Or should I say, “what a tricky mind”! How did you first read the title?
Following the first delivery of my “Understanding the Mind” webinar we received some great questions about demonstrating how the mind works. Allow me to clarify the word ‘works’. In this instance, it truly has multiple meanings – how it functions, how it can be over-taxed, and how it can focus on singular input to its benefit or detriment. Ask an employer. Work is supposed to be productive. Since your brain is your employer and your employee, you probably want to enhance its productivity.
Understanding how we process input, and create viable output is the skill of a project manager. Read that title as leader, coach, and manager of both ourselves and others.
We have all seen optical illusions. Efforts designed to trick the optical system. They don’t need to be manufactured. Our mind tricks itself optically all the time. Recent research suggests that humans could not see the color ‘blue’ until recently. Given the physics of the color spectrum, blue has always existed. In fact, human vision is very sensitive to the color blue. Humans merely had no specific label, and therefore no memory association for the color ‘blue’. The evidence tends to confirm that our minds are part biology and part nurture (experience and environment). Before you read Kevin Loria’s article about seeing blue, prepare your mind for taking a test (it’s in the article) for distinguishing shades of green. Help your eyes and your mind to process the green pattern by comparing the squares in sets of three adjacent objects. See if this helps you identify the mis-match before you read the answer. Or detach and step back to look at the image, and see if your mind sorts out uniqueness. Remember humans had to learn to distinguish between shades of green to survive in the jungles of the world – that whole predator versus prey advantage. If you want a more scientific and detailed description for why we see certain colors better, check out hyperphysics at Georgia State University.
Just remember that we are adamant about what we see and reinforce in our memories, even once we are shown the evidence. Consider the very recent blue-black versus white-gold dress meme on the Internet. The best evidence is in the picture (the original picture is in the middle). All those rods in our eyes focus on the white/black gradient. Without a reference we see sharp contrast. Now look at the dress in the middle for a while. Given the reference on the right, you will likely start to see the blue in the middle image.
Admittedly, I originally saw white and gold. Now I consistently see blue and black. Several nights of processing the image and reinforcing the association in my brain. I now know the dress is blue and black. Cover the two dresses on the sides with your hands. Look a way for a minute, then look back keeping the dress on either side covered. The blue looks lighter to most of us. This is just how the brain works.
What other misperceptions do we have? Is what we “know” real or a trick? My students constantly hear me state that change – projects – are more about perception that fact during initiation. Planning is needed to identify, clarify, and assemble the facts. We need tools and method. The brain alone will trick us.
What we hear and how we hear it is processed in similar ways. We frequently trick ourselves without knowing it. As I was walking to my desk this morning, two co-workers were discussing mis-understood song lyrics. They even mentioned a few of the top ten without being aware of the list. We all need to be aware of how we hear and remember information. Are you focused in the moment? Do you actively listen to clarify what you think you heard? Did you write it down? If not, you will likely remember it less than ideally or as the deadline for the task nears or lapses.
The quote “ I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant” has been attributed to ‘unknown’, S.I. Hayakawa (1940’s), Richard Nixon (1960’s-70’s), Robert McCloskey (1970-80’s), Alan Greenspan (1990’s), Ben Bernanke (2000’s). We each associate the quote with the first citation from which we heard it, though the facts suggest that ‘unknown’ is most likely. Repetition and reinforcement is the nature of the human brain. Don’t just believe what you read. Do the research and get the facts. So, did you understand what I just wrote? Read it again. Print it and highlight the information that is relevant to YOU.
When reading an instructional, motivational, or educational book on any topic – highlight the text, state great ideas out loud, annotate in the margins, take notes, write valuable page numbers in the front (and continue into the back panel if you fill the front), share your insights with someone else. Reinforce your ability to remember the valuable lessons. Note: I am not advocating the destruction of library books. Every good electronic reading lets you make notes, highlight text, and mark page corners. The purpose is learning the lesson. Remember knowledge is not power. Only properly applied knowledge is power. And you need to process the information, and then practice the application to reinforce the mental muscle recall.
Several webinar participants asked how they might share the information with co-workers or their managers.
My first response is to get them to watch the webinar (the replay is free, after all). My second piece of advice would be to purchase them a copy of Daniel J. Levitin’s book The Organized Mind. After you purchase one for yourself.
If you want a couple of quick references to associated material, you can find them all across the Internet. Look for terms like productivity, success, distractions, leadership, focus. You will find lots of articles rather quickly. Check out the short reference list associated with my video as a starting point. Or consider the references that follow.
Two short favorites about focus and distraction are from Intuit’s The Fast Track. One features my buddy, Doug from Up (Squirrel! 5 Fast Fixes for handling Distractibility at Work, and the other features Tina Su of Simple Life Media talking about How You Can Remain Productive Despite Distractions.
I would be remiss if I didn’t direct you toward one of my personal mentors, Darren Hardy , publisher of Success Magazine. The concept and methodologies for achieving three focused 90 minute work periods are coached in his Insane Productivity training course. As a successor to previous publishers like Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone, Darren Hardy and his staff share lessons in leadership and success from the most productive leaders across the last century. What I find most interesting is that the science of the brain is just beginning to explain best practices that have been known for decades or longer. A couple of great articles from Success.com that might help you sell your pitch:
Each of these articles address the need to focus, to sprint and recover, and to eliminate the distractions that generate minimal or no return. Even if your peers aren’t interested in brain chemistry, they are probably interested in obtaining the ‘golden ring’ of success.
And watch this blog site for additional content … I still have several more related questions I am researching for relevant resources.
I look forward to seeing you in the classroom, or online!
Steve teaches PMP: Project Management Fundamentals and Professional Certification, Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and CompTIA classes in Phoenix, Arizona.