Monday, May 31, 2010

Bad Thinking Habits — Groupthink and Riskcreep, plus NST and PST

David Brooks' May 28, 2010 article (http://tinyurl.com/39yuc5s ) in the New York Times, which starts out with the Deepwater Horizon explosion, resulting oil leak, and political maneuvers related to the catastrophe, moves quickly into recognition that ". . . the real issue has to do with risk assessment. It has to do with the bloody crossroads where complex technical systems meet human psychology." The concluding paragraph, referring to psychologically generated thinking errors notes, "There must be ways to improve the choice architecture — to help people guard against risk creep, false security, groupthink, the good-news bias and all the rest. This isn’t just about oil. It’s a challenge for people living in an imponderably complex technical society."
True and very reasonable, as always David. But from my perspective the psychosocial society in which we live is even more complex, harder to predict, manage, or fix than that of the technical society. If we take each of us as human systems, we can't predict, manage or fix ourselves, nor often can others, professionals or not, predict, manage or fix themselves — or us.
A major part of the individual human system is our self-talk. It's a tool of our thinking process which sometimes is accessible to others directly through our "out loud" talk, or indirectly to others by the inferences made from what we say. To add to the complexity, when we're in a group, of two or ten, we're subject to outside as well as internal sources of influence plus the pressure to conformity, or opposition, created by group membership and interaction. 
That whole subject led me to remember a book I'd read a few years ago, The Logic of Failure (1997) by  Dietrich Dorner, a German psychologist and professor. The subject  of the book is the nature of thinking required to solve complex problems. Dorner notes that feelings and affect, values and motivations are always a major part of the context of thinking.  He dismisses the idea that there are any secret mental techniques that will enable the human mind to solve complex problems. ". . . there is no magic wand or hidden treasure that will instantly make us deep and powerful thinkers. Real improvements can be achieved, however, if we understand the demands that problem solving places on us and the errors that we are prone to make when we attempt to meet them. Our brains are not fundamentally flawed; we have simply developed bad habits."
OK. Finally, a sequé to my stuff about the NaSTy thinking habit — and also the bad extreme positive thinking habit. What fits so well is Dorner's explanation that our failures are not caused by a fundamental flaw, but a little mistake here, an unspecific goal there, an occasional overgeneralization, a too elaborate plan, a forgotten step in the implementation. 
We women too are trying to solve complex problems, often interpersonal rather than technical, and if we think of our NST as a bad habit rather than a neurosis, not at all a failure, but a continuing series of small mistakes in thinking, it seems much more manageable and easier to change.
PS Doerner also says parallel female thinking is best to deal with complex problems. Hurray! Let's use it not lose it. More about this thinking strength in the next lighter blog post!


Bad Thinking Habits — Groupthink and Riskcreep, plus NST and PSTSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Secret? The Law of Attraction Invites Delusional Thinking

"I just read The Secret, so I'm feeling very positive," she told me. "I'm going to put my wish out to the universe and attract the relationship that I want." 

What? My friend is a smart, successful businesswomen, experienced with life, love, and the active pursuit of a good life. I didn't want to be a wet blanket, a negative crimp in her style, a realistic pain in the neck, but I couldn't just sit there and say, "What a great idea?" I restricted my comment to, "I think The Law of Attraction is BS." "It is?"she said, her tone expressing surprise and disappointment.

I didn't go on to crush her with reality and logic which she clearly didn't want to hear at that moment.
Later I found a terrific article on the topic by Paul Sloane, a British Twitterer. http://is.gd/aN3AL   

 Here is an excerpt from his writing.

"The Law of Attraction as expounded by Rhonda Byrne in her best-selling book, The Secret, and by her many followers claims that all you need to do is to think about the things that you want in your life and the 'Universe' will supply them in abundance - whether they are positive or negative. So if you think about money you will get money; if you focus on your debts you will stay in debt. If you think about being slim you will become slim whereas if you constantly worry about how fat you are you will stay fat. Unfortunately for the proponents of this law there is no scientific evidence to support it.  (Bolding is my addition. Smart people generally look for evidence of truth and fact.) There are plenty of anecdotes from people who believe the law worked for them but for each of these stories there are many other possible explanations. No one has carried out a controlled experiment showing that the so-called law actually works.

Furthermore the law runs up against some very practical difficulties. What if several people all want the same promotion and think about it furiously? How can they all get the same post? The law implies that whatever difficulties you have in life are the result of you thinking the wrong thoughts. So it appears that an abused child, a rape victim or a prisoner in a concentration camp was somehow to blame because they thought negative thoughts. This is offensive to victims and flies in the face of common sense."
The Secret? The Law of Attraction Invites Delusional ThinkingSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mary Karr, NST in the Extreme, and Prayer with Resistance

Here's an interesting add-on to the earlier post about prayer. Mary Karr, author of Lit, describes the extremely nasty self-talk she generates as she is recovering from alcoholism.

“ . . . my inner monologue—what you would hear more or less constantly, should we turn up the volume on it —went, Oh shit, stupid bitch. What’ve you done now? Fuckup fuckup fuckup . . . “

Later in the book, she notes with self-aware surprise, that prayer ultimately helped her to reduce the negative self-talk and moved her toward recovery, despite her long-term resistance to the Higher Power tenet of AA.

Prayer is really a form of cognitive restructuring, changing what you're saying to yourself, a big category of techniques that are useful in breaking the negative self-talk habit.
Mary Karr, NST in the Extreme, and Prayer with ResistanceSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Prayer, Religious Upbringing and NST

Comment from a reader: 
"How much of our default to NST as intelligent adult women begins with training in childhood? I'm suspecting it's a practice embedded deeply for girls and all the more entrenched with religious upbringing. In my case NST was couched as almost virtuous behavior - humbling yourself before God - I'm a bad person, forgive me, being the proper way to pray."

At the "Break the Negative Self-Talk" presentation ten days ago, the topic of prayer was also brought up as a potential, subtle, and unintended form of negative self talk. e.g. "God, help me to stop being so selfish, mean, and angry all the time." The prayer is saying, "I'm a bad person," exactly as the reader comments above. How could this prayer be restated, acknowledging a need for improvement, but not dumping on one's self? "God, help me to be a caring, kinder, calmer, woman." That's a good example of plain old cognitive restructuring, changing what you're saying to yourself.

Yes, it's a small difference, in perspective, but it isn't a self- put down. You're asking for help to be a better person than you already are, rather than asking for help because you are a bad person. Even if you just say those two sentences out loud right now, as if you were saying them to a friend, a therapist, a partner, or a higher power of any kind, the latter will feel better than the former.
Prayer, Religious Upbringing and NSTSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend