On The Road Never Traveled

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us,” R. W. Emerson

We are told that life is a journey, not a destination. A journey is a process; this blog is about the inner process in our minds on this life journey. The inner process going on in our minds will determine where we are going on our life journey. Although I have written about this topic often, this is a current brief review because of its importance today, starting a new year with such uncertainty — the covid-19 virus and transition to a new president.

“Take the road less traveled,” at one time was unconventional wisdom. Robert Frost made the uncommon advice popular. “Two roads diverged in a wood. And I took the one less traveled. And that has made all the difference.” Today, Frost’s advice should be considered impossible. Today, starting a new year with covid-19, we don’t have a choice between the road less traveled and the road more traveled. No one has been on the road we will experience. The only choice we have is the road never taken. There are no road maps, no advanced scouts showing the way — we are deciding on our own.

My rules of this road never taken will not be rational, authoritative rules by some experienced traveler. They are my rules for my journey, mostly personal, intuitive, and unsupported by empirical research. These rules are more like rules of thumb — somewhere between ambiguous advice and fuzzy formulas; and they may need to be reinvented as I go. Following are three recommendations for traveling this journey.

Focus On The Inner Journey. What lies within us.

Remember, “life is a journey.” My perception of the journey determines my travel decisions. And it will make all the difference. Knowing what is going on in my mind helps me understand my decision. For me, what I am doing on my journey is determined by the way I see the journey.

Plan To Take Detours. “The shortest distance between two points is always under construction,” Murphy’s Law.

I want to avoid rigid rules. I believe all rules, like all beliefs, should be flexible. Rigid road rules prevent side trips or spontaneous excursions. But these detours often lead to new discoveries. Detours can be part of my “planned” life’s journey. In other words, my road rules should always be under construction.

Stop, Look, and Imagine. “There is no ‘out there,’ independent of what is going on ‘in here’,”Fred Allan Wolf.

Stopping is helpful because it curtails the rush and helps me to reflect, meditate, and contemplate. Looking at where I am, where I have been, and where I am going is also helpful. But imagining may be the most help of all. This rule focuses on developing the creative imagination, a combination of pausing, reflecting, and forming mental images. 

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,”Yogi Berra

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Challenging One’s Own Convictions

“A very popular error: having the courage of one’s convictions. Rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one’s convictions,” Nietzsche

In order to have the courage to attack one’s convictions, one needs the courage of uninhibited self-criticism. Such courage is hard to come by. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3. Giving advice is popular; taking advice not so popular. “We believe to be true what we want to be true,” Demosthenes. What we believe is what we want to believe, so we don’t want to be told it is not true. This is because if what we believe is not true, we need to change what we do. Believing is seeing and seeing is doing.

Expecting someone to change reminds me of the famous “change question:” how many counselors does it take to change a light bulb? It only takes one, but the light bulb has to want to change.” Herein lies the problem: you can’t really expect someone to change unless they want to change. “Change is good. You go first.” Dilbert/Scot Adams.

Changing what one does usually means changing one’s mind. To change one’s mind requires challenging one’s own convictions. Although we are good at challenging what other people believe and do, we are not so good at challenging what we believe and do. We can easily pay no attention to the plank in our own eye. Such attention would require self-criticism. But we don’t have a “built-in crap detector.”

“Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down,” Ernest Hemingway (1954)

Without such a detector, or someone who knows you and can be honest, criticism of what you believe and say is usually missing. Relying on oneself may not be wise. Notice: uninhibited is defined as “expressing one’s feelings or thoughts unselfconsciously and without restraint.” This seems unlikely. 

Having the courage to “attack one’s convictions” is not built-in to the human process of decision making. To say a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside would be helpful is putting it mildly. Putting it not so mildly is to say that decision makers need something to avoid subjective bias. This has been the theme of my writing for years. 

Positive Uncertainty: having this courage to challenge requires knowing what you know for sure may not be true. “It’s what you know for sure that gets you in trouble,” Mark Twain.  Having a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside one would certainly help human decision making. It should be pointed out that a built-in automatic crap detector would definitely help decision makers. But that would require uninhibited self-criticism, which isn’t built -in. 

