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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 17, 2019

10 Simple Ways To Always Think Positive Thoughts

10 Simple Ways To Always Think Positive Thoughts

Positive thinking can lead to a lot of positive change in your life. Developing an optimistic outlook can be good for both your physical and mental health.

But sometimes, certain situations arise in life that makes it hard to keep a positive outlook. Take steps to make positive thinking become more like your second nature and you’ll reap the biggest benefits.

Here are 10 ways to make thinking positive thoughts easy:

1. Spend Time with Positive People

If you surround yourself with constant complainers, their negativity is likely to rub off on you.

Spend time with positive friends and family members to increase the likelihood that their positive thinking habits will become yours too. It’s hard to be negative when everyone around you is so positive.

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2. Take Responsibility for Your Behavior

When you encounter problems and difficulties in life, don’t play the role of the victim. Acknowledge your role in the situation and take responsibility for your behavior.

Accepting responsibility can help you learn from mistakes and prevent you from blaming others unfairly.

3. Contribute to the Community

One of the best ways to feel good about what you have, is to focus on what you have to give.

Volunteer in some manner and give back to the community. Helping others can give you a new outlook on the world and can assist you with positive thinking.

4. Read Positive and Inspirational Materials

Spend time each day reading something that encourages positive thinking. Read the Bible, spiritual material, or inspirational quotes to help you focus on what’s important to you in life. It can be a great way to start and end your day.

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Some recommendations for you:

5. Recognize and Replace Negative Thoughts

You won’t be successful at positive thinking if you’re still plagued by frequent negative thoughts. Learn to recognize and replace thoughts that are overly negative. Often, thoughts that include words like “always” and “never” signal that they aren’t true.

If you find yourself thinking something such as, “I always mess everything up,” replace it with something more realistic such as, “Sometimes I make mistakes but I learn from them.”

There’s no need to make your thoughts unrealistically positive, but instead, make them more realistic.

6. Establish and Work Toward Goals

It’s easier to be positive about problems and setbacks when you have goals that you’re working toward. Goals will give you motivation to overcome those obstacles when you encounter problems along the way. Without clear goals, it’s harder to make decisions and gauge your progress.

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Learn to set SMART goals to help you achieve more.

7. Consider the Consequences of Negativity

Spend some time thinking about the consequences of negative thinking. Often, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For example, a person who thinks, “I probably won’t get this job interview,” may put less effort into the interview. As a result, he may decrease his chances of getting the job.

Create a list of all the ways negative thinking impacts your life. It likely influences your behavior, your relationships, and your feelings. Then, create a list of the ways in which positive thinking could be beneficial.

8. Offer Compliments to Others

Look for reasons to compliment others. Be genuine in your praise and compliments, but offer it frequently. This will help you look for the good in other people.

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9. Create a Daily Gratitude List

If you start keeping a daily gratitude list, you’ll start noticing exactly how much you have to be thankful for. This can help you focus on the positive in your life instead of thinking about all the bad things that have happened in the day.

Getting in the habit of showing an attitude of gratitude makes positive thinking more of a habit. Here’re 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.

10. Practice Self-Care

Take good care of yourself and you’ll be more equipped to think positively.

Get plenty of rest and exercise and practice managing your stress well. Taking care of your physical and mental health will provide you with more energy to focus on positive thinking.

Learn about these 30 Self-Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit.

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Featured photo credit: DESIGNECOLOGIST via unsplash.com

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