In Search for Poop

The door was left open…shit! (Alright, that was not exactly what I said. I said, “Oh look, someone must have left the door open. Since I am the only one here, I guess it was me. I better close it now and go back to work.”


I panicked!

While I didn’t become frantic, (okay there was this one time) I certainly had my spidey-sense up and running on overdrive.


Here is the situation. I live in a rural area where many low ground creatures exist, snakes and rats in particular and I have big, HUGE phoebe with both of them.

At this time of year (fall/winter) rats are my biggest concern and with a door open, for who knows how long, the potential of a rat coming in is pretty good. Based on my past experience, it is almost certain.

In the search for the rat poop!

So let the hunt begin!

For the rest of the day and for several after, every little sound I heard sounded like a rat doing something. Every walk around the house, my eyes were in constant seeking mode, looking for the best tell of all – rat poop.

You see rat poop in the house – you have a RAT in the house!

It does not take long for the evidence to show up, which in some ways is a good thing because I can usually stop the hunt after a few days if I don’t find anything. Those noises at night just become part of an old house settling in, except for the ghost dog, (someday I will write about that) and the seeds from the cedar trees don’t become images of rat poop anymore, that always seem to get tracked into the house.

How often are you looking for rat poop?

Saaaay what???

I can turn anything to a life lesson and this situation was no different.

Reflecting on what we as humans do, that being our insatiable habit of looking for supporting evidence for our conclusions/beliefs/paradigms that we have about ourselves, people and life in general, I started to see a relationship between my hunting for rat poop and the poop that we look for in our lives.

That’s deep shit! (Sorry, couldn’t resist it)

The easiest supporting evidence to find is the poop – the worse aspects.

It takes more effort and energy to find the good.

It’s almost as if we are hard-wired for looking for the worst. As in the example of when your kid or spouse is late coming home, where does your mind go?

Oh, they probably found something that was so distracting, they probably forgot about the time and didn’t realize what time it was. Or is it more like, they have been kidnapped, in an accident or worse. After all, isn’t that how those TV movies of the week shows go and everyone’s life is changed forever and, and , and…

The open door at that point in time when I noticed, was only an open door. BUT based on some very real past experience, that open door meant, RATS IN THE HOUSE! Running on that assumption, I then concluded that there must be a rat here someplace and I spent the next few days trying to support that belief, looking for the poop supporting the assumption/conclusion and belief that a rat existed in my house.

That process is very exhausting. I know what the next step is IF I find that poop. (Clean up the poop, hide the fact from my wife, let her discover the new poop and let her deal with the rat. YES, I am the MAN!)

So, what poop do you continually look for?

Coaching people over the last years, there are common bags of poop that people bring to the table. Some of the bags are large and some are small but they all contain evidence to support some aspect of their life – HOW IT IS NOT WORKING.

The bag and we all have baggage, represents the conclusions that we have made about ourselves, other and the world.

You know those conclusions very well. You at times may deny them but you do have them. The good news is, we all have them.

Some of the conclusions we have about ourselves are: I’m not good enough, loved enough, pretty enough, smart enough…you get the picture. Most of those conclusions all start with “I’m not…and end with “enough.” You fill in the blank.

Some of the conclusions we have about others are: People are cruel, shady, untrustworthy, liars, cheaters, and a whole bag full of adjectives describing the worst behaviours in people.

Wait a minute Rick. I have many conclusions that are positive.

Yes, I am sure you do and they take more effort to notice. Far more than the negative aspects. This is in part to our fight/flight/freeze part of our brain trying to keep us safe.

We are always on the hunt (sub-consciously) for things that might eat us.

Since our world has changed a bit since those “good old days” (at least in the more developed countries) we don’t have to worry so much about that. So what does our brain do when it doesn’t have anything else to do, it keeps doing what it naturally wants to do – keep us safe and focuses on other things that might threaten us or hurt us.

Some of those conclusions that we have about life are: Life is tough, cruel, unfair, hard, a struggle…you get the idea.

At this point, you might be asking, how did I come up with these conclusions?

Well, its all part of living and will continue to be a part of you until the day you die.

I am talking about a tool that your mind uses called, the Ladder of Inference. It’s our thinking process we all go through at nearly every point of every day. It is how we process data (automatically) and make sense (our sense) of the world. Understanding the Ladder will help you in every aspect or any social interaction that you have.