In fact, a significant cognitive bias — confirmation bias — is defined as: “looking for information to confirm or validate unwise decisions”

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“The mind is a wild elephant.” The Buddha

“When change works, the people have clear direction, ample motivation, and a supportive environment. In other words, it’s because the Rider, the Elephant, and the path are all aligned in support of the switch.” Chip Heath and Dan Heath in SWITCH (2010).

I believe the elephant wins the prize as the most frequent metaphor. Probably the most popular elephant metaphor is The Six Blend Men and the Elephant. This was written by John Godfrey Saxe in 1872. My favorite is by Jonathan Haidt In his 2006 book The Happiness Hypothesis. He came up with this 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 the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.”

This metaphoric image of change is revealing. Change happens by us and change happens to us. Sometimes we are no match for the change that happens to us. I have frequently said: ‘We need to be as capable of change as the environment” When the rider and the elephant are in snick, change is possible. But sometimes we can’t be that capable. At times, we are no match for the Elephant. 

Chip Heath and Dan Heath expand on Haidt’s metaphor and suggest that to change behavior: “You need to direct the rider (give yourself crystal-clear directions), motivate the elephant (engage the emotional side, get the elephant on the path and cooperative) and shape the path (arranging the context to make change more likely).” I believe this addition of the path and context is a significant contribution, making the metaphor complete. And making change more likely is also an advantage.

Some readers may be like me and find metaphoric thinking helpful in rethinking some difficult decisions when we realize we need help. Metaphors invite us to think in ways that are not logical, but novel, creative and revealing. To imagine your rational, logical, slow mind,( the rider), and your emotional, irrational, fast mind, (the elephant), and also to remember the path and context as significant — may help you think differently and more creatively. 

Here is another elephant/rider metaphor for thinking about your life’s journey.

“Humankind traveling through life is like the fly on the back of an elephant who thinks it is steering. The elephant doesn’t mind, and it makes the ride more enjoyable.” Unknown

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The Abilities To Adjust And To Recover

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again,” Nelson Mandela

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it,” Margaret Thatcher

Positive Uncertainty has been my mantra for years. Maybe I need to supplement it with some additional decision making principles. I am proposing two possibilities. 

Adaptability is the ability to make suitable to a specific use or situation.     

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from illness, change or misfortune; buoyancy.

I believe adding adaptability and resilience to supplement my Positive Uncertainty will be helpful. In today’s rapidly changing world, adaptability and resilience will be needed skills. When we don’t know what the future will be, we need to be prepared for anything. This means being openminded and inclusive. Adaptability and resilience will be useful when things change — and change again. To be adaptable is to be changeable, resilient, versatile — able to change again, and again. To be resilient is to be capable of dealing with change and dealing with change again; buoyancy.

Once upon a time change was slow and somewhat predictable; no more. “Today’s change is more rapid, more complex, more turbulent, more unpredictable. Today’s change is unlike any encountered before,” George Land. I think you could say that today’s change is different. It requires adaptability and resilience, the abilities to adjust and to recover — and to adjust and recover again. In today’s world, you need to become as capable of change as the environment. 

Being as capable of change as the environment has been my theme song. But people don’t like change. “Change is good; you go first.” Dilbert, Scott Adams. Change IS good; even if it isn’t well liked. It can be considered another word for growth and learning. Most people like learning, even if it is change. 

Adaptability and resilience, the abilities to adjust and to recover, are important skills in a future world that will be full of change, full of the need to “do different.” However, changing one’s mind and doing different is not what most people want to do. “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof,” John Kenneth Galbraith.

Adaptability and resilience, the abilities to adjust and to recover, are key skills to respond to change. Some advice about change from others I admire:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” Barack Obama

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often,” Winston Churchill

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change,” Albert Einstein

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Is The Direction You’re Headed Forward?  

“Don’t look back you’re not going that way,” Unknown

Probably everyone has been told at least once that “Life is a journey not a destination.” If life is not a destination, does it matter where you are going? A journey is: “The act of traveling from one place to another.”To be on a journey is a process of going from one place to another place. How can a journey be a journey without a destination? By definition, a journey is going to a destination.

