Human Minds Have Limitations In Reasoning, What You Believe Is Right Likely Is Wrong

How often do you ride on a car? Even if you don’t have your own car, you must have seen one. I want to start this piece with a small challenge for you. Using only your memory, recall it in your mind a car you often see.

Okay, I see the wheels, the window, and the overall car frame. Does it look anything like this?

Oh but wait, what about the headlights and tail lights? Where’s the handle for opening the doors? And where’re the mirrors?

Why would we miss so many of those things? Don’t we all have a clear idea what a car is like?

We believe that we know way more than we actually do.

Yes we do. In a study conducted at Yale[1], graduate students were asked about their understanding in everyday devices like toilets. Most thought that they were familiar with the device, only after they were asked to explain step-by-step how the device works did they find out how ignorant they were. Toilets are more complicated than they look.

We believe that we know way more than we do because most of the time, we only need to rely on others’ expertise to operate something. Take the bicycle and toilets as examples, we don’t really need to figure out how the whole thing works in order to operate them. As written by the authors of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone,[2]

“One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge, and those of other members of the group”

Very often, our knowledge and beliefs are actually someone elses’ without us even realizing it. Maybe you’ve already started to be more aware of this fact especially when the social media has such a great impact on our daily lives these days.

When deep understanding is not always required, biases arise.

The tendency that people embrace only information that supports their own beliefs is commonly known as “confirmation bias”, and it is dangerous. When we believe what we think is always right, our faulty thinking will harm the truth and disrupt our growth.

Did everyone really understand the political situations in the US before they voiced out their opinions? And it’s pretty obvious that not everyone in the UK understood the whole Brexit thing before they voted for it, right? These are just some of the many examples of how others’ beliefs and knowledge got easily spread over the internet and people just picked up those thoughts without further understanding the truth.

Business journalists often suffer from the confirmation bias. In the books The Art of Thinking Clearly[3], there’s an example about a statement “Google is so successful because the company nurtures a culture of creativity”, and how once this idea goes on paper, journalists only need to support the statement by mentioning other same successful companies without seeking disconfirming evidence. No more different perspectives, people will always see just one tip of the iceberg.

When winning becomes more important than reasoning, chaos come.

On the other hand, when presented with someone else’s argument, we tend to be more skeptical; and there comes the term “myside bias”.

In an experiment performed by a cognitive scientist Hugo Mercier,[4] participants had to answer some questions, and later they were presented their own answers but were made to believe those were others’ answers. They became a lot more critical about the answers than when they were simply asked to modify their answers to be better.

In some situations, when winning seems to be more beneficial, reasoning clearly becomes unimportant to most of us. And this makes us more blinded than ever to spot out our own weaknesses.

To think more clearly, “murder your darlings”.

“Murder your darlings” is the literary critic Arthur Quiller-Couch’s advice[5] for writers who are reluctant to cut their cherished redundant sentences in their works. We can apply this concept to how we think too.

To fight against biases, let go of your “cherished thoughts” that you have to be right, and set out to find disconfirming evidence of all your beliefs — whether they be relationships, political views or career objectives. The stronger you believe in something, the more you should seek out alternative views of it.

The rule of three

An even more effective way to overcome bias is using the rule of three[6] — identify three potential causes of an outcome. In fact, the more possibilities you can come up with, the less biased you’d be towards any single outcome.

Say next time, if you see an outcome that isn’t what you expect at work, instead of thinking it must be that irresponsible and careless guy who messed up the stuff, try to think of three potential causes: Maybe there’re instructions missing at the beginning? Maybe the guy already did his job but something went wrong afterwards? Maybe it’s something external that affected the outcome of this?

