The fixation effect

It’s been foggy here this week. I remembered my dad telling me to make sure I didn’t drift towards the middle of the road whilst driving in fog. Your mind tells you not to head for the white line but somehow in thinking about it, you naturally go towards it.

This in turn reminded me of a conversation I’d had with my motorcyclist friends following my wideview post the other week. They explained to me the concept of ‘error fixation’ – in trying to avoid the pothole in the road ahead of you, you’re inexorably drawn towards it. It’s like when you’re told ‘think of anything except a pink elephant’, it’s impossible to do anything but that!

I’ve been reading up about fixation errors and discovered that they can occur in all walks of life. It seems that they happen when we concentrate exclusively on one aspect of a situation to the detriment of all other factors; the end result being that we make a mistake.

Frustratingly, after the event, we often see how easily we could have avoided the mistake. It seems that familiarity or past experiences can sometimes hinder problem-solving. We need a fresh approach.

This comes up often in coaching sessions. Clients report that despite their determination to avoid an error, they seem to be drawn back towards it again and again so we’ve come up with several ways of working through this.

Sometimes we use Edward de Bono’s thinking hats, sometimes we work on some lateral thinking problems, like the cheap necklace problem or nine dots, just to get our minds in a different place and sometimes we ask what a client’s role model might do in the same situation. I’ve had some great conversations about what Dr Who or Supernanny might do! However we tackle it, our goal is to find a fresh perspective to solve the problem.

Today’s pebble for you to consider: what fresh approach will you take this week to avoid heading towards the same issue again?

Any thoughts?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?

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