The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

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What Is 'Interpretation and Reinterpretation'?

When there's not enough information to develop an accurate Pattern, the human brain relies on prior information and patterns to make Interpretations and fill the gaps.

These snap Interpretations can be altered via Reinterpretations. You can change your beliefs and mental simulation consciously by recalling and reinterpreting past events.

Reinterpretation is possible because our memory is impermanent. Every time we recall something, the new memory will include any changes we've made to it. Reinterpret your past and you'll improve your ability to make great things happen.

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Interpretation and Reinterpretation'

Have you ever received an e-mail from someone that made you very angry, only to find out later that you misunderstood the tone or intent of the message? Your mind reached a conclusion that wasn't true based on what you thought you perceived, only to discover there was a different way of interpreting the message that also made sense.

Our minds are always simulating different courses of action, but sometimes there's not enough information to ensure a Pattern is completely accurate.

Since you're not omniscient, your mind never has complete data, so it automatically fills in missing pieces by interpreting what you sense via the patterns you have stored in memory. In the absence of any other information to the contrary, you'll "jump to conclusions" by relying on the interpretation your mind creates.

This capacity to fill in the blanks even happens on the physiological level. In our field of vision you have two complete blind spots-the points where our optic nerves connects to our eyes. We literally cannot see in those spots, but our brains automatically take in all of the surrounding information and seamlessly fill in the blanks. As a result, we appear to have a solid field of vision, even though it's an illusion created by our brain's ability to interpret information.

The human brain constantly relies on prior patterns and information to make Interpretations in the absence of information.

Think of the spam folder in your e-mail account-it uses a collection of previous spam messages (called "priors") to estimate the probability that any new incoming message is also spam, using a process called Bayesian inference. The messages don't self-identify as spam, but the computer's Bayesian spam filter can spot them anyway.

Your brain does roughly the same thing every time you decide you like someone right after meeting them-your brain is relying on Patterns you've learned via past experiences with other people to make a snap judgment.

These snap Interpretations can be altered-a process called Reinterpretation.

Think of meeting an attractive person who consistently becomes quiet and aloof whenever you're around. At first glance, their behavior may signal that they're shy or don't like you very much. If one of your friends tells you that they're romantically interested in you, however, your interpretation of that person's past behavior can change in an instant.

Reinterpretation is possible because your memory is fundamentally impermanent. Our memories aren't like computer disks-every time we recall a memory, it doesn't simply re-save to the same location in the same state. Every time we recall something, the memory is saved in a different location with a twist: the new memory will include any alterations we've made to it.

It's possible to change your beliefs and mental simulations consciously by recalling and actively reinterpreting past events.

Mental Simulation and Interpretation rely on patterns stored in memory, so if you want to change the results of your brain's simulations, the best way to go about doing that is to alter the mental database of information those simulations are based on. Reinterpretation is how you change the database.

In Re-Create Your Life, Morty Lefkoe teaches a process that can be used to reinterpret past events in a simple and useful way:

  1. Identify the undesirable pattern.
  2. Name the underlying belief.
  3. Identify the source of the belief in memory, including as much sensory detail as possible.
  4. Describe possible alternate interpretations of the memory.
  5. Realize that your original belief is an interpretation, not reality.
  6. Consciously choose to reject the original belief as "false."
  7. Consciously choose to accept your reinterpretation as "true."

Here's an example of how I personally used Lefkoe's process: one possible way of interpreting my brand management career at P&G is that I was a miserable failure-I was on the management fast-track, and I couldn't "cut it," so I "washed out." For a while, I believed that was true, but that belief didn't serve me very well.

When I tried to explore alternate paths, my mind naturally simulated that my failure would extend to my new projects as well. As long as my mind relied on this interpretation to simulate the future, I was stuck in a self-defeating cycle.

There's another way of interpreting my previous career at P&G: I learned a lot of useful information about how large corporations work, and I also learned a lot more about what I'm good at, what I don't particularly enjoy doing, and how I want to invest my time. Working at P&G helped me discover a path that didn't work for me, so I stopped following that path and tried other things that better fit my strengths and desires.

Which interpretation is "true"? Both are valid interpretations.

My mind wasn't malfunctioning when it created the first interpretation, but the interpretation didn't serve me very well. Re-interpreting the situation and accepting the second version as "true" was much more useful- without it, you probably wouldn't be reading this book.

Reinterpret your past, and you'll enhance your ability to make great things happen in the present. All it takes is a little imagination.

Questions About 'Interpretation and Reinterpretation'

"We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are."

Anaïs Nin, author and diarist

From Chapter 6:

The Human Mind

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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:

About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

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