Cognitive Blinders

Now for a quick word on those culturally based blinders I mentioned in my last piece. Don’t think you don’t have them. We all do. The trick is being able to see them BEFORE they get in the way. Part 2 of the trick is being able to push them aside to see what they’ve been blocking from view. One of the benefits of the practice of reframing is that you have the chance to consciously, and mindfully, do exactly that.

There are 2 primary blinders I want to discuss. The first is called the Availability Heuristic.

In summary, this is how we use the information we have collected from previous experience to judge what’s going to happen now, in this moment. Let’s say you’re sitting at a stop light. The Availability Heuristic is what tells you that within 30-90 seconds that light will turn green and you’ll be on your way. This comes into play with Reframing because it’s this heuristic that tells you what to think about your options for the issue at hand.

If you’ve ever experienced something similar to the current situation you’re working with, you already have some idea of how to handle it. The problem is that the previous experience you’re using to formulate these ideas may not be as closely related as the heuristic tells you it is. If you don’t take the time to acknowledge this blinder, you may not realize any of this until it’s too late.

Blinder #2 is what Daniel Quinn calls “…the voice of Mother Culture humming in the background…”

This is the accumulated detritus of the culture you were raised in. Let’s say you’re in the US like I am. This would include everything from what you learned watching Sesame Street to what you learned watching one pop star beat up another, then continuing to sell out stadium shows with no repercussions. It includes the lessons about sharing you (hopefully) learned in kindergarten, and it includes what you’re learning watching the current political…situation. It includes what you learned playing outside with your friends as a kid (if you’re at least my age and your parents let you play outside), and it includes what you learned from watching and internalizing 20+ years worth of commercial TV and Hollywood blockbusters.

Both of these blinders are easily addressed. First, you have to be present enough to realize that they’re in play. Then, you have to take a moment to ask yourself what these blinders are blocking, and what they’re forcing you to focus on. Once you can reconcile the difference between these two things, you’re beginning to see the whole picture.

Now take a step back and reframe the situation. Once you’ve finished this exercise, as I mentioned earlier, you may very well end up at the same conclusion you arrived at pre-reframing – and again, that’s OK. Having looked at the issue from all sides, you can rest assured that that is indeed the most appropriate solution, in this moment, for the situation at hand. This can be a powerful tool in your arsenal as you move through life, from conflict resolution at home to the direction your career is going. I encourage you to give it a try the next time you find yourself appraising a sticky situation, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.