Pattern recognition Archives

everything_is_a_test

Photo credit Fe Langdon, available on Flicker under Creative Commons.

 

Today I want to write about a specific mindset. This mindset, once adopted, can help you grow effectively. Let me first tell you how I discovered it.

The importance of a test

I have been a researcher in pattern recognition, which learns from data in an intelligent way. There are many tools available for a successful data analysis. All of them rely on certain assumptions about the data. Each assumption leads to a specific model. In the majority of the cases, however, the validity of the assumptions cannot be checked for complex data (which is often the case for real data).

I know it’s surprising, but it is true.

There are three reasons behind this. These are:

1) Too little data.

There is way too little data available for the number of unknowns in the model to be estimated

2) Algorithmic efficiency.

Even when huge data collections are at hand, a small sample of the data is used to make all the algorithms both fast and feasible for the task.

3) The lack of mathematical approaches.

No models available for in multivariate representations to check whether the given assumption holds or not.

In theory, when the assumptions about the data are true, then the best model (or one of the best) is exactly the one based on the same assumptions.

How do do you think this translates to practice?

Well …

The practice is a different story. There is usually a gap between theory and practice. You have already guessed it, right? ūüėČ

A complex model theoretically tailored to the data distribution may loose with a seemingly irrelevant simple model. Even if this simple model is derived from a completely different assumption, it may still win with the theoretically the best model possible. It doesn’t have to be like that, of course, but it is often the case.

Why?

Because simpler assumptions lead to a few parameters. And fewer parameters can be better estimated (than the many) when there is little data.

It means that a simple model can often provide a better (though rough) fit, then a complex (hence flexible) model whose parameters are poorly estimated. This inadequate estimation often makes the complex model bad for the task.

This is a controversial point so let me paraphrase it as follows.

Imagine that a simple outline of your silhouette (aka, data) is given to a tailor (which is an algorithm). He hasn’t seen you, but he has some data about you – a rough outline of your body.

A simple model would then translate to a basic and plain dress suited around a few measurements. These may be the neck-line, the waist-line, and the chest. The dress, even though not special, will likely fit you as the basic measurements are sufficiently estimated.

A complex model would correspond to a fancy dress with layers, frills and pockets, and an asymmetric line. Many measurements are now required to have it designed well. Since they are based on your outline only, guesses have to be made. The resulting dress may look stunning, but unwearable because it would not fit. Even if beautiful, the dress may either be too narrow or too wide in wrong parts of the body, so that there is no way for you to squeeze in. 

But… If the tailor is well experienced, he is capable on choosing the right complexity based on a few measurements. He will make the right design that would be perfect for you.

The only way to know it, is to test it.

Everything is a test

In practice, when you want to guarantee the best solution for the given data you will do two things. First, you will consider a number of different models, including a variety of data transformation as well. Secondly, you will train and test them extensively on the new data. This is the data which was unused for the parameter estimation (i.e. the unknown parameters of the model) and kept aside for an evaluation.

It is a necessary step.

Without a well-designed testing stage, the primary results are often too optimistic. Moreover, your initial guesses may be totally wrong. Without rigorous testing, no intelligent solution is found. With the extensive testing and adaptation, the solution will work for new data. This is what you want.

This is a powerful learning point which easily applies to my life and your life. Namely,

What I am talking about here is the mindset, not the literal approach to test every single thing in your life. The mindset will have paramount consequences for your conscious growth.

Let me explain why.

First of all, when you approach a new idea or a habit to your life as a test, it is easy to commit when you know it is meant for your first-hand learning experience. Your goal is to see how this idea (say, a specific time management approach, weight loss program or a nutritional protocol) applies to your personal circumstances in a limited time frame. After a specified time period, you are going to evaluate how well this idea works for you.

The mindset of a tester is a mindset of a person who likes to have fun and see what happens without any specific attachment to the results. Why? Because a test is meant to provide you with feedback. When you accept that you have been just testing, it is easy to modify the approach accordingly or truly abandon it if necessary.

Secondly, if you like the newly tested idea, you choose to adopt it as your long-term habit. Even though it is now ingrained in you, after a year or two, you know you are still in a testing stage, though it is now an advanced test ;). The testing never ends. As a result, you are open to either modify it or leave it when the idea stops serving you.

