Sunday, August 31, 2014

Status Quo Bias: How We Fool Ourselves

Status Quo Bias

I have to admit, the first time I heard that term I had a vague idea of what it was; maybe in the same way that I have a vague idea of how the transmission in a car works.   I understand the ideas behind the gears and how they are changed, but I can in no way appreciate the engineering math that makes them function.

Status Quo Bias affects us all to one degree or another, but it is by far the most powerful (and detrimental) when it distorts and hinders our abilities to improve our skills.  So what is it?  Simply put, it’s the preference to have things remain the way they are.  Doesn’t sound so bad, right?  Well the bias has some small implications on our personal skills and conditions and by small I mean life altering

Lets be honest, its usually much easier to do what we are doing than to do anything harder.  There are a great deal of hard things in life and plenty of people exert a great deal of effort avoiding those things to the point that they become experts in sedentary excellence.  I’ve known people in my life so lazy that if sitting on a couch was a career field, they would be Doctoral experts on optimal ass placement vs range of motion to chip bag.  Its just so easy to meet the minimum standards for existence that anything harder is scary and because its scary, we perceive attempting it as a loss.  That’s right, sometimes doing something new that has positive implications is viewed as bad by our brain because of the work that must be done.

Now, Status Quo Bias ranges from; the book was way better than the movie to I can’t break an 8 minute mile run time.  Of the two, only one has potentially life altering consequences (or both I guess if you are still as pissed about the hobo piss fueled eye-cancer that is The Hobbit).  Status Quo Bias isn’t always a bad thing; it’s what keeps what we like what we like and is probably the only reason some musicians still have careers despite bizarre and offensive behavior *cough Bieber.*  We find our favorite shows, foods, drinks, clothes and Magpul magazine style and our bias makes sure we stick with it.

But when it comes to training, Status Quo Bias is cancer.  Be it poor physical condition or the idea that you cant do [insert skill/technique here] better, Status Quo Bias is basically giving you the idea that you are perfectly fine meeting the minimum standards in a gun fight.

Ill let that sink in.

I’ve written on this topic in the past and more recently as well, though I felt that drawing attention to Status Quo Bias might be helpful for a few reasons; let’s look at how it works.  Chances are if you don’t know if you can run a hundred yards or not without a break, the answer is no.  What keeps you from getting an answer to that question is you may feel like there should be more to gain from running a hundred yards than the physical act of the accomplishment.  Essentially saying that the gain you do get (calories burned, exercise, personal knowledge etc.) is not worth what you must give to achieve it (this is called the Endowment Effect).  Compounded on top of that, we as humans have a strange psychological quirk in which losing at something can be twice as bad as winning (Loss Aversion) and because of that, we often see any potential gain a risk compared to what we lose.  What could you possibly lose in running 100 yards that outweighs the gain?  Besides your shot at a Doctorate in Couch Cushion Comfortability, you may lose the ability to remain in the state you are in.  The comfortable, easy, minimum standard state.  Remember what I said about gunfights and minimum standards?

If your default condition is out-of-shape or hits-the-target-occasionally, chances are you are who I’m speaking to.  The thing is, whatever you have been doing up until this point has been giving you those same results and its obvious that you wont improve without change.  As they say, if you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten.  Results require change, progress and the sort of self-honestly that makes you better than you were yesterday, and willing to fight for who you will be tomorrow.  This doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes hard work, which is the moral enemy of Status Quo Bias.

Learning from others
When it comes to shooting and fitness, change is a requirement to continued improvement.  For shooting, you don’t know what you don’t know and this is where professional instruction comes in.  Learning the proper methods for techniques and skills can be done (to a degree) from the internet and videos, though the largest road block is that there is no one right there with you to let you know if you have it right, or are being the most efficient.  Fitness is no different; if you are already on the path, plateaus and performance walls are best destroyed with the help of new routine and a more experienced coach/trainer/guy who does pushups better than you.  Sometimes the best way to improve is having someone there to tell us exactly how we suck, and show us ways to suck less (hopefully in a nicer way, unless you respond best to tough love).

Gear fixes
Pretty easy; guys buy gear because it’s needed or because they want it.  The reasons for wanting it should not include hopes for skill improvement simply based on owning it.  I can spring for a Formula One car, that doesn’t mean I will be able to drive any more efficiently.  I can go up in caliber, that doesn’t compensate for all the rounds that don’t hit the target.  I can buy P90X, that doesn’t mean I will lose weight.  I have to learn how to properly use and handle the gear, and all the basics to doing so are not gear inherent.

Culture shock
You try something for the first time, and that shit is hard.  Working support-hand only drills, running a mile, doing a pull up, dialing in data on a scope.  Its hard enough that you don’t want to do it again.  This is the tipping point you have to find motivation to get past.  Let’s be honest, if we don’t sweat doing it, there’s a higher chance we will stick with it than if it makes our head pound, limbs shake and stomach threaten to evacuate from all directions.  I hate to be cliché but if it was easy, everyone would do it.  What separates you from the sheep, the victim and the idiot is that you are willing to take responsibility for your own life.  Part of that is a dedication to improvement that doesn’t end when things get a little tough.   Status Quo Bias wants you to remain just as you are; in some cases that’s perfectly fine.  When it comes to fitness and shooting ability, you need to improve and you have to want it more than you want to remain where you are.   You have to force yourself, and force others to help you force yourself if need be, to improve.  Now’s a good time.

-Aaron Cowan

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