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R is for Reality-Check

Updated: Feb 6

I have been holding on to a copy of The New Scientist for about six years because one particular research article fascinated me. According to this research, there are six characteristics specific to human behaviour that distinguish us from other mammalian species. The authors Douglas & Holmes (2015) have us pegged as legislative, scientific, epicurean, playful, clandestine and, saving the best for last, gossipy.


I have worked with hundreds of individuals now, and gossipy stands out as the most likely characteristic to get us into trouble. It seems we all love a good story, and we love to get things off our chest. However, only a few of us bother to ask about the truth and are instead happy to romanticise, embellish, and add opinions about whatever topic is on floor.

Welcome to planet earth. Prepare to be judged.

Judgement is normal; we all do it. We evolved to judge ourselves, other people and circumstances because when we were cavemen, this kept us alive. But most of us don't need that level of caution now, our needs are taken care of, and judgements create perceptions that don't serve us. So, in the second segment of the PRIDE coaching model, R stands for Reality. Reality puts facts on the table.

This process requires us to lean into our scientific characteristic and to be systematic in studying our thoughts. I wrote about Performance and Thought Cataloguing in the previous blog, which is step-one in working through the PRIDE model. The second step is a process of elimination to meet the truth, distilling a topic down to its bare facts, noticing and skimming off the opinions or judgements that the brain wants to associate with the event. Fundamentally it is about discerning the universally true story, and by this, I mean an account of events with a single consensus and zero interpretations. For example, the Sun is setting, means the Sun is setting. It doesn't mean that the light has gone forever, it doesn't mean that the Sun isn't my friend and never wants to see me again, and it doesn't mean that the Sun is rude for leaving me in the dark.

My analogy seems silly, but only because nowadays we know better than to interpret such a broadly understood fact as a personal attack. Unless you are Phoebe from 'Friends', you probably don't entertain thoughts about the Sun being so upset with you that it won't come back, and you probably don't recognise this is because when the truth is known you have a finely tuned ability to self-manage your reactions. So, suppose we can retain objectivity and stick to the facts in any situation. In that case, we can increase our capacity to self-manage by creating a sort of comfort gap between the actual event and our reaction to it. Eventually, we can decide which thoughts we want to entertain concerning what things may or may not mean. For example, if my boss starts to yell at me, the facts are that a person is just saying words to me in a loud voice. The rest of the experience is open to interpretation (which I talk about more my next blog).

In the beginning, self-management is more of an art than a science because we respond to contextualisation all the time. But if it's possible to find the single consensus, it's possible to create comfort gaps, and it's possible to choose empathy and compassion as a response to all events.

Sources:

Douglas, K, & Holmes, B. (2015) 'The Nature of The Beast', New Scientist, 2(3), pp. 6–11.

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