Posts Tagged memory

A matter of perspective

MIstakes Were Made (but not my me)

Can you justify yourself if you don't read this?

Over on Careers Debate we are having an interesting discussion about narrative approaches to career coaching/counselling.

Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book which looks at how we reconstruct our memories and perceptions in order to keep them consistent with our self image.

In Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson explore the various ways in which we delude ourselves in order to maintain a favoured self-perception. They discuss how this desire to avoid cognitive dissonance leads to extremes of self-justification in all areas of life. They provide examples from the realms of politics (obviously!), international relations, law enforcement, psychology, alien abductions, scientific research and marriage guidance.

It is an interesting book, if somewhat depressing. Personally, I think it should be compulsory reading for any politician or business leader. There is enough thought-provoking material in here to sustain several heated discussions. However, one particular set of research studies caught my attention because of their potential link to narrative work with individuals.

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How do colonoscopies relate to career change?

This fascinating 20 minute talk by Daniel Kahneman on happiness and the difference between the ‘experiencing self’ and the ‘remembering self’ has so many thought-provoking ideas in it, but I’m just going to focus on one. And I’m going to try to link having a camera inserted where the sun doesn’t shine to working with people who are changing career and a narrative approach.

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What makes a theory useful?

A classic concept in cognitive science is the magical number seven (plus or minus two). Introduced to the world by George A. Miller in 1956, this is all about the typical number of chunks of information you can keep in your immediate memory.  As you become more familiar with a topic you may be able to retain more information in each chunk, but the number of chunks you can handle at one time always seems to be limited to roughly the same number — somewhere between five and nine. Try to remember more than that and one of the chunks of information already in there will probably vanish.

If you are an academic, researching career choice and development at your leisure, this limitation on immediate memory is not much of an issue. You can record vast amounts of information in a large number of categories and analyse it a piece at a time. However, as a practitioner you are acting in the moment with a client. If you want to be responsive rather than formulaic, you are very much dependent on your immediate memory and prey to its limitations.

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