Test everything

The “test everything” mindset is to enjoy running the tests, while being open to adjust them when needed. This mindset will prevent you from blindly following the gurus or getting into dogmatic thinking. A test is always subjected for an evaluation. You simply allow yourself to question both the assumptions and the results.

This mindset keeps you open for new ideas. It makes you conscious to observe when the ideas you practice have stopped serving you. It usually starts with an insight that something is a bit off track or awkward. You will notice that when your mind is set to the testing stage.

If you, however, accept the idea as an absolute truth because it comes from gurus (advanced research, your beloved one or any other authority – you name it), you may easily continue the practice it until things become so bad for you that you have no other way than connect the dots. A bit too late….

***

A tester’s mind is a versatile and flexible mind. It is a fresh mind, indeed.

As a tester, you give yourself permission to run trials of all kinds, even the ones which lead to negative results. These results are your feedback, which will be intelligently analyzed to tailor the tested approach to your specific condition. 

Choose to be a tester. You will learn a lot, adjust ideas and develop your independent thinking. Such a conscious process will teach you how to make smarter and more effective decisions.

On the top, you will get more fun!

***

 What you are going to test today?

***

 

This post is dedicated to Inge and Bob who taught me about trust.

 faith_trust

Trust and faith are fundamental in our lives

Trust opens you up and allows you to learn in a moment. Outside your comfort zone.

Faith is a framework of your beliefs, in-flows and out-flows, approaches to learning and making use of your knowledge.

And here comes a story ….

***

One day I discovered I was pregnant. This was the beginning of a new journey into my second pregnancy. It turned out I was carrying twins. Quite a shock: double trouble and double blessing ūüôā

During pregnancy, the ultrasound scan at the 18-20 weeks serves as a tool to evaluate the development of the baby. It is an early diagnostic of some potentially serious health problems. I had one at the 18th week.

A sonographer was pleased with the pictures and gave me happy news – the kids were growing well. Yet, there was a little bit of hesitation in her voice. I ignored it.

I entered the room of the consultant with the ultrasound results. I was expecting the confirmation of the good news. There was, however, a big surprise waiting for me.  After a moment of silence, there was a shot in my heart.

“Are you going to terminate the pregnancy?”, the consultant asked calmly.

“What???”, my jaw dropped. I thought he was taking nonsense. “What do you mean?”

“There are two strong markers indicating that both your kids may have the Edwards syndrome.”¬† his voice was emotion-less.¬† “Moreover, your age makes the picture much worse.” he continued. “The chances are high.”

“What is it?”, I whispered. (I knew that statistically I was prone to much more genetic disorders of the babies than young mothers.)

“It is a serious genetic disorder of the 18th chromosome. It makes it impossible to support life. There are usually stillbirths. When born, majority of babies die in the first week.¬† Nearly nobody makes till 1st birthday. There are a few exceptions above one year old, but overall, there is no hope”, he explained calmly.

I suddenly knew it all. My friend’s baby died a few days after birth because of this disorder. And the next two babies died in the womb. Since I helped him to overcome the dark hours, I knew how devastating this experience was for him and his family.

I was petrified. The darkness was sudden and overwhelming. I could hardly breathe. The monsters were running wild.

– “We can perform amniocentesis from both amniotic sacs, but there is the risk of miscarriage for any of the twins. About 3%. “, he continued. “The risk is much higher with twins than with a single baby.”

Again a pause.

“You will know 100% whether the babies suffer from this disorder or not. “

I had no idea what to say, yet I felt I had to say something.

– “What would you do in my situation?” I asked.

– “I don’t know what I would do”, he said, “I’m a man.”

There was a pause. 

– “… but I know what my wife would do.¬† No hassle. Termination.”

I left the clinic with a leaflet on the Edwards syndrome in my hand. Little information really.

Dark hours

I returned home and spent hours on the web to educate myself on this genetic disorder, markers, amniocentesis and so on. I learned what was to learn there.

I felt angry, scared and abandoned. I felt as if I was the only person in the whole world. Deeply lonely.

