With the Functional Mindset, you need not to let things just happen and complain if they end up being not what you expected. By thinking strategically, you will be able to predict the future… to some reasonable extent. Not because of some mystical form of divination, but simply thanks to a reasonable analysis of all the factors and how they will affect the possible outcomes.
One of the most important thing to rely on will be the past experience, and using it as a testing tool to asses what will work in the future and what will not. Although there are some pitfalls, this is an amazingly simply but powerful tool… and yet we generally fail at taking advantage of it.
First of all, when I talk about past experience, be it clear that I don’t mean our own: we’ll later discuss in details how and why personal experience is not far from being worthless when it comes to deduce what is effective. But, even without considering that, we can’t rely on our own experience to figure out what strategy will work to obtain a certain thing we currently don’t have as, by definition, we don’t have a previous experience of obtaining it.
So, what experience am I talking about? The past outcomes of people who tried. When correctly analyzed (which is not so easy, and that’s where the concepts of critical thinking will come in, as we’ll discuss in other pages), these are factual evidence of what generally works and what does not.
You can think of it in these terms: if you have a goal and there are several potential paths available to obtain it, which one will you choose? The one that have been used with high success, or the one that failed almost any time it was tried? And if, as most people just do without thinking about alternatives, you choose the last one, why would you expect to have good chances to succeed? In most of cases, the problems people face in the different challenges they undergo in their lives do not just happen. Not only they are utterly predictable, but often they are the most likely consequence of what they are doing. All we need is to think strategically and critically to avoid it.
It has been told that the dumbest thing people do is to expect to obtain different results after doing once more the very same thing they’ve always tried before. So, which one seems more appealing to you? Is it better to open one’s mind and look around for a strategy, or to keep the head tightly closed in order to use it against that wall, in an attempt to crush it?
Remember, when I talk about goals, success and failure, I am talking about whatever. Sometimes failing at obtaining what you desire is not a big issue. You may even found out, later in life, it was better that thing turned out that way!
But other times consequences can be nasty (we’ll see that next).
And let me tell you it is excruciating to watch everyday people destined to fail and face adverse consequences that were utterly predictable and so easily preventable. It’s not the case that they don’t care, or are not «that obsessed with success as me», as some phrase it. I know they will later regret it, be sad, feel guilty, or have to pay a high cost to fix things later. As that’s what people tend to do after it.
Some people say I am very negative, criticizing and arrogant because of this. Well, I can’t help it if someone wants to see it that way. But I can’t see it as being negative. I seriously can’t see what can be negative about preventing something bad that, according to all available evidence, is highly likely to happen. Nor I understand the point in being sad after something utterly preventable happened. In most of the preventable cases, I feel sad before: because that’s when it would have been meaningful to talk about it. That’s one of the major points in which I really feel I’m just unable to understand most other human beings. People are so willing to pay attention to strategy, and taking active step to fix things, after they faced the consequences of not doing so. But they are almost never willing to do the same when it would have given the greatest benefit.
I actually get paid for that: as an evidence-based coach, I have two kinds of customers. Those who already are fond on science and critical thinking, and therefore understand already the importance of what I am talking about; and those who already tried countless times, put in so much effort, paid so much costs and are really tired to not obtain the results they want. And therefore are finally ready to accept a different solution with an open mind.
In fact, I admit this benefits me: since by doing things strategically earlier would have been much easier and more effective, it is often the case that those customers would have paid me much less, as they would have needed far less assistance than they do now (not to mention, again, all the other costs they already faced). Still, I wish they would have. As much as I like to help people fix things, I would still prefer to help them making things right in the first place. That’s why I keep writing about this topics, after all.
And what’s the major problem? Whatever the situation, I am glad people decide to embrace a change, no matter how late. But often the truth is that, if too late, you can only fix it slightly, or not at all anymore.
What many consider to be negativity and criticizing is, in reality, an obvious strategical assessment. Given the understanding I have of the topic, evidence available on the issue, and considering the consequences of what happened in the past given the same situation, I simply estimate what the most likely outcome is. If I know that a certain set of actions or beliefs almost always leads to failure when applied, and that those who do succeed generally avoid them and apply instead other strategies, my conclusion is that the person trying the first path will most likely fail.
I can’t seriously understand how that can be seen as anything but a totally straightforward deduction: given the same situations, factors and patterns, the outcome will very likely be the same too. Whatever the situation is.
I am not saying there is only one right solution to a specific issue or a single strategy to obtain a goal. That is not true in most cases, and as a coach mostly working with individuals on a private basis, I have high consideration for the specific differences and situations of any individual I work with. Actually, I wouldn’t even provide individual coaching at all if that would have been what I believe. I would just promote courses abd books with the best one-size-fits-it-all strategy. The reason I coach individually is exactly because I believe it is the best way to achieve results, since applying the concepts to a specific situation is different from understanding the principles in general. As I discuss elsewhere, it is actually flawed to think you will succeed by doing what somebody else did, even if they succeeded. That’s exactly because you might be a different person living a different situation, and therefore the same solution might very well not work (along as other reasons that will be clear from a critical thinking perspective).
The mistake here is failing to realize that the action plan itself is only one factor inside a strategy. Your individual traits, your very specific personal situation, the possible differences in the final goals, and many other things are all factors that must be computed when thinking strategically. So the point is not that one single action plan is the best. Quite the opposite, often any specific strategy might be effective in a specific situation. But, if you compute all of these factors (both the strategy and all the other known factors about the current situation), and you find out that the patterns highly resemble those that usually lead other people to failure, be not surprised if it happens to you as well.
As stated above: the dumbest thing people do is to believe the outcome will be different if they try to do again and again the very same things.
We’ve seen the example of weight loss and, in the previous chapter, language learning. Let’s see a couple more examples, and let’s finally discuss some cases when we can face the harshest consequences.