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Working Around the Normalcy Bias

 
gardener
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"Normalcy Bias" is probably the #1 thing keeping my Permaculture projects stuck--yes, my own normalcy bias, I must admit!--and also, that of friends/family who could partner with me on some great projects, but won't, because they think the sky isn't falling.

Horribly, I suspect normalcy bias is a key factor in why more people have not embraced Permaculture as a lifestyle.

So, if normalcy bias is a psychological "sector", as it were--then is there a way to work with, around, or in the normalcy bias, i.e., to design our lives' systems to reduce its power?

Thoughts appreciated, as always!
 
pollinator
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Rachel Lindsay wrote:"So, if normalcy bias is a psychological "sector", as it were--then is there a way to work with, around, or in the normalcy bias, i.e., to design our lives' systems to reduce its power?

Thoughts appreciated, as always!



First, from your wikitionary link, a definition of Normalcy Bias:

wiktionary.org wrote:A human tendency to respond to threat warnings with disbelief or minimization, and to similarly underestimate a disaster's deleterious effects.


And you feel this is inhibiting your personal projects' progress, and likewise inhibiting others' willingness to join in those projects.  I certainly can understand the bias...

If "we'll always have":
1. Cheap energy - then why go for alternative local energy production?
2. Cheap food from around the world - then why grow our own stuff?
3. Free information at our fingertips - then why invest in learning old skills from dusty books we may never need?
4. A full water table and deep well - then why dig that pond or swale or recycle that grey water?
5. A stable climate - then why restrict a powerful resource like gasoline?
6. Petrol-based fertilizer - then why spend our time shoveling poop and planting N2 fixers?

Correct me if I'm wrong: it seems the underlying (but unspoken) assumption is that your (current) primary motivation for permaculture projects is to serve as preemptive action for mitigating the effects of potential disasters and challenges to the status quo.  It's risk mitigation and threat-based decision making.  Maybe even a little fear-based.  Only there's just...not enough fear (or cautious wisdom), or not high-enough of a threat warning probability to motivate yourself to action, and definitely not enough concern to harness a team to work the project.

So really, at the core, it seems your challenge statement would revolve around motivation, which you are viewing as a sector concept:

How can I motivate myself and others to do a project?

I recommend first taking your strategy of working around that sector.  
  • What else motivates you, other than disaster?
  • What else motivates others, other than pure survival scenarios?

  • I recommend making a matrix, with each permaculture project or artifact you would like to accomplish, if there was sufficient fear or prudent wisdom to believe that the "sky is falling."  Then forget that motivation, and come up with a healthy brainstorming list of other potential motivations for that project.  Defer judgement, as perhaps the list would include items that are not even your primary sources of motivation, but they may be others' source of productive power.

    So for example: why would someone want to have wood heat in the realm of natural gas?  Potential motivators:
    1. Romance of a wood stove.
    2. Exercise of chopping wood.
    3. Supporting a local business to keep money in the community.
    4. Not having the hassle of a yearly, quarterly or monthly bill.
    5. Reducing fuel-wood in fire prone areas.
    6. Beauty of a wood stove
    7. Nostalgia of Christmas fires with elders.
    8. A different bias, sunk cost. "We bought this nice stove while antiquing, we might as well use it!"

    Try that with every artifact or project, and I bet dozens of motivators will arise.

    Motivation is contagious.  It only takes one looney, well...two looneys, as the "first follower" viral dance video goes.  



    Perhaps you may not have enough social capital or individual willpower to overcome the motivation hurdle for DIY permaculture projects.  But you may have other forms of capital.  Perhaps there is a way to trade or convert your surplus in other capital areas into a permaculture project.  In other words, maybe you don't have to be the first or the second looney dancing, maybe you just need to find the right music to play to get folks to do their permaculture project dance right on site to: build that pond, dig that swale, make that chicken coop, etc.

    PEP labor intensive collectives come to mind as an excuse.  If you want to discuss that, or finding other looneys for your region, maybe check out this new thread for finding similarly-motivated individuals looking for a group to do similar permaculture projects?
     
    master steward
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    With rising food costs, food shotages, rising gasoline and diesel fuels among other news events, this can really put a damper on moods.

    I tend to just ignore all that stuff.

    I am using higher gas prices to justify getting a new to me vehicle.

    Plus I need to use some cash.

    My car is 13 years old and has never broken down so this is really a delimma.  Getting rid of a low mileage great vehicle for a high miles newer vehicle, just because I want to.

    Does this fit Normalcy Bias?
     
    Rachel Lindsay
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    George Yacus wrote:

    If "we'll always have":
    1. Cheap energy - then why go for alternative local energy production?
    2. Cheap food from around the world - then why grow our own stuff?
    3. Free information at our fingertips - then why invest in learning old skills from dusty books we may never need?
    4. A full water table and deep well - then why dig that pond or swale or recycle that grey water?
    5. A stable climate - then why restrict a powerful resource like gasoline?
    6. Petrol-based fertilizer - then why spend our time shoveling poop and planting N2 fixers?



    THANK YOU! So excellently expressed!!! Yes, that is exactly what I mean about normalcy bias in a Permaculture context.

    George Yacus wrote:Correct me if I'm wrong: it seems the underlying (but unspoken) assumption is that your (current) primary motivation for permaculture projects is to serve as preemptive action for mitigating the effects of potential disasters and challenges to the status quo.  It's risk mitigation and threat-based decision making.  Maybe even a little fear-based.  Only there's just...not enough fear (or cautious wisdom), or not high-enough of a threat warning probability to motivate yourself to action, and definitely not enough concern to harness a team to work the project.



