Let’s talk truths and confirmation bias

The complexities of truth

I’m really intrigued by the concept of truth.

It’s probably because one of my core values is integrity, and so truth is part of that.

What I’m interested in, though, is the complexities around truth. As an indigenous woman, for example, I have a clear position that we each have our own truth, and no one has the right to say that their truth is more true than mine. It’s one of the reasons I don’t ever get involved in a whakapapa (genealogy) debate.

I know my whakapapa because it’s what my grandparents taught me. And they knew because theirs taught them. I have no reason to doubt the truth of their knowledge and their teachings to me.

I assume you gained your knowledge of your whakapapa in a similar way. If what you know is different to what I know, I’m never going to claim that what got handed down through the generations to you is any more or less true than what got handed down to me.

We both have our truth. I can live with that.

My whāngai (adopted) daughter has a truth that families aren’t safe.

That is not my truth. In fact my truth is the exact opposite – that family is my safe place to land. It’s my absolute security. It’s a guaranteed place where all is well. I don’t know how long it will be for her to develop a new truth about that, but I believe it’s possible.

I believe that one day her truth will be: I was raised in a family that wasn’t safe. I now know family can and should be a safe place.

Carver boy has a truth that humans often can’t be trusted.  It’s that you can usually expect the worst of people, and you won’t often be disappointed.

Again, my truth is the opposite – people are good. They’re all trying to do their best and be good humans, and if I trust them, I’m rarely disappointed.

ended my second marriage ultimately because my husband couldn’t be honest with himself. He wasn’t actually lying to me and those around us, because he believed the truth that he had constructed for himself to make his narcissistic universe a place he could live with.  It was a universe where he could never be to blame for the things that went wrong. It drove me crazy – me, with my core value of integrity – to watch him construct a reality that was in conflict with the evidence around us. He wasn’t a dishonest man – he built a truth (and believed it wholeheartedly) that wasn’t my truth and I couldn’t make it my truth.

Challenging our truths

On the other hand, I’d like to think I challenge my own truths regularly.

I once got a haircut that I loved, but people were staring at me. After a week I was ready to grow it out, even though I loved the haircut. I couldn’t handle the ‘truth’ that people were staring because they thought I looked weird or dumb or bad or attention-seeking or something.

But then I asked myself if my ‘truth’ was based on evidence or assumption.

I had NO WAY of knowing why they were staring (unless I asked, and I wasn’t going to do that!).

So I decided to do an experiment:

what if,

when I caught someone looking at me, I told myself they were staring because they loved my hair?  Just LOVED IT? What if I chose to believe it was an awesome hairstyle, and that other people agreed, and that catching them staring was evidence to support that?

I started walking with my head held higher. I started smiling at the people glancing my way. I’ve kept that hairstyle for YEARS. People tell me all the time how much they love it.

I built a truth that helped me feel good. Did I construct that truth for myself? Yes. And it’s a resourceful truth, and I’m keeping it.

So what?

So, confirmation bias

I guess I’m thinking about confirmation bias.

That phenomenon where we believe something is true, so we seek confirmation of it.

My daughter seeks confirmation that families aren’t safe, and finds it. Carver boy seeks confirmation that people can’t be trusted, and finds it. I sought confirmation that my hair was cool, and I found it.

So maybe you could check in on your truths occasionally.

  1. What is your truth?
  2. Is it a truth which is resourceful and helpful to you?
  3. If not, what would be a more resourceful truth? What evidence would confirm that for you? And can you start seeking it out?

Do you need help?

My true home is on Great Barrier Island, where my ancestors lived.

I only get there a few times a year, and when I do, nature has done its best to take over.

Elephant grass up to our waists. Manuka seedlings, thistles, and rushes have their roots deep into the clay.

The job is simply too big for me. I look around and there’s so much to do that I don’t even know where to start.  Left to my own devices, I just wouldn’t.

That damn elephant

And yes, I get the idea that you eat an elephant one bite at a time. In my mind, each bite of this clean up, if I do it alone, would be too small and insignificant to even be worth it. There’s no way I’ll ever get all the work done.

