Here is a brief summary of what we have covered across all the modules associated with developing personal insight.
Neuroscience reveals that much of what happens in your brain is automatic and unconscious; that humans are, to a large extent, a collection of ‘zombie systems’. As information comes into your brain ‘If, Then’ filters operate. This is obvious when we think, for instance, of danger: there is a lion and automatically my heart rate increases and my muscles are prepared for running. No conscious thought is involved.
But ‘If, Then’ processes extend far beyond physical danger. You did not decide to be an introvert or extrovert, your behaviour is the result of hard-wired, ‘If, Then’ processes. But this hard-wiring can be changed as ‘gates’ are raised and lowered in your connectome because multiple ‘If, Then’ processes are operating simultaneously, each driven by a variety of triggers. Thus from moment-to-moment, you are a different person.
To a large extent, personal insight is concerned with understanding these hidden processes, beginning with identifying their triggers. It is about becoming conscious of the unconscious. And that is why we began the course with the 3R Approach and stressed throughout the importance of taking time, just 57 minutes each week, to:
Replay, Review and Refine
The 3R Approach will help you to understand the interaction of your 3 thinking systems and in particular how your conscious, rational brain is often at the mercy of your ‘chimp’. Dr Steve Peters:
“in every situation and action, all input goes to the Chimp first. The Chimp then decides if there is anything to worry about. If there is no concern then the Chimp goes to sleep and hands over to the Human. If the Chimp is concerned, then it will hold on to the blood supply in the brain and will make its own decisions on what is going on.”
Philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists have provided us with a number of perspectives and frameworks to help our analysis. We can trace our emotions back to primitive survival responses and indeed we still exhibit the same physiological reactions when experiencing social threat as we do when facing physical danger. Two emotional drivers stood out: the need for relationships and the need for autonomy. We like to be liked and we tend to prefer people who are like us. We are concerned about status, ‘fitting-in’ and ensuring that we are fair and pay our way. ‘Click-whirr’.
What are your primary emotional triggers?
There are many personality models. In the DISC model: is your highest score for Dominance, Interaction, Steadiness or Conscientiousness?
What impact does this have on your life? Do your ‘rubber bands’ need to stretch more than you would like?
You may also have explored your temperament and your positions on the Big Five Factors (OCEAN). But remember that situational factors are very important. You think, feel and act differently depending on who is with you, whether you are happy or sad, tired or energetic, frustrated or serene, under pressure or relaxed and so on.
Irrational thinking such as the tyranny or ‘musts and shoulds’, magnification and generalisation, affects us all and imposes constraints on our happiness. Did you identify any of your own irrational thinking patterns? If you did, the ABCDE model can help you to overcome them. Further examples of irrational thinking include the ‘scripts’ we unconsciously use to direct our behaviours. Were you able to see Parent : Adult : Child roles being adopted by yourself or others? Were there any negative consequences?
Working styles such as Be Perfect, Hurry Up or Try Hard have advantage in certain situations but should be used consciously. Sometimes we just need to apply the brakes, to jolt our conscious mind into action. A particularly pernicious form of conscious irrational thinking is positive visualisation and the law of attraction, a philosophy that gets in the way of positive action.
By this point in the course, you may have been a little confused about who you are. And if so, you would not be alone. The sense of self is a ‘powerful deception’ according to Bruce Hood. Who we feel we are is driven by the remembering self, which has a poor memory except for endings, contrast and emotional events and from these we create our ‘self-concept’. This view of who we are is then protected as we saw in the research on cognitive dissonance.
When the course reached our so-called rational brain, we found a whole host of cognitive biases. Availability and priming, aided and abetted by a predilection for stories, distort our perception and processing of information. We are affected by the words that people use, random numbers and schemas – our organising frameworks – leading us to unconscious prejudices. We are easily ‘conditioned’ and advertisers are particularly adept at exploiting this with celebrity endorsements of products. We look for confirmation rather than challenges to our views and we too readily place halos and horns on others. These cognitive biases can lead us to make bad decisions. Unfortunately, research suggests that even knowing about them does not prevent them from perverting our thinking – unless we invest time in the 3Rs, Replay, Review and Reflection. You may also consider talking through things with others and practising mindfulness.
The wiring of your brain determines how you process information – in other words, your intelligence. But information comes in different forms and requires different processing approaches and, since we are differently-wired, we have differing processing capabilities. 9 different types of intelligence have been identified. Do you have a particular ‘bent’ and are you using it in your career? The narrow and flawed IQ is a poor predictor of success in life. People with high emotional intelligence, consisting of 2 dimensions, intrapersonal and interpersonal, are more likely to prosper. The good news is that EI can be developed by applying the 3R Approach. It can also help you to identify and act in accordance with your natural energy levels. What tasks fill you with enthusiasm before you start, or bore you while doing them or create a sense of relief when they are finished?
Gaining insight is a never ending quest because there will always be new situations and, of course, neuroplasticity means that you yourself are changing.
I would love to hear from you about your experiences in exploring the concepts we have covered. And, of course, please share any insights that you feel would be useful for others.