The darkness was slowly competing with the Light for space both in my head and in my heart.

I studied the information. With detail.
There was intent. There was conscientiousness. There was devotion.

I listened to my feelings.

I was crying. Desperately.
There was pain. There was anger. There was drama.
 
I punched the pillow.
There was blame. There was anger. There was force.

I had done it all until I felt I became empty.
There was no more blame. No more guilt. No more emotion.

There was just silence and calmness. In the emptiness, a healing space was being created.

I was there, present, in the moment.

I had collected all necessary knowledge.
I returned to my center.

In the center I was able to create trust.  I recognized I was in God and God was in me.
 
I looked again at the data.

“Why would I choose a real risk of miscarriage of the twins for the hypothetical risk of their death resulting from the chromosome disorder?”

I wouldn’t.

In that moment I decided against amniocentesis (as the termination was out of question, anyway). The consultant was surprised.

The choice to trust

This was only the beginning. The pregnancy challenged me on all levels: as a human, wife, mother, scientist, and coach.

I chose to trust and have faith in great uncertainty. As never before in my life.

During pregnancy the lives of the twins have been threatened multiple times based on various grounds: lack of development, inappropriate support of my body, internal and external conditions. The twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome was at the background. At the 28th week I was pushed to be delivered because one of the babies stopped growing. In my opinion, the decision was based on insufficient data and the worst-case scenario approach.

I again studied the all the data diligently and read as much as I could to learn about the subject. I connected to my inner knowing. I decided to continue the pregnancy on my own request and risk.

The children arrived seven week later. Beautiful babies with no sign of Edwards syndrome.

***

In all these weeks, I was always in touch with the babies. I talked to them in my consciousness in order to send them love and respect, support them and respond to their needs in a moment. It was a remarkable experience.

I created a beautiful tunic of trust from various fabrics of knowledge, beliefs, experiences and understanding. By wearing it daily, I have kept faith.

What is the moral of the story?

Trust is not given, neither earned. It is not a data collection of gives-and-takes, scores of kindness, neither a one time learned approach.

Trust is being created in a moment and supported by an inner process.

Trust relies on the past experiences, but only relevant ones. It is created in a moment, in response to the needs. (For the advanced ones in pattern recognition: it resembles transductive learning).

It comes naturally when you are at the center.

To arrive at the center, you simply allow it. You remove resistance and let emotions flow. Freely.

Whatever comes, you let it pass through you in a safe way – without any harm to others.

In the moment you are empty, you can plant a seed of trust. It is a decision.

You simply say “I trust”. And you follow with your intention.

You keep your garden of thoughts clean and watered.

Your seed of trust will grow into a bush of roses.

Strong. Supportive. Beautiful.

***

Photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

learning

What is learning for you?

Please pause for a second and define it for yourself before reading on. Is it about books?

English was difficult

Let me start with a story. When I was in the secondary school I was poor at English. I could not understand it why. I was very good at math and chemistry, and I was able to understand structures well. Such skills should have helped me to master languages. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Languages posed a challenge for me and I found English especially difficult.

At some point during my study I had to learn the difference between the Simple Past and Present Perfect tenses. This was difficult, despite my best efforts and long hours spent on studying the examples. The teacher made a test and I failed. I was very disappointed because I had the best intention to understand and I put the time into learning.

So, I said to the teacher “I disagree with the note. I have been studying hard for a few days.” Yet, she answered, “Perhaps you have been studying for days, but you have not learned it yet.”

The moral is this:
Learning is more than memorizing. Learning is more than studying examples. Learning is more than understanding structure.

What about a change in your life?

Let me now ask you. What would you like to change in your life?

Do you want to solve your health problems?
Do you want to loose weight?
Do you want to become fitter?
Do you want to start a new carrier?
Do you want to become an entrepreneur?
Do you want to find a mate?

How successful have you been so far?

Let’s say that you want to solve your health problems, e.g. heal from the irritable bowel syndrome.

How much have you thought about it? Perhaps a lot.
How much have you educated yourself on the subject? Perhaps a lot.
How deep is your understanding? Perhaps deep.

