Do You Know Who You Are?

 There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.            Benjamin Franklin

You need to do more than knock on the door of your mind to know who is there. Who is there is who you are. Knowing who you are is knowing oneself, self-awareness. Self-examination, getting to know oneself, is extremely hard to do. Most people don’t bother.   You need to look within for the purpose of self-discovery. The only journey is the journey within, Rainer Maria Rilke.

Maybe you should open the door and turn on the light in your brain attic. The brain attic is a well-known Sherlock Holmes metaphor. (See my blog, The Brain Attic, 9-25-14)Holmes believed that the human brain is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. The attic’s contents are those things we’ve taken in from the world and that we’ve experienced in our lives. We can’t control every piece of information that we retain, but we need to be aware of the mental filters that guard our attic’s entrance. What we put into it, and keep up to date, is up to us. We can turn on the light to gain self-understanding.

Opening the door, turning on the light, looking within to know oneself sounds easy but is not. Why not? We have a need to know and a fear of knowing. Abraham Maslow. Fear of knowing oneself is a deterrent to self-understanding. It leads to self-deception.  

 We are not very good at recognizing illusions least of                                                                         all the ones we cherish about ourselves.  Thomas Merton

The recipe for self-awareness is paying attention deliberately and voluntarily to what is going on inside. What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Self-awareness becomes, what Daniel Goleman calls, an inner ruder, an inner guide. Self-awareness takes conscious effort. I believe that self-awareness is one of the most important, maybe the most important, individual mental resource.

To become efficient in self-awareness, you need to practice paying attention to what is going on inside. Knock on the door, turn on the light and look inside. Who are you? What are the reasons you are you? Why do you need to know? Do you have a desire to know? If believing is seeing and seeing is doing, do you know what you believe and the way you see things? To know one’s self is indeed hard to do. How important is it?

To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom, Socrates.

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom, Aristotle






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Are They Compatible?

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.  Erich Fromm

To decide is to have a choice, which meansthere are at least two possible options to     choose from and several possible outcomes with several probabilities. Therefore there is uncertainty. Deciding with uncertainty is unavoidable.  The theme of this blog is that decision making has become a creative art and that certainty is the antithesis of creativity. My point is that creativity and certainty are incompatible.

Creative Decision Making, Using Positive Uncertaintywas the title of my 1991 book and the theme of my writing since. In her 2010 book, The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar said:Science can assist us in becoming more skillful choosers, but at its core, choice remains an art. Her quote is one of my all-time favorites. Science, indeed, has helped us become more skillful choosers. In 1991, decision making was considered to be highly scientific, rational, “by the book”. By 2010 it was agreed that total rational choosing is unlikely. I believe decision making now needs to be considered a creative art.

Creative definition: involving a lot of new ideas resulting from  originality of thought, expression. Art is defined as: A skill arising from the exercise of intuitive faculties;the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.  Our decisions are the result of all the above..

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing                                               which ones to keep,  Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert comic strip.

What all of this says to me, of course, is how important positive uncertainty is today. I say positiveuncertainty because uncertainty is usually considered negative. And I consider positive uncertainty to be the opposite of “negative certainty”. Certainty is negative because it results in closed-mindedness. Certainty means inevitable. And certainty doesn’t  lead to creativity. Creativity comes from an open, inquiring, changing mind. You don’t change your mind if you are certain.

Creative choice today is required because we now know that rational decision making is difficult or impossible. Creativity is like inventiveness, originality, imagination. Creativity is intelligence having fun, Albert Einstein. Creative choosing is something to enjoy. Life is full of choices, unless you are certain.

Inquiry, asking questions, leads to creativity. Asking questions means there is room for choice. You can’t be creative if you don’t have choices. if you are certain, you don’t have questions.

Inquiry is fatal to certainty, Will Durant.


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 Discovering What You Want          

 “I don’t want to be a butterfly, said the caterpillar, because                                                        I’ve never been one.”  Stewart Edward White

There has always been a lot of warning about getting what you want. For example: “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.” The only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting it. G. B. Shaw. What you want is your future goal. This blog is about discovering your goal, “goal mining”. Human choice behavior is at least as much a process ofdiscovering goals as for acting on them. James March

My advice has been to “Use goals to guide you, not govern you”. Using goals to govern you is like putting blinders on horses’ eyes. Horses eyes, on the side of their heads, work well for seeing the periphery. Blinders keep them focused on the destination. In the same way, a zoom lens keeps you focused and a wide-angle lens helps you to be flexible. Using goals to govern you is like using a zoom lens. Knowing what you want should be flexible.