    Bingo--I'm annoyingly "paranoid" and incredibly inert AT THE SAME TIME.  (I must really confuse everyone around me.)

    George Yacus wrote: So really, at the core, it seems your challenge statement would revolve around motivation, which you are viewing as a sector concept:

    How can I motivate myself and others to do a project?

    I recommend first taking your strategy of working around that sector.  

  • What else motivates you, other than disaster?
  • What else motivates others, other than pure survival scenarios?

  • I recommend making a matrix, with each permaculture project or artifact you would like to accomplish, if there was sufficient fear or prudent wisdom to believe that the "sky is falling."  Then forget that motivation, and come up with a healthy brainstorming list of other potential motivations for that project.  Defer judgement, as perhaps the list would include items that are not even your primary sources of motivation, but they may be others' source of productive power....
    Try that with every artifact or project, and I bet dozens of motivators will arise.



    You are the kind of person that should write a book. Thank you for this!

    George Yacus wrote: Perhaps you may not have enough social capital or individual willpower to overcome the motivation hurdle for DIY permaculture projects.  But you may have other forms of capital.  Perhaps there is a way to trade or convert your surplus in other capital areas into a permaculture project.  In other words, maybe you don't have to be the first or the second looney dancing, maybe you just need to find the right music to play to get folks to do their permaculture project dance right on site to: build that pond, dig that swale, make that chicken coop, etc.

    I definitely don't have the social capital, that's one of the major issues in my personal life, actually. I will brainstorm capital-swapping solutions as you suggest here.

    Again, many thanks for the time you spent on thinking and writing this answer with these suggestions!
     
    pollinator
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    Make friends with reenactors. They'll be more likely to see it as a game or a personal challenge.

    Why grow your own food when there's so much at the store? To prove that I can.

    Why use wood heat when power/gas would be easier? To prove that I can.

    Why use 100% home-produced electricity? To prove that I can.

    Once you're in that "how much can I do for myself" mindset, the motivation gets easier to find.
     
    Rachel Lindsay
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    I keep thinking about the replies here. I was struck by how you all pointed out the essential factor of other people in this. And how good connections with other people shape our behavior, emotion, motivation, and ideals.

    SO that got me thinking: perhaps the normalcy bias isn't the real problem.  Because it is exasperated by many (most?) people's lack of social connections in modern American culture, it seems like a huge problem: but lack of friends is probably the really huge problem we have. My current psychological stew could be vastly improved with a little help from like-minded others (sorry, Robin K.!  ;) ) fellow Permaculture enthusiasts, or even just people who give a care enough to change some things in my area.

    Got to find some. In the meantime, I will continue to come here and bounce ideas off of all of you, of course!  
     
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    For me, normalcy bias has eroded with age and experience. I used to consider the “front” yard as a sacrosanct place ghat must be a green lawn. But over the years I have found that I just can’t grow enough plants in just the back yard so I started putting more and more in the front yard!

    Now living in a 1/4 acre lot with a large fraction dedicated to wooded wetlands that I cannot touch means I don’t have a lot to work with, but I am gradually turning my whole lot into garden!
     
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    It seems to me what we consider "normal" can change so quickly, especially with rapid social change. Just look at more and more food shortages in grocery stores, something that was basically unthinkable in the US can become commonplace. This is both a good and bad thing, if you don't know where you stand morally.

    Some people might go along with more authoritarian social measures to just "go with the flow" and others might see rapid negative social change and use it as a cue to get their life more aligned with their values. On the upside I've seen a LOT of people really re-evaluating things (in a good direction) during and post covid.
     
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    Normalcy is the Devine constipation of the soul...  Where non-biased perception of life is its' only laxative...  Right on Ashley!
     
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    I assumed a definition of normalcy bias.   Having it defined was eye-opening.

    My bias had defined normalcy bias as having neighbors who ranch and farm normally while I'm sitting on an increasingly feral plot that threatens all of the weed and pest (wildlife) elimination they've spent decades pursuing.  They define normal as ground zero.   One elderly neighbor mows her acres to golf-course height and yanks my grass seed heads from in front of her face when we talk over the fence.

    The good news is that we're still talking over the fence.   Most of the talk is about what I'm going to do with my place -- her telling me.

    This all feels eerily similar to middle school peer pressure.  Thankfully, I was weird enough that all the normal kids still found me entertaining.   The problem remains the same as with the actual definition of normalcy bias, how to get community buy-in and find cooperative relationships.
     
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    Chris Tully wrote:For me, normalcy bias has eroded with age and experience. I used to consider the “front” yard as a sacrosanct place ghat must be a green lawn. But over the years I have found that I just can’t grow enough plants in just the back yard so I started putting more and more in the front yard!

    Now living in a 1/4 acre lot with a large fraction dedicated to wooded wetlands that I cannot touch means I don’t have a lot to work with, but I am gradually turning my whole lot into garden!


    I love  that you are using your "precious " front lawn as beneficial garden space. Here where I live almost everyone has a huge front lawn and have to dedicate precious time and money keeping it groomed. Why not grow food and medicinal plants and fruit trees to gain benefits from what grows there! It's one of the best changes a person can make💗
     
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    Just gotta say, I don't have your problem. I don't have anything normal. Nothing about modern life is normal, especially not the food, or the resource management. So I am strongly  motivated to get to a place of normalcy, and permaculture is the tool I've decided to use to get there.
     
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