How to stop clouding your judgment.
In his book ‘Stillness is Key,’ Ryan Holiday wrote:
“Wisdom is […] the ability to rise above the biases, the traps that catch lazier thinkers.”
Mental traps not only catch the lazy thinkers — they snag all of us. Because cognitive laziness is how our brains save energy.
Among the most common pitfalls is our tendency to stick to what we believe. Warren Buffett said:
“What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”
Cognitive psychologists call this confirmation bias. It means we select and favor information aligned with our beliefs and values.
We can’t eradicate this thinking trap. But this article will equip you with tools that help you think better.
The Bias That Clouds Your Thinking
“Many startups fail because founders disagree,” my professor said. It was June 2017, and I listened to one of my last business lectures.
He continued explaining the specifics, but I had already stopped listening.
I just founded my first company and thought, “This doesn’t apply to us. We chose the right people.” I continued daydreaming.
Little did I know that wishful thinking would cost me loads of money and energy. Yet, I’m not alone in this. Many others tend to ignore disconfirming evidence.
In 1979, three researchers at Standford divided study participants based on their opinion on death penalties. One group included all believers, the other all skeptics.
Both groups read articles with evidence on death penalties. Half of the people in both groups read studies that disproved the death penalty efficiency. The other half read conforming studies.
Did the evidence influence the participants thinking?
It did. But not in the way you might imagine.
Evidence reinforced preexisting beliefs. No matter which of the two studies they read — both groups were more convinced of their initial opinion.
We do not change our opinion based on research. Instead, we interpret the facts in a way to supports our values and beliefs.
“ In an attempt to simplify the world and make it conform to our expectations, we have been blessed with the gift of cognitive biases.” — Sia Mohajer
How to Rise Above the Confirmation Bias
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson stated in 1789. But he was wrong.
Facts don’t make humans better thinkers or citizens. Often, they make us more ignorant.
“What we believe depends on what we want to believe,” Adam Grant said. “We favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt.”
Here are four strategies that help you see what you don’t want to see so you can think clearer.
1) Seek Contradicting Evidence
Test your hypothesis. If you read a book, use red post-its to highlight contradictions to your worldview.
Juvoni Beckford says: “If you read a book and there are very few red flags, then there’s no real reason to keep on reading the book. If you understand everything, why are you reading the book?”
2) Dare to be wrong
The enemy of learning is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge — the things you think you know.
When you’re convinced to know something, learning something new means you have to change your mind. Overcoming your ego is one of the big challenges for better thinking.
The further you’re in your career, the stronger you’re desire to be right. But this desire prevents you from seeing the truth. Embrace intellectual humility. Dare to be wrong.
3) Ask open-ended questions
If you google “Is Green tea better for my body than coffee?” you will see results that highlight the advantages of yoga. If you phrase the question in the other way, “Is coffee better for my body than green tea?” you will see the opposite tendency.
The search engine will show you what you asked for. By using open-ended questions (“Which beverage is best for my body?”), you’ll get closer to an objective answer.
4) Become a critical thinker
At age 21, Franklin gathered smart people in his city to form a mutual improvement club. Each Friday evening, the club’s members brought an interesting conversation topic. Once every three months, the members wrote essays on the topics they discussed.
Learning researcher Anders Ericsson writes about it: “By creating the club Franklin not only ensured himself regular access to some of the most interesting people in the city, but he was giving himself extra motivation (as if he needed any) to delve into these topics himself.”
As research shows, accountability increases your motivation to think critically. If people around you ask you to justify your thinking, you’re likelier to overcome confirmation bias.
Evaluating your worldview is exhausting. It requires mental energy. Even if you’re not lazy, your brain likes to take shortcuts.
Yet, confirmation biases can harm us in the form of misjudgments and bad decision-making.
The best recipe against unconscious biases is self-awareness. Now that you’re aware of our collective mental laziness, you’ll have an easier time overcoming the mental trap. Step by step, you’ll be able to think better.
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