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Out of Mind: Mind Games.

'The Einstellung Effect' occurs when the first idea that comes to mind prevents a better solution being found.

In our bodies resides a three-pound mass that controls every movement, breath and thought. This amazing centre is our brain which is made up of 75 per cent water and more than 100 billion neurons, with no pain receptors. Not only is it more powerful than any computer (like being able to distinguish between external unexpected touch and your own touch so that's why you can't tickle yourself!), its amazing ability to generate ideas and execute messages is a mystery scientists are yet to fully decipher. The brain is a structure that is continually undergoing alterations -- as we learn and grow, it transforms alongside.

But there are times when this remarkable mechanism lets us down, such as when we forget an important appointment, fail to observe significant signs around us or might make poor decisions even when better options are present. 'The Einstellung Effect' occurs when the first idea that comes to mind, triggered by familiar features of a problem, prevents a better solution being found. It has been shown to affect both people facing novel problems and experts within their field of expertise. However great leaders and innovators throughout history have skillfully overcome it.

So, how is it that this multi-functioning powerhouse used to accomplish tremendous achievements occasionally deviates from precision performance?

The truth of the (grey) matter is that our brain has certain limitations and is prone to errors, especially in judgment. So, what are some of the ways our mind trips us up? 1. Shortcuts -- our brain tends to refer to historic solutions that have previously worked, applying them to current problems without enough deliberation. We often refer to this as intuition or a 'gut feeling' but it's, in fact, our minds just being lazy and directing us to the quickest option.

2. Filtering -- from an evolutionary perspective, humans have always needed to be mindful of danger in order to protect themselves and survive. So our brain shifts our focus to negative aspects more than their positive counterparts, which lead to dwelling on the negative, sometimes making reality seem quite dark and miserable.

3. Mind reading -- Since we're able to link past and present events, we use these patterns to safely presume future scenarios that may or may not happen. However this is neither reliable nor consistent and can create more problems than solutions.

4. Blaming -- our minds can make us believe that external variables, including people, are responsible for our failings or suffering. For instance, we've all at some point blamed another for the way we feel, saying, 'you're making me unhappy'. In reality, no one can control our emotions.

5. Illusions -- our connection to reality is determined by the way our brain puts together all the information received from our senses. Our sense of reliability, prediction and expectation from the world are based on historic encounters with similar information. But there are times when our brain tricks us into seeing things that may not be what they seem due to emotional and psychological screens. So reality is very much determined by individual perceptions.

6. Self-preservation -- the need to be right is part of the brains wiring which results in cognitive distortion and no matter what evidence is presented to the contrary, we often go to any length to ensure our righteous position so that our sense of self isn't questioned.

Throughout the day, we're exposed to a multitude of stimuli. Now even though all those sights and sounds might get registered somewhere, our attention span and selection process is limited which results in missing details and completely having certain mental blind spots. Several studies have been conducted to understand this such as the one where participants were asked to focus on a video of students playing basketball. They were told to count the number of times the basketball hit the floor. As participants' focus remained on the ball, they failed to notice a man in a gorilla costume moonwalking across the game. Upon repeat viewings of the clip, participants were shocked about the huge detail that they'd missed, even though he had been clearly in the sphere of vision. Think about how many such details we may miss throughout the day, leading to incomplete information, misunderstandings and confusion as there are many 'moonwalking bears' around us.

Negative thought patterns such as 'I can never succeed in business' or 'I am too old to learn something new', is another sneaky way our brain is able to convince us not to do certain things. Henry Ford's famous saying confirms this, "whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right." So, the next time your brain tells you that you can't, stay persistent and overcome with ingenuity any difficult circumstance that prevents you from achieving your dreams and objectives.

From taking shortcuts to rationalising bad behaviour, there are many other ways that we can fall prey to mind games. Just by being aware of these complexities, you can overcome them. Reflect more carefully, lift your invisible blinders, seek more clarification and avoid spontaneous reactions since you may have access to only part of the story. As Jeffrey Eugenides said, "Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind."

Dr. Samineh I. Shaheem is the Learning & Development Director at Kawader (, and owner of Life Clubs UAE. She has lived and studied in the USA, Canada, Netherlands and lectured at university as an assistant professor of psychology in the UK for 14 years, currently living with her family in Dubai. She co-hosts a weekly radio program on 103.8 FM Dubai Eye (Voices of Diversity 10-12pm) every Sunday morning discussing the most relevant psychological issues in our community. Twitter: @saminehshaheem/Facebook: Life Clubs UAE. Please forward your thoughts and suggestions for future articles to

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jul 5, 2014
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