But as we arrived on our last trip, my dad pulled out the lawnmower and mowed a track between the house, cabin, toilet, and generator shed. That made a difference.

Carver Boy grabbed a slasher and started on the elephant grass. I did the same and cleared the track to the waterhole.

Within a couple of hours, we could see some progress, and we could function.  We could get from A to B. And each cleared space, each cut manuka, each clump of rushes levelled, did two things: made the task seem achievable, and revealed the next level of clean up that could still be done.

Within 2 days, the house looked like someone lived there – with a lawn, clean drains, and nothing overgrown in sight. Far more work than I had even thought possible.

The miracle of many hands

It felt miraculous to me. Because on other trips, when it’s just me and my kids, it’s too overwhelming and we don’t even attempt it.  I look around and it depresses me.

I sat on my deck with a well-earned glass of wine feeling so, so grateful for the help. Feeling so, so proud of what we’d accomplished.  And feeling relieved that, because of our combined efforts, the next few weeks of this stay was going to be so much more enjoyable.

And I thought about how much more we can do in our lives when we have help.

And how we find it so, so hard to ask for help.

We are grateful when people around us ask for help, but we feel that to ask for help ourselves is a weakness.

Depression is a part of my life

It has been for decades.

I manage it.

One of the things depression looks like for me is a feeling that even the simplest tasks are too much. I look around me and all I can see is things that need to be done, and I can’t face them.

Have a shower? Too hard.

Get dressed? Too hard.

Answer an email? WTAF.

I want to sleep for a week.

We all need help

But when I have help, that changes.

The company of one of my daughters, or Carver Boy, or my Fairy-God-Ninja, Mandy, makes some things possible.

And each thing I accomplish lifts my spirits. I get help (for me – this usually means just some company) to sort the laundry. I get help while I write a list of things that I think need to be done, so they don’t feel so endless. I get company while I clear out some emails and work tasks so the weight is lifted.

My fairy-god-ninja

When I first hired Mandy I literally had her sit with me once a week just to keep my motivation up – to not let the lurking depression raise its head and climb onto my shoulders. In my calendar those days said, “Mandy babysits Shelly.

When I’m planning out a big project or a hefty document, I get help. I talk it through with someone as I brainstorm. It gets me out of my head.

What’s in your life that you look at every day and it feels too big?

What could you do with that thing if you had help?

What might help look like?

Who could you ask?

We all need help.

Is it time for you to ask for some?

Are you brave enough to be happy?

I woke up this morning, looked at the beautiful man beside me, and thought, it doesn’t get much happier than this.

Gratitude

I’ve been doing the gratitude thing this year and there’s NO DOUBT it’s making me happier, kinder, less sweating the small stuff.

That’s absolutely one big reason I’m feeling so happy.

Being brave

But a really big reason I’m feeling so happy is that I have a good life. A life I worked damn hard to build myself.

A life I had to be fucking brave to get, over and over again.

I had to be brave enough to leave my first husband when he said he didn’t love me, and brave enough to keep living when he drowned soon after.

I had to be brave enough to leave my second husband and commit to being a single mother for all those years.

I had to be brave enough to be alone.

I had to be brave enough to build a house at home on our island so my children and wider whānau have a place to come home to. And so that while I work so hard on my business all year, I get a summer in paradise recharging, reconnecting, and reprioritising.

I had to be brave enough to walk away from my religion. The only worldview and culture I knew, so I could truly be me. And so I could be loved. And so I could feel the sun on my skin.

I had to be brave enough to admit what I wanted.

I had to be brave enough to resist when carver boy wanted to break things off. Brave enough to persist in our relationship. Brave enough (and patient enough) to wait four years for him to move in. Brave enough to risk another broken heart.

I had to be brave enough to say no to things that were tempting, but not right or good for me.

I had to be brave enough to set boundaries around my time and my contributions to others.

I had to be brave enough to charge what I’m worth.

I had to be brave enough to love and back myself.

It took a while, but I turned 45 this year, and I’m proud to say I’m brave enough to be happy.

Are you?

How to reduce stress – do you own it?