“Decision making is using what you know to get what you want.” This is one of my simplified definitions of decision making I have used for years. The early conventional wisdom of the decision making process was to focus on what you want. “Be Focused and Flexible About What You Want”, was one of my four Paradoxical Principles in 1991. Too much focus usually eliminates being flexible. Goal-mining”, discovering what you want, means paying attention to what you don’t know, and what you can learn.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” A focus only on the destination could cause you to miss the journey; you won’t pause to smell the roses. You won’t even notice the roses.  “Take detours” has been my advice. Sometimes the objective for your decision might be to find out (to discover) where you want to go. Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after, Henry David Thoreau. On your life journey, being flexible will be useful, helping you to discover what you are after. To discover is to learn. To be flexible is to be open to influence, responsive to change. Goal mining leads to learning and change. Be open to outcome, not attached. Angeles Arrien

What we are seeking so frantically elsewhere may turn out                                                             to be the horse we have been riding all along. Harvey Cox






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Preliminary Decision Making Techniques

 All things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a                               physical or second creation to all things. Stephen Covey

Combining reflection and inquiry is a good way to get ready for decision making. Reflection is a mental concentration; careful consideration. It is “the pause that refreshes”. Inquiry is to inquire, to seek information by asking a question. Reflection and inquiry together often lead to self-examination and self-awareness of our mental models. Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take actions. Peter Senge. Examining our mental models is a process of learning about ourselves before deciding.

My writing about decision making methods has always been promoting reflection and inquiry. Becoming self-aware is the goal of my Process of Illumination. I have repeatedly said that self-awareness needs to turn into self-understanding and put into practice —  deciding what to do and doing it. How well one decides is dependent on self-reflection and self-inquiry — looking at the way one sees things, understanding what one believes — turning the mirror inward. Peter Senge.

But self-awareness needs to lead to a decision method. We all have our personal strategies for deciding: “seat of the pants”’ “top of the head”, etc. During my days “preaching” and teaching about decision making, I often used the following metaphor to describe three types of decision making methods:

Ready –  Aim  –  Fire   —   The Rational Method                                                                        Ready –  Fire  – Aim  — The Impulsive or Intuitive Metho d                                                   Ready  – Aim  – Aim   — The Procrastination Method

Each one of these methods works some of the time, so do other personal methods, but not all of the time. Remember the popular saying: Sooner or later you need to stop cutting bait and start fishing. So, if you continue to cut bait, (reflection and inquiry) without fishing (deciding and doing), you will be spending your life examining it but not living it. However, fishing without cutting bait is less likely to be successful. Knowing oneself before deciding what to do sounds like good preliminarystrategy.

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”Aristotle

The unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates

The unlived life is not worth examining. Max Lerner







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My “Mind’s Kitchen”

 Each mind inhabits a private universe of its own devising. Diane Ackerman

To say that something is in the eye of the beholder means that it is a matter of personal opinion. To say that something is in the I of the beholder means it is myopinion. I am the human self of the beholder. But when I try to understand my mind, I run into trouble.

My understanding of my mind is handicapped because I have to use my own subjective mind to gain understanding of my own subjective mind. As a perceiver, understanding the way I see things becomes circular. I become both the subject and the object of my investigation. My  beliefs that determine the way I see things, exist in my mind. The biggest problem knowing my subjective mind is that I have one. This blog is about illuminating the way Isee things.

When I look at the way I see things, I am trying to illuminate the I of the beholder. The way Isee things, including the way Isee myself, is always the result of my subjective view. I am the object of the examination but I can’t be objective. Objectivity is the subject’s delusion that observing can be done without him. Heinz von Forester

The Mind’s Kitchen. Metaphoric thinking may be helpful.

You can tell a lot about a restaurant’s recipes by sitting at a table and sampling the food, but to really know what is going on, you have to look in the kitchen, Human consciousness is like themind’s recipes,Leonard Mlodinow. To really know what’s going on, I have to look inside my “mind’s kitchen,” where the recipes of the mental processes of my mind are prepared. My mind’s kitchen is full of recipes for the way I see and do things. And all of them are not known. This metaphoric view of my mind’s eye might help me look inside my mind to see where and how my thoughts originate.

 I believe Diane Ackerman’s opening quote explains that my own reality, my “private universe”, is of my own devising. Since much of this devising is hidden and unknown to me, how do I illuminate it? Thinking of my mind’s kitchen preparing my thoughts and beliefs, allows me to investigate and illuminate these recipes. I can start with what is now well known: everyone’s mind’s kitchen is full of cognitive biases. These are known aspart of everyone’s recipes for the way they see things and do things. I have made it clear that getting acquainted with our cognitive biases was an objective of my future blogs. Therefore, I should begin by looking at  the popular Confirmation Bias: Confirmation bias, also called myside bias, is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs, theories or preconceptions.

