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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.

More by this author

Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

20 Unusual Uses for Coca-Cola That You’ve Never Considered

20 Unusual Uses for Coca-Cola That You’ve Never Considered

Coca-Cola is an adored product the world over. While keeping yourself in good health means moderating how often you enjoy this drink, Coca-Cola lovers will be happy to hear that there are plenty of uses for the soda pop that don’t involve ingesting it. Impressively, Coca-Cola can be used to help you clean, get rid of rust, and even help maintain your garden. Whether you are looking for a way to finally get rid of those pesky stains, or just want to find new ways to love this drink, these 20 jaw-dropping and unusual uses for Coca-Cola will blow you away.

Kill pests in your garden

Coca-Cola is also an effective pest control method for your garden. To rid yourself of plant munching slugs and snails, pour a small bowl of Coca-Cola and place it near your garden or flowerbeds. The smell will attract these crawling bugs and the drink’s acidity will kill them.

Defrost your windshield

Incredibly, Coca-Cola can also defrost your windscreen in the wintertime. Simply pour Coke liberally across your windshield and wait about a minute. The ice should turn to slush for easy removal.

Clean your pans

Coca-Cola is also useful in the kitchen, especially on burnt pans. For any pan with burnt on messes, pour a can of Coke into the pan and simmer. The mess should easily wipe away. You can also soak kettles and other kitchen items in Coca-Cola to remove scale and build up.

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Clean bugs from your windshield

Another way Coca-Cola can aid in your car care is by removing bugs and gunk from your windshield. Soak a cloth in coke, then rub across your windshield. Just be careful not to get any on your paint job.

Remove rust from your car

Coca-Cola is also useful when removing rust. The simplest method is to dip crumpled tinfoil in Coca-Cola, then give the item a scrub and you should be rust free.

Loosen rusty bolts

Similarly, use Coca-Cola to loosen up a rusty bolt. Simply unscrew the bolt half a turn and pour on Coca-Cola. Let it sit, then give the metal a wipe. The bolt and screws will be one hundred percent in no time.

Remove stains from your fabric

Surprisingly, Coca-Cola is incredibly helpful when removing stains from clothing and fabric. Coke will easily remove grease stains, as well as blood spots. Remember that Coca-Cola itself is brown, so stains on light fabrics might be better removed another way.

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Remove oil spots

Another way to use Coca-Cola is to remove oil stains from cement. Whether it’s your garage or your driveway, soak the stain in Coca-Cola for a few hours then hose off.

Relieve jellyfish stings

Should you be unwilling to neutralize a jellyfish sting the traditional way (with urine) pouring Coca-Cola on the sting will also do the job.

Clean your car engine

Coca-Cola is also an effective ways to clean your car engine. Believe it or not, Coke distributors have reportedly been a fan of this technique for ages. 

Use it in cooking

Coca-Cola is also a fantastic addition to many recipes. Using Coca-Cola to cook pot roast or steaks in will easily tenderize the meat for you. Mixing Coke with ketchup or barbecue sauce also makes for a delightfully sweet glaze.

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Clean your old coins

Another way to use Coke to clean is to soak tarnished coins in the soda. About ten minutes should be enough to get rid of the muck.

Clean your tiles

Incredibly, Coca-Cola can also be applied to tiles to effectively clean grout. Let Coke sit on the tiles that need cleaning for a few minutes, then wipe away.

Supercharge your compost

Coke is also an impressive way to speed up your compost. The sugar in Coca-Cola feeds micro organisms, plus the acidity will help your compost break down faster.

Remove gum from your hair

Coca-Cola can also help you avoid a major hair disaster. If you have gum stuck in your hair, dip the gum into a small bowl of Coke and let it sit for a few minutes. The Coca-Cola breaks down the gum, allowing you to wipe it off.

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Fade unwanted hair dye

Similarly, if you made a mistake with your hair dye, Coca-Cola comes to the rescue. It’s probably best to get in the shower first, then pour Diet Coke over your hair. Let the soda sit for a few minutes, then wash your hair like normal. This method is effective in removing temporary hair dyes, but will likely only fade professionally applied dyes.

Clean marker stains

Coca-Cola is also an easy way to remove marker stains from carpet. Apply a small amount of Coke, scrub the spot, then clean with soapy water. Again, remember that Coca-Cola is brown, so removing stains on white or light-colored carpets might be better achieved with another method.

Clean your toilet

Coca-Cola can also help you clean elsewhere in the house. To easily clean a toilet, pour Coca-Cola all around the bowl and let it sit. There’s no need to scrub, simply flush and your toilet should be sparkling clean.

Feed your plants

Coca-Cola is also a surprising way to add a little extra life to some flowering plants. Particularly with azaleas and gardenias, adding a small amount of Coca-Cola to the soil can deliver nutrients your plant may be low on.

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Get rid of bugs at a picnic

The last of our unusual uses for Coca-Cola is to safeguard your picnic or outdoor lunch from pests and wasps. Simply pour a small cup of Coca-Cola and set it out about a half hour before you start to eat. By placing the cup away from your site, bugs will be drawn to the soda and not your lunch.

Featured photo credit: Omer Wazir via flickr.com

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