Our thoughts help us direct our lives: what we should do next, what to say to that person, whether we should change jobs or go on a diet, etc. But what if our thoughts are plainly… wrong? What if they are misguided and lead us to reach the wrong conclusions and make the wrong decisions?
Here are 10 thinking mistakes you might be making… and how to avoid them.
1. Not understanding the Confirmation Bias.
We like to think we are rational, yet we are not. In order to make sense of all the information we get every day, our mind employs filters. And guess what? We make those filters according to our beliefs. That’s known in psychology as the confirmation bias.
If you think you will never, ever, be an achiever, then you will never be one. You will most probably not even try. But even if you do, the moment you see an obstacle… ahhh you knew you couldn’t make this happen!
At the same time, if you think you have what it takes to be successful, guess what? You will have what it takes! Every obstacle that comes in—pheww. Piece of cake. You have what it takes, right? Even if you fail, who cares? Failure just happens to everyone. You have what it takes.
Whether you like it or not, the confirmation bias is affecting you right now. We are wired to be biased. Use it to your advantage :)
2. Thinking that this ONE thing will solve everything.
Your friend Jill lost 20 pounds! Wow. She took a strange pill to help her. You need to get your hands on this pill too! This pill is what made her succeed and you want that too!
What you don’t know—or don’t care to know—is that Jill also changed her diet along with taking that pill.
You cannot really know whether it was the pill or the diet or both that helped Jill lose weight. You can only guess, yet it’s easy to believe it was this ONE thing that led to success. It was the pill. That’s the attribution bias.
And that’s why people ask:
“What’s the ONE thing I need to do to get my business succeed?”
“What’s the ONE exercise I need to do to get toned abs?”
There are multiple keys to success and it’s rarely one thing, or a shortcut, that makes or breaks our success.
3. Getting pleasure in the current moment—leaving pain for later.
It’s just easy to be lazy.
Let’s do what works for now, and forget about the long-term, shall we? Among others, that’s the recipe of every incompetent government in the world!
That’s exactly how quick fixes and shortcuts blossom. And that’s known as the current moment bias.
4. Confusing correlation and causation.
Tons of studies correlate obesity with a number of diseases and risk factors. Yet, that doesn’t mean that obesity causes those diseases. It only means that people who happen to be obese, might have a higher chance of developing these diseases.
Here’s an example: one person might be obese, but fit. They run, they lift, the are on the move.
Another person might be obese and sedentary.
Maybe most obese people are also sedentary.
And that’s how obesity is linked to several diseases.
Maybe it’s being sedentary that’s the problem, not the weight itself. Who knows, really?
That’s exactly how fat people may show better lab results than thin people.
And if that wasn’t clear enough, check this graph out. Would it be fair to say that Internet Explorer…kills?
5. You are beautiful, so you must be smart too.
Did you know that people have a tendency to rate attractive individuals more favorably for their personality traits or characteristics than those who are less attractive? Yup, appearance matters.
Because you are more beautiful you might come across as more reliable, smart, skilled, and having all sorts of good qualities. That’s known as the Halo Effect.
6. Predicting the future according to how things feel like right now.
We are mostly terrible at projecting the future, especially when we are in an emotional situation. We just cannot think straight. Just think of the last time you went to the supermarket and felt hungry. Didn’t you feel you NEEDED all the unhealthy food in front of you?
Maybe the day after, when you were no longer hungry, you were just stuck with cookies and chips in your cabinet, but no longer feel like devouring them all. Yet, in the supermarket the previous day, you really felt you needed to load up.
That’s the projection bias and it occurs despite the fact that we have plenty of experience with the undesirable consequences.
And that’s why next time you go the supermarket hungry, you will still load up on less-than-healthy food.
7. Being a realist.
Being a realist must be good for us, right?
Well, it depends.
In my course Exercise Bliss, where people who lack exercise motivation learn how to make exercise a daily habit, we all do one thinking exercise.
Say you are unfit.
“I’m so unfit”, you think. That’s true. However, you could also think:
“I’m currently unfit, but I’m taking steps that lead me to higher and higher fitness levels”
Both statements are true. The difference is that the first one is discouraging, and increases your chance of quitting exercise, while the second one is encouraging.
So next time your are being a realist, ask yourself, whether the way you think is serving you, or whether it takes you further away from your goals.
8. Feeling like we have to fix everything right now.
Maybe you need to make an extra $1000/month. Or, maybe you want to lose 20 pounds. You want it NOW. You feel you need to make some type of change that would get you the money, or get rid of your extra weight, immediately. So instead of thinking: How can I make $10 more today or this week?, you’re thinking: How can I make $1000 more this month?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t ask yourself how to get to $1000/month this month, but you don’t have to start from your end goal.
Getting $10 more this week, or $100 more this month is easier than getting to $1000.
Then, next month you can increase your number.
Similarly, you don’t have to lose all the weight this month. You can lose a little this month, and then a little more next month, etc.
The rush you feel to fix everything immediately only stresses you out, and it’s possible that it’s getting in your way and doesn’t let you move forward. Next time you make this thinking mistake, tell yourself you don’t have to start with the end goal right away. You can work your way towards it.
9. Believing gurus without understanding them.
I recently read a fascinating story that explains how different pieces of advice may all be correct. It’s from the Distilled Thinking blog: Here it is:
“So basically, there are these 5 blind men and they’re all put into a room with an elephant. Don’t ask me why.”
“But these blind men are all asked to describe the elephant.”
“The first blind man grabs the elephant’s tail and says, ‘Elephants are thin and long with a tuft of fur at one end.’”
The audience laughs at this a little bit.
“Obviously, as far as elephants go that’s not a very good description. But it is actually true. It’s just only true for a certain part of an elephant.”
“The next blind man gets ahold of the elephant’s trunk and says, ‘Elephants are thick cylinders with two holes at one end.’”
“Now, this blind guy is right too. But he’s only right in the same way as the first blind guy who held the elephant’s tail.”
“And so the story goes on with each blind man touching one portion of the elephant or other and each providing his own description of what this thing we call an ‘elephant’ is. The fun part of the story is that these guys are all telling the truth and they’re all right but they’re only right within a certain context.”
“Business advice is similar. Everyone is totally blind, feeling around in the dark, trying to succeed at building this thing we call a ‘business’. And everyone who has war stories about entrepreneurship is telling the truth. The problem is, that no one has perfect insight and no one knows the whole picture. No one can possibly touch the entire ‘elephant’ of business.”
Next time you take advice from someone, guru or not, don’t take it at face value. Ask yourself, where is that person coming from? What’s their context?
10. Confusing your thoughts with you.
If you find yourself, e.g., being jealous, then that doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It might actually mean you want to do exactly what that other person does, but you are not already doing it!
Have you noticed you think happy thoughts when you are happy, but negative thoughts when you are tired or sad? You are the same person, it’s your feeling state that brings in different thoughts.
Thoughts are just thoughts. They come in and they go out. It’s your decision what thoughts you’ll keep, and what thoughts you’ll let go of. But most importantly: These thoughts are not YOU.
So what thinking mistakes are you making? What are you going to do to make less thinking mistakes today?
Internet Explorer graph credit: http://chrisblattman.com/2013/05/24/correlation-versus-causation-in-a-single-graph/