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The SIFT Model


Explanations > Brain > SIFT Model

Sense the world | Infer meaning | formulate intent | Translate into action | deep stuff | So what?


We understand and respond to the world through complex cognitive processes. The SIFT model is a simplification of the inner workings of the mind that helps explain how we perform this amazing feat.

Either click on the areas of the diagram below for more detail, or read the summaries in the sections below.


Sense the world

We do not directly understand the world around us as the only interface we have is through the inputs from our five senses. The best we can do is to use our attention to direct this input-gathering activity to areas of specific interest. This limited lens leads us to miss much that would otherwise be of value to us.

Read more on the Sense page.

Infer meaning

The sensed inputs we receive are light, sound, pressure, etc. that have no meaning in themselves. We infer our own personal meaning through a range of filters and interpretation mechanisms that include recognition, classification, prediction verification, goal checks, threat assessment, and so on. Even given this complex system (or perhaps because of it), we often misunderstand other people.

Read more on the Inference page.

Formulate intent

Deciding what to do about the world is a choice between quick, intuitive reaction and slower, thoughtful consideration. Many of our errors of judgment (including being persuaded when we should have been more thoughtful) come from our automatic reactions.

Read more on the Formulation page.

Translate into action

After deciding what to do, we then have to translate this through the limitations of our physical and verbal clumsiness. Language is limited and we cannot always put into words what we really mean. This makes persuasion all the more difficult, especially when our inner biases leak through into our body language and vocal intonations, corrupting what we are really trying to convey.

Read more on the Translation page.

Deep stuff

Behind the SIFT activities there are a number of inner systems that regulate and assist our thought processes. These include deep needs, memories, beliefs, mental models, values and personal goals. When we are persuading, we often are trying to change one or more of these factors. Being 'deep stuff', they are often well-protected and do not change easily!

Read more on the Deep Stuff page.


A note for the pendantic: of course the real thing is more complex than this. Nevertheless, there's lots of truth here and it is, first of all, useful.

So what?

So make sure the other person is paying attention. Check that they understand your messages. Try to understand how they formulate their ideas, and how you can influence this. Help them translate into action that you want.

You can also apply this model to yourself, checking your own interpretation of what they say and how effectively you are communicating.

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