Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Values as choices

This is from Get Out Of Your Mind and Into Your Life and is reproduced here to help anyone struggling with identifying or clarifying their own values.

Choices and judgments are not the same thing. When you make a judgments you apply your mind to evaluate alternatives. Depending on what you want, you pick one. So if I want a sandwich, I will weigh up what's important to me - taste, price, calories, availability and decide.

90% of the time judgments work well. But one areas they cannot work is in values, because judgments involve applying metrics to alternatives.

For example, healthy eating might involve the health of your heart as a measure. But what of the yardstick itself, how was that picked? Was picking ‘health’ another judgment? If so, how was it picked? What yardstick was used to evaluate it?

This process of evaluation could go on forever. For example if I persist I might think I value health because it allows me to live a great life. But that itself is a judgment. How do I evaluate it? Perhaps by thinking that a great life allows me to be free to create something wonderful. But how do I evaluate something wonderful?

In the end judgments cannot tell you which yardstick to pick, because judgments require applying an evaluative metric. That works fine, but only after you’ve picked one.

Valuing gives us a place to stop. Values are not judgments, values are choices. Choices are selections between alternatives that may be made in the presence of reasons (if your mind gives you any, which it usually does) but the selection is not for those reasons.

A choice is therefore not linked to an evaluative yardstick. It's for this reason that 'evaluation' comes from 'value'. That’s because evaluations are a matter of applying our values and then making judgments based on those values. If values were judgments, it would mean we’d have to evaluate our values, but against which values would we evaluate?

This is tough to understand because minds don’t like choices. They evolved to apply evaluative yardsticks. In fact, that is the very essence of the relational abilities brought about by language. But minds cannot pick the ultimate directions that make all of this decision making meaningful.

With nonverbal organisms all selections between alternative are choices, because they cannot make literal judgments. The animal is not guided by reasons, they choose.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The benefits of meditation

As part of my career psychology practice, I am now getting clients to become more mindful of their present experience. With a complex problem, it helps to face the question squarely.

One of the key ways that we can increase mindfulness is to meditate. In terms of cognitive enhancers, exercise is the clear, undisputed winner. But now evidence for meditation is beginning to gather and the gains can be seen from even small amounts of meditation.

In a new study reported in the Journal Consciousness and Cognition, the researchers found significant benefits for novice meditators from only 80 minutes of meditation over 4 days.

If you fancy trying out some meditation then try my online exercises.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

When research gets remote (by Tom)

Over the months I spent working at Bloom last year, I spent a lot of time working from home in my London flat.

Besides the endless cups of tea to help me keep self-motivated, communication was crucial to keeping the link between me and Bloom going, and making sure we both felt in the loop.

At this time, I was not alone. The act of working away from the office, or remote working has seen a sudden increase over the past few years.

This spurred me on to conduct my dissertation research into looking at communication differences in remote and office based workers, and their impact on employee satisfaction and organizational commitment.

A lot to fit in, yes. But bear with me.

My main findings were that in both groups, certain elements of communication were crucial in maintaining employee satisfaction and commitment to one’s organization, namely; feedback, effective communication with management and 'open' communication. Certain elements of personality were related to these too, but these were the most common findings.

Last week however I presented my dissertation at a British Psychological Society’'s conference in Southampton, and had the chance to speak to a few observers regarding their experiences of communication at work. (I also won 'best poster', and saw how much students appreciate a free buffet).

But what did I learn?

From the individuals I spoke to, I learnt that communication goes a lot deeper than this, with enormous differences between people, depending on the size of the organization, how many tea breaks you get, or how your boss speaks to female or male employees differently. I was expecting this though, and it didn'’t surprise me.

So what did I really learn?

I learnt that however good or thorough you want your research to be and for your findings to tell you something, you learn and gain so much more from speaking to people about their individual experiences and learn just how broad the variation in communication is.

What's more - what good is any research if we can't go out and develop, share and apply it?

