I just finished reading Switch and from the first chapter I knew I was going to like this book. The authors, Dan and Chip Heath, employ a metaphor throughout the entire book that I was familiar with; Dr. Haidt’s Elephant and Rider. This is an obscure metaphor to use for the mind, and I saw this as synchronicity. I had just read Dr. Haidt’s two books in the last few months. I see significance in these winks. I knew I was in for a treat.
The metaphor is used to highlight the dual nature of our minds. Significant research has produced strong evidence that our minds are split; we have a fast, unconscious, emotional mind, and we have a slow, conscious, rational mind. Most people in Western cultures hyper-identify with the Rider (the slow, conscious, rational mind.)
These post is focused on the Rider. One of his weaknesses is his Negativity Bias. Due to evolutionary pressures, our conscious mind focuses on the negative. This served us well for million of years, but in modern times it can hinder. But we can metaprogam him.
This post will focus on research shared in Switch, and how we can use it to reprogram our Rider.
Seek Bright Spots
Switch, a book focusing on how to create change (individually, in companies, or society), organizes the book into three parts; directing the Rider, motivating the Elephant, and shaping the path. The first chapter in the book talks about “seeking bright spots.”
Due to our Rider’s Negativity Bias, we automatically look at what is wrong. We find the single flaw in our day that colors it all grey (literally a million biological functions have to operate correctly for you to even read this sentence but we overlook these incalculable miracles.) This bias directs our lives, companies, and nations to skew negative.
However, we can tweak this natural inclination with just a little planning.
Making time to look for things to be grateful for is a staple in any good self-help program, and Positive Psychology has validated this advice. Dr. Seligman, in Flourish, explains that one of the few scientifically-supported self-help techniques is any kind of daily gratitude practice.
Creating space in your day where you actively scan for things to be grateful for subtly rewires your Rider’s Negativity Bias. The actual method doesn’t matter, do what is consistent; pick a time and a medium, and recall three things that happened in your day that you are grateful for.
I like to write, so I have a journal I record my gratitude in. Today, I was grateful for the beautiful look my girlfriend gave me, my freedom to read and write about what I love, and that my back spasmed and created a hard day offering lessons in acceptance.
Make it a habit. Create space in your day to find what you are grateful for.
Advance: ABDCE Method
There is more advance scientifically-supported technique to reprogram the Rider’s Negativity Bias. It is called the ABCDE Method and it is the foundation for Cognitive Therapy. I have written a detailed post on this and if you have the gratitude journal programmed already, I highly suggest this technique.
Seeking Bright Spots and Mentors
There is an interesting phenomena behind Negativity Bias and Gratitude journaling; a part of our mind will work tirelessly on whatever it is we choose to focus on. It is that tendency that underlies the reprogramming happening when we implement the daily gratitude practice.
We can leverage this phenomenon for massive self-improvement.
Find people who are (or were) at the heights of success in the field or discipline you want to master. Study those people. They are your mentors. In the classic self-improvement book, Psycho-Cybernetics, it offers a great technique; pick one of these mentors and consume every piece of media they have created (or as much as you can in a month.) Get to the point where you can have conversations in your mind with them.
This will give your Rider and Elephant something to focus on.
Our minds are dual. The Rider is biased towards negativity. You can reprogram your Rider to seek the positive, and you can maximize that by seeking masters and mentors to learn about. Start a daily gratitude practice.