Perhaps you have read many books or articles on diet, nutrition, digestion, elimination, stress and so on. Perhaps you have inquired people around, asked for suggestions, listened to seminars, and so on.  Let me now ask you.

How much have you changed as the result? Perhaps not much.

Can you think your way out of poor health? Can you learn driving by reading a book or watching a video? Can you reason your way out of debt?   No.

The moral is this:
Thinking is not enough. Understanding is not enough. They are helpful, even necessary, but insufficient for learning to occur.

As long as you stay on the level of thinking, there is little chance for growth. Why? Because you need to integrate the knowledge into the working of your body. You need a direct experience.

Pattern recognition – how we learn from data

Let me now briefly tell you about pattern recognition. In a basic scenario you want to discriminate between two classes, say apples and pears moving on a conveyor belt. The task is automatic sorting. A camera makes a photo of a passing fruit and the system needs to detect which fruit it is and sort it accordingly.

To solve the problem you first start with the labeled data: a set of raw images with individual apples and pears. They are labeled. In addition, you may be given other measurements such as weight or size.

You start by finding a meaningful representation of the raw images in the form of mathematical descriptors. These are often characteristic features, e.g. related to various shape characteristics. Next, the challenge is to choose a function that will discriminate between two classes based on the extracted features. The task is to learn this function.

There are multiple approaches and models possible and within each approach there are multiple, even infinite, candidate functions. How do you start?

You make a selection of a few promising models based on your experience, literature (what other people reported that worked for them for similar problems), understanding of the problem and initial data analysis. Then, for each approach the labeled data is used to train the related discrimination function, which means that the data is used to define the parameters of that function.

But it is not as easy as it sounds.

Some measurements of particular apples are more important than others as they influence the parameter values more strongly. Perhaps these are examples of typical apples.

Some measurements may also be faulty and lead to poor estimation. Perhaps these are examples of other fruits such as small mangoes that were mistakenly labelled as apples.

Some features may be meaningless (unspecific), giving similar response to both apples and pears.  Ideally, these concerns should be incorporated in the way the parameters are estimated.

Let’s say we have learned the function. Now, it is the test time.

This is often the most time-consuming step as various scenarios, strategies and sub-strategies are tested with respect to a number of selected functions. During this validation time, the function is being tested on the labeled data but unused in the learning of the function. In this way, we evaluate how good the function is at predicting the correct labels for fresh data.

In real problems, the results are sub-optimal, even poor, at this stage. It is just the first reference.

What you do next is to go through a repetitive cycle of small improvements on all levels. You investigate multiple factors. For instance, you look at the data to understand the incorrectly assigned cases. Perhaps these are border cases that need a separate treatment (i.e. another function to be learned).

You also look at the appropriateness of the data used for training, the usage of atypical or problematic examples, choice of discriminative features: adding new ones, extracting better ones or removing some, the usage of multiple functions that focus on specific aspects of the problem and use a voting scheme for the final labeling and so on. Or perhaps you even abandon the model you have chosen first and select another one.

And you test extensively all simple updates made. This all happens because a function can be learned perfectly on the given training data (give zero error) yet behave poorly on new, unseen data.

It is a tedious process in which you go through the cycle of sequential changes to find small improvements at each stage so that the overall performance is greatly enhanced. Yet, this process still requires a conscious human partner – the one to set criteria, observe, make choices and decisions.

If you now think that sorting apples and pears is an artificial example I can assure you that similar tasks are being automated on all levels in real life. These include sorting luggage on airports, detecting faulty planks in a factory, automatic recognition of post codes, computer aided diagnostic for malignant tissues in X-rays or ultrasound, speech recognition and so on.

How do automatic systems learn from data?

The moral is this:
Learning is a process in which informative data is collected and represented for the task (data and knowledge organization), the discriminating function is chosen and its parameters are well estimated such that the whole system performs well on new data, i.e. the discriminating function makes little or no error. This is achieved through a repetitive cycle of improvements.

The development of pattern recognition techniques was inspired by human learning. Isn’t now the time for us to be inspired back? Learning is practised through little updates.

What is learning?

In the light of personal growth, learning is about the change in behavior. We now understand behavior broadly as abilities, skills, habits, practices or actions to be taken.