I once had a friend staying with me, and she was worried about a small decision my daughter made. She later told me how stressful the visit was, because of that one thing.

Let me explain a bit more (while still respecting the privacy of both my friend and my daughter).

The one thing.

My daughter’s behaviour didn’t harm anyone.

It didn’t inconvenience anyone.

It was not made or carried out in anyone’s presence.

It didn’t impact on my friend’s ability to do anything.

It didn’t create any consequences my friend had to live with.

I was 100% unconcerned with the decision my daughter had made. It didn’t inconvenience or worry me. It was completely fine by me.

So when my friend later told me how stressful it was for her, and how it impacted on her ability to enjoy staying with us, I was blown away!

It wasn’t hers.

She didn’t own it. She CHOSE to be concerned. She CHOSE to be worried about the decision my daughter made. I was incredibly surprised that my friend didn’t have the self-awareness to realise she was feeling stressed about something that she simply didn’t own.

How do I deal?

One of my go-to responses to stress is to write a list – itemise the things on my mind (which is where stress lives, of course).

And then I categorise:

  1. what’s mine?
  2. what’s not mine?

I look at the what’s not mine category and often that’s all I need to do – acknowledge I’m carrying stress about things that aren’t mine and that I can’t influence.

That simple awareness (and the fact I’ve written it down and acknowledged it) is usually all it takes for me to let something go.

I basically roll my eyes at myself and go, well duh, that’s not mine. I cross it off the list and it’s gone.

I know.  Sometimes it’s not that easy!

If it’s not that easy to do, then I think about what meaning I’m attributing to that thing that’s not mine, and see what I can shift there.

Sometimes it’s just a shift I need to make in my thinking. Other times I might need to act so that I can cope with the things that are not mine, but that are impacting on me nevertheless.

Then I look at the what’s mine category and plan out what I can do about it and when, and what I need so I can action that.

Voila.

Stress management 101 (according to Shelly).

You’re welcome!

Sell them what they want, so you can give them what they need

OK, I need to take you on a little bit of a journey to explain what I mean here, so bear with me.

I have a background as an educator. I trained as a high school English teacher. I started teaching at universities at 21 years old.  I worked in indigenous tertiary education for 7 years.

I now train adults for a living.

Trainer. Teacher. Educator. Facilitator.

In the education sector we have strong feelings about all these words.

In the school of education, we frown on the word ‘train’ because there’s a history of seeing teaching as a vocation rather than a profession.

In indigenous education we prefer the word ‘facilitate’ because it rejects the ‘empty vessel’ pedagogy that has such close links with colonisation.

When teaching adults, we are less likely to use the word ‘teach’ for similar reasons – working with adults requires a more co-constructive, facilitative approach than a teacher-student model.

And yet.

I make good money as a corporate trainer because that is what companies are looking for. When adult participants come into a room with me they want me to teach them things. They are looking to me to have the expertise I can pass on to them.

But here’s the curveball: in a lot of ways, what I’m delivering to people when I train, teach, educate, or facilitate, is CONNECTION.

I teach people how to connect with other humans, because that is the foundation for all the other things we want to achieve.

Want to write better documents (Business Writing)? Connect with your readers.

Want to teach people better in the workplace (Train the Trainer)? Connect with your trainee.

Want to work better with other cultures (Cultural Competency)? Build a connection with those people.

You won’t hear me distil it like that in a training room.

So what does this have to do with marketing? And writing?

When we name a product or service, it’s natural to come at it from our own position:

  • What do I call this thing?
  • What is it, from my professional perspective, that I’m providing?
  • What words are acceptable in my industry?
  • What words will my peers see value and credibility in?

But that’s a mistake.

We also name our products and services based on the outcomes we know they’ll provide to people.

That’s also a mistake.

Because, ask any trainer or consultant and they’ll tell you:

What these people need is X, but they think they need Y. 

If I try to sell them X, they’re not interested.

But if I sell them Y, they’ll buy it, and that gets me in the door so that I can give them X.

If I only deliver Y they won’t be anywhere near as satisfied as if I give them X.

In a nutshell?

Ask yourself what your market is looking for.

What do they think they need?

And then label your product or service as that.