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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

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

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Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

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How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

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Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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