There is no learning if there is no change in the behavior. We often make the mistake thinking that we are learning when we are reading books, memorizing techniques, analyzing problems or thinking about them. But we are merely collecting information and organizning it into structures or perhaps knowledge. Even understanding complex phenomena is not yet learning.

Learning truly occurs when there is an update or a change. Think about it. We can study all the books on driving and analyze road scenarios, but unless we simply start driving and practice, there is no way to develop this skill. The same principles apply to all areas in our lives. Be it becoming healthy, loosing weight or running a business.

We can understand the problem and know what to do to solve it. But unless we do what needs to be done, observe the results, reflect, draw the conclusions and update our approaches for the better results, our situation will not change much, even though we hold the best intention possible. So, let me summarize.

True learning is about

  1. Information collection. (Data collection)
  2. Observation and thinking. (Visual inspection of the data.)
  3. Understanding and knowledge organization. (Problem understanding. Data representation. Selection of features.)
  4. Action or practice. (Learning the discrimination function)
  5. Reflection. Drawing conclusions. (Testing! Analyzing what needs change. )
  6. Change.
  7. REPEAT the steps 1/2 – 6 until satisfied.

In order to learn we need all the steps above. We may also need to go through these steps multiple times to find a satisfactory change.

***

So, I’ve learned to discriminate between Simple Past and Present Perfect when I started to practise their usage in real scenarios. I’ve learned about the impact of green smoothies by making them and drinking them daily. I’ve learned to listen actively by coaching others especially in conflict situations. I’ve learned cooking simply by doing it.

What about you?

Are you a data collector, knowledge organizer or a learner?

If you choose to be a learner, it makes sense to adopt a practical approach. Select one aspect that you want to change in your life. Choose one book or one idea relevant to your situation. Which one to choose? Take the one which is either the most attractive or the easiest to implement.

Then simply do what they suggest. If there are multiple choices – simplify as much as possible. Your goal is the first direct experience. You will improve later on.

Test the idea and reflect on how it affects you – your energy levels, your emotions, your thinking, your physical being, your relations and so on. See what the results are. Make your best guess how to update the idea towards an improvement in the final result. Apply. Test it. Reflect. Repeat.

If the idea works, improve it further on. If it doesn’t work and you see no way of improvement, abandon the idea and move on to another one. If it works well, make it a habit.

If you want to create a change in your life, learning is the necessary step for transformation.

You need to make the ideas tangible by integrating them with your being on the physical plane. There are so many insights and observations you can gain from a simple application that no reading or thinking will ever provide. Testing gives you the real taste. It is much better to take one idea and test it than staying knowledgable but stuck.

Embrace change. You need to become it in order to be it.

***

Photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

Learning and generalization posts:

knowing

Imagine your brain.

Hopefully, you saw a picture of a human brain at some point in life so you can imagine it now ;). A rough idea is enough.

The human brain

The cerebrum with its gray matter is the largest part of your brain. It lies around most other structures of the brain and plays a role in building intelligence and wisdom. (The heart and the gut system play a role as well.)

The cerebrum is divided into the right and left hemispheres. The common generalization is that the left hemisphere is responsible for analysis, rational thought, linearity or order, while the right hemisphere is responsible for synthesis, emotion, non-linearity and art. In practice, the division is not so clear as the same function can be present in both hemispheres but in different degrees. But there is usually a strong dominance of one hemisphere or another for the given task.

Both hemispheres are connected by corpus callosum, a thick band of nerve fibers in the middle of the brain. The corpus callosum allows the hemispheres to communicate to each other by exchanging motor, sensory, and cognitive information. In a well-functioning brain, there is a constant vibration in the corpus callosum, where information and learned patterns cross with the feelings and holistic views.

The Loop

So, we have Knowledge and Emotion, which in a simplified view can refer to the left and right hemispheres, accordingly. And there is the meeting point, the connection between them – the corpus callosum. And this is a point where the Intelligent Knowing occurs.

