Assumptions and Faulty Thinking

Lately, I have found myself thinking about the assumptions that we make about the world around us. The world can sometimes be a complex place and the assumptions we make are an essential tool in simplifying things.

Very often, these assumptions are useful and we move forward quickly because of that. One can safely assume that gravity will always work and that rain is wet. You can assume with a high degree of certainty that your front door opens the same way as it did yesterday and when you wake up in the morning, you’re still in the same place where you went to sleep.

However, many of the assumptions we make are on much shakier ground. Have you ever found yourself anticipating that a task will be difficult? Or that a person will be unreasonable? Or that everyone else sees the world like you do?

This last assumption – that we all live in the same world, following the same ‘rules’ – is the cause of more conflict and unhappiness than just about any other premise.

It’s good to test your assumptions once in a while – or more often. And some faulty thinking is really silly. for example:

“Racing cars are fast and they have stripes, therefore putting stripes on my car will make it go faster.”

It’s a funny example, I know, yet no less valid than many of the assumptions we make every day.

If you’re NLP-trained, these concepts will be familiar to you – it’s possible to identify and break down such assumptions with the meta-model. From this, life flows more smoothly – and it can be much easier than you previously thought.

How to Stop Wasting Your Time With Repetition

Many people seem to misunderstand the purpose of repetition in learning.

They seem to think that repetition is about ‘getting something into your memory’:

  • memorise your study notes in school through endless repetition to ‘learn’ them
  • go through endless repetitions of physical movements to ‘get them into muscle memory’
  • go over scales again and again in music to ‘key them into memory’

The trouble with repetition as a learning device is that it doesn’t actually do anything very fast or very well.

Repetition is really about refinement.

  • learn the physical movement, then run through repetitions (with a high quality reference experience) to refine it.
    This actually makes use of our ‘learning and refinement’ loops
  • learn the musical scales to educate and strengthen the necessary muscles. Repeat until they ‘sound right’. Refinement.

Repetition is learning only if you are refining what you have learned.

To embed learning, it must be memorable in some way. No amount of repetition can substitute for this.

I remember my Chemistry teacher giving us silly songs and rhymes to remember certain scientific principles. There wasn’t much repetition involved at all. At the time we absolutely hated it, but I can still call those principles clearly to mind twenty-five years later. They made the learning memorable.

If learning is fun, exciting, silly, shocking or fascinating, it is more memorable because the most accessible memories tend to be coded emotionally. We also tend to learn more quickly when emotion is present.

Repetition runs our learning through refinement loops until it reaches a stable conformation, where we meet some kind of internal standard (good enough) or match the quality of the reference experience we are trying to emulate.

So repetition without refinement isn’t really learning. It is a misuse of our most valuable resource: time.

To Summarise:

When you learn, get out of the repetition trap by asking yourself what the purpose of the repetition really is. If it’s about ‘getting the information into your mind or body‘ then stop and make the learning memorable. Then only use repetition to refine your experience.

Value, self investment and self-development

Value and self-investment is a fascinating topic to study.

Since I sell my own self-development courses, I’m ideally placed to experience how people express the value of their own development. This is especially so

In some cases, I’ve seen faulty thinking, mental evasions and other expressions of inner values in conflict.

Note: I’m not saying that everyone needs, or could benefit from, learning NLP, for example. What I am saying is that some people have a strange mindset when it comes to money and value. (I’ve written about this before here).

For example, one of the most common excuses for putting off learning NLP is that “there just isn’t the money for it“. Those are the facts as they experience them.

What is really going on in their mind is far more interesting:

  • Learning a skill-set, mindset and taking on a powerful new worldview is scary
    For some, it’s stepping into the unknown. “What will it be like? Will it be better or worse than I imagine? Will I be any good at it?” It’s easy to see that none of these questions are answerable at the outset.My advice is this – take a chance. Achieving the best is within your personal control if you’re prepared to take the time and put in the effort. The only way to stop the unknown from being scary is to make it into the known. Take that step. Do that thing you’re afraid to fail at – and you can make sure you succeed.
  • Will I change?
    Some people think that developing themselves means becoming ‘someone else’. They ask the question “If I learn this, will I still be me?”Yes, you’ll still be you. Think about this: were you ‘you’ ten years ago? Are you ‘you’ now? I’m betting that you’ve changed in some ways in the last ten years. Despite that, you have been ‘you’ right the way through, so you can learn and grow as an individual without having to become ‘someone else’.
  • They haven’t ‘joined the dots’ between learning and earning
    When I ask people why they’re interested in self-development, they have lots of answers. When I then ask what they’re going to do with the new knowledge to achieve that, the result is often a confused look.I think that any good investment will pay you back, so I’m basically asking them “how will this investment in yourself pay you back?”If you’re thinking about investing in your own development, you need to ask yourself that question too. And don’t be vague.Ask:

    “How specifically will this investment in myself pay me back?”
    “How else will it pay me back?”
    “what else specifically will it do for me?”
    “How else will I benefit?”

