The Insight Loop
The Insight Loop is a key element of the Insight approach and the trainings we develop at CAICR, including Insight Policing, Insight in Schools, Engaging Conflict in the Moment and others. It is an illustration of how we use our minds. It’s useful because it shows the intuitive - yet rarely explicit - pattern that guides our thinking all day, every day.
As an explanatory tool, the Insight Loop enhances our self awareness and grows our curiosity about others, leading to more collaborative, fruitful interactions.*
How does the Insight Loop work?
Let’s take it for a spin by taking a look at the loop and each step in the decision making process - the micro-moments that make up our looping.
Imagine the flow of your mind as a continuous process - as a looping figure 8. It is nestled in your “carriers of consciousness” - those elements of personal history, knowledge, context, culture, role, language etc. that direct your attention and shape what occurs to you at any given time.
Your mind’s flow, while continuous, starts when you perceive data from the world around you or even from your own thoughts and feelings. This moment is called "experiencing," where you encounter information like sounds, sights, smells, or even hunches. You may begin to perceive a smell, for example, coming from the other room. The data you're paying attention to flows into the knowing loop on the bottom, where you form an interpretation of the information you are experiencing.
The first step in this interpretive process is "understanding” where you spontaneously ask yourself, "What is it?” What did I just experience?" – “What is that smell?” To answer that question, you come up with possibilities that might explain what you are experiencing. Is it toast? Is it coffee? Is it coming from outside?
In the understanding phase, these possibilities are still hypotheses that haven’t been confirmed. We’re rarely satisfied with just guesses, so we spontaneously move to the “verifying” step, where we ask ourselves, “Is it so?” “Is what I just smelled toast? Coffee? Something from outside?” Gathering evidence by drawing on our carriers of consciousness – our context, memories – we choose the possibility that fits best. It’s morning time, and I’m quite sure from smelling that smell before that coffee is brewing.
Typically, this is an extraordinarily fast process. In the routine of our daily lives, we come to expect that we know what we are experiencing without much thought. It is only when we are presented with challenges and new information that how we’ve arrived at our conclusions might become apparent.
From the knowing loop on the bottom, where we have come to know, we move to the deciding loop on the top, where we formulate decisions to act. What moves us from the knowing loop to the deciding loop is the operation of “valuing.” Here we ask: “What does this matter to me?”
The answer to this question of valuing is conveyed by our feelings. Our feelings tell us the importance of what we think we know and lead us to imaging its impact. For example, knowing there's a cup of coffee brewing for me gives me a good feeling and as a consequence I anticipate the pleasure it will bring, waking me up and setting a positive tone for the day. In conflict, we value what we know as threatening and project a negative future, one where something that matters to us is compromised.
Valuing what we know – having a feeling about it that leads us to imagine an impact – leads us to the deciding loop where we formulate how to respond in a way that is best for us. The first step in this process is "deliberating," where we ask ourselves, "What can I do?" “What are my options?”
As we deliberate, we consider various options for responding to the future we are imagining. For instance, my valuing tells me that I want the coffee I’m smelling from the other room. I am looking forward to that cup. Various options for how and when to have it might occur to me. Do I get a cup right away? Do I wait until after my shower? Do I call down for someone to bring it to me?
Similar to the knowing loop, we progress from hypothetical options for what could be done to evaluating the best course of action. This process is the step, "evaluating," where we ask ourselves, "What should I do?" “What’s the best option?” To determine the best, we compare the options we’ve deliberated to the significance we’ve discerned in our valuing. I am eager to have that coffee and start my day off on the right foot, but I like to enjoy it without the pressure of having to get ready. So I evaluate that holding off and taking my shower first is the best way to go.
That leads me to “deciding” where we ask ourselves,"Will I do it?" “Will I commit to taking a shower before getting my coffee?” If the answer is yes, I jump in the shower. If the answer is no, something is leading me to reconsider, and I spin through the loop again.
This end result is "acting."
We use our minds in this pattern all the time, whether we're smelling coffee, contemplating the meaning of a thought, sensing danger, or interpreting someone's gaze. It’s the pattern that puts meaning to what we experience and leads us to act on it in all of our daily routines, both in and out of conflict.
We often lose sight of this pattern, because the sequence is automatic. But, each step builds off the other and generates new data for the sequence that follows. It’s a lot like walking. We don’t pay much attention to the mechanics of it, until of course something forces us to - like a stumble or an injured knee.
Recognizing our pattern of thinking
When it comes to how we use our minds, we don’t generally think about it unless something directs us to. A puzzle, a hard choice. And even then, we often focus more on the solution than on what we’re doing to work through it.
The Insight Loop helps us make sense of what we are doing when we’re using our minds. It has been an essential tool in the Insight approach because it draws our attention to how we interact, how we make meaning, and what influences our actions. This is especially important in conflict when we tend to be certain about what we think we know and righteous in our actions. We tend to react rather than reflect.
This makes perfect sense given that conflict behavior - the things we do that lead to conflict interactions - is rooted in a decision to defend in response to a feeling of threat. We are intent on defending, so we’re not curious. We simply want to stop the bad thing by dominating, winning, avoiding, deflecting.
In conflict, we are operating under the stress of threat so our minds are not always functioning optimally. We tend to jump to conclusions and engage in conflict behavior, perpetuating negative interactions.
But, when we understand the pattern of how we use our mind in conflict, we can use it to direct our curiosity and improve our performance for better decision making that ups the chance of constructive rather than destructive outcomes.
Understanding the Insight Loop helps us pay attention to how we’re using our minds so we can wonder what we otherwise take for granted: “How do I know?” “How does this matter to me?” “What am I trying to achieve by responding in this way?” These questions follow the patterned flow of consciousness and engage our critical thinking, enhance our self-awareness, and lead us to wonder about others, which can lead to more positive interactions that help us achieve our goals and improve our relationships.
Jamie Price, “Explaining Human Conflict: Human Needs Theory and the Insight Approach,” in Conflict Resolution and Human Needs, ed. Kevin Avruch and Christopher Mitchell (New York: Routledge, 2013), 108–23.