We can also look at the Knowledge-Emotion loop somewhat differently. The function of the brain is to acquire Knowledge. All the learning we do and memories we store become the ingredients of Knowledge.  The function of the heart-gut system is to supervise the Flow and feel Emotion. The Inspired Knowing occurs then in the heart. Later the Intelligent and Inspired Knowings are combined.

In practice, this high level integration of Knowledge and Emotion is more complex than I’ve just described. There are possibly many loops of communication between brain and heart, based on various networks of nerves such as solar plexus.

Knowledge vs Knowing

Note that Knowing is very different than Knowledge.  The key understanding is that Knowledge is the result of learning, an outcome of inquiry, analysis, reflection and conclusion. It can be collected, explained, structured or enumerated. It is a half of the whole. The other half is Emotion. Emotion allows us to experience and value the experience, to color things and give additional meaning.

Knowing is the spark at intersection, occurring in a moment in which you paint Knowledge and Emotion on the canvas of perception. It is an integration process where flow happens both ways.

Knowledge is external. Knowing is internal.
Knowledge is historical. Knowing is in a moment.
Knowledge is common. Knowing is personal.
Knowledge is experienced or shared by many. Knowing is experienced by you.
Knowledge is based on collected observations. Knowing is based on a perception in a moment.
Knowledge is passive. Knowing is active.
Knowledge is a product. Knowing is a process.

Life is a dynamic experience. Knowledge is the necessary foundation of life, but it has to be constantly updated and transformed. Sometimes in a revolutionary way.

When Knowledge is challenged, learning will take place. Old patterns will be questioned and replaced by new ones. This is only allowed if your Emotional Self accepts it. So, any significant progress requires an informative balance between Emotion and Knowledge (rational thought). And this equilibrium is achieved at the point of Knowing.

Tell me, are you Knowledge-able or Knowing-able?

Your Inner Knowing is already there. Recognize it.

***

For those who pay attention, this short post is of course about Intuition. From a different point view.

***

Photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

 

successful_decision_making

Photo courtesy Jamie Frith available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

The series of posts on decision making:

***

Successful people, professionals and experts are able to make reliable and good decisions. They usually do not enumerate all possible options and evaluate them against external criteria. They usually do not contemplate the variety of options either. They rely on their gut feelings but are not taken away by emotions.

Successful people are action orientated and for this they have to make the decisions fast. What is the key ingredient behind their success

It’s intuition.

Are you the one who freaks out when intuition comes into a play?

Don’t be so. Intuition is not as strange or mystical as you may think. It is truly a daily experience of many successful people, professionals or just plain guys as you and I. What you need is to learn how to make intuition work for you. It is both learnable and teachable process.

Rational decision making has its use when we know all options and are able to define a clear and simple criterion for the optimal choice.

Emotional decision making guides us towards the choices of what we like or emotionally identify with.

Intuitive decision making has the power to combine the best of the worlds, knowledge and feelings, yet thrive on new insights.

Let’s look at the image

When you look at an image, say a mountain scene above, you instantly perceive, interpret and understand what you observe. You do not consciously follow the process of seeing individual pixels one by one or separate blobs of colors in order to understand how they work together and how they optimize some hidden parameters to allow you see what you see.

You directly perceive the scene with its meaning: the mountains, the lake and and the sky. Perhaps you like it or perhaps you don’t. Maybe you feel the emotions from climbing the summit,¬†the marvellous serenity of the mountains or the sense of wonder you experienced. You may sense the inner balance or¬† the vibration of silence. You may taste the salt on your lips…

Analogy and where it leads

Rational decision making is similar to going through individual pixels or their groups and deriving rules to understand the image. It is a bottom-up approach.

Emotional decision making is similar to paying attention to the feelings, noticing the colors, the atmosphere or the sharpness of edges. It is a top-down approach.

Intuitive decision making is similar to perceiving the image as a whole, with the insight of what it is, including the complexity of the colors and textures and emotions. It is a dance of the middle path.

Intuition emerges when you creatively blend rational thoughts and emotions together. It happens in a state of calmness in which you achieve a high level of perception – grasping of the whole picture. You maintain detachment from both emotions and analysis. You think your thoughts and you feel your emotions. You appreciate them, but you become an observer.

