Monthly Archives: March 2020

How to improve metacognition

In this post, we’ll have a discussion on how to improve metacognition.

Thinking is among the things we do almost non-stop from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. Some might even argue that when we sleep we still think. Just a different kind of thinking.

The point is that we think a lot even when we’re not aware of it, and the quality of these thoughts can sooner or later have a different impact on our lives. It’s from bad decision to bad decision that we eventually tip the final domino that sends our lives down an unfortunate resolution. The good thing is that the exact opposite can be said about good decisions.

How to improve metacognition

First, to put simply metacognition is nothing more than our ability to “think about thinking”. Metacognition is about the understanding of our own inner thought processes, in the same way, that a psychologist/psychiatrist would try to understand the inner thought processes of his/her clients. The better you are at evaluating your own thought processes the better you are at improving the quality of your thinking, in the same way, that the greater the understanding the mechanic has about cars, the better he/she will be at not just fixing the problem, but also at identifying the problem in the first place.

Problems in metacognition

In order to improve your metacognition, the first and most important step is to know when and if there is a problem in the first place. Metacognition can be seen as an opinion we have about our own thinking. Just in the same way we might have an opinion about our own selves as people, we also have an opinion on our own thought processes. Just as metacognition itself, this is a difficult problem since the thing you’re trying to evaluate is also the tool you’re using to do the evaluation.

The first problem to look for is in your inability to understand what kind of protocol your mind uses to think about things. Our minds work by a set of rules when it thinks about things. Having a rough idea of what this “framework of thought” is, is probably one of the most important things to do in your metacognition process. When you know the framework you use you can tweak it, or replace it completely.

The second problem is that of an extremist mindset. This problem is often tied to the problem of not knowing how you think. Here you not only are unaware of your thought process but also either believe that the framework, whatever it is, is either completely broken or flawless. All frameworks for thinking have their own strengths and weaknesses, this is the reason why there hasn’t been a human being whose decision-making process always resulted in correct decisions. If by taking an extremist approach whichever the extreme you short-circuit the metacognition process. The question one would ask is: “If my thinking is always correct/wrong what is the point of thinking about it?”

So the first step towards an improvement in your metacognition is:

1)Get a grasp of how you think

2)Eliminate any extremist opinion with regard to your thought processes.

Metacognition and education

The tip on how to improve your metacognition is to read/study a variety of subjects. It’s known that being a life-long learner can improve your thinking, and the most cited reason for why this happens is that you gain more knowledge about facts and formulas. This is definitely true, but even more powerful than that is the fact that each discipline imposes on the reader/student its own framework of thought. Each discipline presents us with a new way of looking at the world and thinking about problems. This is why there it’s not uncommon for breakthroughs in one discipline to directly/indirectly inspire discipline in other seemingly unrelated disciplines. The reason for this is that the second breakthrough is sometimes caused by a novel way of thinking about things borrowed from another discipline.

The more subjects you learn about the more frameworks you inherit, and the more frameworks for thought you inherit the greater the number of experiments/improvements you can make on your own. Quickly switching from one to the other, and measuring the results of each experiment. Picking the one that helps you make the best decisions depending on the context. Or you might even take parts from each way of thinking, and creating your own philosophy of thought and decision making, tailor suited to your own life and problems.

What discipline should I study first to improve my metacognition?

If there is any discipline I would strongly advise anyone trying to improve their metacognition to focus on first, that would be the discipline of philosophy. The reason for that is based on my personal experience. Before I took a philosophy course in university, my thinking was much less s structured/formal. I was much less rigorous with my own arguments, and much less when deciding to accept/reject someone else’s. After my philosophy class, however, the difference was like night and day.

I became more rigorous when constructing my arguments. I started thinking about potential weaknesses in them before other people pointed them out and soon I found myself having debates with myself as a way to make sure my reasoning was sound. A philosophy class /book will teach you the flaws in reasoning we often make without noticing, and by listening to/reading philosophers constructing their own often robust arguments you will knowingly or unknowingly learn to build your own and sharpen your own thinking.

Metacognition and cognitive biases

The next tip is to become more aware of your own cognitive biases. As I said before, your mind always follows a predefined set of rules for thinking regardless of whether you’re aware of them or not. Some of these rules are what we call cognitive biases, which are in essence shortcuts in decision making the brain has to improve the speed of decision making, especially when for one reason or another there is not enough information to make the best decision. For the most part, these shortcuts in thinking do get us to the right decision, but there are instances in which they don’t especially when deliberate thinking is what’s called for. You can read more about it under the source section.