    If you’ve really thought it through and haven’t got good answers to the questions above, then don’t do the course until you do.

    It’s up to you to make those benefits tangible, because only you know your circumstances, your willingness to learn and where you want to apply the insights or use your new abilities. A good trainer will act as a sounding board and help to coach you through the options and possibilities. Only you can predict how exactly you’ll benefit.

  • They think that if they invest in a course, that money is gone forever
    This is the mindset of scarcity. It amounts to thinking that if the money is spent on X, then there will be no money for Y. That if the money is spent on self-development, it can’t be spent on a new TV. So the decision is: self-development vs. a new TV.This is what Economists call ‘fixed pie’ – if you take one piece of the pie, that’s one piece less for everything else. We have a saying that expresses this mindset: “You can’t have your cake and eat it”. If you think like that, of course, you won’t.But self-development is an investment in the future of your self and as I said above, a good investment pays you back, with interest.So the decision is different: what future will I have from self-development vs. what future will I have from getting a new TV?And be honest – if you know it’s not going to improve your future, don’t do it. But if you can see the benefits you will gain, go ahead.

Sometimes it helps to go at the question from a different direction.

Ask: “If you could change or improve one aspect of your life, which one would create the biggest positive difference?

What would it be worth to have that?

If some self-development can help you to achieve that, would you do it?

Take some time to think it through because only you can know the answer.

Is it always possible to make a good decision?

There’s a growing interest in how to make ‘good’ decisions.

Think about this – there are some things you make better decisions about than others. Almost no-one has it all. So, what are the areas in which you already make good decisions?

Some of your ‘bad’ decisions will have been made through inexperience. That’s okay. Just make sure you learn positively from these experiences and you will begin to make fewer of these.

Some of your ‘bad’ decisions will have been made through emotional bias. We all have tendencies, idiosyncrasies and ingrained habits. Our thinking processes are no exception to this. Where there is conflict in our choices (e.g. green salad or chocolate cake?) it’s useful to separate which choice will feel better from the choice that will be better overall.

As for the rest, consider that many decisions can only be evaluated in hindsight.

Let’s test that out. Flip a coin and cover it so you don’t know the outcome. Choose: heads or tails? Now, before uncovering the coin, ask yourself: was that a good decision? It’s really hard to know whether it is or not. Now uncover it and see the true outcome.

Actually do the experiment so you can experience the learning with your body and senses.

You might object that the result is random. So attempt to have the coin come up tails then repeat the experiment.

Now for the most important question – has that experience helped you to make a better decision next time you flip the coin? It really hasn’t, has it? A ‘win’ last time may lead you to feel more confident of your decision this time. A ‘lose’ last time may knock your confidence a little the next time around. However, objectively, you’re really no better off. It’s really difficult to be definite about a decision where the outcome is unpredictable, or largely out of your control.

So this type of experience does not refine your decision-making process in any useful way.

You might argue that decisions like this don’t occur in real life. But just think about how many random contributors there are to most outcomes. Sometimes one or more of those random contributions will become significant, like a change in the weather or a crucial person who changes their mind.

These experiences are also being created artificially as part of game dynamics. Imagine this scenario:

While playing a game, suppose you receive a large reward. If you want the reward again, you’re going to try to figure out what you did that resulted in getting the reward. So you will keep playing and try a variety of likely approaches – ones similar to those you were doing before you were rewarded.

But here’s the twist – suppose the reward is actually being given out at random. What happens to the psychology of the player under those circumstances? The player thinks they somehow caused the reward and further experimentation will yield no lasting match between cause and effect. The usual effect is cognitive dissonance – the player becomes confused and highly motivated to find the ‘winning’ pattern. The result is similar to patterns of addiction, especially if the reward is big and occurs early in the process.

These ‘games’ are not always explicit (like tetris or roulette) but are now becoming part of other processes where customer engagement is a key part of the system.

In these ‘unknowable’ cases, it’s more important to make a decision, rather than hesitating too long.

