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Becoming an Effective Skeptic: End Belief, Faith and Certainty

Becoming an Effective Skeptic: End Belief, Faith and Certainty
Think

“I don’t know.”

Perhaps the three hardest words to say in the English language. But perhaps they are also words we should be using more often. You don’t have to look far back into history where people believed things that we would now see as ridiculous: a flat Earth, a sun that orbits us or that blood letting was an effective medical practice.

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Similarly I don’t think you need to look far back into your personal history to find examples of where you have been wrong. Relationships you felt would last forever that didn’t make three weeks. Career paths you ignored. Beliefs you held that turned out to be false.

Benefits of Skeptical (and Critical) Thinking

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There are a lot of practical applications for using skeptical thinking. Unfortunately, with the recent popularity of programs like The Secret and positive thinking self-help, rational thinking is being subverted for a self-induced placebo effect. Here are some benefits you can get from using skepticism on practical matters:

  • Creativity – The best way to prevent new solutions is to believe you already have the answer. Allowing a gap of doubt can allow creative alternatives to flow in. If you are adamant that advertising will not work for your product, you might cut off hundreds of ideas for improving your business.
  • Planning – Assumptions are the enemy of planning. A common rule of thumb for software development is to plan to use double the amount of time you need; then add six months. Write your plans too narrowly and they may collapse under new information.
  • Quickly Integrate New Facts – When you also maintain a small margin of doubt, you can allow in new facts easily. If you are completely certain your approach is perfect, you won’t be able to adjust when evidence points that it isn’t.
  • Reveal Weaknesses – Many of the things that sabotage your efforts will be completely unknown. Thinking critically and examining the information can reveal some of these traps.

Becoming a Better Skeptic

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Here are some ways you can integrate healthy skepticism into your life:

  1. Measure – Get the numbers and use them as a basis for improvement. Avoid subjective judgements where possible. The data usually won’t provide the whole story, but it provides a solid foundation for drawing conclusions.
  2. Examine Your Scale – Data itself is worthless with a broken scale. Take steps to regularly ensure that your numbers are measuring what they need to. Getting caught in meaningless statistics is worse than having no data at all.
  3. “What if I’m wrong?” – I try to ask myself this question whenever I need to make large assumptions. Examining both potential sides leaves you an exit route if the information turns out to be false.
  4. Know the Unknowns – Figure out the unknowns in any project or endeavor. You can’t account for every missing variable, but being aware of them will help you react if new information comes in. If you are making a career decision, what unknown factors is that based on? That you will enjoy the work? That you will be challenged? Knowing these unknowns will help you if the information later changes.
  5. Cut the Arrogance – Part of healthy skepticism, is removing the arrogance that comes from a certainty you know what is right. With humility comes the ability to change your course of action as new information arrives.
  6. Develop an Escape Route – Some assumptions are pretty fundamental. I have a strong assumption that when I try to walk, gravity still works. But you should also have escape routes for what information would break your assumptions. I assume regular exercise is good for my health. But if several independent sources gave me evidence to show it wasn’t, I would stop.
  7. Fuel Curiosity – Skepticism doesn’t need to lead to cynicism. Having doubts, or uncertainties about basic assumptions should inspire curiosity, not despair. Fuel your urges to discover and you can balance out the natural urge to reject opposing information.
  8. Play the Devil’s Advocate – Spend a bit of time thinking through some of your problems if your assumptions were reversed. Not only will this keep you on your toes, it can yield creative new answers. If your business is based on the assumption that you need to work many hours to be successful, what would happen if that assumption was reversed and working more wasn’t necessary or had a negative effect?
  9. Seek Contradictory Viewpoints – Look for opinions that clash with yours. This could be in the form of people, books or classes that confront your assumptions. I know people who believe entrepreneurship and capitalism are the source of societies woes just as I know people who believe the opposite. By listening to both sides and empathizing with their perspective I can form stronger ideas.
  10. Test – Measurement is good, but active experimentation is better. It is easy to simply go with your intuition when finding an answer. But it is more useful to actually test out the ideas. Personal experimentation, whether it is with a new diet or a business plan, won’t be as perfect as a scientific study, but it can still provide better information than simply making up your mind in advance.


Avoid Turning Skepticism into Cynicism

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Healthy skepticism, questioning your underlying assumptions and introducing doubt, can be helpful. Cynicism takes it further where doubt becomes mistrust and paranoia. Avoid that trap. Become an effective skeptic and be able to take the best information available and knowing what information you need to be proven wrong.

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How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

Achieving personal goals deserves a huge amount of celebration but setting these goals in the first place is a massive achievement in itself.

While the big goals serve as a destination, the journey is probably the most important part of the process. It reflects your progress, your growth and your ability take control and steer your life towards positive change.

Whatever your goal is, whether it’s losing 20lbs or learning a new language, there will always be a set amount of steps you need to take in order to achieve it. Once you’ve set your sights on your goal, the next stage is to take an assertive path towards how you will get there.

