Easy is the Path to Wisdom for Those not Blinded by Themselves

I’ve been watching a lot of Star Wars: Clone Wars recently (thanks NetFlix!), and it’s got these little memes at the beginning. I’ve been meaning to do more writing for a while but a) didn’t really feel as though I actually had much to say and b) I am basically lazy. I do want to write more though and the memes seemed like a great way to stir up the old grey matter and finally put pen to paper, so to speak.

So, first up is:

Easy is the path to wisdom for those not blinded by ego

or

Easy is the path to wisdom for those not blinded by themselves.

In some ways it’s easier to start with an opposite statement: The path to wisdom is difficult if I am blinded by my ego or self. Why is it difficult? Because I can only see myself. I can’t see the situation or problem space as it truly is. In order to see clearly I have to get past myself and learn to see things as they really are. Or at least, see things as clearly as it’s possible to do bearing in mind the limitations of my perception of reality.

My mental image of the world is a model. It is a partial representation of reality based on the partial knowledge I have of the external world. So, when I think I am thinking about the world I am thinking about my model of the world. This model of the world is built up in a way that is itself a model. So I am using a model, built by a model, to represent the world I think I see. – The Open University, Managing complexity: a systems approach.

What are the limitations on my perception of reality? The world I think I see is not the world as it actually is. It is a model created by my brain which represents the world I think I perceive, based on my own interpretation of signals coming into my nervous system via whatever senses I have available to me. A number of factors will have a bearing on how accurate (or not) this model is, including whether I have some kind of bias or pre-conceived notion about the thing it is that I am perceiving and whether my brain is in system-1 or system-2 mode.

Most people have 5 senses, but not all. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have all 5 senses available to us and in reasonable working order may not be taking full advantage of them. Some are likely much better than others. My sense of smell for example isn’t particularly acute, but my hearing is great (or at least sensitive, anyhow). My eyes are also pretty darn good having recently had ILasik surgery, but that’s another story. Probably not many of us could say that we use all of our senses to their full extent. If we were to watch the following videos for example then, assuming we haven’t seen them before, we almost certainly will not observe all there is to see in them.

Presumably you were pretty surprised at the end of those to have missed so many obvious visual discrepancies. Certainly I was the first time I saw them. The problem was that as you started watching them you became focused on a particular aspect, to the detriment of all of the other activity that was happening at the same time. This happens often in life. We become fixated on a particular idea, notion, concept or way of being and our brain gets stuck in that groove. Without some kind of tool to help us get out of that groove, we’ll be stuck doing things the same way we’ve always done or seen them, whether that way works for us or not. And that, as some famous person sagely pointed out – is a road to madness.

This kind of behaviour is typical of the way our brain works though. It’s pretty lazy and given the opportunity it will leap upon the quickest, easiest solution to a problem it can find. It pattern matches based on previous experience. The trouble is, previous experiences can very quickly become traditions and before you know it, tradition has become culture and culture can be difficult to change. The easiest way to get around this problem is to become aware of the tricks your brain plays on you and to find ways of helping you get out of your accustomed groove.

Here’s a few ways you might begin to do that:

Know Your Traditions
Understanding where it is you’ve come from in terms of upbringing, environment and culture can help you get a grip on your mental model of the world. If you can identify why you see the world the way you do, you can think about the ways in which your worldview serially manifests itself in patterns of behaviour – traditions. Are those traditions having the desired good/bad/indifferent effect? If they’re not, you can start to change them. Some people call this “getting out of your comfort zone.”

Set Your Brain to Manual
Ever been for a walk or a drive and arrived at your destination wondering how you got there? A classic symptom of the brain on automatic. You need to switch it to Manual! Start thinking purposefully about whatever it is you’re doing, even if it is mundane. Thinking clearly and objectively about each decision you make and each action you take will bring your choices into sharp focus. Once you can see the choices you’re making clearly, take the next step and figure out whether decisions are made based on the evidence before you or for some other reason – tradition, or F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real).

Create Space
Change your context. Go and do something completely different. Give the right-side of your brain a chance to make a contribution by shifting your focus away from your problem completely. Annie Proulx has this to say about taking a walk for example: “Walking induces a trance-like state that allows the mind freedom and ease and encourages exploration of odd possibilities and improbable connections.” Those are exactly the things you’re looking for to get your brain out if its established ways of thinking.

Hopefully the techniques above will enable you to make some headway (pun intended) with your thinking. If you need some motivation too, why not add some counterfactual thinking? Meditate on alternative ways something might happen rather than the way it is happening, or has happened in the past. Think about more positive or more negative approaches to the same situation. Think about different ways you might act given a specific set of circumstances. Thinking about alternative approaches can have an enlightening and galvanising effect upon both your thinking and your motivation, and we could all use that sometimes – right?

- Simon

P.S If you're interested in learning more about performance testing, checkout my Performance Testing 101 course here.


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