cognitive intelligence cognitive readiness Dec 13, 2023

The steering wheel was dripping wet.

Today was too much. Emily had to let it all out. Luckily she made it to her car, but she wasn’t able to drive away just yet. Hopefully, no one sees her.

Emily is the leader of a large department, and the one aspect of her job that she hates the most is conflict resolution. It was’t Friday or the 13th nor was it a full moon, for whatever reason, today was a big conflict resolution day, and Emily took the brunt of it.

People love to come to Emily. She’s a great listener because she has natural empathy. What she struggles with is giving advice. The struggle is real, just ask her steering wheel. But, she’s working on it. She has found really good books which are now filled with highlighter and stickies.

For some reason, though, it’s a continuous struggle. As she digs through her notes, she can feel the pressure - the eyes on her to get the advice right, the clock ticking as she scurries through the pages. She wants to give advice easily, with flow, automatically. She wants it to come naturally, like walking. (What she wants is automaticity.)

Automaticity is a fancy word for flow
Automaticity is a behavior or mental process that can be carried out rapidly and without effort or explicit intention. This autopilot thinking can be beneficial as it frees up our attentional resources so we don't become overwhelmed by simple tasks.

But it doesn’t come easy, even though people think that it should, particularly when it’s knowledge or cognitive intelligence based.

  • We read a book - now we’re experts
  • We took a class - we’ve got a ton of experience
  • We watched a video - we’re all prepared for the next occurrence

When has that ever worked out for you?
Applying new knowledge takes practice.

If you read a book on conflict resolution and a conflict doesn’t need to be resolved for a week or a month out, are you going to be able to use the skills from the book? Are you going to remember?

But if you read that book and mentally pretend a conflict was occurring between two people everyday for a week or a month, pretending to use the skills from the book to resolve, would you be better prepared when a real world incident pops up? Are you going to remember then?

Let’s break the cycle of hoping and winging it.

Focus your attention
Before you learn anything new, plan out how you will practice.

Make the promise to yourself, right now, that you will not wait for the next situation to use your new knowledge. Make the promise to yourself, right now, that you will rehearse your newfound skills to be prepared for when you need them.

  • Come up with situations and scenarios where you need to use the new skills
  • Practice using these new skills and techniques
  • Think of different reactions people will have; some will be positive, some negative, how will you respond
  • Repeat, rerun, replay, and repeat again, until you can’t, and then do it again

All of this can be done mentally, aka Mind Runs, but you can also elicit help from friends or family. Take caution when getting other people involved because they can introduce distractions or embarrassments which can prevent or slow down your ability to reach automaticity.

And how do you come up with situations and scenarios? From your past. You’ve already been through these incidences. These are a large part of why you wanted to learn this new skill in the first place. You have a huge bank of historical events ready to help you practice.

So, how do you know its working?
Automaticity is ‘without effort’.

Based on over a decade of research, social psychologist John Bargh suggests that four characteristics usually accompany automatic behavior:

  • Awareness - A person may be unaware of the mental process that is occurring
  • Intentionality - A person may not intentionally initiate a mental process
  • Efficiency - Automatic mental processes tend to have a low cognitive load, requiring relatively low mental resources
  • Controllability - A person may not have the ability to stop or alter a process after initiation

(Bargh states that these are simply common characteristics; not all are needed for a process to be considered automatic.) [49]

Automaticity is usually associated with actions like walking, riding a bike, or brushing your teeth. Use these examples to align your ability and usage of your new knowledge and skill. When you’re working with people, does it feel as easy as walking? When you are interacting in a tough situation, is the resolution or problem solving like riding a bike? (Do the other people involved agree with you?)

This self reflection is the gauge as to how you’re progressing. If you’re still fumbling through notes or feel exhausted after an interaction, you’ve got some work to do. If all that comes out of reflection is that you wished you’d handled some small aspect a bit differently next time, you’ve made some good progress.

You want to feel comfortable in all sorts of different environments without having to surrender attention to every little detail.
This is where Emily is now - at a place where she no longer has to shuffle through her notes. She’s able to reference her knowledge during the meetings, able to give advice she gained from all those experts’ books, and able to maintain energy and strength after bearing the brunt of all that office drama.

Does she get everything right on the spot? Of course not, there are still things she wished she said differently and other things she wished she added. These are no longer a burden. She either follows up or does better next time. She continues to practice and is always prepared of the next talk.

Is something holding you back? Were you making the lazy assumption that you were good to go after reading that book without any practice? Are you holding a delusional confidence that you’re prepared for the next incident?

Sources: [48] [49]

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