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How Mentally Strong People Avoid False Beliefs

How Mentally Strong People Avoid False Beliefs

Kanisha grew up in a Democratic household in Memphis, Tennessee. As far as she remembers, her family and friends always supported leftist candidates. She watched liberal-leaning television programs. She read leftist newspapers. Her Facebook friends posted overwhelmingly liberal-friendly news articles, and Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm edited out the articles posted by her few conservative friends. Google and other search engines also sent her similar leftist information. Kanisha lives in what is known as a filter bubble, in which she rarely sees information at odds with her views. So, what’s your guess on how she votes?

Considering Other Perspectives

Even when Kanisha learns about evidence for perspectives other than her own, she generally does not give due weight to that information. For instance, when her teacher offered some strong evidence about some negative side effects of raising the minimum wage, Kanisha decided to Google the phrase “why is raising the minimum wage the right thing to do?”

Do you think the articles that came up helped her gain the most accurate perspective on this politically sensitive issue? By phrasing her Google search that way, Kanisha did not give due consideration to other perspectives. This is characteristic of Kanisha’s behavior: when she hears something that makes her question her beliefs, she looks for ways to protect them, as opposed to searching for the truth.

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Now, I don’t mean to pick on Kanisha. This technology-enabled filter bubble is a characteristic of the personalization of the web. It affects many of us. This filter bubble has combined with another novel aspect of the Internet—how easily new media sources can capture our attention. Websites, bloggers, and so on tend to have lower standards for neutrality and professionalism than traditional news sources. These are key contributors to the polarization of political discourse we’ve seen in recent years.

Addressing Our Thinking Errors

I have to acknowledge that sometimes I myself am guilty of falling for the filter bubble effect. However, I fight the effect with my knowledge of cognitive biases (thinking errors made by our autopilots) and strategies for dealing with them.

The worst thinking error that Kanisha, myself, and others exhibit when we ignore information that does not fit our previous beliefs is called confirmation bias. Our brains tend to ignore or forget evidence that is counter to our current perspective, and will even twist ambiguous data to support our viewpoint and confirm our existing beliefs.

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The stronger we feel about an issue, the stronger this tendency. At the extreme, confirmation bias turns into wishful thinking, when our beliefs stem from what we want to believe instead of what is true. Confirmation bias is a big part of the polarization in our opinions, in politics, and in other areas of life.

Updating Your Beliefs

So, how do you deal with confirmation bias and other thinking errors? One excellent strategy is to focus on updating your beliefs. The concept of “updating your beliefs” has helped me and many others who attended Intentional Insights workshops, such as this videotaped one, to deal with thinking errors. To employ this strategy, it helps to practice mentally associating positive emotions, such as pride and excitement, with the decision to change our minds and update our beliefs based on new evidence.

Being proud of changing our minds is not intuitive, because the emotional part of the brain has a tendency to find changing our minds uncomfortable. It often persuades us to reject information that would otherwise lead us to rethink our opinions. However, we can use the rational part of our mind to train the emotional one to notice confusion, re-evaluate cached thinking and other shortcuts, revise our mental maps, and update our beliefs.

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In addition to associating positive emotions with changing your mind, you can use these habits to develop more accurate beliefs:

1) Deliberately seek out contradictory evidence to your opinion on a topic and praise yourself after giving that evidence fair consideration.

2) Focus in particular on updating your beliefs on controversial and emotional topics, as these are harder for the human mind to manage well.

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3) It’s especially beneficial to practice changing your mind often. Recent research shows that those who update their beliefs more often are substantially more likely to have more accurate beliefs.

Taking all of these steps and feeling good about them will help you evaluate reality accurately and thus gain agency to achieve your life goals.

Questions for Consideration

  • When, if ever, have confirmation bias and associated thinking errors steered you wrong? What consequences resulted from these thinking errors?
  • How can you apply the concept of updating beliefs to improve your thinking?
  • What are other strategies you have found to help you change your mind and gain a more clear evaluation of reality?
  • How do you think reading this post has influenced your thinking about evaluating reality? What specific steps do you plan to take as a result of reading this post to shift your thinking and behavior patterns?

Featured photo credit: sebaso via flickr.com

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

What do I want to do with my life? It’s a question all of us think about at one point or another.

For some, the answer comes easily. For others, it takes a lifetime to figure out.

It’s easy to just go through the motions and continue to do what’s comfortable and familiar. But for those of you who seek fulfillment, who want to do more, these questions will help you paint a clearer picture of what you want to do with your life.

1. What are the things I’m most passionate about?

The first step to living a more fulfilling life is to think about the things that you’re passionate about.

What do you love? What fulfills you? What “work” do you do that doesn’t feel like work? Maybe you enjoy writing, maybe you love working with animals or maybe you have a knack for photography.

The point is, figure out what you love doing, then do more of it.

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2. What are my greatest accomplishments in life so far?

Think about your past experiences and the things in your life you’re most proud of.

How did those accomplishments make you feel? Pretty darn good, right? So why not try and emulate those experiences and feelings?

If you ran a marathon once and loved the feeling you had afterwards, start training for another one. If your child grew up to be a star athlete or musician because of your teachings, then be a coach or mentor for other kids.

Continue to do the things that have been most fulfilling for you.

3. If my life had absolutely no limits, what would I choose to have and what would I choose to do?

Here’s a cool exercise: Think about what you would do if you had no limits.

If you had all the money and time in the world, where would you go? What would you do? Who would you spend time with?

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These answers can help you figure out what you want to do with your life. It doesn’t mean you need millions of dollars to be happy though.

What it does mean is answering these questions will help you set goals to reach certain milestones and create a path toward happiness and fulfillment. Which leads to our next question …

4. What are my goals in life?

Goals are a necessary component to set you up for a happy future. So answer these questions:

Once you figure out the answers to each of these, you’ll have a much better idea of what you should do with your life.

5. Whom do I admire most in the world?

Following the path of successful people can set you up for success.

Think about the people you respect and admire most. What are their best qualities? Why do you respect them? What can you learn from them?

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You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.[1] So don’t waste your time with people who hold you back from achieving your dreams.

Spend more time with happy, successful, optimistic people and you’ll become one of them.

6. What do I not like to do?

An important part of figuring out what you want to do with your life is honestly assessing what you don’t want to do.

What are the things you despise? What bugs you the most about your current job?

Maybe you hate meetings even though you sit through 6 hours of them every day. If that’s the case, find a job where you can work more independently.

The point is, if you want something to change in your life, you need to take action. Which leads to our final question …

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7. How hard am I willing to work to get what I want?

Great accomplishments never come easy. If you want to do great things with your life, you’re going to have to make a great effort. That will probably mean putting in more hours the average person, getting outside your comfort zone and learning as much as you can to achieve as much as you can.

But here’s the cool part: it’s often the journey that is the most fulfilling part. It’s during these seemingly small, insignificant moments that you’ll often find that “aha” moments that helps you answer the question,

“What do I want to do with my life?”

So take the first step toward improving your life. You won’t regret it.

Featured photo credit: Andrew Ly via unsplash.com

Reference

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