Monday, August 10, 2015

Magical thinking

Many people have superstitions of one kind or another. Our #1 has more than a few, and they contribute to his disabilities. For example, he bicycles miles out of his way to take certain favored routes for no reason he can describe.

He’s had these problems all his life. The only thing I can compare them too is a beloved dog of ours who developed an intractable aversion to the back yard of a new home. Nothing, absolutely nothing, would persuade her to put her paws on the unfrozen ground there. We have no idea where this came from, but it never wavered over the last seven years of her life.

It may be some dysfunctional associative learning — perhaps something unpleasant happened to #1 once and he forever associates it with a similar smell or shape or form. The rest of us can form these associations and dispense with them, but that process doesn’t work for him. This learning/memory dysfunction probably overlaps with some of the problematic compulsions we work on.

Sometimes we can find a workaround for the most troublesome aversions. One of these is a powerful aversion to any kind of bicycle adornment — including a saddle, frame, handlebar bag, a rack, or a lock. He’ll use the pockets of his bike shirt but that’s it. After some failed behavior change efforts we realized this fell into his “magical thinking” domain — reasoning is futile.

This is a safety problem because he rides his bicycle around and even beyond the metro area — thanks to our superb segregated bicycle paths.  Mobile phone technologies including Apple’s “Find Friends” mitigate some of the risk, but what if his phone fails? We need him to carry identification, emergency numbers, a multi-tool, a baggie to protect his iPhone in case of rain, coins for a rare payphone if one can ever be found and, ideally, auxiliary power for this phone. He’s not willing to put everything we want him to carry in his bike shirt.

We found a fix. He’s willing to carry these things in a bicycle bottle shaped container that’s stored in a typical frame mount bottle carrier. We put them in once and they stay there. One magical thinking problem solved.

There are a lot more of course. A direct assault rarely works. It’s all about finding these kinds of indirect solutions. We can’t always come up with them...

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