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Cognitive Blind Spots and New Year’s Resolutions

Cognitive blind spots. Everyone has them.  Cognitive blind spots are often manifested as repeated patterns of ineffective behavior or resolutions to change that seem to fall short of the goal.   The nature of blind spots is that one is perceiving limited data or is using inadequate methods of judgment to address a problem.   This phenomenon is similar to the blind spots you have when driving a car.  There are certain visual fields that are not readily apparent and you must mindfully check those areas for other cars or use a device to identify those vehicles. Similarly,it is difficult to correct for cognitive blind spots because you often lack the insight and resources to do so.  If you had these perspectives and remedies operating effectively already, then goals would always be met and change would be easy.  Such is not the case and that is where outside support in the form of coaches, teachers and mentors can be helpful.

Have you ever noticed the plethora of self-help books  in the bookstore?   What used to be a few shelves of books mostly by Wayne Dwyer or Dale Carnegie is now an ever-expanding selection of  remedies and advice that seem to provide a temporary burst of ideas and energy, but ultimately leads to limited meaningful change.  In other words, if self-help books were so effective, why would there be a need for more and more of them?   I am not opposed to using a self-help book as a vehicle for personal insight, and in fact, I have a collection of these books myself.  However, there is a tendency to default to the well-worn path in our minds despite our best intentions, often leading to frustration and despair.

Personal coaches can help by providing additional insight and accountability.  In my practice, I use the principles of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, my background in brain science, principles learned in my coach’s training and some meditation to assist a client in the process of change.  Following is an example of how this process might work:

A client may come to me with the complaint that even though he has no shortage of great ideas, he doesn’t seem to follow through on any of them.  He gets very excited about his new schemes and in fact, he can enthusiastically gather support for his ideas among his coworkers.  Inevitably, once the crescendo of excitement starts to recede, he loses interest and the project is never completed.  What’s more, this is a pattern that has been repeated so often, his coworkers do not take his ideas seriously anymore.

After getting as much information as possible using open-ended questions, I am likely to use one of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator instruments (Step I, II, or III) to provide additional insight into the client’s preferred ways to perceive and judge information.  Why?  The MBTI provides reliable insight into a client’s cognitive strengths and probable blind spots.

In this case, the client is an ENFP which is essentially characterized by someone who is cognitively energized by new ideas and possibilities, the ultimate brain stormer!  However, a typical blind spot for an ENFP personality type is inattention to details and a dislike of routine.  Once the initial burst of excitement has worn off, it is much more difficult to finish the task.  What’s more, wherever an individual has a blind spot, there tends to be a defensiveness.  Solutions are often blocked by an unwillingness to admit there is a problem in the first place or that the problem is your challenge not someone elses! It’s the my coworker who is so obsessed with details that makes this so difficult to implement!

Certainly, awareness of the problem is the first step.  However, because these cognitive patterns are preferred and well-worn in the brain, it will take more than just awareness to create meaningful change.  The brain is plastic and fully capable of lasting changes.   However, these changes require tremendous effort, motivation and in fact, a dampening down of  default methods of thinking to bring about these changes.   It is similar to a sled hill.  It’s easy to go down the paths that are already well-established but it takes deliberate effort to move your sled and make a new run.  That is how the brain tends to operate.

One way to make deliberate changes is to become mindful of both your present behavior and to create a reasonable alternative.   It is more effective to say, “I will do this instead of that” rather than, “I won’t do that.”   There are several forms of meditation that train the brain to resist existing patterns of thinking and refocus on new ways of thinking.  Meditation is an emollient to smooth transitions in the mind.  Particularly pertinent to the ENFP  personality type whose mind can run a million miles per minute in a million different directions, meditation can be very helpful.   Be mindful of details and following through.  Or at least ask someone who does this well, to help you.   Use your brain storming capabilities often but know what to shift to other modes.

Most of all, realize that change takes time.  The brain requires several opportunities to try out new behaviors before they become readily accessible.  In between the resolution to make a significant change and the actual attainment of the goal can be many challenges.   There is always the temptation to go back to the familiar.  However, with a coach, teacher or mentor that you trust and rely on, your chances of success are greatly improved.

Happy New Year from!   Make 2011 a very good year!

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