Here are some facts to know about the Ladder:

  • The Ladder of Inference was first put forward by organizational psychologist Chris Argyris and used by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.
  • Everyone has one
  • Everyone’s ladder is very unique to them, no two ladders are alike, some are similar but never exactly the same.
  • Although there is some debate about this, humans are the only ones that have one
  • The Ladder describes our thinking process
  • It runs on auto-pilot and happens in less than a nano-second (and that is fast).
  • Once you grab on to the rings of the Ladder, it is very hard to let go.
  • When you get to the top of the Ladder, you may or may not find out that you are wrong, supporting wrong conclusions, and taking wrong actions.

What are The Rungs of the Ladder?

We all climb this ladder using our sub-conscious, in a place where we are not fully aware of it happening.

At the bottom, the Ladder rests data. Observable data. Data that we encounter using our five senses. It’s pure data, nothing added, just the facts – it’s just is.

A rock is a rock is a rock. A word is a word is a word.

Because there is so much data out there to observe and we can’t take it all in. We have to filter it and without going into a long essay about this process – we basically select the data that is important to us. That’s what happens on the first rung as we climb; we select or filter the data.

Once we have selected our data, based on our cultural and personal experiences and patterns of the past, we naturally add some meaning to the data.

With that meaning, we form judgments.

Continuing up the rungs, based on those meanings and judgements we added, we will make assumptions. (Beware of the (ASS of U and ME).

Following making assumptions, we draw conclusions. Yes, those wonderful ones I used as examples and yes, we do have good conclusions too.

With those conclusions in thought, the remaining rungs in the ladder are, adopting a belief and then taking actions based on those beliefs.

Part of the process is putting all this information into storage (the unconscious areas) for future use. That information is stored as a pattern so that when we recognize it in the future, we know exactly how to act. Well at least we “think” we do.

We are at the top of our ladder now!

The Ladder of Inference or Perception

For the rest of our lives, we are in constant lookout (unconsciously) for patterns that we perceive to keep us safe, and at the same time looking for data (poop) to support the actions and beliefs we had formed, in running our patterns.

In the bag goes the poop.

“The door is open. Look for the poop. See poop, there is a rat in the house. Every time the door is left open a rat comes in! See no poop, I got lucky.”
“He said interesting (data) cookies. Interesting means, not liking (meaning). He doesn’t think my baking is any good (assumption). Well, that’s insulting! (conclusion) He doesn’t really care, does he? (belief) Well I will show him…(action)”

Of course, the above examples could have gone differently, with different meanings, conclusions, excreta. That is the point. We ALL have different ladders – different perspectives – different ways we interpret our world.

We have to constantly ask ourselves, are my actions supported by truth or I am not seeing this right?

What gets us into trouble is we think that others have a perception (true, there are 7 billion out there) and we know better (not necessarily true) and live the true reality (false).

Do you see yourself climbing the Ladder?

I am going to explore more about the Ladder in future articles so stay tuned (easiest way is to scribe to my newsletter/blog) over the next few days and weeks to come. I’ll address:

  • How the Ladder influences our daily life.
  • How the Ladder relates to our work and how can we use it to be more effective and make better choices/decisions.
  • How the Ladder can be used as a foundation for change.

As you can see or might have guessed, the Ladder plays an important part in understanding ourselves, others and our world.

If you are interested in learning more, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter and blog by entering your information below:

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Please help support my work by liking and sharing if you have found value in it. I also, appreciate any comments you have to offer.

The Ladder of Inference will also be part of my new live, interactive workshop, coming in January – “The Fundamentals of Transforming Your Life.” By subscribing to the newsletter, you will be the first to know and be offered a seat in the workshop. I have limited the number of seats to 10 so that there is a lot of interaction and discussion among the group.

RICK RUPPENTHAL is a professional Personal and Leadership Transformational Coach and a Certified Change Practitioner. As a retired paramedic of 30 years, Rick has held positions in leadership, education, as a coach and a mentor. Through those experiences, understanding, and adaptability, Rick has dedicated his life to a continual journey of self-discovery, adventure, and guiding others on their own journey of being their best self.

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