The Risks of ‘Knowing’ The Rules

All through our lives we learn ‘rules’. Anything from ‘Wash your hands before dinner’ to ‘Good goals are SMART goals’ and even ‘All men are #%s*#%^*’.

Is it a good idea to ‘know’ the rules? Well, it depends.

Robert Sternberg and Peter Frensch (1989) were interested in exploring this. They pitted expert and novice Bridge players against a computer. Of course, the experts understood the rules of Bridge more fully than the novices. So, when the computer played according to the usual rules of Bridge, the expert players did well (no surprises there!). But then the researchers fundamentally altered the rules of the game and the novices then outperformed the experts. The novices adjusted to the change more quickly whereas the experts kept following the rules of Bridge even when they weren’t playing Bridge anymore.

Other psychology studies have come up with similar results. When we think we know the rules, we can be slow to notice when things have changed and we can tend to persist in behaviour that often doesn’t work.

When you find yourself doing the same thing over and over, even when you aren’t getting the outcomes that you want. When you notice that your behaviour has a driven, inflexible quality … pause…breathe…notice what is actually happening in the world (rather than what your mind is telling you is happening) and then consider choosing a different action that is more likely to work in that moment.

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