Know your mental shortcuts and avoid exploitation

Our brains are the most complex of our organs and our most precious asset. In order to cope with the multi-sensory modern environment, that is modern living, it needs to make decisions rapidly. Indeed, it is this information-processing advantage over other species that has made us the dominant form of life on the planet.

Most of the time that rapid decision-making mechanism serves us well. We don't, for instance, have the time, or energy, to fully consider the myriad of decisions we make every day. We would be exhausted if we did. Instead, most of the time we react with an automatic, almost primitive, single-feature way of making choices and this unconscious competence way of operating helps us cope with modern life quite well. We create mental shortcuts.

Robert B. Cialdini in his book 'Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion' calls these mental shortcuts weapons of mass influence. He lists them as reciprocation, commitment/consistency, social proof, liking, authority, scarcity and material self-interest. He terms them 'weapons' since knowledge of them in the wrong hands can lead to exploitation. Examples are when we make mental shortcuts that decide that "expensive equals good quality" and "you get what you pay for", which can be ways of automatic responding. Generally, these shortcuts can prove to be accurate and can serve us well.

Not knowing these mental shortcuts can, however, make us vulnerable to exploitation. We are especially at risk of making poor decisions when we are rushed, stressed, fatigued or indifferent. That is when we tend to focus on less of the information available to us for good decision-making. This is also when we make decisions that are not in our best interests.

It is far better to know when you are in such vulnerable territory and to try to calm yourself and regain a rational perspective. A single piece of information we rely upon can prove to be inadequate or even fraudulent. A simple example might be when looking to find somewhere to eat on holiday and you see a long queue outside a restaurant in a new town. You don't have the time, energy or inclination to undertake a review of the establishment or consider other options. Instead, the long queue (evidence of social proof) makes your mind up for you. It must be good as there is long queue of potential customers prepared to wait outside, you may surmise. However, the food and service may turn out to be poor or when you get seated you realise it was half empty all along.

Counselling can be a way of you exploring your decision-making processes so that you are better equipped to make better choices in your life. Knowing your mental shortcuts will boost your self-esteem and help prevent you from being exploited by others. Slowing down and taking time to review and reflect on your decisions in life can be hugely beneficial. It can also be an opportunity to explore the effects of transgenerational influences on your decision-making processes.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London SE1 & SE26
Written by Noel Bell, MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP
London SE1 & SE26

Noel Bell is a UKCP accredited clinical psychotherapist in London who has spent over 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel is an integrative therapist and draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, CBT, humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.

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