You stand in an empty space where you allow the streams of emotions and knowledge come to you for a powerful integration. And there is a spark from the conscious observer to make this powerful integration happen. In a moment. Intuition is your inner knowing.

In the rational approach you understand what you do as you can enumerate steps, procedures, or  rules. You work with analysis.

In the emotional approach you feel what to do. You work with feelings.

In the intuitive approach you grasp. You recognize. You see. You sense. You know. You work with insights.

Experts

Intuitive decision making is what true experts do. They recognize the patterns of the case, be it a disease, changing conditions on a road while driving, or the next move in a heart surgery, both typicality an anomalies. Thanks to the emotional input (what feels right) they know which patterns are influential and which can be discarded. Having a gut feeling for the possible answers, they will apply these to own mental models and determine the most effective outcome.

Intuition at work: the fast track

The fast track happens when you either have all the knowledge about the problem or you don’t have it but you don’t need it either. It feels instantaneous and it is faster than your ability to observe (the elements of) the process. It may come as inspiration, imagination or a flash of knowing or sudden understanding in the given moment. It is also called upon when there is a high¬†risk or danger at stake.

The challenge is that our rational mind has a strong influence on us. Since the intuitive answer is fast, it usually comes first. If you begin to reason and justify an answer to yourself, it is likely an answer from your rational mind.

A calm state of a mind helps to notice insights, body cues, image flashes and so on.  If you sit with a straight spine and focus on abdominal breathing, especially breathing out (2-4x longer than breathing in), you will begin to experience the intuits coming.

Intuition at work: the slow track

Alternatively, you may need to work your intuition out. This happens when the decision requires an integration of partial knowledge and understanding which are not sufficiently processed by you yet. The latter is e.g. true when you think about a scientific phenomenon or look for a solution to a complex problem. Then intuition works by organizing your thoughts under a deep focus. The focus keeps you in an empty space of your mind and encourages fresh, unbiased thoughts.

So what happens is the following.

You are able to perceive the clues of a situation or a context, to feel the atmosphere around the issues involved, to internally observe subtle details without being able to make them explicit. You recognize the patterns but you cannot elaborate the criteria, the algorithm and the optimization process that aids you in doing that.

You simply either directly know or imagine which decision is to be made, or you collect the patterns and evaluate them against a few chosen mental models (derived from experience, analysis and understanding). The final decision is a high-level integration of your knowledge and understanding, and emotional input realized by your self-conscious observer.

Judgement

In my opinion, intuitive decision making is superior to rational decision making. It integrates multi-modal approaches and multi-sense information.

Intuitive decision making relies on tacit knowledge and pattern recognition built by experience, perception, emotion and insight. It is not fault-free as it strongly relies on perceptual skills, personal experience and understanding. Consequently, different experts may make different decisions in the same circumstances. Nevertheless, there is a clear way how to improve: by gaining more experience and practice.

How to make effective decisions

Since the working of intuition depends on the quality of experience, it may lead to flaw decisions if you are new to a field. Say, good cooks will know which ingredients are going to go together well to bring the desired effect. ¬†As a beginner, however, you have no idea how to mix the tastes. You may have no idea how thyme¬†effects the taste of cucumber in a sour cream salad. Would it be a good combination, do you think? ūüėČ

I believe (a few) procedures and rules are necessary for a beginner to start learning. I support rational decision making in the very beginning. Later, you need to learn how to work with intuition. I encourage you to switch to this approach when you have collected some experience.

You will become a professional.

A recipe for effective decisions:

Foundation:

  1. Internal focus and/or calmness
  2. Emotional  and rational detachment

Action:

  1. Recognition of cues and patterns; selection of a few essential ones  (knowledge integrated with emotion)
  2. Selection of a few alternatives (emotion integrated with knowledge)
  3. Evaluation of the considered alternatives improve the mental models (rational thought)
  4. Final solution by choosing the scenario which feels right (emotion)

Summary

Intuition is the missing link for making effective decisions. Why? Because your decisions include both rational and emotional components. They are fast, informative and based on the know-how of your experience.

If you are not convinced, start experimenting. You have nothing to lose and the whole world to gain. ūüôā

Simply trust your inner knowing and see what happens.

You will rock.

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