Updating Your Models

Day 056 Week 08 Q1 Monday, February 26, 2024

I know that some of you think that you live in the same world as others of you, but we each live in different worlds. What each of us do routinely is create a model of the world as we understand it, and as new things happen to us that the old model does not do a good job of explaining, we end up having to update our models.

Some people are very upset by this because they would like the world to stay the way they have previously modeled it, which is to say, the way they thought it was. There are others who are thrilled by having to update their models and routinely change their understanding, all hoping to better predict what will be happening in the future. This is the reason we model things. We want to better protect the outcomes because it makes us feel more secure. Some of us act in ways where we cannot predict the outcomes and find this to be engaging.

There is a range, which I call the predictability to surprise ratio, that encapsulates an understanding of what is emotionally engaging to people. If we can predict everything that will happen, we are not emotionally engaged because we don’t even have to pay attention, as it does not matter. If we cannot predict anything that is happening to us, we also tend to turn out because we can’t do anything about it. There is a range of predictability, which we find comfortable yet also emotionally relevant and engaging because we have to pay attention to be able to respond to what is happening. An example of this is if you try to play tennis with somebody who is so much better than you that you are not capable of returning to serve, then you cannot have a volley.

On the other hand, if you are so much better than the other party that they cannot return your service, you also cannot really play. Neither one of these cases is worth your while to engage. They are both outside the bounds of the predictability-to-surprise ratio, which you would find emotionally engaging. What we find optimally engaging is what we can deal with, which requires some effort but not more effort than we are capable of mustering.

And furthermore, the optimal predictability-to-surprise ratio is not time-invariant. Our tolerance for surprises on Thursday night and Sunday morning is not the same. Context impacts what is optimal for us. If we are tired, happy, bored, and many other states, what matches our feelings changes. We are constantly updating our models and our understandings of the world we live in in an attempt to be matched to our world in a way that we are comfortable with.

Have you ever thought about how frequently you update your models? People who are extremely resistant to change do not enjoy updating their models very much. People who pursue new situations and change do enjoy updating their models. Neither is wrong, and neither is right. It is just different. We do not all enjoy updating our models the same amount.  

For a person like me, a cruise ship or a tour bus would be hell. For other people who are very comfortable being on a tour, bus, or cruise ship, they would never want to have the relationship with the world that I have. Some people pursue security, and other people pursue adventure. Different strokes for different folks. And all of these have something to do with how easily and quickly we update our models.

The next time you’re feeling very engaged or very uncomfortable, you might want to think about whether your models are being violated or not, by how much, and if this is exciting or if this is a drag. They say that opposites attract. But that does not mean that they can live with each other. It is helpful to spend time with others who have similar, but not identical, model updating proclivities. Or at least with people who are flexible enough to tolerate others around them, having different preferred predictability-to-surprise ratios.