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How Not to Make Decisions That You’ll Regret Under Extreme Stress

How Not to Make Decisions That You’ll Regret Under Extreme Stress

On may 31 2009 Air France Flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all aboard.[1] Prior to impact, the pilots struggled to correct the plane as faulty readings blared out. In their confusion, they drove the plane ever upwards in an increasingly steep climb. Eventually, the aircraft stalled, and dropped from the sky.

    Analysis of the crash and black box led researches to ascertain that two things led to the tragedy.

    1. Mechanical malfunction (Ice built up in key tubes, which led to the plane giving out false readings). This is easily fixable and quite common.
    2. Cognitive tunneling.[2]

    What Is Cognitive Tunneling and Is It Bad?

    Cognitive tunneling, or inattentional blindness is a common mental state where your brain focuses on things closest to you, instead of trying to evaluate everything around you.[3] It is not without benefits though. Without it, it is possible we could become overwhelmed by all the information around us. It is perfectly normal, and occurs as much in the highly motivated and intelligent as the unmotivated and unintelligent.

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    However, as the above example with Flight 447 shows us, there are times when having a complete understanding on what is going on around us is critical, and in this way, cognitive tunneling can lead to disaster.

    For example, if the pilots of flight 44 took a moment to fully assess what was going on around them, it is perfectly possible they could have corrected their flight, and later landed safely. But instead, through cognitive tunneling, they didn’t become aware of the problem because they weren’t paying attention to what was really going on.

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          Overly Focused Blinds the Brain

          It is as Charles Duhigg says in his book Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business,

          “Cognitive tunneling can cause people to become overly focused on whatever is directly in front of their eyes or become preoccupied with immediate tasks. It’s what causes drivers to slam on their brakes when they see a red light ahead.”

          For most of human history, situations where it was critical to have a complete picture of what was going on around you, instead of a particular point, were pretty rare. If you were out hunting, for example, cognitive tunneling could keep you focused on your pray, and not, at a fly beside you. Cognitive blindness cuts out information our brain considers irrelevant to the task at hand, but due to our current high stakes, high speed world, that isn’t so much the case and sometimes we need to be aware of what is going on around us.

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            Be Attentional to the Inattentional

            What does it mean? Because cognitive tunneling is a natural mental state, it isn’t something that you can really turn off. However, there are two ways to effectively counteract it. All you need to do is be attentional: to anticipate and think.

              Anticipate

              When presented with problems that we have already experienced, it is normal for our minds to turn to the way they were resolved before. This can be effective, however there is no real reason to believe the same solution will work again, or is the perfect one for another time.

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              With cognitive tunneling, our minds will naturally skip over other solutions that may present themselves and refer to our older (possibly inferior system). If it doesn’t work second time around, then the problem stays but this time you are blind to other solutions.

              For example, Bob is driving his car, and his engine breaks down. He remembers how this happened a few months ago and how he resolved it. But this time the solution doesn’t work and his car still refuses to start. If Bob were to have, before driving, thought about his car, and anticipated what problems may arise in the future, then he would be in a better situation to resolve issues as they arise by countering his cognitive tunneling with another solution ready.

              Don’t React, Think!

              It is often unclear when your mind is overwhelmed with information and goes into cognitive tunneling before it is too late.

              No one can predict every single problem or emergency which may arise. But instead of reacting to the issue and robotically going through a checklist, think about the problem, describe exactly what is going on, and try to anticipate the results of everything, then you’ll be able to master any problem you come up against.

              Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

              Reference

              More by this author

              Leon Ho

              Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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              Last Updated on October 30, 2019

              How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

              How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

              Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

              In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

              Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

              You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

              What is the Stages of Change Model?

              Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

              Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

              Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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                The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

                The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

                The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

                The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

                1. Precontemplation
                2. Contemplation
                3. Determination
                4. Action
                5. Maintenance
                6. Termination

                How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

                To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

                  Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

                  Stage 1: Precontemplation

                  At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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                  For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

                  Stage 2: Contemplation

                  At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

                  You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

                  The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

                  Stage 3: Preparation

                  At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

                  Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

                  Stage 4: Action

                  When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

                  Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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                  Stage 5: Maintenance

                  After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

                  Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

                  Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

                  Stage 6: Termination

                  Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

                  However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

                  How long does each stage take?

                  You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

                  So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

                  The limitations of this model

                  The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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                  Require the ability to set a realistic goal

                  For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

                  If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

                  Difficult to judge your progress

                  The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

                  Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

                  Conclusion

                  The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

                  While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

                  Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

                  Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

                  Reference

                  [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
                  [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
                  [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
                  [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
                  [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
                  [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
                  [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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