Fortune [only] favours the prepared mind
A Nudge, or small, safe experiment, is one way to prepare your own mind.
BUT it is not difficult to prepare our mind to move in unintended directions. This direction will be set by the meaning we make of our universe. Too often that meaning will be distorted by blind spots in our understanding of that universe.
To ensure the direction is both intended and thought-through requires we do not miss something. That is, we do not discount something important. That rather assumes we have a wide and deep view of the world in which we live for so short a time.
Also, it rather assumes we know what a mind is, and our mind in particular. Dan Siegel has some helpful things to say about that. I’ll leave you to find out what he has to say; I do not have enough pages!
Who does the’ preparing’?
Even so, there is another even trickier question: who does the preparing? Clearly teachers are important to children and young people. However, in adulthood there is a cultural tendency to continue with a reliance on teachers. For some time, therapy has been conceptualized as a learning process without specifying how adult education differs from other approaches, e.g. technical and vocational education.
Good ‘teaching’ operates in many different ways.
The disciplined therapist, when at home with their ‘teacher’ role, will operate a rule of thumb that says: you prepare your own mind, I will prepare mine. I will be a temporary mirror to help you observe what is going on and feel encouraged and supported. An undisciplined therapist will give you the benefit of their wisdom and experience and find it difficult to negotiate when to let go.
So, you see, there are many ways to nudge. There are several books and websites offering you others. There are plenty of examples of shoving others along. We can all do that.
…. and watch out for those who ‘shove’ you along
The UK government spawned a behavioural science unit devoted to this! The now-privatised Behaviour Insights Unit exists to create nudges so you help the government achieve its governmental goals. It uses the ‘nudge’ to attain mass goals, often with an ‘eye’ to the larger economic benefits. As I see it, this unit – very profitable for its Directors – is less concerned with empowering you as an individual.
Start to design your own
….. with a sceptical eye over what I am now about to say.
This website is only concerned with nudges, or small, safe experiments, you can design for yourself. For me, nudges are safe experiments, or do-able things, to move yourself along a scenic route to change. It’s ‘scenic‘ as it does not necessarily follow in a straight line.
So I repeat: the nudges I want for you are not ones intended to shove other people along; they are concerned with how you might want to shove yourself along. I do offer one direction you might like to consider, but please do the ‘considering’ for yourself.
The outcomes you might want to reach might be very different. I want this website to support you in that personal inquiry.
It is not what you can do to others, but what you can do for yourself (with apologies to John Kennedy, and the Romans!).
INTRODUCTION to safe experimentation
All the material in this website has been generated by a large number of people over decades; I am only one of them. None of this material would have been tested without the support of many clients, colleagues, supervisors, teachers, family and friends.
The practical nudges, or safe experiments, included here have worked for somebody, at some time.
Please chose your own way to use this material. Make it your own and find out what works for you – in the knowledge that no-one can tell you what will work until you have a go. You will need to cast around to find material most suited to you and your present circumstances.
When you take a step, it may develop your ability to build on success (a ‘small victory‘) and to adapt when you get it wrong (a ‘small defeat’). There could be a mixed result so make what sense you can of that!
What’s the ‘do-able’ thing?
Where any technical details I provide seem to flummox you, just ignore the words. Focus on the ‘do-able thing’. That may emerge from my other words, diagrams and illustrations.
DO things, rather than think too much about them – with a few obvious exceptions.
Please keep looking for your ‘do-able thing’ even if doing is not all and everything, and then …..
It pays to know how the other person operates
Also, there are pages on research into what is helpful therapy.
Take a look at some pages listed in my alphabetical Index. That’s a challenging experiment in its own right!
If this helps, fine: but this website is a road to designing and implementing your own safe experiments – to focus on your understanding of your own world.
The smallest step
Keep in mind: what, for you, is the smallest ‘do-able’ thing you could work on?
The material you are about to generate can provide a tool for your own personal development.
