The illusion of what we "know" - Is skepticism another layer of deep learning?
We are in a constant state of judgement of the environment we are in and the tasks posed to us.
Thinking about thinking is metacognition. This supports decent decision making.
We need to be aware of our own delusional, and indeed I have been reminded of this numerous times in recent times with the avalanche of fake news and general bullshit being put into our world, that skepticism is the most important skill we have to develop moving forward.
We have to be skeptical of ourselves also, and be willing to "un-learn some of what we took as fact in the past. Un-learning might be as progressive a tool as learning new information and open us up to many other possibilities.
For instance, recently I took an interest in the Irish tax system around corporate tax. Not because I find that interesting per se, but more that it seemed to be a really important factor in Ireland's Multinational scene. Other EU countries bang on about it a lot, as if we were breaking the rules or morally corrupt.
Now, I am not for a second suggesting Ireland is a haven of moral stability. However there was a lot of drama around Joe Biden and his declaration of trying to adjust the global tax system. The pessimists were out quickly. And respected journalists were out sharing articles about Google and their tax dodging, facilitated by Ireland. Turns out to be largely bullshit. You can read more here.
The point is, I was too accepting of mainstream media. I tend to believe more lefty European types that were "more of my ilk". When it was well explained it was clear this was just a European leaders' narrative to have something over Ireland. And while Ireland is not squeaky clean here, it actually seems to come down to pure jealousy that we managed to capture the Yanks for a lot of this business, largely no doubt because we speak English.
When we don't judge something well, the thing is, we often don't realise it. That's why experience and reflection are critical and that we reflect on the experience. We can't just keep having the same experience repeatedly - and not for a second am I suggesting that's easy. Also we have to remember to be fair and good to ourselves and realise change is slow, learning is non-linear, and we are only what we are at any one point in time.
This is something as a Coach Educator/mentor I have been confronted with quite regularly and has forced reflection and change in my approach. While delivering new content, often without explicitly saying it, infers that the old approach was not optimum. This regularly gets fairly excessive backlash. But as I am at pains to say to coaches or athletes struggling with that - we only know what we know until we know more. None of us started with all the knowledge, and none of us will ever have all the knowledge.
At the same time, we have to be willing to backtrack and maybe jump off the train we are on, too.
A brilliant saying I picked up recently lays this out well: "If we get on the wrong bus, every stop is still the wrong stop."
We need to get off at whatever stop we are at and pick up a bus back to our original destination and start again.
It's often something I discuss with people around imagining a sport or an approach to coaching. How about if we were starting now? Would we do it exactly the same?
Absolutely not is the answer, 100% of the time. 100%.
So it seems kinda madness that we would just stay on the same bus. But it's hard work to get off the bus and go back. That is the issue.
In a very real sense I propose to coaches and team I work with - let's play the game and see what works, and what doesn't work so well.
We have spent a world of time, years and years creating models or representations in our head about so many different things.
We are wired to fool ourselves in many ways. For example, that we are more competent at something than we may really be. That's why observing others, who we recognise as skilled, is a great help to us to adjust our thinking and acknowledge that we always have more to learn.
That doesn't tally with the modern neoliberal world where we are told to act confident at all times. But we can be confident by being truthful. There is great confidence in knowing, yes I do have some competence, but I will continue to seek more, make mistakes and accept that non-linearity of life. This can serve us in sport, coaching, and life in general.
Cognitive Biases & Motivated Reasoning
We have a penchant as humans for picking up information and tailoring it to our already preconceived ideas to make it suit our narrative. For many things that's inconsequential really, but on important decisions we do sometimes have to think abstractly, step back, and take a broad look: "Am I on the wrong bus again?"
We broadly think in 2 systems, at least according to Daniel Kahneman who wrote the exceptional book Thinking , Fast & Slow. System 1 is our quick instinctive thinking, really hard to put the brakes on. System 2 is a slower system that helps us think in a more controlled manner.
If we use System 2 after system 1 for reflection we can really improve a lot at whatever we are working at, no matter how big or small, mundane or exciting. But we won't learn much (and this could be why we repeat mistakes ad nausea) unless we give ourselves that space.
From a sports coaching perspective one thing that has interested me, is that the most skillful and smart people seem to have the best System 1 "breaks". That ability to just stop doing what they were about to do.
People that come to mind for me are Messi, Colm Cooper, Alan Brogan, DJ Carey in sport. Their ability to stop or just change what they were doing was the key skill they possessed. Neuroscience bares that out somewhat and research has shown that we have 1-3000 milliseconds to stop something.
This has interesting ideas for coaching and skill acquisition and again talks to the need for reflection. Maybe honest reflection and support is something that can not only improve skills, but also help us make better decisions in general.
If we use system 2 more, we will ourselves to question our actions. Next time, will we be more able to step on the brakes? I can't be sure if that's the case, but it's a concept worth considering.
As people, we are in a constant state of search for stability. We can only deal with small fluctuations of instability. This is actually one of the reasons Military Dictators survive. The people they recruit are very cleverly picked out from certain demographics.
So that search for stability - including fear or avoidance of the unknown - is deeply driven within us, and some cultures have it more embedded than others. These are reasons why we hold on to old biases, even when new and really well verified information is presented to us. We want a steady story to shape our lives and anything that messes with that is viewed with serious suspicion.
All of this inhibits our learning. We are not helped by the structure of life since the invention of schools where we are told from a very young age that everything is wrapped up in a very nice curriculum and we should believe everything within it.
The same goes for sport, the GAA in Ireland being a very specific example. Most of us will have anecdotes or heard them of people being shunned by people within a club because they went and played for another team. I have seen and experience that happen to people who were living as far away as a 3 hour drive. There is no empathy or logic to that whatsoever, but it stems from this deep down fear of "this feels unstable, why has he moved clubs" and really what it is is an expression of "is this GAA thing kinda mad? Are we a bit unhinged to be so parochial about this?". And this then leads to a projection outwards because we can't answer those questions ourselves.
Of course the answer is in the middle, there is a lot of positives about the community based element to local sports, and you can in tandem with that think its very off for someone to be shunned because they decided to play a sport in another club, we can hold both these beliefs at the same time.
And of course all this lack of clear reflection and practical framing blocks our pathway to learning. And in my opinion when we actually learn to take those guards down it actually opens up not only more learning opportunities but an even deeper appreciation for our pursuits. Learning to be skeptical of what we are thinking, at least on the big subjects in life helps us become more critical thinkers. And surely being a critical thinker is going to support us be better athletes, coaches, teachers and leaders?
Have a great week, chat next week.