The point here is that being aware of your cognitive biases is important if you are to remove them from your thought/decision-making process. If during your metacognition process you notice a phenomenon you can’t explain the source, it might just be the case that cognitive bias is what’s at play.

Health and fitness

One thing we can easily overlook when looking for ways to improve our metacognition is the organ we use to do the thinking in the first place i.e. the brain. The health and fitness of your brain and body have a great effect on the quality of your thinking. The effect is so great that having a bad night of sleep can literally make the difference between arriving at the right conclusion and concluding the wrong thing in your thought process.

Here too, I have experienced/experience it in person. The days I don’t sleep well, or when I spend a long time exercising my decision making and problem-solving is measurably impacted. When I have a good night’s sleep and/or go for a  30 min run the difference in cognition is like night and day. With that alone I find myself arriving at the right conclusion much faster, and with it also comes along the sense that the conclusion I just arrived at is obvious. Almost like a no brainer. The point here is to do your best the be in as optimal health as you can because it does matter.

Benefits of metacognition

The benefits of metacognition are many. First, when you improve your thinking about your thinking you can more easily improve your thinking. Going back to the mechanic example, now you can see the faulty part, and decide whether that faulty part in your thinking should be fixed or removed completely.

Improvement in thinking translates into an improvement in decision making, which by itself can have an almost impossible to enumerate the number of child benefits.

Summary

If you paid attention to the tips on this post, you might have realized that they would be the same if you were to ask the question: “how to improve thinking?”. That would be an accurate observation, and the reason why the suggestions proposed here are still valid is that the application of each one of the tips is directed not at the thinking process itself, but on the way we reason about it. Metacognition is after all just thinking, so it follows that most of what you’d use to improve your thinking about anything else, like a problem in your profession will likely be useful when you reason about your thinking.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

Leave a comment below

Sources:

What is a cognitive bias: https://twoscoopsofbusiness.com/what-is-a-cognitive-bias

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation

In this post, we’ll have a discussion on the subject of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

The subject of motivation has been around for a long time. This is so for a reason. Without motivation pushing us to do the hard things in life, the hard things don’t get done. Without motivation to push us your dreams quickly take a back seat, since it’s often the case that serious accomplishment requires some form of sacrifice.

The subject itself is a mystery. A mystery so big and important that year after year millions if not billions of dollars are spent on all sorts of material whose purpose is to help us go through the difficulties of life on our way to our goals and dreams.  If you read enough on the topic you eventually get to the subject of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and that is what this post is about.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation

According to the oxford dictionary motivation is, to put simply:” Desire or willingness to do something; enthusiasm.”. Because we are emotionally driven animals this desire to do something is usually emotional.

I’m sure you’ve observed this within yourself. It’s easy to think logically about why something should or should not be done. Whether that one thing is done or not depends on some emotional desire for or for the avoidance of it.

What is extrinsic and intrinsic motivation about?

In the subject of motivation, by “extrinsic” or “intrinsic” we are referring to the source of that desire. If we want to break it down, even more, we are referring to where that emotion that drives us to do something comes from. What’s its source?

It’s this understanding that can lead us to

1.Knowing ourselves better

2.Having the means/ability to influence our own motivation

What is extrinsic motivation?

Put simply extrinsic motivation is the kind of motivation whose source is some obvious reward or obligation. As the word gives it away, it’s the kind of motivation that comes from something extrinsic.

Taking the example of the school, a student can be made extrinsically motivated by promising to him/her that if they have good grades for the semester or year, they will be rewarded with a paid vacation to anywhere they desire to go at the end of the year or semester.

At work, the same dynamic can be observed. The boss comes to the employees and promises a pay raise to the employee who makes the most sales for the quarter. Just like any other kind of motivation extrinsic motivation can also be based on something negative. An example of that is when we feel motivated to get early to work because we fear we might lose our job if we arrive late.

Still, in the same tone, we work for money, because if we don’t we can’t pay the rent, eat, etc.

One way I think about it is by asking the question: can the source of the motivation be removed without removing me? If the answer is yes, then chances are that the source of your motivation is of an extrinsic nature.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is the kind of motivation you can’t pinpoint any other source than yourself. When we talk about intrinsic motivation, we often find ourselves talking also about what makes us who we are. I’m talking about our values and our personal traits, and these and no obvious external force is what we often attribute to be the reason why we do the things we do. The things “intrinsic” to us are often our intrinsic motivators, and by intrinsic what we actually mean is “from within”. So another way to rephrase intrinsic motivation is motivation from within.

Often the reason why we chose to do to or not do something is driven by a blend of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Think about a fight between two men. At first one can say that the cause of the fight is purely extrinsic, where the source would be the desire to not look weak in front of other people, but there is also a potential intrinsic component to it.