However, some things have emotional impact
Therefore, you may want to work on your personal development with a consultant. There are many people who can act as a consultant. The important thing is to find some-one reliable and discreet outside your immediate circle of friends or family.
WHAT’S NEXT – ACTION
I would advise you to record results emerging from your experiments. That way to collect data can help you build your own MY-NUAL.
It can be argued that without results, there is no experiment but you can keep your records brief. Use concrete, short sentences, even bullet-points, to help keep your focus. I have included some detailed headings on another page.
A diary or a journal is useful to some but not essential. Journals and diaries are detailed documents; they can help a lot but you may not be used to that sort of thing. The important thing is to make a start and have some record to supplement your memory.
In my experience Post-Its will do just as well, as long as you can organise them so the information remains coherent as you may need to come back to some of your results.
Such data can be used, and re-used, to move things along. Keeping the material in your head sounds convenient, but it might not work. The results can arise from fleeting experiences – valuable for moving things on – yet too easily missed. We forget stuff or overlook it.
A similar ‘lesson’ or opportunity may come again, but the process of change can be slowed or fragmented.
Write down the following items on a piece of paper, in any order:
Experiment; outcome; records; commitment; just noticing, small details; building on victories; acceptance of defeats.
Come back to your list in 24 hours. How many items would you have recalled if you had not written them down?
If in doubt, try just remembering the items and see how many you can recall twenty-four hours later – without consulting your list or this blog. Which one(s) do you leave out? Do you think the forgotten items might be ‘telling’ you something about the way you work?
You may ask why I used that particular itemised list. In my opinion, it contains the key ingredients you will need if you want to nudge your life in a different direction.
A more humourous version of this experiment is: stop for a moment and see how many of the seven dwarves you can recall from Snow White? A lot of folk cannot get to five and most of us struggle to name a seventh.
Let me now get to a word of caution. Progress may not be evident unless it creates some discomfort. That feeling can motivate us to do something else (“no gain without pain?”). Consider that feeling as a ‘small defeat‘ if necessary but – whatever you do ……
…. don’t blame yourself or me!
Instead, decide what you might do differently next time
That attitude will lead to your next experiment. You can still make useful change even though you are disappointed by the first results. It is easy to be deterred and feel put off. A record of the successes and failures arising from your experiments provides a balanced record of results that can help you to move forward.
There are some unexpected challenges; for example, getting things right can lead us to brush off our successes with false modesty! With any result, encourage yourself by saying “what more might I do… what might I do differently“. When you succeed, please enjoy it and consider how to build on that ‘small victory’.
A WORD ABOUT MODELS
There are hundreds of models of therapy.
Examples such as Gestalt, Body Psychotherapy. Mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (BDT) Transactional Analysis or Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) come to my mind. There is even a movement to integrate different models but even then it can seem like an excuse to invent another name – without having enough respect to acknowledge others who preceded them!
For a commentary on groups of models have a look at:
Some models may be more helpful than others; I am thinking, here, of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – less a model and more a way of going about things. ACT is consistent with the dominant ideal in this web-site so I have written more about this approach. Similar things can be said about Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT).
If you do the research you may find ‘models’ offer a coherent and ordered way to understand what makes us ‘tick’. They offer guidance on how to behave differently when our ‘tick’ becomes erratic. So ….. models are fine, but they do tend to use assumptions and assertions to explain human behaviour in general, but not specifically your behaviour.
Safe experiments will help you test these basics. The results will help identify what model might best apply to your current life and what seems not to apply.
Tomorrow? You may need to change the working model!
Models find it difficult to respect the uniqueness of each of us. They offer general observations. Models, by their nature, cannot apply to all people, all of the time, across our globe.
With any model you will need to decide where you fit in. Do you fit the majority pattern or do you see yourself in the minority – an awkward fit, at best? Beware the tendency to fit yourself into what is available. Instead, use the ‘bits’ that work for you.
For many years, research has consistently demonstrated that models are less reliable indicators of success in therapy, when compared to the quality of the relationship created by therapist and client.