Instead of trying to make a good decision, how about

  • taking calculated risks
  • becoming good at course-correcting

Let me know your opinions on this in the comments below.

When Less Can Be Better Than More

I’ve just been re-reading Tim Gallwey’s “The Inner Game of Work” and it has been interesting to note how well my ideas about learning dovetail with Gallwey’s principles.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Gallwey spawned a revolution in the field of coaching, starting back in the 1970s.

Gallwey’s passion was for tennis, so he became curious about how some people got good at the game and others never rose beyond a certain level of ability. Curiously, this difference in skill was not just down to effort and Gallwey, like me, was no believer in ‘natural ability’.

He theorised that we often behave as though we have two conflicting viewpoints, which he called ‘Self 1’ and ‘Self 2’. In Gallwey’s model, Self 2 is the ‘authentic’ self – the person we truly can be when we are at our natural best. By contrast, Self 1 is an agent of unintentional conflict or interference. Self 1 interferes with our natural flow by distracting us with instructions, critical inner dialogue and the need to consciously micro-manage our actions.

By this philosophy, being mindful of detailed instructions can actually get in the way of our natural ability. Gallwey found that normal learning methods actually encourage the types of behaviour that get in the way of excellence!

Independently, I discovered this to be true for activities like public speaking. If you browse the internet or look in most books on public speaking, they give you a long laundry list of things you must do and things you mustn’t do.

For example, think about eye contact for a moment. Back when I started learning to be a trainer, I remember being told that I must give everyone ‘good eye contact’ when speaking. I asked for clarification – how much eye contact, or how often is good? I was told that two seconds was the norm. The entire learning group tried it out for a period of time – in presentations, conversations and everyday life. We all privately agreed that this felt awkward, forced and weird. And that the people we spoke with found it uncomfortable too.

Years later, I realised that it was the forced nature of the activity that made that type of training so unsuccessful. A simple – normally unconscious – activity had been made too conscious, too obvious. This was Gallwey’s ‘Self 1’ trying to call the shots instead of allowing Self 2’s natural, authentic eye contact.

So if traditional methods of instruction don’t really work very well, how can we learn to be excellent at what we do? Gallwey’s solution was simple, incredibly elegant and revolutionary. Anything we focus on can become part of our natural learning experience. So the instructor’s job was to focus the student’s awareness on where the learning was – in a non-judgemental way. Gallwey stopped telling people how to stand and move and started asking them to do things like watch the seam of the tennis ball as it approached.

By giving the student less to do, they had more faculties of attention – of focus – available for the true task at hand.

This was my aim when I wrote Presenting Power – to give people less to do and focus their awareness where it is most useful for their learning. Ten years of experience have taught me that this approach works better that the more traditional ones – and in some crucial ways.

Only last night, I saw an excellent example on the TV show ‘Dragon’s Den‘. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it involves entrepreneurs pitching for investment to a panel of five wealthy businesspeople. In last night’s show, I saw the worst pitch ever and it was painful to watch. I sat and squirmed as one woman completely froze about half-way through her well-rehearsed pitch.

Her mind went blank and she just couldn’t pick up the thread of her presentation. As I see it, this happened for several reasons.

  •  we have best recall when we are in the same state of mind in which we learned the information

This premise is well supported by psychological research – she learned her pitch in a relaxed frame of mind and tried to recall it while under considerable stress. Consequently, the information just wasn’t there when she needed it.

  • she learned the pitch in a linear way, by rote.

Think of it like a (now old-fashioned) vinyl record. The record follows a single, steadily spiralling groove, all the way to the centre. Now picture someone bumping the turntable. The record skips – and doesn’t always find its groove again. This is what the speaker sounded like when she lost her cool – a broken record. She tried to start again and again. In the end, she just couldn’t pick up the thread of her pitch and had to stop right there.

Really, it wasn’t her fault. The method itself let her down by creating too much interference.

In public speaking, the voice of Self 1 – the voice of interference – is that of stress. This is the voice of ‘what should I be doing?’ or ‘what are they thinking?’ or ‘am I doing this right?’ This is the ‘what if?’ voice.

