“I am a scientist. In my field, it’s considered to be a good thing to change one’s ideas based on evidence.” This quote has been attributed to Albert Einstein. In his youth, Einstein was an extremely committed and vocal pacifist. After the rise of Hitler and his move to America, Einstein signed a letter urging President Roosevelt to develop an atomic bomb. Change of direction much? The quote attributed to him above may or may not be accurate (it was purported to be his response when the pacifists got on his case about his change of heart), but the spirit is true to the facts. When faced with new evidence, he was able to reject old opinions and go with the evidence moving forward. That flexibility of core beliefs, both being willing to hold an unpopular opinion but also to change it when it no longer matched the evidence, is rare and valuable.
In short, it’s a real strength to be able to admit you were wrong (or the situation is not just as you expected it) and change your course.
That sort of flexibility is also a key to success in a crisis. Preppers are planners by nature, and that’s already saved some of our hind parts already and will probably save a lot more in the future. I’m all for planning for possible situations! Since we preppers are, as a group, already good at that, we need to make sure we don’t forget Part II: being able to adjust on the fly in response to how things really are, as opposed to how we thought they’d be. To take a quote from Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, a famous Prussian field marshal, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
The causes of the problem
Inflexibility comes from three major psychological predispositions all humans share. One is perhaps the biggest obstacle to clear and fair thought in general: The Confirmation Bias. Humans like to be right. Presented with equally credible information, some of which supports the beliefs we had coming in and some of which contradicts it, we will naturally both pay more attention to and remember better the evidence that confirms our starting position. The only way to avoid this is to watch your own thoughts like a hawk and be intentional about looking for and paying attention to disconfirming evidence. The Semmelweiss response, a tendency to reject evidence that contradicts a paradigm, is a related problem.
The second source of inflexibility comes from our nature as preppers: We make the plans so we Can deal effectively with stress. The plans themselves become something of a security blanket. It’s harder and more stressful to change plans, so we might have an interlude of ‘wishful thinking’ that everything would come back on track if we just stay the course.
The other problem is rooted even deeper in our brains, in the sensory interpretation areas. Our brains do an enormous amount of interpretation between ‘light reaching the eyes’ and ‘what we see’. What we see is constructed partly from the data we collect from the eyes, and partly from expectations, memories, and attention in the brain. If you don’t think so, I invite you to watch this short video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo . The situation is worse when we’re stressed, as we very naturally focus attention on what we consider to be the most significant features and become perceptually blind to other information. This means it’s hard for us to even perceive information that is surprising or contrary to expectations.
Knowing the tendency is half of the solution
That, in a nutshell, is why I started this PrepperPsych series. When we know where our thinking can tend to go wrong, it’s easier to spot and correct it. Not easy mind you, but easier. Keep eyes and mind open, and take comfort from the fact that having a plan that you must modify is still a thousand times better than having no plan. (My experimental scientist self has found this out the hard way enough times that I’m positive about this one.)
Contingency plans are the other half of the solution
I remember facing a low-water crossing covered with water, wondering if I should risk it. It didn’t look that deep. (Pro tip: If you’re ever here, the answer is NO don’t risk it. Flowing water has an astonishing power and can wreck your day – or life- in no time flat.) I might have done stupid and tried the crossing if I hadn’t known exactly what route I could take to get where I was going in spite of this obstacle. If you have already considered that your ‘most likely’ scenario is not the only possible one and worked out contingencies that cover the new situation, you’re golden.
Ah, I love it when at the end of the day the prepper comes home safe due to good planning. Be well, good people!