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2 Things You Must Let Go to Find Happiness and Satisfaction

2 Things You Must Let Go to Find Happiness and Satisfaction

Have you ever wondered, what would your life be like if you wouldn’t be able to judge your environment, the world that you live in? I know for a fact that some of the greatest things that have happened to me, such as becoming a vegetarian or starting my own blog, happened only because I was able to silence my pride and prejudice for a while. I allowed myself to close my eyes, and I refused to listen. My imagination began to go wild, and I finally said to myself “why not?” 

The desire to learn

Now, where am I going with this? Well, I want to continue by saying that some of the most successful people out there have at least one thing in common – the desire to learn. A person cannot progress and be successful if they are closed to experiencing and learning something new. Their ability to refrain from saying – “I know that” – allows them to expand in their development beyond what most people are capable of.

You have probably have heard of some people saying that they are wiser because they are older. While that may be true sometimes, I have seen cases where people in their 40’s definitely have misused that argument. By saying something like that, they automatically close themselves from understanding and learning something new about this world. Do you think that a 20-year old cannot be wiser than a 40-year old? Of course, they can be!

When I was a little younger, my family used to own budgies. You know, those little blue, green and yellow parrots that you see in pet shops. These birds are small in size, and are not extraordinarily smart. However, there was not a day that I didn’t learn something new about them, and something new from them. I remember being amazed by how much these birds can do, while being that small. I looked and I stared, and I never thought of them as being stupid or anything even remotely close to that.

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Again, where am I going with this?

If we are able to learn so much from small birds living in our house, how much can we learn from other people? How much can we learn just by observing the world around us?

Our progress slows as our egos expand

Unfortunately, as we grow older, our ego expands with us. As we see ourselves becoming intellectually savvy, our importance begins to play a major role in our life. The three words “I know that” becomes quite common in our vocabulary. We get accustomed to looking down at some people, and disliking others. Our progress in this world slows down.

Coming back to the topic of pride and prejudice, do you think that these two concepts are taking over your life? I personally have come across many situations where I knew that if I would have given the other person a chance, I could have learned something new and probably benefited from it. But I let my own pride and prejudice regarding that other person take this experience away from me. I simply made the decision not listen to them, because I mistakenly thought that I knew better.

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Living in a world of duality

We live in a world of duality, where we choose to see things as up or down, black or white, sadness or happiness, good or bad…the list goes on and on. Although we say that we should not judge a book by its cover, we keep doing it every day of our life. We are able to predict an outcome of something before it has even happened, simply because we have already formed an opinion regarding it. When we see a person walk by us, we instantly give them a label based on the shoes that they wear, or the haircut that they have. It just seems so natural to do this. I, however, ask all of us to change these habits.

There are moments in life when I practice full awareness, and one part that I really love about it is when I am able not to judge others based on their looks or the way they speak, for a long period of time. It is an amazing feeling. Somebody that you wouldn’t otherwise consider talking to, becomes suddenly such a nice person. Being able to see beyond the form is truly a gift.

Another example of where pride and prejudice impact us a lot is in education. I remember coming to class during my university years, and trying to listen to some of the professors. Sometimes, when I already knew something that they were explaining, I felt that I had no reason to keep listening. I closed myself from all of the information that was offered to me. On other occasions, I didn’t like how the teacher taught, and so I convinced myself into believing that the teacher is not capable of teaching me. Instead of focusing on what I could learn, I focused on how “bad” the professor was at teaching. Now when I think of it, if only I wasn’t so quick to judge, I could have learnt so much more.

Today vs before

Living in today’s society has become incredibly easy. In the past decades and centuries, interactions between a teacher and a student were quite different. Information was given, and when the students refused to behave, they could have been spanked, or even struck with a wooden stick. School corporal punishment was a common practice.

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In those times it was probably difficult to complain about the form that was used to teach. Instead, the meaning, the essence of what the teacher was trying to tell them was given the priority.

Today, the world in that context has become a much better place. People are generally polite to each other, avoid conflicts, and violence is prohibited in schools. All of this has given us the freedom to choose who we want to learn from. We now have more space to focus on the form, on the how of what is being taught to us, instead of focusing on the what. 

