Not everyone thinks about thinking, especially as it relates to performance in sports and arts. To me, it is a fascinating topic that can enrich your training; the more you know about you, the better you understand you.
Thinking about thinking, or metacognition, will help you in ways that transcend martial arts and sports. That is worth a person's time and effort right there. It can improve learning, refine comprehension, and enhance retention.
But it does not come quickly or easily; you have to be open to some granular topics in order to fully appreciate everything going on in your mind when you are thinking. It can be fascinating if a little challenging, but completely worth it.
Well, for some people. For others it can be frustrating, confusing, and embarrassing, leading them to defensive, dismissive, and petulant responses when the discussion gets too deep for their understanding. If that is your paradigm, you might want to forego the remainder of this essay.
The problem is that you probably do not know that is your paradigm so you will probably read on and get grumpy. Regardless, good luck to you in this pursuit and life in general; I hope it all works out for you.
As to the rest of us who actually enjoy these deep dives, let's continue. We have previously talked about schemas as a means of automatic thinking, but that is not the only tool available to us.
Heuristics are the mental strategies and shortcuts that make life easier, if a little less well thought out; however, that last part is by design. These are also called Judgmental Heuristics and they help us make judgments with "rule-of-thumb" guidelines.
They facilitate quick decisions and responses, so you can probably appreciate their importance in something like martial arts. Though useful, they are by no means perfect; they can lead to errors if you aren't paying attention. Still, they do help us navigate the world around us and, errors or not, we need them.
The two most commonly used heuristics are:
(1) Availability Heuristics
(2) Representativeness Heuristics.
We use availability heuristics to make judgments on how likely something is to happen based on how easily examples of similar incidents come to mind.
Often, the heuristic leads to correct conclusions because the ease with which something comes to mind is consistent with the probability of its occurrence. The faster you can recall similarities, the more likely it will play out the way it did before.
On occasion, rare events come to mind easily because they are impactful or stand out in some ways. This is when availability heuristics can lead to erroneous decisions.
That is part of the problem here and why we have to guard against "black swan events" that stay with us, but really do not represent general situations well. That is how silly beliefs and reactions get created, so try not to fall into those traps if you can help it.
This automatic thinking affects the way we see and judge not just the world around us, but ourselves as well.
When directed inward, we often determine who we are based on how easily it is for us to recall examples of our behaviors. Top of mind thinking or readily recalled examples of behaviors will shape our overall view of who we are as individuals. It helps form our self-perception.
We use representativeness heuristics to classify events and people, ourselves included, based on how well the events and people fit the prototypical or archetypical version we have in our mind.
A good example is when we decide whether a fighter you have just met is a grappler or a striker based on whether this student is more similar to a "typical" grappler or a "typical" boxer you have experience with–your recollections form your assessment.
When representativeness heuristics are not applicable, like when the student resembles neither a typical grappler nor a typical striker, then we would decide by using base rate information.
Base rate information would take the form of “There are far more grapplers than there are strikers in MMA; ergo, the chances are much higher that this fighter is a grappler.”
That's just an example of how one could use base rate information in an unknown situation where we are still trying to assess the person in front of us. You can probably think of many more from your life where base rate has helped you make decisions until new information presented itself.
When applicable, we tend to have an over-reliance on representativeness heuristics and under-utilize base rate information. The best one I can think of is when someone has cauliflower ears and looks like "the wrestling type" and we jump to conclusion that he or she is better at grappling over striking. That's a dangerous conceit if you rely too heavily on your conclusion.
I have friends with cauliflower ears who can punch and kick just fine. Most people classify me as a striker, but I have been wrestling since I was a teenager and doing catch in one form or another since the early 2000s. The cartilage in my ears has not changed at all.
Remember that the next time a "wrestler" knocks someone out with a punch or a "striker" submits someone. Think about your thinking.
In the end, does knowing any of this matter to your martial arts proficiency? I like to think so, yes; but I like the mental gymnastics that have to take place in order for physical mechanics to happen.
The way I see it, there is a "how" that comprises the steps to learning and executing a technique. Everyone has access to that and it's common on the training floor.
However, there's also the "how" beneath the "how" and that's the part that tends to get ignored. Everyone has it, whether they realize it or not, but not everyone has access to it as an intellectualized and articulated concept.
I have to imagine that if you are reading a martial arts blog, you are interested in the latter and I hope this helps with your journey.