A Mind is a Powerful Thing to Waste

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Published:  January 4, 2016, Copyright (c) Sandy Elrick


Normalcy Bias


As I wake up to a new year, I am filled with hope.  What bothers me a bit, is why it took me coming into the new year to ‘figure out’ I had a real sense of hope for a bright future when it really has been within me all along (don’t we all suffer from the new year reset?).  As I walk through my life since my layoff I see a lot of processing has happened.  My confidence waxed and waned but my resolve did not change (key number one for success).  I want the best results moving forward, but what would those results be?


After almost two years full of change, I think I finally burnt out (I got lost enough in the change that I forgot to make change).  I reached my limit and responded accordingly as I would to most any situation:

  • Take a breath
  • Assess the situation
  • Determine the option(s)
  • Decide on the best path(s) forward
  • Get to it!


That last step is probably the hardest for a lot of people to accept and do.  So why would I bring up the subject of ‘normalcy bias’?  Recently, there was news of an earthquake on Vancouver Island.  That brought to my mind the potential of a devastating earthquake to the northwest of the United States and Canada.  It made me think outside of just me and what might happen so close to home and might indirectly or directly affect my future and of those around me.   What I realized was that the term ‘disaster’ means many things to many people – loss of a job could be termed a disaster, so could the failure to capture a critical account for a salesman, but ultimately, it is up to us to frame our mind and determine what counts.


‘The normalcy bias, or normality bias, is a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster and its possible effects. This may result in situations where people fail to adequately prepare and, on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations.

The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred, it never will occur. It can result in the inability of people to cope with a disaster once it occurs. People with a normalcy bias have difficulties reacting to something they have not experienced before. People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation.

The opposite of normalcy bias would be overreaction, or “worst-case thinking” bias, in which small deviations from normality are dealt with as signaling an impending catastrophe.’1


Over the last few weeks while I have been off I was granted an opportunity to house sit for a friend – which I am going to take advantage of to get out of my normal routine and to get to it!  So why the comparison between disaster and me getting on with life in the new year?  Well, in some ways it is the same thing but to a lesser degree.   It is possible I have overreacted to my situation and spent more time wondering about the potential and not effecting the change required for my situation.  It may also be that this is who I am and I naturally spend some time (as I always seem to have) reflecting on my situation, gaining strength, and preparing for the next part of life (self-work, personal, and professional effort).  The key I’ve found is to not beat yourself up and once you practice and recognize that, you can see it in others and help them as well.


Power of the Self


What I am really getting at is that in all of us is the potential to react to a situation (quickly or slowly, positively and negatively – neither is necessarily good or bad) and respond accordingly.  Understanding of self is the first step to success in any relationship.  If you do not understand yourself fully, how can you be fully present in a relationship (personal, professional, or otherwise).  To execute in such a manner without full participation discredits both you and any other parties involved.


So I ask that in your moments of reflection on this new year, you consider that in any moment where you are interacting with someone (yes, even yourself) – that you bear in mind that not only are you needed to be present, but to accept what you can and cannot do and recognize that they are but facets of the decisions we need to make (and to make them we must).  This affects everyone subconsciously and consciously.


Presence of mind or ‘the ability to remain calm and take quick, sensible action’ is key to bringing the power of every moment both to yourself and your partner(s).  Do not overestimate or underestimate that potential in anyone and you have found that perfection each leader strives for – presence of mind leading to achieving control and growth.


Power of the Group


When one considers the potential of every individual, they are taking on a leadership role.  It can be your family at the morning breakfast table discussing the day ahead, your squad of teammates at your weekly game talking strategy, or the group on your project where you are working towards the goals of the week, month, or quarter.  Thinking outside yourself is a second key to success.  Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  There are always many factors involved and it takes a lot of hard work to achieve the optimum balance and execution.


If everyone in the group is firing on all cylinders then it is a beautiful thing to behold.  As a leader, it is your job to assess and guide those people (leadership styles vary both in degree of success and value – as diverse as the individuals involved).   Don’t forget – just because you do not have the leader title, does not mean you do not contribute in a leadership manner.  Every decision affects the outcome and ultimately the development of the end result(s).  This is reflected by confidence in your ability to interact on many levels.  Take ownership of your leadership contributions and success – at every level – and you will find satisfaction.


Not everyone is at the same stage in development of themselves.  This is where I go back to mentoring and really believe it is what a lot of groups and organizations are missing.  I believe mentoring is a critical function of success and when it is absent, there is a disconnected and sterile achievement.  Do you recognize that accomplishment you were not thanked for?  How did you feel?  Did you not achieve something yourself and thank yourself first?


I find it truly rewarding (an ego boost) when someone takes what I have learned and applies it or even asks me for help.  It is my nature to take some measure of satisfaction in the result achieved – no matter how small.  I did not come by this alone – I have learned from those before me and I hope will continue to find those who can teach me what I don’t know and to find those who are willing to listen to what I have to say (you are doing so now by reading this).  I pray that I can keep in learning and keep on doing what I love.


Achievements of the Mind


Our minds are our most powerful allies and our most powerful detractors.  Mental disorders are replete with normalcy bias.  I have decided that when I see someone who is making a black or white decision – they are making said decision based on absolute confidence in their perception of the factors involved and the outcome they perceive.  That crystal clear presence of mind with no distractions, is very appealing.


So what is the difference between a psychopath and a leader?  An interesting comparison I think but please bear with me.  A person who is unstable, aggressive, or overbearing achieves a lot of their goals without consideration for others.  Do not feel anger at someone who manifests those unhealthy attitudes as they are perhaps the ones who are most in need of change, mentoring, and growth but have the hardest time accepting and making the change.  A person taking the whole (in consideration of others) and making a decision achieves not only that goal but potentially furthers others or the community around them.


Which mindset are you?  Now I am not saying compare yourself to a psychopath but as an extreme example you can easily recognize the patterns of thinking.  Ignorance of something does not make you stronger.  Achievement in a vacuum is celebrated by only yourself (sometimes good too!).  Wisdom comes from knowing yourself first and then knowing others second.  With knowledge comes understanding.  With practice and understanding comes refined thinking and ease of action.  It is with this openness that you can achieve so much more than just with yourself.


When you consider what you do this day and every day, what is your mindset?  Are you present?  What effect is your effort having?  Are you a closed or open?  In either case, be your best and continue learning!