One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about psychology is how it helps us to understand more than just surface level understanding of things that we come across in day to day life. In particular, the very purpose of psychology is to enable better human understanding of the human condition so that we better understand the person we’re dealing with and are better able to have meaningful dialogue with them. Sometimes, we can take those insights and really create much better solutions than we ever thought were possible, and really help develop our understanding of the way people work. What tends to be hugely unhelpful, though, is when people take insights from psychology, believe there is applicability in other parts of life, and bastardise the original to fit with a tangential theory.
So it becomes hard to then share the original insights in helpful ways and educate people to know something better.
For example, the classic example of folding your arms is oft cited as a sign that someone is closing themselves off and acting defensively. What examples like this serve to illustrate is that the very thing we’re not being mindful of is the person’s whole being, not just the one indicator. We are whole beings. We aren’t the individual behaviours we show, or the particular words we use, or the emotions we express. We are all of that, all of the time, altogether in one big mess.
This isn’t about armchair psychology either. An armchair psychologist is someone who sits in an office and makes theories about the world without seeing if they have any real life application, if their theory can be tested in any meaningful way, and generally don’t enter into debate about what they think.
This is more about everyday psychology. How do we share information with people in a way which helps them to actually understand the mechanisms of human behaviour? There is a lot of great and useful research and information available about what things actually mean and what they don’t. It’s not behind paywalls, indeed most of it is available via a simple Google search.
Here are some of the examples I most regularly hear:
- The left brain/right brain idea behind creativity and logic. What we actually know is that this just isn’t the case at all. We use all of our brains all of the time in all tasks.
- It takes 21 days to change a habit. That’s the minimum time it takes to change a habit, and even then only by someone who is fully committed to making that change happen. For most people it takes between 66-84 days.
- If you’re an introvert you’re sad person, a loner and don’t like to be around people. Actually, introversion is about where you gain your energy from and has nothing to do with how happy you are.
- If you’re an extrovert you’re a happy person, more people will like you, and you’ll be more successful in life. Actually, there’s no relationship between any of those things – if there is it’s because of gross generalisations and anecdotes, but no evidence base.
- Eye movements indicate if a person is lying. If you believe this, you deserve to be fooled. This is purely nothing more than a parlour trick.
- Creative thinking happens best in teams. Counter-intuitively, most great ideas tend to happen when we’re working on our own. When we work in a state of ‘flow’ is when we are so engrossed in an activity that it can feel like we’re indestructible. Sometimes teams are good for developing ideas, but not always.
- We communicate up to 93% through body language. This is such a misquoted stat and bears no resemblance to the truth. Yes body language is important in communication, but it is highly contextual. The words we use and the content with the body language and the tone of voice altogether help us understand the message.
- We can multi-task. No, no we can’t. When we do, we spend longer to complete tasks than if we were to focus on them as single pieces of work. People who are able to make the multi-tasking thing work are only able to do so because they’ve found a method that works for them. For most of us, that’s just inefficient.
- Our brains are plastic and maleable. Erm, kind of but not really. We build new neural connections all the time because we’re constantly doing things which mean the brain has to grow and develop. That’s not the same as being plastic and maleable. It means that the human brain is very capable of learning new things providing the right support is available for that to happen.
All of these examples are easily researchable and you can find out exactly what you need to know about each in order to improve your understanding of them.
Our challenge remains that in the age of digital information, and bite sized chunks of information, we’re very easily lead by clickbait titles and listicles. Sometimes they’ll be useful, and sometimes they’ll be well researched pieces. Mostly, though, they tend to be spouting false information about the human condition and because most of us don’t have the time to check the reliability of that information, we just hear it and accept it.
I find it tends to be more useful to have actual dialogue with authors of various pieces because that helps us to understand where they’re coming from. They’re trying to suggest something, and thinking they’re adding value to their thinking by quoting some psychology piece they think they know. If we know better, we might be able to help them develop their thinking, and if we don’t then we can help both parties be able to search out the answers. There is simply far too much knowledge and insight out there for us to be knowledgeable about it all. I know what I know about what I know. There’s plenty I don’t know about what I don’t know. I’m always more than happy to be provided information that can help me, and I can then have proper debate about that content which will help me to better know what I should do with it.