The blog of an average man managing the 1,440 minutes he's given each day

Question everything

Over last year or so I’ve been learning more about behavioural psychology and neuroscience. It’s basically understanding why people do what they do. The application is that you can then manipulate people to do things they don’t want to do. Not quite, but I’m sure people do.

It’s been useful to not only understand how brains generally work but more specifically how my own brain works. There have been some fascinating insights into how to make what you learn stick.

And it’s not always how you might think.

It’s also interesting understanding how your experience in one situation will influence how you behave in another.

I watched Derren Brown’s Push on TV the other night, upon recommendation. The show looks at whether someone can be persuaded to push a person off a roof to their death. It’s absolutely fascinating.

The premise is that they choose people who are seen as being ‘compliant’, then through a series of increasingly more pressured situations work their way up to a decision where the most compliant answer is to ‘push’ someone off the top of a building. I won’t spoil the ending but it made me, and probably many people who watched it, wonder how far they would have gone.

I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have made it past the screening process. Because I don’t I tend to do things just because someone has asked me to do it or just because other people are doing it. Often to the frustration of my wife.

But I’m sure most people would say the same wouldn’t they?

I’m not sure if I’ve always been like that but I’m aware that after returning from a year in Norway I remember approaching things differently. The year I got back from Norway I started my final year at secondary school. It was a different school to where I had been for the first five years of secondary. Despite, or maybe because of, being a new guy I remember questioning a lot more, mostly teachers. And some of them really didn’t like this. To the point where one marked me as a trouble maker.

At University I took a slightly unconventional route through my degree. I started it full time, then picked up work part time as a marketing assistant. Then I went part time at Uni and full time at work. I eventually dropping work altogether to go back to Uni full time to just get my degree finished. Through my time working I learnt the importance of understanding rather than accepting. From first to last year at Uni I worked my way from the back row to the front row and anything I didn’t understand I’d shoot my hand up, and ask.

I realised I was there for myself and aimed to get the most out of the experience I could. This was also reflected in my grades in my final year.

There was one occasion where we had a visiting professor who was talking about the theoretical model that was the subject of his latest book. In a lecture theatre of a few hundred students I asked what I was hoping was a dumb question, assuming I had missed something. On challenging his answer it turns out there was a flaw in his model. Maybe nobody until that point had the nous to question him? It ended up being quite embarrassing for him and apparently also the lecturers at the University.

Something I’m increasingly proud of is when I see my 4-year-old ask questions. Intelligent ones not the irritating ones – “Are we there yet?”. He’s rarely embarrassed to ask questions or answer questions amongst his peers. In fact, his nursery teachers said they often rely on him to kick-start conversations in group time. It took me a long time to learn that and it’s something I hope never changes in either of us.

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