In short, models are not a ‘be all and end all’, but rather a means to learn how to be skillful in the art of safe experimentation. For some detailed information on how to continue with safe experiments, take a look at:
I have said that success with your safe experimenting may mean feeling rotten. That is unavoidable. Please make a point of noticing how you feel – whether good or bad. This is the key safe experiment of just noticing‘. Record your reaction, your feeling, as a ‘fact’ – nothing more. Stay with it, do not avoid it and, as helps, measure it with the Subjective Unit of Discomfort Scale (SUD).
Later, you may find an experiment that helps to explain what that reaction might mean to you – what your body is ‘saying’ to you.
The art of ‘just noticing’
The art of ‘just noticing‘ is seeing, hearing and becoming aware of something, however small, especially the small and fleeting experiences. Just noticing can turn your awareness to your advantage. Furthermore, planning small steps may, only may, reduce the intensity of good or bad feelings and help us to avoid a ‘hard’ landing.
Safe experiments that promote small changes make it possible to step back and redirect our energies when we have moved in the wrong direction a little bit. Beware of learning to tight-rope your way over the Grand Canyon, only to find yourself at the wrong destination. Take pleasure in deciding what you are going to do differently, tomorrow, fully accepting that you will have to live with the consequences.
Practise through repetition of small victories will be necessary. Decisive and visible change rarely arrives first time around. The brain needs to learn and absorb what it means to be different. Our brains operate at quite a speed, but learning is a complex process. Consider how long it took you to ride a bike?! Only practice can build confidence.
This notion of experimenting, here, is saying that effective therapy does not need to provide an immediate or ‘complete’ solution. Problem resolution can emerge from some change and the ability to experiment.
Russell L. Ackoff put it like this: “the way to make a big change is to start with a very small change or ‘input’ and just see what happens”
Now, is there anyone thinking: Oh, that’s interesting but what about these experiments? When will they really get going?
That’s an important question. Didn’t you notice that you have already started! You are reading this website and I am fairly confident you are thinking about it. The thing is – there is no need for me, or my words – to give you permission to get started.
More importantly, some of us get started …….. and don’t notice.
NOW THAT IS A PROBLEM – something’s happening, but you did not realise it.
Like it or not, Brits voted for Brexit and the Americans tried a large experiment by electing Trump as their President. I do not recommend you to do the same thing with your own life. Those election outcomes were not small steps! Whether they were safe has yet to be assessed.
Notice how, from 2020 onwards, we faced the global public health crisis. This has forced governments to experiment with unprecedented strategies. Government actions have a large knock-on all of us. It is difficult for governments to devise small and safe experiments. We can do better when the focus is on me. We can be less cautious and live with the consequences.
The main qualities of a small, safe experiment
Experiments are open trials; they have a quality of quiet and provisional probing. Think of them as generating a quality of affectionate curiosity in you. It comes out of caring about ourselves and others.
It is not a cold, superficial analysis; it’s affectionate, it’s warm, it’s intimate, and even playful. It is an investigation into the nature of your life. This quality of investigation is, of course, strong in most children. They are good at not assuming things and they are often more able to let go of a treasured perspective (often through energetic crying in the first instance!).
Each one of us has the ability to observe and that includes observing your emotional experience when experimenting. It is not an easy task to stay with a discomfort until you see it change, but it is possible to learn from it. An important part of any investigation is observing those experiences we find difficult to focus on.
With experiments we are not trying to make anything happen. We are simply open to something happening and remaining vigilant – to notice the result. This includes paying attention to important relationships and the attitudes and preconceptions we hold towards others. In a later experiment, you may notice how our attitudes, and attitudes of those close to us, can prevent us engaging in relationships in an open and direct way.
There is no better way to stifle investigation than to become caught up in our fears and anxieties. This can deter us from practising new skills, diluting our courage to take other actions. The aim is to remain open to the experience – being a little different with ourselves or that other person – just for this moment.