I just finished reading The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli. I picked this book up purely by the title. Sounded right up my alley.
The chapters are short, each being devoted to one type of thinking error. Each exposed error gives fascinating insight into how our brain thinks and responds with bias and without logic if left to its own processes.
For example, Chapter 49 explores the Beginner’s Luck theory. Basically, if you decide to try something and your first attempt is successful, you will falsely assume that your next attempt will be just as successful.
Imagine you buy a house that is in disrepair. You properly assess all that needs to be done to restore it back to its’ glory. You budget correctly, price it correctly, sell it quickly, and make a nice profit. Your brain will then overestimate your chances of success if you attempt to repeat the process. Beginner’s luck has convinced your brain you will succeed again.
You go buy another fixer upper, assess and budget, only to find multiple hidden issues that will set you way over budget, eating up any chance of a profit. You didn’t see it coming because of the Beginner’s Luck theory. Essentially, you were unable to think clearly and accurately assess your chances and ability because of your lucky fortune during the first experience.
The book is full of thinking errors like this, and to a brain/thinking junkie like me, I was riveted.
Chapter 66 addresses being a slave to our emotions. Dobelli shares his idea, that “whether we like it or not we are puppets of our emotions.” I agree, this is true much of the time. We react based on split second exposure of our beliefs or biases and the emotions that are attached to them.
To demonstrate this theory, Dobelli explains an experiment conducted at the University of Michigan where people were shown a slide of something, their face would show a smile or anger or some sort of emotion in response. Then participants would be shown the slide of a random Chinese symbol. They would respond favorable to a Chinese symbol if the pervious slide produced a favorable emotion. Similarly, they would respond unfavorably to a Chinese symbol if the previous slide had produced a negative emotion.
Sounds like brain on auto-pilot to me!
We will be slave to our emotions is we do not stop and think clearly and critically before making decisions. A logical response to a slide of a Chinese symbol would be neutrality. If the subject of the study stopped to think, it might have gone something like this: I have never seen this symbol before. I do not know what it means. Even though I feel residual disgust from the last slide I viewed, it would be illogical to apply that emotion to this unfamiliar symbol. Therefore, I feel neither positive nor negative about it.
This is a great reminder to us to slow down and be intentional about what we think. If we don’t, our brains are efficient machines that will certainly step-up and quickly process however they see fit, based on bias, past beliefs, and shortcuts. Our only hope is to purposefully decide to interrupt it and think clearly.
If you like this article, be sure to check out, Not All Thoughts Are True.