 I can ask myself: “Where do my subjective beliefs come from (the recipe)? Am I confirming my existing beliefs or preconceptions? Do I believe to be true what I want to be true? Can I consider my beliefs hypotheses? Am I being objective? Can I be? Objective: Purely based on hard facts, uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices; not dependent on the mind for existence.

The situation turns circular as perceivers struggle to understand the process of perceiving. Human subjects turn into their own objects.  Humberto R. Maturana

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Illuminating The Way You See Things

 This blog is a retelling of three stories I have posted that seem like a good summary overview of my “The Process Of Illumination, Looking At The Way You See Things”.

 A story about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson camping. As they lay down for the night…                  Holmes: “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.”                                      Watson: “I see millions of stars.”   Holmes: “And what does that tell you?”                     Watson: “Astronomically it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically it tells me that God is great and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.  What does it tell you?  Holmes: “It tells me that somebody stole our tent.”

The story is funny because it seems absurd and yet we can all somehow identify with it.  We don’t pay attention to something obvious because we are so interested in something else, as was Watson, who failed to notice the missing tent, but he also failed to notice that he failed to notice. You might want to try to pay attention like a sleuth. Here’s why: (The eye sees in things what it looks for and it looks forwhat is already in the mind.” Scientific School of Police, Paris)

Another story: In his 2006 book The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt came up with this metaphorical image as he marveled at his weakness of will. I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when theelephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match.        

In this metaphor the rider is Haidt’s rational mind and the elephant is his emotional mind. The rider is an advisor or servant, not a king, president or charioteer with a firm grip on the reins. The rider is conscious, controlled thought; the elephant is everything else. Gut feelings, intuitions, snap judgments happen constantly and automatically. The rider can’t just decide to change and then ask the elephant to go along with the program. Lasting change can come only by retraining the wild elephant, and that’s hard to do. (The mind is a wild elephant, The Buddha) 

Final story: Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, tells a story about a young student attending three lectures given by a famous rabbi. The student said the first lecture was very good — he understood everything. The second lecture was better — the student didn’t understand it but the rabbi understood everything. The third lecture was the best of all — it was so good that even the rabbi didn’t understand it. Bohr tells this story because  he says he never understood quantum physics, even though he helped create it. (If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention. Tom Peters) (If it can be understood, it is not finished yet,Murphy’s Laws)

Three lessons: 1) We only see what we pay attention to. 2) Intuition is the wild elephant that needs to be trained by the rational mind. 3) We don’t know as much as we think we know.


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The Fear Of Not Knowing

 Our love of being right is best understood as our fear of being wrong.                                    Kathryn Schulz

“Info-mania, the idolizing of information”, wasone of my four neuroses in 1993 that get in the way of creating your future*. Info-maniacs worship facts. Fear of appearing ignorant contributes to info-mania. I named this fear “ignorophia”, the fear of “looking stupid”. If idolizing information was a problem in 1993, think what it must be like today. Information is not hard to come by now-days with Social Media, but it is hard to know what information to trust. Not knowing is normal — get used to it.

We seem to have a need to know. We prefer certainty and dislike uncertainty. I have  written a lot about positive uncertainty and the usual, expected state of not knowing.Ignorophia is a serious problem in today’s fast pace decision making. So much information is coming so fast that you don’t have time to check the facts before deciding. So what you do is check only your favorite information sources. This leads to several personal and social cognitive biases. Being wrong isn’t a crime. Wrongness is a vital part of how we learn change. Kathryn Schulz in her book, Being Wrong, 2010.

When trying to make a decision today, the decision maker wants to consider all the possible alternatives to choose from. Then consider all the possible outcomes of each alternative. This, of course, is impossible. The impossibility was made official in 1978 when Herbert Simon won the Nobel Prize in Economics for the concept of “bonded rationality”, that challenged the notion of human rationality.  Rationality is bounded because there are limits to our thinking capacity, available information, and time. Be aware: Decision alternatives and consequences can only be partly known.

Bounded rationality means decision makers have to work under three unavoidable constraints: 1) only limited, often unreliable information, is available regarding possible alternatives and consequences, 2) the human mind has only limited capacity to evaluate the information that is available, and 3) only a limited amount of time is available to make a decision. These constraints often lead to uncertainty — get used to it.

Infomania, ignoraphobia and always being right won’t work in today’s world of complexity, change and uncertainty. Consider being wrong as a chance to learn.

There are only two things youneed to be successful in life,                                                ignorance and confidence.     Mark Twain

*TH FUTURIST, Future Sense, Sept-Oct 1993. The other three neuroses: Future Phobia, Paradigm Paralysis and Reverse Paranoia.


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