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Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

As first seen in The Huffington Post.

You're standing in line, awaiting your first coffee of the day. At Starbucks or a hip, provocatively independent, organic joint, whichever better fits your world-view, budget or addiction level. I'm not fussy, as long as it's caffeinated, which says a bit about all three for me.

And then they barge in, right in front of you, just as you are about to order.

"I'll take an orange, mocha, frappuccino, hold the foam....."

They are rude, an idiot and clearly bought up by animals (or Zoolander) with zero respect for anyone or anything.

But if the situation was to be reversed, it would be a totally different story. If I cut you off in the coffee line, it would be because I was in a rush, I didn't see you, or it was simply an accident. I hadn't had my coffee yet, and my mind was still wrapped in the gentle and forgiving haze of slumber.

We all view the world differently.

Our experiences and ambitions, our successes and our failures, all merge to shape our world-view. It's part of why the human experience is so rich, so textured. What you hold dear may have little meaning for me, and vice versa. And while we think in many different ways, studies show that there are common patterns in the way that we think, too.

Some of these patterns are so common, that they are widely regarded as fundamental. One such error is in how we perceive things. It's called the 'fundamental attribution error', and explains why we think that the coffee-queue-jumper is an idiot, while if we did the same thing, it would be due to the dire circumstances of caffeine withdrawal or the like.

The 'fundamental attribution error' addresses the tendency that we often have to see someone's actions as a part of them or their personality, rather than due to the circumstances that they are in. Stereotypes and cultural influences also play a role in this.

And yet when the situation is flipped, we are less likely to blame ourselves, and more likely to blame the situation that we find ourselves in. Basically we reverse the rules.

These errors in thinking are generalisations, and can vary significantly - especially in the cases of mental health conditions and increased stress. And while you may need help to identify them, being aware of them in yourself and in others can be really useful for improving your wellbeing in daily life.

And not just in the coffee shop queue.


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