The costs of reframing

Door and window frames

Some reframing needed here. (Actually, this is how my brain feels right now!)

I have just returned once again from being a tutor on the AGCAS Guidance Skills (Advanced) course in Warwick. We had an intensive four days in which we encouraged a group of higher education careers advisers to deconstruct and rebuild their guidance practices and attitudes.

Reframing is a crucial element of the course. We explore how to help clients reframe their career dilemmas in more constructive ways. However, we also do a lot of reframing with the participants. Through workshop discussions, models, theories, observation and feedback, we encouraged everyone to explore different perspectives on the skills and processes of the guidance discussion as well as their role, assumptions and motivations within it.

It’s rewarding but exhausting!

One thing I noticed was that our ability to resist break-time pastries and dinner-time desserts diminished considerably as the course progressed.

And now I think I know why…

A forthcoming paper in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes discusses the costs involved in switching perspectives or mindsets.

In this paper, the authors discuss the idea that switching between different mindsets takes a toll on the executive functions of our brains. These executive functions are mental processes that are responsible for our conscious behaviours. In particular, the researchers investigated the impact of mindset switching on one aspect of executive function: self control.

They conducted five experiments exploring the effect of different types of mindset switching on a range of self-control behaviours and decision-making confidence.

In experiment 1, they forced participants to switch between abstract and concrete mindsets by getting them to answer alternative ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. These people drank much less of an unpleasant vinegary health drink than those who had just answered only one type of question.

In experiment 2, they got people to alternate between ‘locomotion’ and ‘assessment’ regulatory states [Jargon alert: Not exactly sure what this means myself — I will look into it, but it sounds a bit like maximiser vs satisficer]. They did this by getting them to alternate between a careful, criteria-by-criteria comparison of different products in order to choose the best, and a process in which they eliminated products one-by-one until only one was left. The people who had to alternate were less able to keep a straight face while watching a funny film.

In experiment 3, they made bilingual students swap between their two languages (and the associated cultural mindsets). This made it more likely that they would let go of an exercise handgrip in a shorter time.

In experiment 4, they got people to flip between avoiding loss or anticipating gain as part of a computer game (approach and avoidance mindsets). This made them less persistent in attempting to solve an impossible number problem.

In experiment 5, they encouraged people to oscillate between individualist and collectivist mindsets by writing ‘I’ or ‘we’ statements. The switchers were less confident about choosing between different consumer products.

I think that during the course we induced all of these mindset switches in the participants.

  • We constantly got them to alternate between the how and why of guidance practice.
  • We alternated between the best-option approach of reflective practice and the available-option approach of live practice.
  • We made them change their language, vocabulary and speech patterns.
  • We spend a lot of time alternating between the potential risks and benefits of different approaches.
  • We also moved between thinking about common principles and individual boundaries in guidance.

No wonder we were less able to resist the temptations of unhealthy food or force ourselves to exercise.

Further reading

Hamilton, R., Vohs, K., Sellier, A. & Meyvis, T. (2010). Being of two minds: Switching mindsets exhausts self-regulatory resources Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2010.11.005

Related post: Drawing out the implications, Can you disagree with yourself?

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