Friday, January 29, 2016

Behavior Change and the Minority Report

This is the third post in a series on New Year's Resolutions (tis the season, after all) and more generally, behavior change.  
The first post was Why You Don't Keep New Year's Resolutions is Way More Interesting than How You Do.  That post reflected a bias of mine to be more interested in what actually happens than what is supposed to happen.
The next post was Want to Change Your Behavior?  First, Change the Odds. This one argued that behavior change is no mean feat and that before you exert one ounce of will power trying to change something about yourself, work on getting the environment set up right to support the change.  
Part of the reasoning there was that if you are not even willing to put in the effort to get the odds in your favor, it sheds some light on how important the change really is for you.  Or, sheds even more light on how important not making this change is to some part of you that you might be less aware of or less identified with.  
Which brings me to this post.  
I am not a huge Tom Cruise fan, but I really enjoyed the science-fiction movie,Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg.  Here are a few key points of the plot (modified from Wikipedia entry):
About 50 years in the future, PreCrime police in Washington D.C. stop murderers before they are able to act, reducing the murder rate in that city to zero. Murders are predicted before they happen using three Precogs, highly sensitive humans with genetic mutations who "previsualize" crimes by receiving images from the future . The Federal government is on the verge of adopting the controversial program and extending it nation wide.
While DoJ agent Danny Witwer is auditing the program, the Precogs generate a new prediction, saying that one of PreCrime's own, Captain John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise), will murder a man named Leo Crow in 36 hours. Anderton does not know Crow, but flees the area as Witwer begins a manhunt. Anderton seeks the advice of Dr. Iris Hineman, the creator of PreCrime technology. She reveals that sometimes, one of the Precogs, usually Agatha (shown in the picture with this post), has a different vision than the other two, a "minority report."  This has been kept a secret as it would damage the system's credibility. Anderton resolves to see if there is a minority report to try to prove his innocence.  And sure enough one of Agatha's minority reports turns out to solve the larger mystery.
I don't want to ruin it in case you haven't seen the  movie and besides, that is enough of the plot for my purposes here.  Why is the Minority Report relevant to behavior change?  
Well, aren't our psyches and inner worlds sometimes similar?  We have a primary we see ourselves and perhaps how others see us.  But then we have "minority" parts that don't fit neatly into the buttoned down image we project.  We are generally healthy but we also engage in risky behavior.  We are responsible providers and caretakers but we stay up late playing music and fantasizing about life in a band on the road.
As the poet Walt Whitman wrote in Song of Myself:  "Do I contradict myself?  Very well then I contradict myself.  (I am large.  I contain multitudes.)"
Our ego decides it has an improvement program for us and we end up making New Year's resolutions or setting goals to change something:  We are finally going to lose weight.  Or exercise more. Or spend less time on social media.  Or quit losing it at work with our staff.  Or be more loving towards our partner.
But we have had this goal before.  And we can't seem to make a dent in it.  In my last post I argued that you should first focus on tipping the odds in your favor. But for many, even when they do set up the environment to support the changes they want to make, they still can't achieve them.  
In these circumstances, it is often useful to search carefully inside oneself to see if there is a minority report...some part of you that does not want to go along with the changes your primary identity is trying to make.  Indeed, we contain multitudes and maybe one of them is trying to get your attention.
I could share dozens of examples, but let me give you just one.   I had a client that was getting feedback about failing to meet commitments and failing to follow up appropriately with clients.  After an honest discussion, it became apparent that my client was procrastinating and spending an inordinate amount of time on social media.  It turns out she had tried many times in the past to cut back but was unable to and the time lost was affecting her output.
So I sat with her as she worked and asked her to do what she usually does.  After working for 30 mins or so, she went on her favorite social media site.  Just as she got on it, I asked her to describe how she felt.  The predominant and overwhelming feeling she said was "relief."
As we kept going into the feeling, she talked more about the pressures at work, the financial challenges she had, the lack of supportive relationships around her.  
I sensed we were close to an edge, so I suggested we stay with it.  I said, "OK, it is time to download some software which will limit social media access during the day."   My client started to cry and said "Please don't take this away from me.   Most days, it is the only joy I have."
Needless to say, there are bigger problems and issues for my client than limiting time on Facebook and Pinterest.  
We came up with a short term solution to reduce but not eliminate the social media time so she could shore up her job performance.  But in parallel, we focused on other things she could do to relieve the pressure she felt, create more opportunities for joy, and address her support needs.  
The escape into social media was not really the was a symptom...a minority faction inside trying to get the attention of "those in charge" that structural change was needed.
The point here is simply this.  If there is a behavior change that you have wanted to make and progress continues to elude you, look inside yourself.  See if you can determine if there a part of you that has no intention of going along with the "improvement" program.  From "its" perspective, your improvement program is not an improvement at all.  It is a threat.  That part of you may actually be sabotaging your efforts as a way to try to get you to pay attention to something that is trying to unfold or that you have been ignoring.
As in society, these minority viewpoints* might be seen as inconvenient and something to be squashed or "outvoted" by your primary identity.  But their message is ignored to your detriment. Because the parts of yourself that you ignore are often the key to a richer, more meaningful life.  
When Tom Cruise's character finds and investigates the truth behind Agatha's minority report about another murder, he is cleared of all charges against him and "freed."  
Similarly, investigating and listening to those inner voices that don't want to go along with the societal...or parental...or religion-based...or ego-dominated programs can liberate you as well.
Please share your stories of when you chose not to "go along" and what it led to.

*Not the viewpoints of minorities in society, though it may include that, but the minority viewpoint vs. the viewpoint of the majority or the viewpoint of the people in power, the latter of which may not be the majority at all.

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