None of us are. We like to think we’re smart, just how clever are we? How many inspirational insights do we “tick” as being relevant, without really internalising them by absorbing them fully.
One of my favourites is ‘do what you have always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got.’ If you want a different outcome in life, you can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different result; I think Einstein defined this as insanity. But most of us keep doing what we’ve always done and wonder why we always get the same results.
An equally wise thinker, Aristotle, recognised that we are what we habitually do. And, of course, our thinking patterns are nothing if not habituated. We may think we are supremely intelligent, whether we attended the university of life, or other of hallowed halls of learning. But when it comes to thinking about our lives, what the hell happened to all those lofty dreams we had for ourselves when we were young?
The sad reality is that we rarely use our intelligence. Most of the time we live on autopilot; a classic example is driving somewhere without any conscious recollection of the journey. Far from being the personification of laser-focus, most of us often potter along life’s highway in a trance, most days.
One major misconception that what we believe is the result of long, continuous periods of careful, rational analysis. But the truth is that everything we encounter isn’t analysed. Instead we simply compare it to what we already know or believe: so it either confirms what we already know, or it’s rejected if it’s not in accord. We like being “right”, so we unconsciously seek out confirmation, and dismiss anything than contradicts our perceptions. And because we consistently do this, the older we are, the more entrenched our views tend to become.
We also do this retrospectively; we tend to revise memories to keep our view of how we used to be consistent with whom we believe ourselves to be now. How many times do we, or others, say “I knew that would happen” or “I had a feeling he was going to say that”? Both of these are examples of mental shortcuts, and they have influenced the way we think for most of our lives; the former is ‘confirmation bias’ and the latter is ‘hindsight bias. Have you ever noticed that politicians rarely if ever admit they were wrong in the past? Now you know why.
When it comes to deciding what we need to do, we all know what we SHOULD be doing. We all know what we NEED to be doing. We’re brilliantly effective at planning what we will do — tomorrow. Or next week. We’re crystal-clear in our mind about how to focused on what’s important and must be done. And, in our mind’s eye, we can visualise ourselves doing it. We have support mechanisms like post-it notes everywhere, and smart-phones programmed with reminders. We really know how to do what needs doing. When it’s in the future. A note to the wives: when your husband says he will do something, HE WILL DO IT. He doesn’t need reminding every six months!
How often have we delayed getting on with something important because we just need to check Facebook and want to know what our friends might be doing today? After all, that’s something we can get out of the way quite quickly. And we may well put the kettle on and have a cup of tea or coffee while we’re browsing what others are up to. And let’s just check our email why we’re at it, from where we find an irresistible news item about celebrity nipples, or “12 women that actually exit in real life (click here). And, of course, there are links to “five ways to beat procrastination” which might just come in useful. Although Google will also tempt us with 5, 11, 26, 17, or 8 scientifically proven ways to beat procrastination, or 6 ways celebrities beat procrastination, or the 8 best ways of wasting your time, or the 5 most revealing cleavages/budgie-smugglers EVER. Needless to say (so why did I write it and why are you reading this) there are also all those productivity apps that enable us to have a list at our fingertips of things we really must get around to thinking about considering doing.
But let’s not rush into this. Let’s think about it for a moment, and explore some of the underlying issues. If you were today offered a choice of dessert for tomorrow, of fruit or ice-cream, which would you choose? The healthy option? If you were offered dessert now, what would you choose now? Chances are you may well opt for ice-cream.
Do you have a fridge crisper full of lettuce and green vegetables, which you piously bought, fully intending to eat, but somehow always got tempted by the lemon-drizzle cake instead, and eventually have to throw the lettuce away? The angel in you always suggests the healthy option tomorrow, but somehow the devil in you opts for naughty-but-nice….now. Have you ever noticed all that chocolate on sale at the supermarket check-out? You know why it’s there: impulse buying. If the kids are with us, we buy it for them. Naturally. When we’re on our own…?
We like to think we know ourselves. But we’re deluded again and again and again. How often do we practice testing whether something we think we know is actually true? We so often kid ourselves that the reason we can’t stick to a diet is because we’re weak-willed, so after a few attempts we give up and take solace in comfort food. We read articles that show most people put on weight after dieting, so this confirms our belief. We learn to live with what we become and learn not to try to become something else. We learn to stay stuck.
We learn to believe we can’t succeed. So we stop trying.
Or we can decide to stop thinking and just keep doing. Our minds will try and persuade us that we’ll never change. But now you know the insidious effects of confirmation bias, you now know it’s not real: it’s only a misperception.
After all, nothing succeeds like a parrot.