Have you ever felt like you, or maybe a small group of likeminded people, had all of the answers to life's question and everyone else lacked your “common sense?” Maybe you just don’t understand how some people can “be so stupid” as to see the world the way they do. After all, the world just makes so much sense to you, and others just don’t seem to get it. Have you ever considered that their world makes as much sense to them as yours does to you?
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that everyone is right, or that “perception is reality.” But, I am saying that to each person, their perception is their reality. Not only is it reality, but it becomes the lens by which they make sense of everything else. While we often criticize this, it’s actually a defense mechanism that has been hardwired into our brains. From the time we are very little, we learn a set of principles (usually passed down from our parents or some other formative source) and the rest of our lives are spent retaining information that reinforces those principles - or rejecting information that doesn’t. This is why I often say that experience can be a great teacher, but also a great deceiver. Our past experiences actually have a way of clouding our judgment and producing faulty reasoning. It’s a phenomenon known as the Baader-Meinhof Complex, “Confirmation bias” or “Frequency Bias.” When we experience something for the first time, we tend to assume that we will experience it that way every time - we tend to see those results even if someone with fresh eyes would see it differently.
So, how can we combat this reality? We all deal with it, so what strategies should we employ to fight back? Here, I’ve offered four that I try to live on a daily basis!
Keep an Open Mind
When we find ourselves needing to make a decision, even if it’s just sharing our opinion, we will naturally default to what feels comfortable: that which reinforces our formative principles. Though it’s easier said than done, before you buckle down with your conviction, take a moment to question your thinking. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “If I can be right 75 percent of the time I shall come up to the fullest measure of my hopes." This viewpoint conditioned Roosevelt to believe that he would be wrong at least 25% of the time! If we’re being honest, how many of us assume we’re wrong even 1% of the time? Approaching life with this mindset allows us to have meaningful conversations, learn from others, and, frankly, be more pleasant to be around!
Consider Alternative Viewpoints
Have you ever wondered why PhDs are often regarded as some of the most intelligent people on the planet (whether they are or not is a discussion for another time)? It’s not necessarily because of their wealth of knowledge. In fact, some programs don’t even have a comprehensive exam! Actually, it’s because they are required to read and understand every perspective on their topic before forming an opinion (thesis statement). While not everyone will have the desire to pursue a PhD, we can all apply this same principle! Doing so will help you in two main ways. First, it will give you more opportunities to learn, and maybe even change your perspective. Secondly, it may serve to reinforce your perspective, but in an informed way (as opposed to ignorance). PhDs are also required to effectively “defend” their opinion, which requires a meaningful understanding and respect for every other points of view. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to agree with other perspectives; it just means that you need to respect the fact that intelligent individuals have taken the time to think through the content, and have come to a different conclusion than you have. One of the worst things you can do is ONLY read material or talk to people who agree with you. Sure it’ll feel good to have your formative principles reinforced, but what if those principles are not aligned with reality? Is it better to live in a vacuum, or to seek truth and learn from others throughout life? Take some time to consider where you learned what you know? We’re those sources credible? Is it possible that they were merely regurgitating something that they had been taught in the same way? As Socrates once said, “an unexamined life is not one worth living.”
Make a Bet
In her book, “Thinking in Bets,” poker champion Annie Dukes shares her experience with high stakes poker and how it has changed the way she makes decisions. She encourages the reader to place a monetary bet any time they make a judgment call. How sure of your perspective are you? Would you be willing to risk $5.00? What about $50.00? What about $100.00? Putting our “money where our mouth is,” helps us to second guess how sure we are of our position. Or, maybe we're so sure, that we’re willing to go “all in!” Either way, this strategy helps us to stop and think before we speak.
Keep Yourself Accountable
Since our formative perspectives are usually inherited, we very often begin with them as our presupposition. That being said, they are generally left unexamined and unexplored. As we move through life, we acquire new principles that sound good, but ultimately contradict our baseline beliefs. However, we don’t realize it because we have failed to explain these principles in the first place. One way to avoid this is to surround yourself with people who will call you out on your inconsistencies. Of course this requires deep trust and relationship, but these bonds are invaluable! If all of your friends agree with you, then either you need to get new friends or you may just be far too argumentative for people to want to challenge you. Either way, there’s work to be done!
All of us dig out heels in the ground and fight for what we believe is true! But no matter how sure you are, there’s always room for error. Thinking otherwise is nothing more than blatant arrogance. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be confident in what you believe. It does mean that true confidence should come from examination and an ability to consistently and effectively defend your point of view. That doesn’t mean arguing until you’re blue in the face, it means meaningfully considering every perspective and coming to a conclusion that handles all the facts appropriately. If we can do this regularly, then experience truly does become a great teacher.