They prevent us from seeing new data

I had an experience of mismatched perspectives when I was a kid. Some of my relatives I only saw occasionally–once every year or so. Every time I saw them, they’d tell me how I changed so much. But to me, this never made any sense. I saw myself in the mirror every day and I always looked the same.

This reminds me of homeostasis. Our bodies try to maintain a steady physiological state. I think our minds have a tendency to do so as well. (I imagine the world wouldn’t feel so safe or in control if our minds didn’t have this same tendency.)

However, this can present some challenges. I’m writing about both a personal challenge and a social challenge that I think this poses.

The personal challenge is that we sometimes struggle to see our progress. This makes it difficult to celebrate our successes.

Our perspective seems to become normalized to our present growth rate. Perhaps this is just hedonic adaption in action. This can make setbacks feel worse than they actually are.

I saw one example of this recently in a tweet from Tony Dinh. Assuming I’m extrapolating the net MRR movements (ie. new/increased subscription value minus decreased/lost subscription value) from previous months accurately, it looks like Tony had a higher net MRR movement in December and January compared to February.

It looks like his growth rate decelerated in February. So he reflected on February by calling it “brutal”.

However, the positive net MRR movement means that his business was still growing. It wasn’t shrinking. It wasn’t maintaining the status quo. It was still growing.

I don’t know the full extent of Tony’s reflections on his month of February. However, I’ve seen patterns in myself and others where we fixate only on the areas where there’s room for improvement. This is negativity bias in action.

So when reflecting on things, I find it useful to start by celebrating the things that went well. Negativity bias will make celebrating a lot of these things seem mundane, but don’t let it pull you in. If you start by reflecting on the areas you can improve, it can become more challenging to see those worth celebrating. This isn’t usually the case vice versa.

Here are some of the things that are potentially worth celebrating:

  • (partial) results
  • luck
  • effort
  • choice of (in)action
  • mindset
  • perspective
  • mood

Now it’s time to return to the social challenge I mentioned before. Just as we sometimes struggle to see our progress, sometimes we also struggle to see other people’s progress. (And sometimes they struggle to see our progress as well.)

We often apply labels to the people we know. The more often we see someone and the better we think we know that person, the more strongly these labels tend to stick.

Sometimes these labels may be negative.

They are bossy. They don’t listen. They’re selfish.

Sometimes these labels may be positive.

They are helpful. They unconditionally love me. They’re organized.

We anchor the perspectives we take to those labels for better or worse. This affects how we perceive reality.

Maybe that bossy person has been trying to stop telling people what to do. Maybe they’ve been working on their interoception with a therapist to get a better sense of when they feel unsafe and when they’re driven towards control. Maybe they’ve started asking for suggestions before giving suggestions. Maybe you never noticed any of it because you think they’re bossy.

Maybe that helpful person has been feeling lazy and disengaged at work. Maybe they aren’t so generous with people of certain demographics. Maybe they only volunteer for things when they know they’ll get acknowledged for it. Maybe you never noticed any of it because you think they’re helpful.

If you feel like someone isn’t acknowledging growth that you’ve been working towards, perhaps it would be useful to share your experience with them. One tool that could be useful for sharing this is Gervase Bushe’s experience cube. By using this tool, you can share why you think you’re not being treated fairly, the changes you’ve been making, and the impact it has on you when you don’t think those changes are being acknowledged.

If you want to avoid having your labels skew your perspective of your relationships, perhaps it would be useful to reflect on what labels you’re applying. What labels are you applying to that person? Back to Byron Katie’s The Work, is it true and can you absolutely know that it’s true? What is the potential impact on your relationship that you limit yourself to seeing this person through this label?

Being able to see patterns is a remarkable tool, but that doesn’t mean it needs to become Maslow’s hammer. Those patterns are useful data, but they become dangerous when they prevent us from seeing new data.

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