Advertising
Advertising

Why Our Minds Can’t Be Trusted And What We Can Do With It

Why Our Minds Can’t Be Trusted And What We Can Do With It

How often do you ride on a car? Even if you don’t have your own car, you must have seen one. I want to start this piece with a small challenge for you. Using only your memory, recall it in your mind a car you often see.

Okay, I see the wheels, the window, and the overall car frame. Does it look anything like this?

    Oh but wait, what about the headlights and tail lights? Where’s the handle for opening the doors? And where’re the mirrors?

    Advertising

    Why would we miss so many of those things? Don’t we all have a clear idea what a car is like?

    We believe that we know way more than we actually do.

    Yes we do. In a study conducted at Yale[1], graduate students were asked about their understanding in everyday devices like toilets. Most thought that they were familiar with the device, only after they were asked to explain step-by-step how the device works did they find out how ignorant they were. Toilets are more complicated than they look.

    We believe that we know way more than we do because most of the time, we only need to rely on others’ expertise to operate something. Take the bicycle and toilets as examples, we don’t really need to figure out how the whole thing works in order to operate them. As written by the authors of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone,[2]

    “One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge, and those of other members of the group”

    Very often, our knowledge and beliefs are actually someone elses’ without us even realizing it. Maybe you’ve already started to be more aware of this fact especially when the social media has such a great impact on our daily lives these days.

    When deep understanding is not always required, biases arise.

    The tendency that people embrace only information that supports their own beliefs is commonly known as “confirmation bias”, and it is dangerous. When we believe what we think is always right, our faulty thinking will harm the truth and disrupt our growth.

    Did everyone really understand the political situations in the US before they voiced out their opinions? And it’s pretty obvious that not everyone in the UK understood the whole Brexit thing before they voted for it, right? These are just some of the many examples of how others’ beliefs and knowledge got easily spread over the internet and people just picked up those thoughts without further understanding the truth.

    Business journalists often suffer from the confirmation bias. In the books The Art of Thinking Clearly[3], there’s an example about a statement “Google is so successful because the company nurtures a culture of creativity”, and how once this idea goes on paper, journalists only need to support the statement by mentioning other same successful companies without seeking disconfirming evidence. No more different perspectives, people will always see just one tip of the iceberg.

    Advertising

    When winning becomes more important than reasoning, chaos come.

    On the other hand, when presented with someone else’s argument, we tend to be more skeptical; and there comes the term “myside bias”.

    In an experiment performed by a cognitive scientist Hugo Mercier,[4] participants had to answer some questions, and later they were presented their own answers but were made to believe those were others’ answers. They became a lot more critical about the answers than when they were simply asked to modify their answers to be better.

    In some situations, when winning seems to be more beneficial, reasoning clearly becomes unimportant to most of us. And this makes us more blinded than ever to spot out our own weaknesses.

    To think more clearly, “murder your darlings”.

    “Murder your darlings” is the literary critic Arthur Quiller-Couch’s advice[5] for writers who are reluctant to cut their cherished redundant sentences in their works. We can apply this concept to how we think too.

    Advertising

    To fight against biases, let go of your “cherished thoughts” that you have to be right, and set out to find disconfirming evidence of all your beliefs — whether they be relationships, political views or career objectives. The stronger you believe in something, the more you should seek out alternative views of it.

    The rule of three

    An even more effective way to overcome bias is using the rule of three[6] — identify three potential causes of an outcome. In fact, the more possibilities you can come up with, the less biased you’d be towards any single outcome.

    Say next time, if you see an outcome that isn’t what you expect at work, instead of thinking it must be that irresponsible and careless guy who messed up the stuff, try to think of three potential causes: Maybe there’re instructions missing at the beginning? Maybe the guy already did his job but something went wrong afterwards? Maybe it’s something external that affected the outcome of this?

    Thinking through alternative possibilities help unravel the unnecessary attachments we have to the “cherished” thoughts, so we can have a more complete picture of how things are. When you learn to “murder your darlings” and embrace different views, your horizon will be widened and you’ll see a limitless world.

