Well-Being//

Experts On Human Blind Spots Explain How to Think Better And More Clearly

Learning how to think — an important skill no one taught you

By oneinchpunch/Shutterstock
By oneinchpunch/Shutterstock

Humans are by nature illogical and irrational. We like to think we’re rational — but in reality, we are prone to hundreds of proven biases. Our ignorance is invisible to us. Just because we can rationalize, doesn’t mean we always follow rational thought — we tend to follow unconscious emotions and habits.

This fundamental flaw is an unconscious, innate mechanism — we sometimes don’t think slowly about our choices, actions, or imaginations, we just do it. Some of the flaws in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations.

When confronted with a decision, we regularly make judgments based on recent events or information that can be easily recalled – we look to what’s available, to make sense of the world around us. This is known as the availability heuristic. “The availability heuristic… substitutes one question for another: you wish to estimate… the frequency of an event, but you report the impression of ease with which instances come to mind, ” says Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

When we invest time, money, or effort into something, we don’t like to see that investment go to waste, even if the goal is no longer worth the cost. In many cases, we hold on to our mistakes and worry too much about things we’ve already lost. It’s a flaw called the sunk cost fallacy. “We refuse to cut losses when doing so would admit failure, we are biased against actions that could lead to regret,” says Kahneman.

We also tend to like people who think like us — and subconsciously ignore or dismiss anything that threatens our world views. People like to be told what they already know. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. This is called confirmation bias — it happens when we proactively seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs.

“Whenever your opinions or beliefs are so intertwined with your self-image you couldn’t pull them away without damaging your core concepts of self, you avoid situations which may cause harm to those beliefs,” argues David McRaney, a self-described psychology nerd, and author of You Are Not So Smart.

We can’t escape our flaws, but we can be more aware of them, and take efforts to minimize our blind spots

To overcome our natural flaws, don’t think under pressure, consider alternative points of view, challenge your preferences, be sceptical of your memories. Recognise the limitation of rationalizing — learn how your emotions and habits influence what you do. People who are more rational don’t perceive emotion less, they just regulate it better.

To improve how you think, Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Deciderecommends you practice metacognition — think about your thinking. Some scientists argue that the best predictor of good judgment isn’t intelligence or experience; it’s the willingness to engage in introspection.

Lehrer explains. “How do we regulate our emotions? The answer is surprisingly simple: by thinking about them. The prefrontal cortex allows each of us to contemplate his or her own mind, a talent psychologists call metacognition. We know when we are angry; every emotional state comes with self-awareness attached so that an individual can try to figure out why he’s feeling what he’s feeling.”

In “Your Brain at Work David Rock says, “Without this ability to stand outside your experience, without self-awareness, you would have little ability to moderate and direct your behaviour moment to moment.” He writes, “You need this capacity to free yourself from the automatic flow of experience and to choose where to direct your attention. Without a director, you are a mere automaton, driven by greed, fear, or habit.”

To minimise your blind spots, ask yourself where you could be wrong if a decision is an important one. Think about what you don’t know. That is, check your assumptions.

“Whenever we reach a conclusion, it just seems like it’s the right one. In fact, a lot of what we see and conclude about the world is authored by our brains. Once you keep that in mind, hopefully, it does give you pause, to think about how you might be wrong, or to think about how another person might have a case. And you might want to hear them out,” explains David Dunning, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan.

Learning how to think better really means continuously learning — question your assumptions, beliefs, worldviews, and what you know to be “true”. But knowing is not enough. Learn how to apply what you are learning. How you think is how you perceive and shape reality. Your thinking skill has a direct effect on everything you do — so it pays to improve mental models.

Originally published on Medium.

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