Thinking through alternative possibilities help unravel the unnecessary attachments we have to the “cherished” thoughts, so we can have a more complete picture of how things are. When you learn to “murder your darlings” and embrace different views, your horizon will be widened and you’ll see a limitless world.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown & Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
[2] Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown & Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
[3] Role Dobelli: The Art of Thinking Clearly
[4] Cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber: The Enigma of Reason (Harvard)
[5] Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: On the Art of Writing
[6] Benjamin L. Luippold, Ph.D.; Stephen Perreault, CPA, Ph.D.; and James Wainberg, Ph.D.: Overcome Confirmation Bias

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True Winners Don’t Just Aim To Win, They Appreciate And Learn From Their Competitors

So the Academy Award Shows’ over, I bet one of your most remarkable moments would be the mixing up mistake for the Best Picture Award. After all, nothing like this had ever happened over the past 89 years of Academy Award Shows.

While people are hotly debating over the internet whether it’s the host or Leonardo DiCaprio for causing the mix-up of the Best Picture, I would rather stick my focus to the incredible crew and cast of both Moonlight and La La Land.

Once the La La Land team realized that the Best Picture actually went to Moonlight, La La Land’s producer Fred Berger felt proud to hand the award to their friends in Moonlight, and the team graciously handed over their statues to the people behind Moonlight. And during the thank you speech, the director of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins, also said “my love to La La Land” which showed his support and respect for the movie.

True winners see competitors as friends, not enemies.

Imagine the moment you realized you weren’t the award winner right after you’d delivered your thank you speech, how would you feel? It probably feels like something super precious being taken away forcefully with no mercy showed. You probably would feel so disappointed that you wouldn’t feel like your competitors could be your friends.

Everyone works hard to play their best in any competitions. Both movies La La Land and Moonlight have an amazing team of crew and cast, they all did their very best to wow the audience and both movies are trying to deliver some really meaningful messages that would inspire people’s lives. The crew behind the two movies demonstrated to everyone how “competitors” are like friends who should respect and support each other’s effort.

True winners understand that they’re not “best of the world”, there’re always something they can learn from others. Instead of seeing the competitors as enemies, they’re friends who are passionate about the same thing (which is amazing), and they can learn from each other.

When passionate people come together, they can grow and win together.

Well, most of us may not be taking part in competitions very often, or have the opportunity to be nominated for some very huge awards; but there must be something that you really love doing and want to do it better than others.

Say for me, I love writing. Though winning any writing awards is not my aspiration, I’d love to write better and have more readers who’d be inspired by what I write. If I see all other writers as my enemies, I’d just focus on winning over them instead of learning and improving myself. I might miss out all the amazing works all those great writers write and would never learn some of the best ideas or writing skills others demonstrate.

But if I look at other writers from another perspective, I can see a lot of talented writers who are as passionate as me. I see friends, and I see mentors. When I learn to appreciate others, I see what’s lack in me and what I can do to get better.

Try to surround yourself with people who are passionate about the same thing like you do. Discuss your ideas with them, learn from them. Instead of just trying to show off how good you’re doing something, try to be humble and gather more perspectives from them. That’s how you can learn and grow, and become a true winner.

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Why People Often Fail To Lose Belly Fat

Losing belly fat always seems to be a hard task. One reason is that there are many myths that make people’s efforts wasted. Below are 4 common ones .

Myth #1 Ab exercise is the most effective way

Many people believe in “spot reduction”, which means losing fat in an area by exercising that part. However, such exercise only strengthens the muscles there. Still, it would be covered by a thick layer of fat. This applies to all kinds of body fat.

So doing sit-ups or crunches wouldn’t be particularly effective if the aim is to burn belly fat.

The best exercise for fat loss is actually whole-body aerobic exercise. It can speed up our metabolism and hence burn calories faster.

Myth #2 Drastically cutting calories helps

If a person only eats an apple a day, he will lose weight soon and the belly would become smaller. But such change isn’t sustainable. Because when our bodies are getting far from required, metabolism will be automatically slowed down, which means the progress of losing weight will become slower, as the body learns how not to burn energies quickly.

Instead of drastically cutting calories, just have the right amount of calories.

