There are two interesting concepts that are often associated with human psychology but never in the realm of self-awareness or self-discovery. Pigeon Superstition and the Butterfly Effect are never viewed or analyzed through a life coaching lens, although arguably they could clearly reveal why we sometimes behave in ways that appear to be illogical or out of character.
In 1947 behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted an experiment of pigeon behavior which showed how animals, including humans, can be bound by superstition. Hungry pigeons were fed through a specific mechanism, at regular intervals, and they ended up developing superstitious behavior. The pigeons believed that acting in a particular way, or doing certain action, resulted in food being dispensed. Examples of such superstitions include turning around in the cage twice or three times, in a certain direction, or moving their heads in a regular nodding movement. The pigeons basically believed that certain behaviors are the cause of certain results, when in reality these were false associations.
Now think about your life. How many things do you credit to certain behaviors or actions that eventually turn out to be unrelated? Superstition isn’t only about nailing a horseshoe to a doorway or throwing salt over your shoulder. It’s other common behaviors as well, like thinking you can’t be in control of your mornings without a cup of coffee, or waiting for something good to happen in your life to start feeling optimistic. Similar to the pigeons in that experiment, we often limit our horizons by only looking at the surface. Easy answers are often tempting. Digging deeper is time consuming. But one can only achieve his/her potential by overcoming unjustified beliefs and false associations.
The Butterfly Effect
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is how small change in one state can result in large differences in a later state, while there is no direct or linear relationship between the two. Edward Lorenz coined the term Butterfly Effect using the example of a hurricane being influenced by the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier. His weather model tested the effect with various conditions, and indicated that the same result could not be reproduced without the initial conditions.
It’s easy to accept that a small change somewhere could significantly affect something else, elsewhere. Most people would agree that different life choices lead to different outcomes. However, we often use this concept to reminisce about what could have been, instead of taking advantage of our ability to explore different options.
Choices sometimes paralyze people, stopping them from taking risks or daring to be innovative, while the idea of choice, itself, should actually be celebrated as a gateway to endless possibilities. If something miles away could affect your life, then why wouldn’t your actions then be as influential? The same idea of helplessness against the unknown could be seen as the ability to make a difference somewhere.
So why does this matter?
Irrespective of their titles and how scientific or unscientific these two concepts are, it is a fact of life that we often make assumptions about things influencing our lives, based only on speculation. It is also a fact of life that every choice we make has a ripple effect that spans way into the unforeseeable future, as well as outside the boundaries of our own lives.
Creating linkages between events, where none may have actually existed, is very common and we’re often unaware of this behavior. Being conscious of how we act, and why we behave in certain ways, under certain conditions, is at the core of self-awareness and self-discovery. Similarly, recognizing the link between making choices and their consequences is another behavior that needs to be deliberate. Leaving things up to luck and fate makes us feel helpless, while taking control is empowering and liberating. We always have a choice.