The reason “life is a journey not a destination” is considered wisdom is that it puts the focus on the journey, not the destination. Someone once said: “Most people don’t know where they are going until they arrive.” To focus on the destination implies that you might miss the journey. The purpose of the journey is to reach a destination; but enjoying the journey could also become a purpose. A personal purpose. Enjoying your journey might well be different than enjoying my journey. And: “The comparison of joy is the death of joy,” Mark Twain. Your journey and my journey are not the same journey. 

On your life’s journey you need to forget about comparison. Your life’s journey is your life’s journey. It is not someone’s else’s life journey. You are you, not someone else. You are on a path, going to where you want to go; not where someone else wants to go. But remember, it is during the journey where you have some influence. This is where you are making decisions. Decision making is using what you know to get what you want. 

It is important to know what you want. But it is also important to know what you know and what you don’t know. Knowing what you don’t know, of course, is the hard part. How can you possibly know what you don’t know? But it isn’t just what you don’t know that is the problem: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure tat ain’t so,” Mark Twain. Be careful what you know for sure. Remember Positive Uncertainty. 

As long as you are going forward, you are on a journey; going toward a goal; a personal destination. Don’t look back, but look around you, smell the roses. You don’t have blinders on, like the horses, to prevent them from seeing the periphery. Enjoy the process. Living your life is a process.  

“It is better to travel hopefully than it is to arrive,” Japanese proverb

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You can’t see the forest for the trees

“In all living things there is a wholeness blindness,” Thomas Merton.

The forest metaphor is a good futurist metaphor because you can’t see the coming future like you can’t see the total forest. It is part of our wholeness blindness.

I think that I shall never see the interconnected wholeness of a treeI think of the tree as nature’s metaphoric gift (maybe my version of “the tree of life”). You can’t see the forest for the trees is a well-known metaphor emphasizing that what we see is not all there is. Although this is well-known, most humans act as if they don’t know it. You can’tsee the forest because much of it is hidden. You can’t even see the whole tree because much of it is hidden, or because you are paying attention to a particular part of the tree. To summarize what we know metaphorically about what we see (and what I have written in detail about):

• What you pay attention to is what you see (the auto-pilot metaphor)

• What you don’t pay attention to is what you don’t see (the six blind men metaphor)

• What is hidden is what you can’t see (the ice berg metaphor)

These are powerful metaphoric examples of what you can’t see; something you might identify with.   

One reason you can’t see the forest is because you are looking at the trees. Another reason is because much of the forest is hidden. “You can’t see the forest for the trees” is telling someone that they are so focused on the details of a situation, that they are not seeing the bigger picture at all. The bigger picture (the entire forest) is probably not possible to see. Much of it is hidden, out of sight. You may also be standing too close, proximity blindness.

“We all suffer from proximity blindness… this inability to see the forest for the trees… You need a bird’s eye view to be able to have a good perspective on a problem  sometimes. When you are too close to something, you may not be able to have the 30000 foot view of things. The outside perspective is often crucial for you to find the truth.”Danny Ozment.

Maybe proximity blindness and wholeness blindness can help explain why you can’t see the forest for the trees. You are too close or too far way. And you only see what you pay attention to. The forest metaphor points out both the dangers of proximity blindness and “wholeness blindness,” the inability to see the whole. 

“You can’t see the forest for the trees” is such a popular metaphor that I think it is useful to refer to. It helps you understand how the way you see things is limited. This gives me an excuse to overuse it. And metaphor is a powerful teacher. 

“It is easier to think about something while thinking about something else, than it isto think about a thing when trying to think about it,”  Erasmus G. Addle

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But Most People Don’t Like It

“Change is good, you go first, Dilbert,” Scott Adams

Life is full of beginnings, which is change: My first day of schools and college, first time living away from home, first dates, first visits to other states, national parks, Europe, etc. And beginning to experience life more on my own is the beginning of the future life. 

