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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?

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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

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    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.

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    Last Updated on December 3, 2019

    10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

    10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

    There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

    Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

    1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

    Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

    There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

    Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

    2. Pace Yourself

    Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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    Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

    Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

    3. You Can’t Please Everyone

    “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

    You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

    Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

    4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

    Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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    We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

    Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

    5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

    “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

    No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

    We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

    6. It’s Not All About You

    You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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    It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

    7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

    No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

    We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

    Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

    8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

    That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

    Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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    Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

    9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

    Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

    The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

    10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

    We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

    When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

    Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

    This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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    Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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