Imagine after all your research, you’ve finally decided on your brand new car and are now heading to the dealership to make your purchase. You’re incredibly happy with your decision and feel confident that it will stand out. You’ve picked a uncommon color and it far away from a Honda Odyssey. No offense against the model, but it is the one I assume of for every family van I see. On your way to the dealership, you suddenly see an identical copy of the car you’re about to purchase, then another, and another. It is as if your decision single-handedly started a trend of dusty blue Jeep Cherokees.
Hiding in Plain Sight
It’s to safe to say you didn’t and the truth is, they were always there. Speeding past you on your way to the local grocer but were unnoticeable yet today, after your decision, there’s a brigade of them. It’s a phenomenon called frequency illusion, or recency bias. Our brains constantly filters information and decides is this worth storing in our conscious? If it is not of value to us, we don’t process it. It passes our vision but doesn’t register. Much like the model or color of the cars we pass every day. Frequency illusion occurs when we learn of something new, we miraculously observe it more often. Your research likely ended in Cherokees and therefore now more likely to notice them on the road.
Seeking the Positive Vibes
At work, frequency illusion can be used to our advantage. The same effects of physical research for a vehicle can translate over to emotional research. If we sit in the parking lot of our office and tense our body for a full day of misery and lambasting everything that is wrong, that’s all we’ll ever find. Conversely, if we sit with excitement, mindfulness, and joy, we’re more likely to notice those throughout the day. Simply telling ourselves “I’m looking for the happy today” ups the chances. What is last on our mind before we embark into the day is what is given priority in our brain and even though that is a subconscious effect of recency bias, we can make the active and crucial choice of what that will be.
Patterns are hard to see when you’re in them. They’re blindspots within your habits or those of a team.
To see above situations rather than through, to illuminate the blind spots, a change in perspective is needed and changes to perspectives come from honest feedback for ourselves and empathy for others.
Setting the right pace with proper vision requires a balance between the extremes.
Run too fast, and the team won’t keep up leading to burnout for them and yourself. Speedsters focus too much on the finish line. They see the horizon clear as day but their peripherals are blurred unable to see their team falling behind.
Strolling pulls the energy down. Progress is grueling and teams are unable to maintain enthusiasm. Dawdlers look at their feet and while they never trip, they can’t see the goal even if they squint. They lack decision-making and purpose. The team expends all their energy not by moving forward but walking in circles.
Leaders are speed-walkers. The pace is slow enough for clarity, to see when others need support, but fast enough to keep the team dedicated to the cause and because of this the team moves as a group. Their vision is set somewhere between the horizon and the ground. It is realistic, not blurred or intangible. Leaders can point to it and say “There it is, let’s go get it, together.”
Happiness is a temporary emotion. It is fulfilling yet fleeting. Contrary to this, lives Joy. An effervescent feeling that is powerful and enduring. Joy runs as the undercurrent of life that pushes up other emotions to the surface increasing their intensity. Excitement turns to exhilaration. Giggles give way to belly laughs. Appreciation evolves to gratitude.
The catalyst for joy is doing what you love. When you’re there, there is an effortlessness to it. A singular thought of “This feels great, for me, right now” but that is only the ignition. Life can pull us away, dousing our joy. In order to maintain it, we need to increase the frequency of doing the things we love. Do it more often and you’ll find the feeling persists long after the physical act. We overflow with serotonin, the happy chemical, and it spills into the not-so-loving parts of life. The joy that we sit in day in and day out, relives us of the pressures of “doing more” and allows us a small reprieve of contentment.
When we’re exposed to certain situations, we’re bound to have differences of opinion. On a team, opinions come from different perspectives and great teams ensure that each are valued. However, leaning too far in one direction by disregarding any evidence that speaks to the contrary, is damaging.
Opinions Through Facts
Let’s be clear, facts and opinions are dichotomous. Facts is the perceived reality while opinions are interpretations of that reality. Interpretations require information that can be obtained through the absurd amount of sources in today’s world.
At times we might believe that the source of those facts lacks credibility. In a workplace, it might be rumors or misinterpreted top-down information. Outside of work, media outlets likely come to mind. We might view the source as biased, filtered, and censored and cherry picking information within that source is worse altogether. We can’t discredit information against us and credit information in support of us simultaneously. We are in effect then, filtering sources through our own biases and by doing so we discredit ourselves for the very same reason we decided the source was unreliable!
Leading into Common Ground
As a leader that should hear out varying opinions, we must be aware of this pitfall. To pull ourselves and teams out, repetitiveness and probability are needed to dilute biases. Multiple matching sources yields higher credibility. Misinterpreted information becomes clear when reviewed over and over. Secondly, we can revert to statistics by asking a simple question: “What are the chances?” Rumors are squashed when one considers its likelihood is close to 10%.
When different opinions based on individual’s perceived realities become a debate topic, even healthy debates, it’s best to validate sources and work to remove biases through repetitiveness and probability.