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Know Thyself

You probably will be indifferent to the fact that I don’t like exercise; I hate it. Or let’s just say that I have a mild aversion to being exhausted. But ever so often I would randomly start with a mild training program and gradually increase the intensity until one day I get tired of being out of breath.

What I did realise throughout the short stints, however, is that whatever exercise I am doing, whether it’s lifting weights, rowing or stretching, I always find myself compensating my body in one way or another. For example, my right arm is naturally stronger than my left, so it naturally does the majority of the work when rowing.

I realised that, even when something has been repeated over and over again, that without frequently paying attention to what is happening  or what you are doing, things get out of hand by  themselves.* In Dan Ariely’s beste-selling book Predictably Irrational, the title says it all. All humans behave in expected ways, albeit irrational. To me, at least, this quirk of human nature means that when we are ‘left to our own devices’ we will be irrational. By irrational, I also mean that you will make sub-optimal choices.

People often behave in predictably irrational ways

In a previous post I wrote about how wrong our intuition can be in judgements. We make use of, what the cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahnemann calls System 1 and System 2. It is a way to describe how the mind operates.  The latter is used for making slower, thorough decisions that we actually pay attention to. On the other hand, System 1 is used for making quick, unconscious judgments – for example, driving a car.

The amygdala in the brain regulates our emotion by continuously scanning the environment. A book by the ‘father’ of emotional intelligence  (EQ) Daniel Goleman got me thinking about the following idea.  If a person has experienced excessive trauma some time in their lives, surely then their amygdalas (you have two, both within each hemisphere of the brain) must be more focused on external fears. It is with this thinking that people that have experienced trauma early in their lives have a higher emotional intelligence, partly due to a greater self-awareness – one aspect of emotional intelligence.

The point is this: if a person does not pay attention to their conduct, then  they are likely to behave in ways thought they would. Not least of which is irrational thoughts and emotional judgement.


*This is called entropy and is actually a concept used in thermodynamics.. Basically, it says that within a closed system (i.e. without outside intervention), anything within that system will become disorganised. Conscious effort is required to bring things back to, at least, the way they were. People interested in physics or science in general will appreciate the application of entropy in everything!

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Werner van Zyl
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