Pride and prejudice, if not tamed, can be our worst enemies, that prevent us from developing ourselves further. I ask you to be more aware of not only how people talk to you, but more of what they say. If you neglect this, you may be missing out on a lot.

I began this post saying that by silencing my pride and prejudice for a while, I allowed myself to see vegetarianism as something so powerful, instead of “stupid”. I also allowed myself to see blog-writing, as something so interesting and fascinating, instead of something that will kill my free time and simply take me nowhere. Both of these things make me extremely happy and satisfied. Is happiness or satisfaction not worth leaving pride and prejudice outside of your life?

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Here I talk about the topic only from one of the million angles. You can expand on it and see for yourself where either pride or prejudice has prevented you from something great. In any case, the main thing that I wish you to realise is the importance of seeing and hearing beyond your own reactions to what is being shown or said to you.

Thank you.

More by this author

Victor Stepanchikov

Software Engineer, Blogger, Personal Development Freak

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Published on May 21, 2020

How Cognitive Bias Influences Our Decision Making

How Cognitive Bias Influences Our Decision Making

Cognitive biases are dangerous judgment errors that can devastate our health and wellbeing, our relationships, careers and businesses, and other areas of our lives.

To protect yourself against these mental blind spots, you need to know what they are, where they come from, and what you can do about them. That’s what this article is about.

Cognitive Biases on the Road

For an example of cognitive bias, imagine you are driving on autopilot, as we all do much of the time.

Let’s be clear, it’s a good idea to let your automatic response be in the driver’s seat when you are doing tasks that don’t require your full focus and attention. In ordinary driving situations – without inclement weather or start-and-stop traffic – you don’t need to use up your mental resources by turning your full focus on driving.

Now imagine that, as you are driving, the car in front of you unexpectedly cuts you off!

What do you do?

Well, you have to slam on your brakes to avoid a crash. Maybe you flash your lights or honk your horn. You feel scared and angry.

Your sympathetic nervous system activates, shooting cortisol throughout your body. Your heart beats faster, your palms start to sweat, a wave of heat goes through your body. [1]

What’s your gut feeling about the other driver? Probably your first impression is that the driver is rude and obnoxious.

Now imagine a different situation. You’re driving on autopilot, minding your own business, and you suddenly realize you need to turn right at the next intersection. You quickly switch lanes and suddenly hear someone behind you honking their horn.

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You now realize that there was someone in your blind spot but you forgot to check it in the rush to switch lanes, so you cut them off pretty badly.

Do you think that you are a rude driver? The vast majority of us would not. After all, we did not deliberately cut off the other driver; we just failed to see their car.

Let’s imagine another situation: your friend hurt herself and you’re rushing her to the emergency room. You’re driving aggressively and cutting in front of other cars.

Are you a rude driver? You’d probably say you are not; you’re merely doing the right thing for this situation.

Misattributing Blame Due to Cognitive Biases

Why do we give ourselves a pass while assigning an obnoxious status to other people? Why do our guts always make ourselves the good guys and other people the bad guys?

There is clearly a disconnect between our gut reactions and reality. This pattern is not a coincidence

Our immediate gut reaction attributes the behavior of other people to their personality and not to the situation in which the behavior occurs. The scientific name for this type of cognitive bias is the fundamental attribution error.[2]

This judgment error results in the following: if we see someone behaving rudely, we immediately and intuitively feel that this person is rude. We don’t stop to consider whether an unusual situation may cause the individual to act that way.

With the example of the driver, maybe the person who cut you off did not see you. Maybe they were driving their friend to the emergency room. But that’s not what our gut reaction tells us.

On the other hand, we attribute our own behavior to the situation, and not our personality. Much of the time we believe that we have valid and fully justifiable explanations for our actions.

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Are Cognitive Biases Really So Bad?

Don’t believe that such negative snap judgments about others can be harmful?

It may not seem very important whether you think wrongly that other drivers are jerks. Sorry to disappoint you, but this mental pattern posed a grave threat to your relationships.

As an example, what would you think of a potential business colleague if you saw her yelling at someone on her smartphone?

ou would probably have a negative reaction toward her and may not be likely to do business with her. Well, what if you found out she was yelling because she had her father on the other line who just misplaced his hearing aid and she was making plans to come to his house to help him look for it?

