Sunday, September 23, 2012

Creating Positive Perceptions

In the last two posts I discussed  how The Fundamental Attribution Error and Confirmation Bias form a dangerous pair, creating a negative image of your spouse in your mind. This pair affects all 'ongoing' relationships, including your relationship with your colleagues.

I chanced upon a wonderful book called Miller's Bolt by Thomas Stirr. It is about a process for improving relationships with colleagues. But it is very general and can be used in all circumstances.

Some key insights from the book.

First
In Patiala in India some years back the police tattooed 'jeb katri' or 'pickpocket' on the foreheads of a few women. Imagine you are chatting with somebody who has pickpocket tattooed on their forehead. Will it affect your behavior? In most cases - yes.

We put a negative label on our spouses, affecting our behavior with them, and they do the same. It is a vicious cycle. The ONLY way to break out of this vicious cycle is you take a decision to change your attitudes and behavior. It cannot be 'conditional'. You have to commit to changing without worrying about whether the other person will change.

Second
No relationship is static. It is either in a vicious cycle and becoming worse over time or it is in a virtuous cycle and becoming better over time.

The process given in the book is simple but you have to follow it exactly.

Take a piece of paper.
Write down all the words that come to your mind when you try to describe your spouse.
On the other side of the paper write down the words that describe your interactions with each other.

Look at the words and pick the words that have a negative connotation and replace them with words which have a positive or neutral connotation.

Here is an example of this with a few words

Stubborn (Persistent)
Pessimistic (Realistic)
Picky (Detail Oriented)
Insensitive (Straight Forward)
Careless (Absent minded)

Spend a few minutes every morning meditating or deep-breathing. Replay or Anticipate some incidents in your mind and visualize yourself responding positively to that behavior, using an affirmation.

The book gives a useful acronym to create the affirmation.
WIPE out your old behavior

Want (What you want to happen)
I (Make it personal)
Present Tense (Use the present tense)
Emotion (Use a positive emotion)

So this is a hypothetical example of how I used it. The actual situations are a little personal :-)

Assume your spouse has been after you for the last 3 months to do something that you don't want to. You have been thinking stubborn b***** and behaving in either of these ways

a. Pretending to be hard of hearing
b. Snapping angrily - Dont bug me
c. Agreeing to do it and not doing it

The affirmation could be
I appreciate his / her persistence. I speak calmly and find out what is motivating him / her.

So every morning, meditate or do some deep breathing and use a few positive affirmations.

As we have seen in the Confirmation bias post, your brain only 'notices' what is has been sensitized to notice. This process of deep breathing and making positive affirmations will change the sensitization of your brain.

Another key lesson in that book is that this is an ongoing process. You have to meditate and make positive affirmations everyday for the rest of your life. Do I still do it, yes I do. I am blessed with a long commute, I spend the commute with my eyes closed, meditating.

Miller's Bolt was a gateway book for me. After reading that book, I have learned so much more but the simple process given in the book is certain to make a difference.

I will share more options and thoughts on how to change a negative relationship to a positive one in my future posts.


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