Myth #3 Avoiding meat is a must

Many people think that meat makes us fat, probably due to its relatively high fat content. However, fat doesn’t make us fat. Excessive fat does. In fact, fat is one of the three key nutrients we need to ensure we have enough every day. The ideal ratio is roughly like this:

Carbohydrates: 50%

Fat: 30%

Protein: 20%

Fat is responsible for a lot of bodily functions like forming part of our cells. Instead of aiming at avoiding fat, look for healthy fats like those in fatty fish or egg.

Apart from fat, meat also contains a lot of nutrients like protein and iron. Lean meats like chicken are recommended. For red meat it is advised to be consumed once or twice a week.

Myth #4 Following one special diet works

From time to time a magic potion will appear and go viral. Headlines like these are common:

Drinking This Before Going to Bed Burns Belly Fat Like Crazy

Magic Drink To Lose Belly Fat In a WEEK

But there’s no one trick to lose belly fat. The only way out is balanced diet plus exercise.

Even if we’re talking about green tea which was proven by studies that three cups of it a day can help losing weight, it is still not enough to burn belly fat if we don’t pay attention to what we eat.

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We Worry Because Our Brain Is Impatient, Train It And Have Your Mental Power In Control

Do you find yourself worrying over every little thing? Asking yourself if you should enroll in that extra class, move to a bigger place, or look for a new job? And while you’re worrying about those decisions, are you also wondering if you’ll be able to pay your bills next month, if you’ll get the raise you were promised, or if you’ll ever find your future spouse?

This is totally normal. In fact, most people are going through the same thing – constant worry.

There’s a perfectly good explanation for why you tend to worry about so much stuff all at once!

The environment these days is delaying what you want in return.

Most of the decisions you make occur in a “delayed return environment,” which means that you do not benefit immediately by your choices.[1] This also means that the majority of your worries deal with issues of the future – what will happen tomorrow, or next week, or even next year if I make this one decision now?

Because we are so future-oriented, our stress levels tend to be sky high. Our brains can’t deal with thinking too far into the future. Why is that?

Our brain is wired to immediate reward in return.

The human brain evolved to make decisions in an “immediate return environment.”[2] In other words, our modern brain took shape while we were still cave dwellers living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Then, our worries were more immediate in nature: how to get food, find water, and seek shelter from inclement weather.

For hundreds of thousands of years, humans existed in an immediate return environment. It was only about 500 years ago that modern society began, and with it, the switch to delayed return environment. The changes since then have been too fast for our brains to keep up with! Evolution is a long, slow process.

Enter: anxiety, stress, and worry. In today’s world, you are much more likely to suffer from chronic anxiety or worry all the time. Most of the things you worry about have no immediate solution. Because your brain is designed to prefer immediate results, you feel anxious when that doesn’t happen.

So, how do you fight this lag in evolution? What can you do to stop worrying and feeling anxious about the future?

Find something that you can control.

Stop worrying about if you’ll get a better job. Instead, control how many jobs you look for in a week. Set a goal of sending in 5 applications a week and track that goal. If you’re worried about not making new friends in your new city, start keeping track of how many new people you meet every day. Worried about saving enough for the downpayment on a house? Instead, focus on how much you save on a monthly basis.

The trick is to focus your energy on the things you can measure. By having something tangible to measure, you start taking control of your life and stop letting the future give you anxiety. Making sure you save $100 a month won’t suddenly make your life problem-free, but it will take away a little bit of the unknown.

Count your immediate returns.

Do yourself a favor. Try to focus on the immediate returns in your life instead of the delayed returns. Start this new habit this week. Don’t put it off.

Worried about being healthier? Start counting your daily servings of fruits and vegetables instead. Worried about saving money for a new car? Start reducing your daily splurges by preparing lunch at home and cutting out the morning coffee from the coffee shop on your way to work.

