“And the nice thing about writing a novel is you take your time, you sit with the character sometimes nine years, you look very deeply at a situation, unlike in real life when we just kind of snap something out.” — Sandra Cisneros
In the last two blogs, we’ve been taking a look at “Thinking Fast and Slow,” by Nobel Memorial Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman.
Kahneman poses a question that many of us ask ourselves time and time again:
How much are we actually in the driver’s seat with our thinking AND how much control do we actually have over our minds?
The author’s findings refer to two modes of thinking described as System 1 and System 2.
System 1 thinking forces us to make snap judgments. This is good – we handle so much information and make so many decisions moment to moment that we would come to a dead stop if we had to rationally analyze every tiny thing.
However, we would benefit from understanding the mental traps that cause many of our snap judgments to be flawed. I call them mental traps because they can turn critically decisive choices into a land mine of faulty perceptions. When you know where the land mines are, you can avoid them, enabling you to act with more confidence.
One of the most common mental traps is “confirmation bias.” In a nutshell, as soon as you learn something, you will seek confirmation to support your view. So if someone tells you something you want to believe, you will look for ways to believe it and your mind will shut out evidence to the contrary. Other System 1 mental traps that can trip us up include a tendency to:
- Avoid things you doubt, rather than investigate them. A good example of this is yoga. For years, most American men thought yoga was only for women, wimps, or odd people who wore towels on their heads. In reality it is an incredibly advanced personal development program that will kick your ass and change your life.
- Feel you owe something to people who give you something. In influence language this “rule of reciprocity” is used to manipulate all the time—consider the Hare Krishna at the airport handing out flowers or charities sending you complimentary address labels. We act on these obvious shams because we feel beholden to reciprocate after we get something for free.
- Believe that if something is good for someone you know, then it must be good for you too. Commonly called a herd mentality. Recently an entire town lost millions because all of the village followed the herd to invest in a “too good to be true”venture called Zeek Rewards, which, no surprise, turned out to be one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history (outside of the Federal Reserve’s money printing scheme, of course!).
- Wait for social proof before acting. The herd mentality works in reverse too, as seen in the technology adoption cycles. Many people just won’t take action on something new until a majority are doing it. You can miss great opportunities with this tendency. Warren Buffet is famous for saying that the time to invest in the market is when everyone else is getting out, and the time to get out is when everyone else is buying in.
- Cling to things once you have them. This is the famous “use it or lose it” mentality that causes people to ride a stock or business idea to the bottom. People who fall prey to this mental trap will never let go of something—even if there is a good reason to do so.
- Inflate the value or veracity of authority figures’ ideas, thoughts, and decisions. Though I fell into this trap early in my Navy career, over time I learned not to equate rank with intelligence. Bottom line…always respect the authority, the more experienced or the elder, but put their ideas to the same test as yours.
Next time we will take a more scientific look at mental traps to help you avoid them and become an exceptional thinker.
Till then, stay safe, train hard and think before you act!