of our patterns of thinking.  We all have a collection of cognitive biases that run invisibly within our heads – the biases which consistently guide us away from truthful, clear thinking.  They influence us without us ever realizing it; they inform how we see the world and decide to act.  All are proven via extensive social science research.  And that’s the craziest part – we know about them, we’ve proven them, and yet we all keep on getting things wrong in the same ways over and over again.

cognitive biases
I recently came across a fantastic list of cognitive biases in Michael Schermer’s book The Believing Brain and it reminded me of all the ways I am consistently getting things wrong.  I’m always trying to recommit to becoming more aware of not just what I want but how I’m thinking, and this was a good prompt in that direction.  They say the solution isn’t getting rid of the bias (which, in my experience, is near impossible), but instead becoming aware of how it might impact you in everyday situations.

As for me, confirmation bias, halo effect and authority bias are always cropping up in my world.  Which of these do you see in your life?  Which are you actively combating?

julie andrews
With compassion for all our invisible shortcomings!
Meredith

A Short List of Cognitive Biases
Attribution biasTendency to attribute different causes for your own beliefs and actions than that of others.  It comes in at least two forms:

  • Situational/dispositional attribution bias: (“I succeed at work because I’m smart and hard-working, but he succeeds because he’s lucky and has the right sponsors.”  “I screwed up this recipe because the kids were screaming, but he screwed up the recipe because he’s a horrible cook.”)
  • Intellectual/emotional attribution bias:  (“I have a well-reasoned ideology behind my conservatism, but you are just a bleeding heart liberal.”)

Authority bias:  Tendency to value the opinions of an authority, especially in the evaluation of something we know little about (“Arnold told me that purgatory was never a concept in Catholicism; he majored in religion, so he would know.”)

Availability heuristic:  Tendency to assign probabilities to potential outcomes based on examples that are immediately available to us, especially those that are vivid, unusual, or emotionally charged (“If you’re a woman, you’re very likely to get breast cancer.  I know two other women who have been dealing it with this past year.”)

Believability bias:  Tendency to evaluate the strength of an argument based on the believability of its conclusion  (“It seems reasonable that genetically-modified foods cause cancer, so the science is likely right.”)

Confirmation bias:  Tendency to seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirming evidence (“See, this US Today article says that Obamacare is driving small enterprises out of business!  But I really question the methodology of that NY Times article on why Obamacare is affordable for even mom-and-pop shops.”)

Consistency bias:  Tendency to recall one’s past beliefs, attitudes and behaviors as resembling present beliefs, attitudes and behaviors more than they actually do (“I’ve basically always believed that there’s no way intelligent life could be out there.”)

False-consensus bias:  Tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with their beliefs or that will go along with them in a behavior (“Don’t you think that other people will want to protest owl habitat destruction too?”)

Generalization bias (stereotyping):  Tendency to assume that a member of a group will have certain characteristics believed to represent that group without having actual information about that particular member  (“She’s a banker; you know what that means.”)

Halo effect:  Tendency for people to generalize one positive trait of a person to all the other traits of that person (“She’s beautiful – so she’s probably pretty smart and athletic too.”)

Hindsight bias:  Tendency to reconstruct the past to fit with present knowledge.  I love it’s nickname “creeping determinism.”  (“If you look at the indications before the Challenger launch, anyone could have seen the explosion coming.”)

Inattentional blindness bias:  Tendency to miss something obvious and general while attending to something special and specific (“I don’t know why all those people were on the corner protesting, but did you see that woman’s blue pants?”)  The classic example of the inattentional blindness bias is here.

In-group bias:  Tendency for people to value the beliefs and attitudes of those whom they perceive to be fellow members of their group and to discount the beliefs and attitudes of those whom they perceive to be members of a different group  (“A friend at work told me that it’s dangerous to walk in the Southwest Corridor at night.”)

Just-world bias (victim-blaming):  Tendency for people to search for things that the victim of an unfortunate event might have done to deserve it.  (We’ve seen this in spades with recent news coverage on Ferguson, sexual assault on college campuses, bullying, and domestic abuse in the NFL.)

Negativity bias:  Tendency to pay closer attention and give more weight to negative events, beliefs, and information than to positive (“It just seems like every time you turn on the news, it’s all bad things happening.”)

Not-invented-here bias:  Tendency to discount the value of a belief or source of information that does not come from within (“Sure, but that’s what the consultants said, not what my research turned up.”)

Rosy retrospection bias:  Tendency to remember past events as being more positive than they actually were (“Ahh, the good old days.  So much better than life since everyone got a cell phone!”)

Self-justification bias:  Tendency to rationalize decisions after the fact to convince ourselves that what we did was the best thing we could have done (“It was the middle of the highway during rush hour.  If I pulled over to talk to the woman whose car I rear-ended, we both would have been in danger.  That’s not worth it for a small fender bender.”)

Status quo bias:  Tendency to opt for whatever it is we are used to (“I picked the health plan that I’ve had for years.”)