Just because your brain didn’t evolve fast enough to deal with modern life doesn’t mean that you can’t outsmart it. As soon as you start living your life with immediate returns in mind, your constant worrying will slowly melt away.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] James Clear: The Evolution of Anxiety: Why We Worry and What to Do About It
[2] James Clear: The Evolution of Anxiety: Why We Worry and What to Do About It

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Stop Living The Traditional Social Rules If You Want To Ditch Mediocrity And Start Playing Big

“What are the lessons people most often learn too late in life?” — a question that hits thousands of people on Quora. Guess what’s topped the list? Following the convention is said to be one of the things people regret the most later in their lives.

You may be surprised: isn’t following the convention a quality of a good citizen, the quality of being a good sheep?

The brutal truth is, however, following the convention is an obstacle on your path to success. It leads you to nowhere but mediocrity.

The old rules only yield mediocrity.

The cruel reality is that only very few of us would enjoy the taste of success. The others, no.

This echoes the 80/20 law proposed by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. An example illustrating this law is that 80% of the wealth in a society is enjoyed by only 20% of the population. The gist of this theory is that only the minority, or the elite, will succeed. And the other 80% of people will remain at the average level.

Given the convention is set by the majority of people, following the convention is mimicking what the majority is doing. This, unfortunately, leads most people to mediocrity where they settle down and stay in their comfort zone.

As Darren Hardy once said,

“Run towards the things everyone else is running away from.”

If you are unsatisfied with your current position and want to ignites changes in your life, don’t be afraid to break some rules, and don’t be afraid to do something everyone else avoids doing.

But breaking the rules is never easy. It could build enemies.

Very likely, the one who defies the convention will be considered as the outcast by the majority.

After all, humans are what the scientists call as the social animals, among which the one who does not comply with the norm is classified as the abnormal ones.

Sometimes, being unconventional could exert your full potential.

The famous business magnate Bill Gates was originally a Harvard University student back in the day.[1] However, because he wanted to start a business, he dropped out of one of the most prestigious and highly-ranked schools in the world. After getting admitted to one of the top colleges and decided to quit as a young kid, most people saw Bill Gates’ action foolish. But eventually, he proved others wrong and pursued an amazing career and founded Microsoft, one of the leading tech companies.

If you watched the movie Hacksaw Ridge (hang on spoiler ahead!), you’d understand that breaking the rules would mean people going against you. But when you stay true to yourself, instead of blindly following the rules, you’ll always experience something different from the crowd.

Unquestionably, punting against the counter-current is a daunting journey, yet it is also a rewarding one as you are setting your foot on a new path as a pioneer.

Let your voice soar anyway.

We all have a voice inside telling us what is the right thing to do. If you catch that voice, be it tiny or not, do not forsake it.

Think about it – you have things you want to achieve, but often society or others tell us otherwise. We are not listening to our voices, which makes us miss out on great things that we could have accomplished.

One of the most highly regarded poets and novelists of all time Rudyard Kipling was told by an editor that he did not know how to use the English language.[2] This comment did not stop him from pursuing a career in writing though, he knew what his strengths were and later he produced amazing literary works that are still very well-known this day.

Or take Michael Jordan as an example. He was considered too short to play at his high school basketball team,[3] but with his passion for sports, he was very determined to be a great player. After practicing for a year, he was admitted to the team and that’s how his professional athletic career began.

Sometimes, we are too afraid to go with our guts, because we are scared to bear the consequences or face failures. At the end of the day, the only person who is responsible for yourself is you, not others. And you will badly regret the things you did not do far more than the things you did that were wrong.

Choose the path now

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.—Robert Frost

Which one you would like to choose? And that makes all the difference when you look back at the end of your life. So there are two roads stretching before you now, the one most people take, and the one no one dares to travel.

Featured photo credit: Summit Entertainment, Hacksaw Ridge via indiewire.com

Reference

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Attractiveness Isn’t About Appearance. It’s About How You Express Your Emotions

When we talk about attractiveness, we think of appearance, which is something we can’t control much. Or we would think of character for a second. But researches have found another hidden factor that is key to determine one’s attractiveness.

