We all rely on them. In fact we all use them unconsciously every day. Heuristics are mental short cuts that enable us to ease cognitive load and make decisions more quickly. It’s the ‘rule of thumb’ that helps us to deal with whatever comes our way each day pragmatically and often quite efficiently.
The problem is when we rely on these mental short cuts all of the time and without some form of conscious and periodic check-in to confirm and test our assumptions, the pragmatism and efficiency of the ‘rule of thumb’ can be quickly overridden by the ‘Halo’ and ‘Horns’ effect.
These are cognitive biases that develop when we take an experience or series of experiences with an individual, group or type, and apply that more liberally across the board to that person, group or type as a general ‘rule of thumb’.
I think yoga is insightful and enlightening so I assume everyone who has any involvement in the yoga industry is also insightful and enlightening (the Halo effect).
Mary-Anne was late a couple of times, so I think of Mary-Anne as someone who is always late (the Horns effect).
Such perceptions are tantamount to making judgments. We apply them to situations and others, but we equally and as frequently apply them to ourselves.
They are screens or barriers, the layers we fold into and over a person, situation, and ourselves. They drive the stories, explanations, and justifications we feel compelled to tell about our circumstances. They add weight and gravitas, but also bring burden, preoccupation, even suffering.
In the end, these judgments prevent us from taking a situation or interaction on its individual merits and seeing someone or something as it really is. Including ourselves.
According to Yogic Philosophy, when we engage in this process of applying a ‘rule of thumb’, of making and projecting our judgments, we are essentially giving expression to the Ego and open the way for wrong understanding. We are fundamentally confusing our perceptions, projections, fears, beliefs and attachments (or expressions of our Ego) with the more stable and enduring essence of our true nature.
In the end it prevents us from coming to a circumstance with equilibrium – being able to enjoy the good for what it is and without desire for yet more, but also being able to accept the not so good with an equal sense of abiding non-attachment.
Every now and then, when I take a long walk I do a simple exercise. I simply become aware of the thoughts racing through my mind and notice how many judgments I am making – of myself, how I compare to those walking by, of others, what they’re wearing, or how they’re acting …
It’s an excellent exercise in mindfulness. Simply becoming aware of the judgments we are making in each moment all of the time.
And the wonderful thing is, once we become aware of these judgments, we are now empowered with the opportunity to re-assess the assumptions, patterns, or heuristics that drive them and re-consider whether they are really making things easier or if we are simply creating our own preoccupations, angst and suffering.
Next time you go for a walk, you might consider the judgments ruling your state of mind.