Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


So Tired of Being Called "Negative"

Because it's not everyone who calls me negative, only a certain type who I find empty-headed and Pollyanna in their positivity, who believe the answer to everything is a simple optimistic attitude that all will be good if we are just excited enough about it.  I've said over and over that I ask questions, play devil's advocate, and consider things from all angles because I want to make things work, and part of making things work is knowing what the issues are going to be so we are ready to address them.

It seems I'm not crazy for feeling this way, but supported by years of scientific study.  This article describes exactly that process, that in order to achieve goals it is essential to first understand the obstacles and plan for how to overcome them.  Follow the link for the process; I'm sharing first a bit I want to emphasize then a bit more for context from the introductory and concluding thoughts.

Relentless pie-in-the-sky optimism detached from reality . . . desiccates motivation and implies that having a less sunny view of events is a sign of defective thinking and a deformed attitude. “It’s a load on people who doubt and question things, and who see things in a more differentiated way.”

Why Understanding Obstacles is Essential to Achieving Goals

While inspiring words might provide a moment of motivation, it turns out they can have an adverse effect on achieving those goals. According to the latest research, the positive attitudes meant to provide inspiration may be the ones that get in the way of accomplishing those dreams.

For 20 years, psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen of New York University and the University of Hamburg has been examining positive thinking and her conclusion is clear. All that positive thinking can trick the dreamer into believing she’s already done the work to get to the desired goal, squelching the motivation to actually go after it. “Positive thinking alone is not enough,” Oettingen says. Indeed, fantasizing about success without an anchor in reality can actually diminish the likelihood of a better outcome. . . .

Oettingen is careful to point out that hope is a vital and necessary part of achievement, but that relentless pie-in-the-sky optimism detached from reality just hurts children. It desiccates motivation and implies that having a less sunny view of events is a sign of defective thinking and a deformed attitude. “It’s a load on people who doubt and question things, and who see things in a more differentiated way,” she says. “Positive dreams are not enough to actually achieve them.”

This is far from the first evidence of this sort I've come across.  Having someone take the contrarian role is often essential for a successful enterprise.  People like me serve a very important purpose, and beating us down with feedback that we are negative simply serves to create hostile dynamics instead of appreciative ones, because we are here to help, in our own, "realistic" ways.

For another example, consider my review of Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, by Chip & Dan Heath (particularly notice some of the points of the WRAP process, such as "Reality-Test Your Assumptions"):
"I know one thing: that I know nothing."
- Socrates

For the past few years I've had a fascinating and fun journey working my way through a good collection of titles about how thinking works; more specifically, about how thinking doesn't work the way we think it works. That we are constantly lying to, misleading, and deluding ourselves. That our knowledge, perceptions, beliefs, memories, and actions aren't nearly as rational and reasonable as we like to think. That many of our decisions, both the little, daily ones and the big, life-changing ones aren't as sound and carefully reasoned as we believe. Titles on my shelves I'd include in this category:

- Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely
- Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman
- You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself, by David McRaney
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink
- True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, by Farhad Manjoo
- Practical Wisdom: The Right Way To Do the Right Thing, by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe
- Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer
- The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, by David Brooks
- Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler
- Thinking, Fast and Slow , by Daniel Kahneman*

While there have been times the reading has left me feeling cynical and dispirited--that there is no point trying to communicate or connect with others since their assumptions and biases will confound my efforts anyway--for the most part it has been a helpful, healthy process of improving my self-awareness and interpersonal/emotional intelligence. They've made me a better listener, less sure of my own strident opinions in discussions and more likely to assume a generous "AND" stance instead of a combative "EITHER-OR" one.

Something they all have in common, for the most part, is that they spend the bulk of their time sharing the findings of recent research and studies in order to dispel our common-sense assumptions, and only after that leave a bit of space for talking about what to do with the new information. Decisive, on the other hand, starts with the new perspectives, explains them a little, then spends the bulk of its time sharing ways we can make better decisions in light of that information. It's less theoretical and idea-based, much more practical and applied.

And here's where I regret "reading" this book as an audio, because now that I've finished it I want to go back and revisit many parts to study them and consolidate my learning. Unfortunately, there is a long waiting list for our copies of the print book, so I won't be doing that in time to include specific thoughts in this review. In brief, the authors describe a process to follow when making decisions that will help counteract many of the tendencies that steer us wrong. It's not necessarily a step-by-step formula since each decision is unique and every context requires something different, but it provides guidance and a series of checks and balances to make sure we are properly considering the issue from a variety of helpful facets.

They abbreviate the process WRAP, which breaks down--with subcategories--as:

Widen Your Options
- Avoid a narrow frame
- Multitrack
- Find someone who's solved your problems
Reality-Test Your Assumptions
- Consider the opposite
- Zoom out, zoom in
- Ooch
Attain Distance Before Deciding
- Overcome short-term emotion
- Honor your core priorities
Prepare to Be Wrong
- Bookend the Future
- Set a Tripwire

Each point requires the explanations from the book to understand the authors' perspective (especially "ooch"; definition 2 here is vaguely in line with their meaning)--particularly since so much of it is about overcoming commonly accepted truths and operational habits that we unconsciously accept as acceptable--but I think it will be a very helpful process to get in the habit of following, with guidance from the material once it's in my hands.

If I have one complaint about the book, it's that the Heaths spend a little too much time describing the fine details of the real-world examples they use to illustrate all of their points and not enough dwelling in the world of ideas that I love so much. I would have been happier had they tipped the balance of information to case studies and exemplification in the other direction. But, then, this is a book for practitioners.


*Okay, I haven't finished the last one yet; I had both it and Decisive checked out and was considering which to make my next listen, and fairly randomly went with Decisive. I immediately regretted it when, in the introduction, the Heaths mentioned Thinking, Fast and Slow and Predictably Irrational as the two most important titles to read for background information on the studies and theories they worked from in writing this book. I'm now a few discs into it.


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