In one study[1], participants were asked to watch video clips of women who expressed emotions differently. Then they were asked who they found more attractive. It turned out that if they understood the woman’s emotions better, they found them more attractive. Such finding is quite surprising that usually people would consider cool and mysterious people as more attractive. Instead, the more you express your emotions, and the easier your emotions are to be read, the more attractive you become.

This experiment was done by Silke Anders, a professor of Social and Affective Neuroscience at the University of Lübeck in Germany. Apart from asking them who were more attractive, the researchers also measured their brain activity. And there was indeed increased activity in the area of the brain which is responsible for processing how attractive one person is, when they were certain about the emotions of the women.

Another study[2] got similar results. This time instead of video clips volunteers were asked to observe photos of six different men and women, who show emotions at different extent. It turned out those who didn’t express much emotions were the least attractive ones.

So…how to be more expressive?

Common language

Try to use some common language with the person you’re talking to. For example, if he always uses the word “Oh my…”, try to use it sometimes too (not too often though) to express your surprising feelings. The person would have a stronger understanding of how you feel as you speak a common language.

Smile

Whenever you don’t know how to show your expression, just smile. It can show your friendliness and people would know you’re approachable even if you’re not very expressive.

Hand gestures

Don’t overlook the power of your hands. Remember when people argue they often do it with their hands? Remember how charismatic leaders persuade with their hands? Your hands tell a lot. Anger, resentment, nervousness, excitement, etc. Always free up your hands and let them dance in the air. People will get what you mean much better.

Reference

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Want To Sound More Confident? Avoid These 3 Things In Your Conversation

Usually when we want to be more confident, we’re told to do this and that. Instead of adding, what about getting rid of some of our habits? We have learned these habits as children. And often we learned them by watching our elders engaging in conversation. Polite conversation is probably one of the worst things we learned because it teaches that our opinions and knowledge are not valued when we assert them.

Below are 3 things people often use in conversations that largely decrease their persuasive power. Remember less is more. When you can cut these 3 kinds of language from your conversation, you’ll instantly become sound more confident and convincing.

1. Hedges Are a No-No

Hedges are defined as vague language and are often considered to be “polite” conversation. It allows you to engage without asserting yourself. Some examples are:

  • Possibly
  • Maybe
  • Might
  • Seems

These words imply that you are unbiased or avoiding persuading anyone to agree. While that could be okay in some situations, for the most part, you really need to avoid those words and use powerful words instead that portray your authority. Examples are:

  • Definitely
  • Clearly
  • Surely
  • Plainly

By using the above words, you assert that you know plenty about the subject at hand and wish to persuade another with your knowledge.

2. Avoid Disclaimers

In legal terms, disclaimer statements are to prevent any incorrect understanding of a subject. People are more likely to use this type of language when they question their own confidence in their knowledge. Often, we are more knowledgeable than we realize and relegate to unconfident language.  Some examples of disclaimers are:

  • “I am not completely sure, but….”
  • “I am not an authority on the subject, but….”
  • “It could go either way, but…”

One common theme you see is the use of hedges and negative language to relegate the speaker into an unconfident realm. The other common denominator is the use of the word “but” after the use of negative and/or hedge language. This can become a bad habit and it’s best to practice changing it. When you find yourself about to use the disclaimer language, try one of these:

  • “I am certain that…..”
  • “I recently learned…..”
  • “It will go [insert opinion]…..”

3. Stay Away from Tagging

Tag questions are just one more habit many of us have when we are engaged in conversation. Here are a few examples of tag questions:

  • “… don’t you agree?”
  • “… don’t you think?”
  • “… right?”
  • “… wouldn’t it?”

The biggest concern with tag questions is that they convey us as seeking validation for our opinion. However, highly confident speakers do not seek out validation to their points. The best way to combat the use of tag questions is to avoid using any question for validation at the end of your statement. If you pose a question, it should be nothing more than “Any questions?”.

Remember again, less is more.

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