The aim of this article is to guide you through how to take action towards your personal goals in a way that will help you achieve them strategically and successfully.

1. Get very specific

When it comes to setting your personal goals, honing in on its specifics is crucial for success.

It’s common to have a broad idea of where you want to go or what you want to achieve, but this can sabotage your efforts in the long run.

Get clear on what you want your goal to look like so you can create solid steps towards it.

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Say you have a vision on retiring early. This goal feels good to you and you can envision filling your days of work-free life with worldly adventures and time with loved ones.

If retiring early is a serious personal goal for you, you will need to insert a timeframe. So your goal has changed from “I’d like to someday retire early and travel the world” to “I’m going to retire by 50 and travel the world”.

It may not seem significant, but creating this tweak in your goal by specifying a definite time, will help create and structure the steps needed to achieve it in a more purposeful way.

2. Identify the preparation you need to achieve your goal

It’s easy to set a goal and excitedly, yet aimlessly move towards it. But this way of going about achieving goals will only leave you eventually lost and feeling like you’ll never achieve it.

You have to really think about what you need to do in order to make this goal possible. It’s all very well wanting it to happen, but if you just sit back and hope you’ll get there one day will result in disappointment.

Self-managing your goals is a crucial step in the process. This involves taking control of your goal, owning it and making sure you are in a great position to make it happen.

In the early retirement example, this would mean you will need to think about your financial situation.

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What will your finances ideally need to look like if you were to retire early and travel the world? How much money will you need to put into your retirement fund to retire at 50? How much extra savings will you need to support your travels? You could also start researching the places you’d like to travel to and how long you’d like to travel for.

Outlining these factors will, not only make your goal seem more tangible, but also create a mind shift to one of forward motion. Seeing the steps more clearly will help you make a more useful plan of action and seeing your goal as a reality.

3. Breakdown each step into more manageable goals

The secret to achieving your goals is to create smaller goals within each step and take action. Remember, you’re looking for progress, no matter how small it may seem.

These small steps build up and get you to the top. By doing this, you also make the whole process much less daunting and overwhelming.

In the early retirement scenario, there are several smaller goals you could implement here:

  • Decide to make an appointment with a financial advisor asking what financial options would be available to you if you were to go into early retirement and travel. Get advice on how much you would need to top up your funds in order to reach your goal on time.
  • Set up and start to make payments into the retirement fund.
  • Research savings accounts with good rates of interest and commit to depositing a certain amount each month.
  • Make sure you meet with your financial advisor each year to make sure your retirement plan remains the best one for you. Research new savings accounts to move your money into to reap the best returns in interest rates.
  • Start investing in travel books, building up a library that covers where you want to go.
  • Think about starting a language course that will help you get the most out of your travel experience.

4. Get started on the journey

Creating a goal planner in which you can start writing down your next steps is where the magic happens. This is where the real momentum towards your dream starts!

Create a schedule and start by writing in when you will start the first task and on which day. Commit to completing this small task and feel the joy of crossing it off your list. Do this with every little step until your first mini goal has been reached.

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In the early retirement example, schedule in a meeting with a financial advisor. That’s it. Easy.

As I mentioned before, it may seem such a small step but it’s the momentum that’s the most important element here. Once you cross this off, you can focus on the meeting itself, then once that’s ticked off, you are in a position of starting a profitable retirement fund…and so the momentum continues. You are now on your journey to achieving your dream goal.

5. Create an annual review

Taking a step back and reviewing your progress is essential for keeping yourself on the right track. Sometimes you can be moving full steam ahead towards your goal but miss seeing the opportunities to improve a process or even re-evaluate your feelings towards the goal.

Nominate a day each year to sit down and take a look at your progress. Celebrate your achievements and how far you’ve come. But also think about changing any of the remaining steps in light of new circumstances.

Has anything changed? Perhaps you got a promotion at work and you feel you can add more to your monthly savings.

Do you still feel the same about your goal? It’s normal for our desires to change over time and our personal goals need to reflect this.

Perhaps you’d like to take someone new with you on your travels and you need to take this into account regarding timelines. Are there any new steps you want to add as a result?

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Remember, reflection is a useful tool in realigning your goal to any changes and it’s important to keep on the right trajectory towards it.

Strive to become the best goal-setter you can be

Having personal goals gives you purpose and the feeling of becoming a better version of yourself.

But it’s the smaller steps within these big goals that the growth and achievement really lies:

  • Whatever your goal is, make sure you get specific on when you want to achieve it. This helps you focus on the necessary steps much more efficiently.
  • Research the actionable steps required to get to the end result and…
  • Break these down into smaller, manageable goals.
  • Create a daily or weekly schedule for these smaller goals and start the positive momentum.
  • Reflect each year on your goal journey and purpose, readjusting steps according to changes in circumstance or desire.

Keep going and always have the end goal in sight. Remember the ‘why’ behind your goal throughout to keep you motivated and positive.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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