Have you ever noticed how quickly some people jump to conclusions -- treating every development as further evidence to support whatever pre-determined story they live by?
Have you ever noticed this tendency... in yourself?
As much as we like to imagine ourselves objective, data-driven decision-makers, the reality is that we NEVER act on simply the facts.
Rather, when confronted with data, each of us relies on a subconscious process of interpretation that rapidly infuses that data with meaning.
This happens automatically, without our conscious awareness, and NO ONE is exempt.
One useful framework for understanding this process is called "the Ladder of Inference," a model developed by Harvard business professor Chris Argyris that demonstrates how quickly DATA turns into STORY in our heads...
... Regardless of whether the story helps or hinders us in taking the right action.
Here are the 7 steps of the classical model (viewable in video format here):
1. I OBSERVE "data."
Warm sun. Sticky legs on leather seat. Soft jazz on radio. Open parking space.
Silver Jetta appears. Parking space taken.
2. I SELECT data from what I've observed.
Silver Jetta in MY parking space.
3. I add MEANING to the data from a personal and cultural perspective.
That guy cut me off! My mom always taught me to wait my turn and respect the order of things. Didn't his mother teach him anything? Now I'm going to be late!
4. I make ASSUMPTIONS based on the meaning I've added.
That dude is a rude, selfish jerk.
5. I draw CONCLUSIONS based on those assumptions.
Someone should teach him a lesson!
6. I adopt BELIEFS based on those conclusions.
I'd be totally justified giving him a piece of my mind.
7. I take ACTION based on my beliefs.
(I roll down the window and bring a curse down on his head.)
This framework makes the unseen -- which happens in the span of milliseconds -- seen, by showing us how our subconscious minds use available data to bring us swiftly into terrain that our conscious, higher selves would find counterproductive, regrettable, or embarrassing.
... But by itself, this model is incomplete.
You know what's NOT represented anywhere in this model?
Emotions, the natural by-product of story, are what actually hi-jack us into premature, misguided action.
By accounting for this and simplifying the above, we arrive at the following:
1. I select which DATA to focus on (not the warm sun, but that someone DID something)
2. I invent a STORY about it (meaning, assumptions, conclusions, beliefs)
3. The story triggers FEELINGS (outrage, self-righteousness)
4. The feelings drive me to take ACTION (heated confrontation)
In other words, DATA --> STORY --> FEELINGS --> ACTION.
And if you don't pay attention, this constant cycle will end up driving your behavior -- often with frustrating, shoot-yourself-in-the-foot-type results -- for as long as you'll let it.
The good news is that you are far from powerless in the face of this cycle.
What you might not know is:
There is a way to intercept this subconscious process, short-circuit old patterns of reactivity, and greatly increase your ability to respond consciously in stressful situations.
... And it's not even complicated!
In part 2 of this post, I'll reveal the precise trick you can use (hint: it has nothing to do with story!) to achieve a pattern-interrupt inside your own head, and actually BECOME that graceful person you've always admired for how cool she stays under pressure.