The intrinsic component would be pride. Proud people are often born proud people. They have an inflated view of themselves and this view is often the reason why they might not take criticism or insult very well.  The pride is something intrinsic to their being. You can’t fake it. It’s who you are.

Another example of intrinsic motivation is what drives a person to spend countless hours working on its craft when there is no obvious immediate reward for their efforts. Even more evident is when there is absolutely no reward coming after years or decades of dedication. I’m talking about the failing artist who never becomes as famous as they hoped even though they have relentlessly continued to work on their craft year after year. What else can be the explanation for this kind of behavior other than the intrinsically motivated desire to play music for the sake of playing music?

This is what we today call “passion” or “drive”. The thing that makes us paint or sing when everyone around tells us not to. The thing that makes us keep on working long after hours, ignoring tiredness and hunger. It can be taken from you.

A variant of the test question for motivation is: can someone manually take my motivation away from me? If the answer is yes then there is a big chance the source of your motivation is extrinsic. One may say that a person coming with demotivating words can make us demotivated, but here one of two things usually happen. Either you naturally gravitate back to the state that drives you to keep on doing what you’re doing or you stop. If the latter happens, then there is a very high chance that you were extrinsically motivated in the first place.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need for self-actualization, which is, in essence, the need to live to our full potential can be thought of as one potential source of intrinsic motivation, and at the same time also the kind of objective that is often better achieved by the motivation of an intrinsic source. Meaning that the desire to live up to your full potential can help you push through the difficult moments of practice that are required for one to be great. This desire is based on some self-belief that urges to be fulfilled/manifested. On the other hand, sometimes wanting to live up to our full potential might not be enough of a motivator on its own. It might be the case that what you need to fulfill this wish is an extra dose of an intrinsic drive.

Which motivation is better?

One natural question to ask is which kind of motivation is better? At first, you might assume that based on this post that intrinsic motivation is better than extrinsic motivation, but this is a very simplistic observation. Which one is better depends on the situation and below is an explanation.

In general, it’s better to have an internal driver over an external one because the first is arguably more powerful and to some degree under your control. If a money prize is what motivates you to do your best work, all it takes to make you stop working is to remove the reward. If your desire to do your best work comes from within it’s much more difficult to remove/reduce your drive. But what happens if that “drive” doesn’t exist? What happens if you still need to get things done but you’re not necessarily passionate about the work? For these cases going for the most appealing of extrinsic motivation is probably your best bet.

When it comes to intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, I prefer to think about each as a tool in my toolbox. Once in a while, only one will do the job, and that’s what I choose. If what you’re trying to do is life-defining, like choosing a carrier, or starting a business, relying on extrinsic motivation might not be the best idea, although it can still be very useful.

Summary

Motivation is a difficult subject. To claim to know how it works is an attempt to deceive oneself. There is still much more to be read, and my first recommendation is a psychology book. Really any psychology 101 textbook will do, at least to light and deep enough way to allow you to quickly understand the basics of psychology and human behavior, while not causing demotivation because the material is too difficult for your background knowledge.

Other recommendations are:

1.The rise of superman by Steven Kotler. This is a great book on how to get into flow states.

2.The power of when by Michael Breus.

3.The obstacle is the way by Ryan Holiday.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

Leave a comment below

Sources:

Motivation: https://www.lexico.com/definition/motivation

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

Power law of practice

In this post, we’ll have a quick discussion on the power law of practice.

The area of self-improvement has done a fairly good job of delivering certain important messages with the purpose of changing the mind and life of an individual. Among the most popular is the idea that one should first believe in itself, and its ability to achieve the things we can’t see yet. The second and just as powerful is the idea of working on oneself, making the self better with the passage of time, such that if mother luck does knock on the door, we’re prepared to receive the keys of opportunity.

Hand in hand with the idea of working on oneself is the idea of practicing. Through practice, we expose our imperfections and weaknesses, and if we are courageous enough, we use the time we have to improve on the found weaknesses and imperfections. If we practice for long enough we eventually get to the point in which we can call ourselves competent, and if we can endure the same demanding training we eventually earn the right to call ourselves masters. There is just one problem with this logic, and that is the power law of practice.

The power law of practice

The power law of practice simply states that the return on your training tends to decrease with proportion to what has been learned/mastered.

What does it mean?

This means that at first, the gains on your training will be greater and that these gains will decrease the longer you go about your training. The same effect is observed in the area of bodybuilding. The first few times you lift weights the gains come quicker and more easily.