I’ve seen so many people struggle with a memorised pitch – I used to struggle with it myself. Fortunately, I found a better way to do things. I’ve had experienced speakers ask me how I remember everything when I give a 9-day seminar without using any notes. They usually think I’ve got some some sort of special memory technique, or that I’ve used my skill at hypnosis to memorise everything in a trance-like state 🙂

I reality, all I need to do is remain in the right state of mind and remember only two simple things per segment. Those are the only elements that are really crucial to being an engaging and informative speaker. And a segment, for me, is about 45 minutes. So that’s only 16 simple things to remember per day as a trainer. And only two at a time. The detail of how to do this is described in ‘Presenting Power‘.

Gallwey’s ‘Inner Game’ and my own methods for public speaking make one thing clear: You can really do more with less. And in some cases – with the right knowledge and awareness – less can be better than more.

Video: Learning to see with your sense of touch

Doctors used to believe that certain parts of the brain couldn’t develop or change after childhood. This meant it was widely accepted that certain functions, if lost in adulthood, could not be restored.

However, a whole field of research has grown since the 1960s to contradict this. The research is based upon a premise known as neuroplasticity – that we can train a different part of the brain to take over those functions.

This is demonstrated profoundly in the work of Dr Paul Bach-y-Rita, who is a pioneer of technologies that allow “sensory substitution”. These devices allow people to learn how to see again by translating images from a camera into something they can feel.

To find out more and see this principle in action, watch the video below (11 min approx).

Feel free to leave your comments too.

Real World NLP

When I started out with NLP, my first experiences were motivated by an interest in communication, so I focused most on those aspects of my development. From a scientific perspective, I was thoroughly intrigued by the NLP methodology.

I had some skills and very few specific techniques, so I got very good at asking questions and exploring through feedback. In many cases this is the best way to learn something, as the distinctions formed through experience are the most persistent and personal type of learning. In this way, NLP becomes part of experience and part of life.

Experiencing NLP

Since NLP is a way of working and a way of looking at the world, a good way to begin is to start to notice many of the things that NLP training aims to make us more aware of.

Above all, approach this in a playful way. Have fun exploring the new world this opens out.

One thing about memory is that we tend to recall things when we’re in the same state in which we learned them.

So if you’re putting yourself under a bit of pressure, then stop…

Take a deep breath.

Take your mind back to the ‘where and when’ of that learning

and re-connect with it.

Playfulness and fun are two of the states we use a lot in the process of teaching NLP. This is one of the many reasons we do that.

NLP Awareness

Notice when people you know go in and out of states. Anchor the useful ones and test your work. Have everyone around you become more resourceful and motivated this way.

Be aware of the language used by people you meet every day, their tonality, rhythm and inflection. Practice matching those distinct unconscious elements in your communication to achieve better rapport.

Listen for metaprograms and filters and tailor your communication to bypass them.

Prepare, practice, calibrate and improve.

As for the many techniques, work on yourself, help out friends and family, coach colleagues. Above all, remain open to accepting sensory feedback throughout and draw useful distinctions.

NLP Development

Keep yourself open to learning and you will continue to develop. People tend to plateau because they’ve stopped learning. Their internal model of that area has crystallised and extraneous pieces are streamlined away.

While that is a healthy and natural process, you should bear in mind that if there’s still room for improvement, you may have crystallised your learning too soon. Fortunately, our unique teaching methods can reopen the learning process and build positively on this solid foundation.

The key distinction is that a model is not reality and rules can be made to flex, bend and even break constructively, forming new distinctions. Learning through experience is essential at this point, provided these experiences occur within a specific set of boundary conditions. And all in a playful way.

Practicing NLP

Look at the world. Pay attention to the people around you. Find excellent people and ask if you can model their skills. Be curious and enjoy asking thought-provoking questions and you’ll find that everyone does something really well.

If you ask yourself, ‘how can I use these skills to great effect in work/at home/in my pastimes,’ you will benefit greatly from understanding more about the people in the world around you.

I began my journey in a search for better means of communicating. I found a lot more than that. If you make the awareness and methods part of your life, you’ll never have to practice NLP.

Just enjoy your life.

The courage to follow your heart

How much do you love what you do? If you were to take a moment and give it a grade out of 10, how would it score?

It probably won’t surprise you too much to hear that most people I’ve asked that question score below 7 out of 10.

Now, 10 out of 10 doesn’t indicate perfection – we all have our difficult moments. As a rule-of-thumb, I’d say that someone near the top of that scale would still do what they do, even if they didn’t get paid for it.

Knowing that, if most people score themselves below 7, then where is the love? Where is the passion we all have deep within ourselves?

In NLP, we talk about values – the motivations behind the things you enjoy doing that make them valuable to you as an individual. If your values are satisfied within an area of your life, you will be happy within that context.