There can be many innocent explanations for someone yelling on the phone, but we are tempted to assume the worst.

In a related example, I was coaching a CEO of a company that had staff who worked from home due to COVID-19.

He told me about a recent incident with an employee who was having a heated Skype discussion over a conflict with an HR manager. The Skype call disconnected and the HR manager told the CEO the employee hung up on her. The CEO fired the employee on the spot.

Later, he learned that the employee thought the HR manager hung up on her. The call simply disconnected. Unfortunately, it was too late to take back the termination, even though the CEO regretted his heated decision.

This unfair firing situation really demoralized the rest of the staff, resulting in a growing disconnect between the CEO and other staff. It eventually contributed to the CEO leaving the organization.

Why Do We Suffer Cognitive Biases?

Intuitively, our mind feels like a cohesive whole. We perceive ourselves as intentional and rational thinkers. Yet cognitive science research shows that in reality, the intentional part of our mind is like a little rider on top of a huge elephant of emotions and intuitions.[3]

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Roughly speaking, we have two thinking systems, which neuroscientists call System 1 and 2. But it’s easier to think of them as the “autopilot system” and “intentional system.”

The autopilot system corresponds to our emotions and intuitions. Its cognitive processes take place mainly in the amygdala and other parts of the brain that developed early in our evolution.

This system guides our daily habits, helps us make snap decisions, and reacts instantly to dangerous life-and-death situations, like saber-toothed tigers through the freeze, fight, or flight stress response.

While helping our survival in the past, the fight-or-flight response is not a great fit for modern life. We have many small stresses that are not life-threatening, but the autopilot system treats them as tigers, producing an unnecessarily stressful everyday life experience that undermines our mental and physical wellbeing.

Moreover, while the snap judgments resulting from intuitions and emotions usually feel “true” because they are fast and powerful, they sometimes lead us wrongly in systemic and predictable ways.

The intentional system reflects our rational thinking and centers around the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that evolved more recently.

This thinking system helps us handle more complex mental activities, such as managing individual and group relationships, logical reasoning, probabilistic thinking, and learning new information and patterns of thinking and behavior. It can also lead to occasional decision-making errors, but it’s right much more often than the autopilot system.[4]

Train Your Intentional System to Address Cognitive Biases

While the automatic system requires no conscious effort to function, the intentional system takes deliberate effort to turn on and is mentally tiring.

Fortunately, with enough motivation and appropriate training, the intentional system can turn on in situations where we are prone to making systematic decision-making errors. Scholars use the term “cognitive biases” to refer to these errors.

The autopilot system is like an elephant. It’s by far the more powerful and predominant of the two systems. Our emotions can often overwhelm our rational thinking.

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Moreover, our intuitions and habits determine the large majority of our life, which we spend in autopilot mode. And that’s not a bad thing at all – it would be mentally exhausting to think intentionally about our every action and decision.

The intentional system is like the elephant rider. It can guide the elephant deliberately to go in a direction that matches our actual goals.

Certainly, the elephant part of the brain is huge and unwieldy, slow to turn and change, and stampedes at threats. But we can train the elephant. Your rider can be an elephant whisperer.

Over time, you can use the intentional system to change your automatic thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns, and become much better at making the best decisions.

That’s why you should never go with your gut, and instead check with your head on any decision you don’t want to get wrong.[5]

Conclusion

Let’s go back to the fundamental attribution error. Now that we know what cognitive biases are and where they come from, how can we explain this cognitive bias?

From an evolutionary perspective, in the ancestral savanna, it was valuable for the survival of our ancestors to make quick decisions and to assume the worst, regardless of the accuracy of this assumption. Those who failed to do so did not survive to pass on their genes.

In the modern world where our survival is not immediately threatened by others and where we have long-term interactions with strangers, such judgments are dangerous for our long-term goals. We have to address this and other mental blindspots to make good decisions, whether about our relationships or other areas in our life.[6]

So, take a few minutes right now to think about where in recent weeks you might have misattributed blame. Given the stress associated with the pandemic, it’s easy to do.

Take the time to reach out to those you wrongly blamed and apologize. Doing so can be the start of your life-long journey to recognize and defeat cognitive biases and make the best decisions.

More on Cognitive Bias

Featured photo credit: Evan Dennis via unsplash.com

Reference

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