Sunk-cost bias (escalation of commitment):  Tendency to believe in something because of the cost sunk into that belief (“I’ve supported gun control all my life; there is no way I’m going to change that opinion now.”)

Trait-ascription bias:  Tendency for people to assess their own personality, behavior and beliefs are more variable and less dogmatic than those of others (“I would definitely change my mind given good date; I’m not so sure about my opponents, however.”)

The examples are my own, but the bias descriptions are sourced from The Believing Brain:  From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Michael Shermer

And here’s the even crazier part:  If you think that these biases don’t apply to you, then you’re succumbing to the ultimate meta-bias:  the bias blind spotThat is our “tendency to recognize the power of cognitive biases on other people but to be blind to their influence on our own beliefs.”  Annoying, isn’t it?

bias blind spot

 

 

 

Are You Reacting To Life or Creating Your Life?

This week someone posed the question “Are you reacting to life or creating your life?”  I liked the formulation and decided it was my key reflection point for the week.  But instead of writing about it, I’m mixing it up and putting my dubious drawing skills to the test.  Thus, please enjoy:

title

reaction

creation
With love,
Meredith

 

Intentionality

Outside of Arenberg, Germany

Why The Intentional?  I’ll admit that at the beginning, my ambitions were far grander than a blog.  I dreamt of having the time and space to write an entire book about the concept of intentionality, and perhaps, later down the line, that will happen (the outline is still in the works).  In the short-term, though, I am happy to share with you the concept of intentionality as it serves as the inspiration behind The Intentional.

What is intentionality?
Many of us wind our way through life in a fairly accidental way. How many times have you suddenly become aware of the fact that you just spent four hours on some combination of Buzzfeed and Facebook?  Or have you ever gone to the kitchen and ended up eating a whole bag of potato chips/pint of ice cream/<insert other favorite food here> thoughtlessly and without enjoyment?  It’s not uncommon that we do any number of things in our lives – from the micro-actions of every day to the macro-decisions we make – with less thought than would be ideal.

As recent science shows, this lack of consideration happens in part because the cognitive load of thinking through each choice is incredibly high (see Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow).  But I believe that there’s another powerful driver of this thoughtlessness.  I believe that we fundamentally lack a common concept that encapsulates what we’re talking about.  We lack the taxonomy – and thus lack the consciousness – of the alternative.

The alternative is intentionality. Intentionality is the value of aligning your beliefs, thoughts, and actions with a conscious vision of what you want to create in yourself and in the world. By way of introduction, I’ll break down a couple of the key themes embedded within this definition:

“Intentionality is the value. . .” Intentionality, like freedom or equality, is a value which we hold and an ideal that we can live more or less consistently in our lives.  Even if you disagree with the vision which someone may hold of the world, you can tell if they live their life consistently with that vision.

“. . . of aligning your beliefs, thoughts, and actions. . .” You must be able to influence your beliefs, thoughts, and actions to be able to align them with a vision.  The idea that we control our actions is foundational in our society, serving as the underpinning of our governance and legal systems.  And the idea that we control our thoughts, though not universal, is well-articulated in many reflective traditions.  Yet an understanding of how we control our beliefs is less common.  In short, we operate within a world limited by our own assumptions and beliefs.  These assumptions and beliefs often become invisible to us, but are, in reality, ours to make, destroy, and re-make however serves us best.  The ability to consciously create of our beliefs – rather than accidentally form them based on a subset of data we haphazardly collect – is a powerful tool in realizing our intentions.  More on how we align our beliefs, thoughts, and actions to come.

 “. . . with a conscious vision. . .”  This phrase points to a through-going value of mindfulness or consciousness.  At the most basic level, we must be aware of beliefs, thoughts, and actions so that we can better align them.  Beyond that, we must consciously craft a vision of what we want to create in ourselves and the world.  What kind of person do I want to be?  What type of relationship do I want to have with others?  What impact do I want to have on the environment?  These are the types of questions which prompt us to craft that vision.

“. . . of what you want to create in yourself and in the world.” We are powerful co-creators of our own existence; indeed, we are more powerful than we know.  Our beliefs, thoughts, and actions directly contribute to the creation of our reality.  In fact, they co-create this reality with the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of those around us – individually and collectively.  Intentionality is only important if our beliefs, thoughts, and actions have a significant impact on the world.  Though this impact is not always tangible or proximal, it is real.

It is one thing to define intentionality, it is another to see it in practice.  Importantly, I believe we have a severe intentionality gap in the world today – that we have a dire need for more intentionality in each of us individually, in our society collectively, and in the world broadly if we are to progress.  With intentionality – and only with intentionality – comes ownership over our lives, responsibility for our impact on others, and the opportunity to consciously co-create something better – qualities we need to move forward in our complex, crazy, interconnected world.    

I’ll continue to unpack the idea of intentionality, the philosophy behind it, and the implications of living more intentionally in future blog posts. That said, let’s make this an awesome dialogue.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Meredith