This is why I can'’t wait to pass these exams I'’m currently edging towards, and get into the spaghetti junction that is how people work best.


Monday, 17 May 2010

Why do we do what we do?

Everything we do is intended to improve the fulfilment of ourselves or others, either directly or indirectly, either now or at some point in the future.

This is what my mate Dan Harrison wrote on his excellent blog.

Setting aside the thorny issue of whether we know what fulfils us, we see that of course humans do of course act to improve their own fulfilment. But as much as we act to move towards something we seek, we also act to avoid unpleasant things. Indeed, just as we have learned to avoid external threats (don't go near that dark blob, it could be a bear), so we treat our internal emotions in the same way. We try to avoid them.

Dan wanted some examples, so here are some:

- Substance abuse is typically motivated by an attempt to avoid negative private experiences (Shoal and Giancola, 2001).

- Depression is an attempt not to feel emotions that are intolerably painful. (Hayes, 2009). Actions that come from depression might include staying in one's room. This could, I suppose, be twisted to mean 'increasing one's fulfilment' but it would be quite a twist.

- Procrastination is something I encounter in many clients. This is an evolutionary adaptive mechanism which limits short term exposure to potentially difficult or boring material. It works, but it's motivated by avoidance, not fulfilment. Oh, and in the long term it doesn't work - the thoughts come back harder and more frequently (Wegner, 2006).

- Many actions are about avoiding anxiety. For example, if I choose not to present a key presentation at work due to nerves, and instead get a colleague to do it, I am not exactly choosing fulfilment, nor am I doing it to give fulfilment to others. The action I choose to do in its place might be watching the presentation, but this is more a default action of avoiding my own anxiety. Indeed, I might silently seethe and curse both myself and my colleague during it.

- Similarly, many actions are about avoiding other negative outcomes. Take for example rejection. If I fear being rejected, my actions may betray me in several ways. Maybe I will choose unreliable partners - that's a good way for rejection not to bite too deep - or maybe I will stay single. That guarantees it.

Behaviour is motivated both by avoidance of pain as well as attainment of pleasure. We are positively and negatively reinforced.

We see it in rats, and we assuredly see it within ourselves. But we have to be willing to look...

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The dark side of conscientiousness

Last year I wrote about how conscientiousness has a dark side.

This now has empirical backing, adding further evidence that all our traits are double edged. There is no such thing as a bad emotion or a positive trait.

Only workability.

Decision making - better to compromise or stay true to values?

Imagine you're a politician. Presumably, you believe strongly in stuff. You want to make a difference and to change things. You also strongly believe that your views represent the best way to go about it.

Then you have an election and are faced with a choice. You can either have power, but you must compromise, or you can stay true to your values, but have less power.

Strikes me that this is exactly the choice many of us face with our careers. We can either take a pragmatic view that we'll have more impact if we work with others and compromise. Or, we can stick to our world view and live with the reality that we'll have to work to persuade others that we're right.

There's no right or wrong answer. Both have their merit and both have their compromises. Neither is pure. Which will you choose?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Of Mindsets and Monkeys

Petr Karel Ontl describes how monkeys are often sold as pets in India, and describes how they are commonly trapped:

The trapper fastens a piece of cord to a tree-stump. To the other end he attaches a pot with a narrow neck. Into this pot he drops several nuts, and scatters a few more on the ground nearby. He then waits out of sight.

Soon a band of monkeys descends to feed. Before long, one of them discovers the contents of the pot. He puts his hand in easily enough, but, having grasped the enticing snack, he cannot pull his clenched fist out through the narrow opening no matter how hard he struggles. The monkey's fate, for all his cleverness, is sealed.

The monkey seems stupid to us - he could easily remove his hand if he would only let go!

But I've worked with too many people in miserable jobs to think that this kind of mindset only applies to monkeys. We could be happier, more vital and have more meaning.

If only we could let go.