And life is full of endings, which is change. My last day of schooling, retirement from career, ending of tennis, backpacking, etc., no more keynote speaking or air travel to the east coast or Europe. Staying inside when it is 80 – 90 degrees; the end of running.

And apparently change is scary. “It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear,” Marilyn Ferguson.

Leaving the past, with which we are acquainted, and entering the future, which we don’t know, is full of uncertainty. This is change, which is always full of uncertainty. If Marilyn Ferguson is right, it’s the shifting (the change) of old behavior to new behavior that we are afraid of. In between doing what we used to do and doing something new is the scary part. It’s the process of change. The change that happens to you is scary because of the uncertainty — unless you are positive about uncertainty. The change that happens by you should also be considered uncertain. Positive Uncertainty is useful throughout the lifespan; change happens constantly. 

The problem with changing oneself is that you have to want to change. This reminds me of changing a light bulb jokes during my keynote speaking days. 

“How many counselors does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Just one – but the light bulb has to want to change.”

Not many people want to change themselves. “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself,” Leo Tolstoy. Changing your mind isn’t a crime, but you would think it is because it is avoided so often. Maybe if you never change your mind it should be a crime. The place in between not changing your mind and changing your mind, is the time you are deciding. Deciding involves thinking about change.

If Marilyn Ferguson is right, it’s the shifting (the thinking about changing) of old behavior to new behavior that we are afraid of, because it involves uncertainty. In between doing what we used to do and doing something new is apparently the scary part. This is also the decision making part. To be afraid while deciding is not helpful. Here is where positive uncertainty is helpful. Certainty is not helpful when deciding about the change that is constantly happening in the world. Certainty doesn’t suggest change.

I am not the only one promoting the value of change.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” Barack Obama.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often,” Winston Churchill.

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change,”  Albert Einstein.       

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The inability to see when we are wrong.  

No one ever says “I am wrong.” 

“While being wrong is happening, you are oblivious to it,” Katheryn Schultz 

Being Wrong, a 2010 book by Katheryn Schultz, is one of my favorites, and one I refer to frequently. She says, “As soon as we know that we are wrong, we aren’t wrong anymore, since to recognize a belief to be false is to stop believing it.”

Schultz continues: “Perception is the interpretation of sensation. Interpretation implies  wiggle room — space to deviate from literal reading, whether of a book or of the world.  Every step in the interpretive process represents a point of potential divergence between our minds and the world — a breach where mistakes can sneak in.”

Wiggle room is always present with interpretation. What we believe involves interpreting what we see. And beliefs become behavior. To interpret is to explain the meaning of. Explaining the meaning of what we believe, or what someone else believes is full of wiggle room.  

Error blindness, of course, has always been with us. What makes it so important now is because we have a president who never believes he is wrong. He is a national example of error blindness. His inability to see he is wrong (error blindness) is obvious. Every time Trump lies, he is wrong and in error. His error blindness is obvious — to others. While his being wrong is happening, Trump doesn’t see it. 

The good news is that Trump is demonstrating error blindness for the world to see. Since it is easier to see error in others, many are seeing error blindness being displayed. The bad news is that describing and demonstrating error blindness to others isn’t demonstrating and describing error blindness to himself. It is easier to see the blindness in others than it is to see it in oneself.

In the mind’s eye is where we see things. This is where interpretation thrives. It is called one’s worldview: “The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world; a collection of beliefs.” Interpretation is where wiggle room and error blindness reside. How we see and interpret the world is determined by our beliefs. And then beliefs become behavior. Wiggle room and error blindness complicate interpretation in everyone. When interpretation is being done by oneself, this is where wiggle room is available.

Being wrong, while interpreting, is when error blindness can occur. The interpretive process, explaining the meaning point of potential divergence between our minds and the world — is where mistakes can sneak in. This is easy to see in others. But will this insight in others be converted to oneself? Not likely.

When looking at oneself, the eye can’t see itself without the help of a mirror. When looking inside oneself, to know oneself, Peter Senge says “you need a human mirror, the help of feedback from another person, — a ruthlessly compassionate partner.” 

Well, maybe not ruthless, but a compassionate partner who knows you and will be honest.  

