This Fist of Ours!

This Fist of Ours!

In a critical thinking skills workshop we facilitate, we perform an exercise called “The Fist.”  During the exercise we pair up attendees and have them take turns at putting fists under their chins while the other, without touching or using physical action, has a short window of time to convince the other to remove his or her fist from their chin.  It is a fantastic experience that has no right or wrong answer.  Either they do, or they don’t.  Pretty simple.


What we have found over the years doing this exercise is that 85 to 90 percent of the time, whatever the first partner does the second partner will do, too.  If Partner One either removes their fist or keeps it under their chin, Partner Two will very often do the same thing.

It’s easy when the first partner removes their fist.  The second often removes theirs in the spirit of harmony and cooperation.

But when Partner One keeps theirs unmoved (and we’ve seen Partner Two put in tremendous effort to get Partner One to remove theirs) Partner Two’s notion of harmony and cooperation very often vanishes.  Partner Two keeps theirs steadfast, too, and both are typically left wondering what happened.  Things like, “Since they did not remove theirs, I’m not going to remove mine.” go through our minds.

What happens is something striking: how the other person acts, how I react to their behavior, can overpower my intention, which was for me to simply remove my fist.

We see this reaction happening all the time from Facebook to political debates.  It may not be a fist, but it’s someone who didn’t respond to an email. (Electronica is a ripe landscape for reaction and misunderstandings.) Or someone blocked you on Facebook or said something that was politically incorrect.  Or someone cut you off on the highway….merged into your lane just in front of you.  You might have just kept your fist beneath your chin.

In a series of research studies, Dr. Mark Jung Beeman, professor of Brain, Behavior and Cognition at Northwestern University, and his colleagues have discovered something very interesting about people who are natural problem solvers:

“People who have more insights don’t have better vision, they are not more determined to find a solution, they don’t focus harder on the problem, and they are not necessarily geniuses. These ‘insight machines,’ those whom Beeman can pick based on brain scans before an experiment, are those who have more awareness of their internal experience.

They can observe their own thinking, and thus can change how they think. These people have better cognitive control and thus can access a quieter mind on demand.” Your Brain at Work, p. 81

If you’re Partner One, which we are all the time, what kind of message do you want to send?  How do you want to set the tone?  And if you’re Partner Two, which we are all the time, how do you want to respond and change the tone?

How do you want your thinking to be?

What’s your intention?

At THE HABER GROUP we help clients embrace the behaviors that create great leaders by helping them be better thinkers.  We know what gets in the way.  Give us a call at 513-368-7203.  We would love to talk.

And here’s an interesting article on daily intentions:

Steve Haber