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Coherence and decision-making

On January 16th Professor Ben (C) Fletcher and I launch our new book:
Flex: Do Something Different.

How to use the other 9/10ths of your personality.

Here’s an extract on the topic of personal coherence, a concept that’s critical to conscious business.

Many people go through life saying one thing and doing another. Living one life but wishing for something else. Personal coherence is the mark of someone who has all parts of their life aligned. What they do and what they say are connected.  They are not held back by habits or personal limitations, and are totally at ease with themselves and their world.

Nonetheless, incoherence seems to be part of the human condition and the hallmark of the incoherent person is doing one thing and saying another. Here are a few everyday examples:

  • Craig chooses a foreign holiday but is upset when he can’t get his favourite beer and there are olives in the salad.
  • Pauline says she hates living in a mess but watches TV instead of doing the housework and is permanently untidy.
  • Julie was desperate for children but now that she has them she constantly complains about them and secretly prefers it when they’re not around.
  • Roger wears a safety helmet when cycling – then stops and has a cigarette.
  • The obese Simons family wear the latest sports clothing but never exercise.
  • Marty is obsessive about recycling but flies long-haul.
  • Almost 50% of the UK population buy fresh fruit and then throw it away.
  • Jim has renewed his wedding vows and is sleeping with his secretary.
  • Kath always tries to park as close as possible to the gym where she is going to an exercise class.
  • Sally and Richard worry about their children’s health but feed them a diet of junk food.

When people are incoherent there will always be some fallout or damage. Either to the individual or to others around them. Some of the examples above may seem rather flippant, but you get the message.

In reality people’s incoherencies can run far deeper than just a few surface behaviours. One consequence of a lack of personal coherence is that it leads to poor decisions and choices. The reasons for this include:

  1. Emotions. Emotions cloud logic and judgements. Reasoning powers seem to go out of the window for some people when the subject matter or conclusions involve emotionally laden outcomes. Emotions can also account for many of the flaws in thinking and reasoning that humans show.
  2. Habit. Inertia predisposes people to make the same choices they have made before instead of questioning their own choices. People may also have a stock of excuses to justify their decisions and behaviours.
  3. A narrow behavioural repertoire means a person will be insufficiently flexible and lack essential behaviours,and so is more likely to be distracted by the wrong options.
  4. Worrying about doing the right thing.  Being over-concerned about the reactions of others, or the ramifications a decision, can cloud judgment and make for poor choices.
  5. Fantasies of thinking. Some people live in a world of fantasy about themselves, their capabilities and how they behave. Fantasies obscure the best choices because they replace real information and insight with pretence. There are various kinds of fantasy that can get in the way of proper choices including:
  • The pretend-only fantasy. This happens when the person is not really 100% committed to a goal, decision or behaviour that is necessary to obtain the optimal outcome. Their words are empty and devoid of action. So the personal incoherence is compounded.
  • The commitment-without-expectation fantasy. A person might show all the signs of being fully committed, but does not really believe or expect to be successful. Their low expectations are usually met.
  • The hidden-effort fantasy. This is a very common cause of incoherence. It is the failure to fully consider the actual effort required to reach the goal. It is a failure to  take account of all the consequences of decision. Many people will apparently commit to a goal because they do not consider the unseen costs. So the person might commit to and expect to realise a goal but is not realistic about all that is going to be necessary to achieve it.
  • The others’-effort fantasy. This is a tendency to make a decision contingent upon other people instead of yourself. It is requiring others to do things to make something happen. This fantasy is very common with people who have low levels of self-responsibility.

Choices and decisions become easier and more obvious the more coherent you become. Coherence is about knowing all aspects of yourself – and having them all in harmony.  Our behaviour change technique, do something different, helps the harmonisation process and improves our choices. Decision-making is much easier, because it is only a lack of personal coherence that obscures the right choice.