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A Process Of Discovering What You Want

“Decision making should be as much a process of discovering goals as achieving goals.” James March

How do you find good goals? In 1974, a very popular book by David Campbell had the title, If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else. I proposed a corollary to Campbell’s title. “If you always know where you’re going you may never end up somewhere else, and somewhere else may be where you wanted to go but didn’t know it.”

I was then a fan of James March’s writing (and his quote above), and my first paradoxical principle of creative decision making was: “Be focused and flexible about what you want”, know what you want but don’t be sure. There has always been a lot of warning about getting what you want. For example: Getting to where you want to go may be worse than not getting there; 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 this goal, “goal mining.” 

My advice has been: “Use goals to guide you not govern you.” Angeles Arrien put it this way: “Be open to outcome, not attached.” 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, so they aren’t distracted by the periphery of the journey. 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. If you are governed by your destination, you may miss the journey. You need to be able to be distracted (without blinders) in order to see the roses along the way. 

One way not to be governed by goals is to follow James March’s recommendation: “Treat goals as hypotheses.” A hypothesis is an assumption, something taken to be  true for the purpose of investigation. This means two things: you are not sure and you need to explore. 

Being focused and flexible helps you broaden your experiences, expand your interests, and perhaps lead to new goals and new decisions. Using goals to guide you not govern you avoids missing life’s journey. Treating a goal as a hypothesis may prevent being attached. March also asks: “Why are we more reluctant to ask how human beings might find “good goals” than we are to ask how they might make “good decisions”. ” Finding good goals (wants) and making good decisions should not be incompatible. 

Making good decisions involves what you want, what you know, what you believe and what you do. Actually, what you want, what you know, and what you believe, determine what you decide to do. This is why: “Decision making should be as much a process of discovering goals as achieving goals,” James March.

“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after.”

Henry David Thoreau

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 Does It Exist?

Objectivity is a subject’s delusion that observing can be done without him, Heinz von Forester.

By definition objectivity is the quality or character of being objectivelack of favoritism toward one side or another; freedom from bias. Subjective is: based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. Subjectivity is the quality of existing in someone’s mind rather than the external world.

According to quantum mechanics there is no such thing as objectivity. We cannot eliminate ourselves from the picture. We are part of nature, and when we study nature there is no way around the fact that nature is studying itself, Gary Zukav.

It seems we could say that we are subjective humans, not objective. One hundred and one cognitive biases have been identified, which interfere with our objectivity. This is important for each one of us to acknowledge. Personal feelings, tastes, or opinions, of course, are always with us. The problem is, these subjective feelings are usually not part of our awareness.

When we say, “Beliefs Are Us”, we are saying we are what we believe. Beliefs become behavior. If objectivity is freedom from bias, then we are probably not often objective. This has been the theme pf much of my writing. And yet I believe it needs to continue   to be said.

Because of the political events in America today, about the subjectivity of the justice system, I can’t resist discussing the recent nomination of a Supreme Court justice. I don’t think anyone believes that the justices of the Supreme Court are objective. Because we all know how important it is who appoints them, a republican or a democratic president. “Blind Justice” is an illusion. Justice is in the eye of the beholder.

Objectivity is not expected from the Supreme Court; or from any court. We constantly identify conservative and liberal judges. How can a conservative judge or a liberal judge be objective?

To me this is amazing. How do we expect justice in America be achieved, if judges are conservative or liberal? A judge is what he or she believes. We have grown accustomed to subjectivity and bias in our justice system. And in politics today.

We humans are what we believe; we have to get used to the fact that all of us, republicans, democrats, judges, presidents, police, enemies, friends, relatives, etc. etc. are not objective. Over 100 cognitive biases have been identified. A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that impacts one’s choices and judgments. These biases influence our perception of the world and can lead us to poor decision-making. We all have them, including politicians, judges, relatives, neighbors, you and me. The hard part will be to include ourselves in this list. Because: Objectivity, freedom from belief bias, is a subject’s delusion of humans.

What we believe is the most powerful option of all, Norman Cousins.

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