Having successfully completed the challenge (thank you Abi) of finding something good to say each week about Cardiff and the Vale UHB for a year, I allowed myself a break from writing these blogs. There’s been a gentle murmuring however … some people are missing them. So I thought I would pick up my pen, so to speak and get back into the habit.
Some of you might know that I had a bit of a health scare over the summer. You can read a bit more about here if you’re interested. As a result I’ve been ruminating a bit about why we do the things we do and whether I’m being consistent about focusing on what’s most important. I’ve been reading a couple of good books which discuss why we behave the way we do. The ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charle Duhigg, explores the science behind habit formation and the ways in which our lives are often governed by these unconscious patterns of behaviour.
Habits it turns out are all based on the same simple
neurological sequence: a routine, a reward and a cue, something which the researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology called the ‘habit loop’. The person who habitually bits their nails will have a cue – perhaps feeling a snag when running her thumb over a nail, which triggers a routine, hands to mouth and a reward, nibbling off the offending nail. To change this requires an amendment to one or more of these three parts. Some people have changed this habit by responding to the cue by rubbing their finger tip vigorously on their thigh until the cue stimulus subsides.
The other book is ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman which is equally fascinating. The brain it turns out has two systems … which Kahneman calls System 1 and System 2.
System 1 is fast; it’s intuitive, associative, metaphorical, automatic, impressionistic, and it can’t be switched off. System 2 on the other hand is slow, deliberate, effortful. But System 2 is also lazy and tires easily (a process called “ego depletion”). The greater the cognitive load on System 2, the more susceptible we are to being governed by System 1.
If you want to test this for your self here’s a test you can do.
Step 1: Sit in front of your computer and open a browser.
Step 2: Attempt to do the following calculation in your head 13 x 27
Step 3 go to theinvisiblegorilla.com/videos.html and follow the instructions very carefully.
While System 1 allowed our ancestors to stay alive and is good at some things like responding to danger (think how we respond to a snarling dog) it unfortunately also loves to simplify, to assume WYSIATI (“what you see is all there is”). It’s hopeless at the kind of statistical thinking often required for good decisions, it jumps wildly to conclusions and it’s subject to a fantastic suite of irrational biases and interference effects. One you might have heard of is the halo effect – when interviewers make their minds up immediately in the first few seconds after the candidate appears.
All in all we’re astonishingly susceptible to being influenced – controlled even – by features of our surroundings in ways we don’t suspect. In plain speak for a big part of our day we are flying on automatic pilot.
So why am I going on about this then? Well, we are working towards a safer health care system, where we do everything we can to make errors harder to make, where we use good processes that give reliable results when appropriate, and where we respect each other and encourage openness and show a commitment to learning from our mistakes.
We often talk about human factors in systems – which actually means that we are rather error prone. We are in other words, not robots. These two books provide some of the reasons why.
If you’d like to have a look at another blog I’m starting or my attempt to get my life under control – you can do so here.