walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

On Waffling, Sticktoitiveness and other decision/action problems

Our Fear-Inspiring Leader of the last several years has made a self-consistent career and life of picking something (to do, to believe in, to tell other people) and not ever changing. His defeat of his opponent in 2004 was largely based on depicting himself in this manner, and his opponent as The Opposite, and convincing people that it's better to persist than to change.

I think in a lot of ways, Tavris and Aronson wrote the book which frustrates me so much in response to this sea-change in public opinion. I'd like to write a book (well, several, but in this case, one) about how a lack of historical awareness causes people to accept overly simplistic or just plain wrong explanations about why something is happening/happened, and what people could do to rectify this error. I don't feel like I can write this book now, because it often takes me a long time to turn a, hey, that's not quite right feeling into a, and here's why explanation -- and I've got a better-than-average amount of in-head historical data to work with. How to help someone (young, say) do this _without_ the information?

I've known a lot of people in my life who've had a great deal of trouble making decisions, implementing a decision, or sticking with a decision long enough to get real results. To me, a lot of the tricks people use to "justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts" are also effectively used by people to "justify belief, decisions, and acts". The tricks are value neutral. The judgment comes later. If you try to stop the foolishness, badness and hurtfulness by stopping the tricks, you'll grind the world to a halt. And not in a good way. I feel quite confident this was not Tavris and Aronson's intent, and I suspect they would be very skeptical of it as a risk. I think they would probably be right with a lot of people -- and wrong with others.

One friend in particular I advised to basically just pick cheap/quick/easy actions that would lead her simultaneously down several paths she was interested in and use the results to help her decide what she wanted to continue with. Lather, rinse, repeat. The results were unexpected, but she seemed happy and things seem to be going well with her. Barbara Sher in _Wishcraft_ has a much more comprehensive approach, but addresses a lot of the same issues: how to get start, how to keep going. Sher spends a good chunk of her book digging into past issues that can strongly influence how people feel about taking action/making decisions/being successful. Tavris and Aronson recognize that a lot of the tricks that caused OFL to career through the last seven or eight years, destroying everything in sight are also used by people to reinforce their own underdogness.

The end of _Mistakes Were Made_ has some specific, concrete suggestions for what _not_ to do, and a little about what might work, to help people back away from a bad decision. They (correctly, I think) note that a lot of what we do to get someone to stop doing something we really think is bad has the effect of entrenching them in that action. They note that we tend to reify errors to reflect on character. But then they have this advice, "When you screw up [Ed. ooooh! ], try saying this: 'I made a mistake. I need to understand what went wrong. I don't want to make the same mistake again.'"

I mean, after the entire book! How about: "Hey, _that_ wasn't what I expected. I wonder why it turned out that way. [Fiddle fiddle fiddle; reproduce in head, in reality, or in shared reality by research, depending on what's the fastest/cheapest/safest ] Ah! _That's_ why that happens. Okay, how can I change it to get this other thing to happen instead?"

_That_ is what I do. When I start thinking "screw up" "mistake" and "wrong, I've already spiraled out of my best learning space.

To be fair, my learning process drives the people around me bananas (even people who like me, and like the idea that I'm constantly thinking and fiddling with ideas). It gets described as worrying, and I suppose it is, in the sense of a terrier or other ratting dog worrying prey: I pretty much maul a subject until it's a bloody smear and I can say, triumphantly, I get it now! Let's try this! And go find something else to damage. Because I never get it exactly the way I want it, until I've already stumbled upon the way that works and then practiced until I've established competency.

Between the oooh, ick, and the learning-should-not-be-so-messy and the emotional outbursts of frustration and rage along the way, most people lose patience and give up (some of whom then fake competency, producing the problems addressed by this book). I'd like to think that in an ideal world, the frustration and rage would be replaced by ferocious calm focus, but I've seen T. scream and keep tinkering, and I've heard R. up in the computer room cussing and continuing, so I'm inclined to think this is just part of the deal, at least for us.
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