That’s why values are so important within coaching – they can act as an indicator of where you should be looking if you want to be happy, successful and fulfilled.

What is it really like to love what you do? Take some time to watch the video below and you may get some ideas. Steve Jobs (Founder of Apple and Pixar) draws on three pivotal moments in his life to inspire Stanford graduates to pursue their dreams.

This video is inspirational to me, not just because of the stories he tells, but because it is tempered by a deep personal honesty:

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition – they somehow already know what you want to become”

When you know your values, you have a compass that always points towards success. All you need to do is follow it.

Successful Learning

When you learn something new, you move through various phases. However, completely new learning seldom happens – we usually build on existing skills to some extent.

When you want to improve something or add to your skill-set, your success depends on a critical phase in the following process.

  1. Unconscious Competence – you can currently do what you can do, near to the level you believe is possible for you.
  2. Unconscious Incompetence – You realise you can do better, but do not know how to increase your performance.
  3. Conscious Incompetence – You are aware exactly where you need to improve but have no strategy for doing that, so you engage in a “trial and error” process.
  4. Conscious Competence – You know where to improve and how to do that, while needing to practice and fine-tune the new model.
  5. Unconscious Competence – You have internalised the new skill, to the extent that you can just do it without much thought. You are at or near the level you now believe is possible for you.

That is what happens when all goes well in a process of self-directed learning.

Critical Point

However, there is a critical phase where this natural learning process can be disrupted, preventing completion.

During the ‘conscious incompetence” phase, there is a process of trial and error. Performance can actually drop at this point, due to self-consciousness and the experimental nature of the “trial and error” process.

A crisis point can come at the greatest difference between expectation and performance – when the person’s experience is most different from their perception of how it could be.

If that difference passes beyond a threshold value (too uncomfortable/painful) the person believes the goal is not achievable and stops the trial and error. They go back to square one.

The sad fact is that they may be incredibly close to success and they will never know it.

“Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not
realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

– Thomas Edison

Avoiding Crisis

Fortunately there are several ways to prevent the crisis threshold being crossed.

Persistence in the face of adversity is one solution – a dogged determination to succeed. This involves consciously raising the ‘discomfort’ threshold. Some people will just “tough it out”.

Approaching learning with a playful attitude is a great way of reducing the self-consciousness of the trial and error phase.

Emotionally letting go of the importance of the outcome without letting go of the desire for the outcome is another way to reduce the impact of trial and error.

A comfortable environment (which includes both people and setting) is another way to encourage this phase beyond the point where crisis was an option.

Our Solution

My preferred solution is to short-circuit the critical phase by removing the need for the “trial and error” stage.

How do you do that?

You train the person in methods, skills, techniques and strategies so they do not need the trial and error. In short, you teach them how to achieve the higher performance and provide convincers that the new approach is a valid one in achieving what they wish to accomplish. Then accelerate learning to the “unconscious competence” phase.

This is why we train people

  • through experience
  • in a light-hearted way
  • in a comfortable, relaxed environment
  • using accelerated learning techniques.

This approach totally bypasses the strain and discomfort of conventional learning. By contrast, learning becomes rapid, comfortable, straightforward and fun.

About trial and error

Sometimes trial and error is a completely redundant process – “reinventing the wheel” so to speak. And sometimes you can end up with a better wheel as a result.

If you want to maximise the effectiveness of the trial and error process, I recommend coaching. Effective coaching is a great way of managing and accelerating the natural process of exploration and discovery.

To summarise:

There are better ways of learning available to you than those you are most familiar with. There are ways to train and coach for success that greatly accelerate the process and are free from the drama and crisis of conventional learning.

Think about the things you want to achieve in your life. What can you now do to achieve those quickly and easily? The choices are yours.

Training or Coaching?

Isn’t it curious how everyday incidents can spark deep insight when you are in the right state of awareness?

For example, I noticed that the outside light on our house was not looking very bright. I decided to take it apart to have a look at what was going on. It’s a fairly simple device – a bulb surrounded by glass, suspended on a bracket.

However, before I had a look inside, I was aware of three possibilities in my mind that would explain the light’s current state:

  1. The bulb needs replacing
  2. The glass needs cleaning
  3. The bulb needs replacing and the glass needs cleaning

As I was taking the lamp apart to explore those options, I though of Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game approach.

You see, when Gallwey was studying the way that people learned sports, he discovered something very important about the way teaching and learning combined.

To read more, go here:

Training or Coaching?