The agony of choice and the Visual Squash
One of our favorites is the visual squash, not an exotic flavor of ice-cream but an NLP technique that helps a hypnosis client to choose between options.
There are three main types of choices or conflicts, which we refer to as away-away, toward-away and toward-toward. They can be described as follows:
- Away-away conflicts are when we are forced to choose between options neither of which is good. Would you like the airplane seat at the back that doesn’t recline, or the one just opposite the bathroom? That sort of thing. Surprisingly we often find these choices the easiest to make, we just make the choice that minimizes our pain.
- Toward-away conflicts are these where we want to do something, but if we do there is a cost, perhaps we have to give something up as a result. An example might be if you have the chance to take a job with a great new start up, but the pay is not great and you would have to leave your current high paying position.
- Toward-toward conflicts are in many ways the hardest to address. These are represented by two (or more) great choices, but you can only have one. Suppose you are at your favorite ice-cream parlor and have to choose between chocolate fudge, strawberry, rocky road,… Well, yu get the idea. What ever you choose, you end up not having the rest.
It turns out that the reason toward-toward conflicts are often difficult to resolve is that there are three different brain circuits vying for attention when making a toward-toward decision.
- The ventral medial Pre Frontal Cortex and striatum, which anticipates rewards
- The dorsal medial Pre Frontal Cortex and striatum which counts the cost of lost opportunity, and emotional pain of making the decision
- A third circuit that actually makes the decision.
Essentially the part of your brain that has to make a decision has to listen to an internal debate where one part goes, “Choose the rocky road!”, the other part responds, “Nooo!!!! We’ll miss out on strawberry!!” First part says, “Great, let’s go for strawberry!” Second part says, “Nooo!!! We’ll miss out on the chocolate fudge…” And so on, never ending.
The Visual Squash deals with this in toward-toward decisions by engaging the first part that just wants the reward, then calming the second part by chunking up, “You’ll have something great either way!”
I will salivate in anticipation of my visit, delighting in all of the options that await me. Decades of research have now shown we are often in a battle with ourselves when it comes to choice, even when its a choice between things we want a win-win choice. Cognitive Neuroscience Society Blog Archive Dissecting the Agony and the Ecstasy of Win-Win Choices