    Advertising

    Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

    Reference

    [1]Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown & Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
    [2]Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown & Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
    [3]Role Dobelli: The Art of Thinking Clearly
    [4]Cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber: The Enigma of Reason (Harvard)
    [5]Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: On the Art of Writing
    [6]Benjamin L. Luippold, Ph.D.; Stephen Perreault, CPA, Ph.D.; and James Wainberg, Ph.D.: Overcome Confirmation Bias

    More by this author

    Anna Chui

    Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the editor of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

    27 Ways to Instantly Feel Better When You’re Down Are We Spending Too Little Time on Too Many People? How Self Doubt Keeps You Stuck and How to Overcome It 7 Signs of an Unhappy Relationship That Makes You Feel Stuck 53 Relationship Questions That Will Make Your Love Life Better

    Trending in Communication

    1 Why Helping Others Actually Helps Yourself 2 15 Ways to Practice Positive Self-Talk for Success 3 27 Ways to Instantly Feel Better When You’re Down 4 How to Find Motivation When You’re Totally Burnt Out 5 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on October 15, 2018

    Why Helping Others Actually Helps Yourself

    Why Helping Others Actually Helps Yourself

    Helping others: it’s a fundamental part of humanity, bonding together and helping a fellow man or woman. In times of tragedy, the stories of those who help others are inspiring, such as helping the nation recover from national disasters and terrorist attacks. Some men and women even devote their lives to helping others, from the police force that protects our cities, to the fire departments who run into burning buildings, to the service men and women who risk their lives for the common good.

    “No one has ever become poor by giving.” ― Anne Frank, diary of Anne Frank

    But helping others isn’t limited to these grand gestures or times of tribulation. Helping others can be done each and every day. And contrary to what you may have heard, helping others doesn’t always have to be a selfless act. It’s important to understand that helping others can actually help yourself. No matter what the motivation, getting out and helping others is the key. So in that spirit of motivation, here are 5 reasons why helping others actually helps yourself.

    1. Quid Pro Quo

    When you help someone, they will be more likely to help you. This is the basic, unspoken agreement that fuels nearly every move. I’ll spend my entire day lugging boxes, but you owe me. It’s much easier to find help when someone knows you’d do the same for them. They may not always live up to their end of the bargin, and you may not either. But if you help enough people and do many good deeds, it will be given back when needed.

    Advertising

    2. Karma goes both ways.

    All too often, the idea of Karma is described in a negative way. If you do bad, bad will come find you. But it works the other way too. When you are a good person and help people, good things seem to happen. And while you may not believe in an inter-connected universe that rewards good deeds, there is something to be said about how helping others changes your perspective. When you’re helping others, you will often feel better about yourself, increasing the likelihood that your next experience will be a positive one, rather than a negative one.

    3. Doing good feels good.

    It’s maybe the most cited benefit of doing good: you’ll feel great. Helping others is a great way to feel better about yourself. Seeing a smile or even tears of joy makes it all worth it. It’s as simple as that.

    Advertising

    4. Good publicity is the best publicity.

    People notice when you’re doing good. It may not be the reason you help out, but someone is always watching. Even the simplest gesture can make an awesome impression.

    When I was in college, I had a class that helped out at a school for a full day. I worked with a small group of high school students who were incredibly interested in writing, and I had a great time. I asked the teacher if I could come back on my own time and work with these students to finish this project we were working on, to which she agreed.

    Advertising

    I went two more times that week, thinking nothing more about it. Fast forward a few weeks: I received a letter in the mail stating I had been chosen as a Presidential Grant Recipient for the summer and received a $2,000 stipend to work with a group of students and professors on a research project over the summer. I was floored, as I hadn’t even applied. I was nominated by that teacher who appreciated the work I did with her students. It wasn’t expected, but helping others ended up opening a door I never would have known was even available.

    5. Helping others looks good on a resume or application.

    Is your resume looking a little thin? Does your college application need a bit of pizzaz? Volunteering your time and energy to help others makes your resume and applications look as good as it makes you feel. Hiring managers look favorably on volunteer work and many acceptance committees use it to separate similar candidates. So read to some first graders, volunteer at the homeless shelter, and volunteer at your local Boys and Girl Club. Your resume will thank you.

    Advertising

    Featured photo credit: xavi talleda via flickr.com

    Read Next