This is probably the reason why few of us attain the status of mastery in their fields. Results are among the most powerful motivator that exists. For the brain results are a sign of progress in our quest. They are a sign that given a finite amount of time and effort we will get to our prize.

You’ve probably heard that dopamine is the chemical behind our feelings of pleasure, but according to recent science, the chemical is manifested with the greatest strength the closer we get to our desired goal/prize. This is to explain that as the number and impact of gains decrease with practice we feel less and less motivation to keep going.

What are the societal effects?

The effects of this law in society can be observed if one pays enough attention. If for most skills the law applies, then it’s easy to see why there is a higher concentration of people who are somewhat proficient and a  much lower number of masters. If something requires willpower to be overcome, chances are that it won’t. So we find ourselves in a world of people in which most are somewhat good at something, but very few very good.

How to minimize the impact of the power law of practice?

I guess the next intuitive question with regards to the power law of practice is: How to minimize its demotivating effects? Below are a few suggestions.

Expect the law to be free of exceptions

The first thing you can do to minimize the impacts of it is to assume the law is and will remain true under every condition. This means to avoid falling for the trap that this one case is different and that the constant and fast improvement you’ve been getting on your training sessions will remain. Chances are that at some point in your practice the return will become increasingly smaller, at least in comparison to the return you were getting at the beginning. When you know what’s to come, the knowledge is most of your defense. Because the surprise along with the lack of preparation can also have a mentally paralyzing effect, which makes it harder to adapt to the current demands of the situation.

Embrace mastery

The next way to overcome the effects of the power law of practice is to embrace mastery. To chase is with all you’ve got. To learn to be more excited about how you can and will be, as opposed to how much progress you’ve made in your first few practice sessions.

The drive for mastery forces us to look into the future constantly even as our peers keep reminding us of how good we are. It forces us to want to improve. When you have this idea internalized deeply enough, the diminishing results from each practice session become motivation in their own way, in the same way, that for some people the harder the problem they are dealing with in their field, the more focused and motivated they become.

Detach yourself from the results

Another solution to the same problem is to detach oneself from the results. To just practice because you want to practice, and not because you expect something to come out of it. When you all you care about is the results and not the craft, frustration is more likely to be the reason why you will likely quit. I equate this with a relationship. Meaning that there must be something really strong and deep keeping you in the relationship. Here you are in essence in a relationship with your craft/skill, and if there is something deep holding you together, it doesn’t matter how soon or late you begin to experience the power law of practice. Your interest in what you do will still be there.

I personally have this feeling with coding. It’s been a few years now since I first learned how to code, and still today, I find myself having the same level of interest I had when I wrote my first line of code.

I definitely found that as time passes there is less and less I find completely new, but my passion for the subject is the driving reason for my sustained interest in it.

The power law of practice and school

At school, more specifically any higher-level education the power law of practice can be observed on a year by year basis. When you first start, virtually every book you can set your eyes on has something brand new to teach you. Something you’ve never heard before. As time passes, each year you stay in school, and each course you pass, the smaller that library becomes. The number of books didn’t change, but you just know more now. This means that when once all it took for you to learn something new was to pick up any book, now you have to make sure you remove everything you’ve already learned about before you can start learning something new.

The same effect can be observed in any field. You begin with lots to learn, but as time passes the number of new things you’ve learned decreases. This is, of course, assuming you focus on only one field.

Summary

Knowing how skill acquisition and learning works is a part of the battle. When you become aware of the power law of practice you become better prepared for what’s to come. The biggest take away from this post is that we shouldn’t base our motivation for practice solely on the results we get from our first sessions. If we want to take our skill to the next level this can only be done if the driving force behind it has to be deeper.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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Framing effect in psychology

In this post, we’ll have a short discussion on what is the framing effect in psychology.

The field of psychology has been around for a while now and it has gifted us with a wealth of insights on the human mind and behavior. When before one would spend a lifetime trying to understand the people around him/her, now much of the understanding can be gathered straight from a psychology textbook.  And if someone were to ask me what part of psychology would I focus on first, that would be the area of cognitive biases.

The reason for this is that knowing when our reasoning can lead us astray can make the difference between a life well-lived and a wasted one.

Framing effect in psychology

The framing effect is a cognitive bias. In other words a  shortcut in reasoning that allows us to make decisions much more quickly than we would have if we spent some of our time trying to evaluate each piece of information that came to us. This cognitive bias, in particular, is about how we make decisions to do or not do something based on how it’s presented to us, like when we have to decide to buy or not buy a given product/service based on how the offer is presented to us.

What is the framing effect?

The framing effect is a cognitive bias that states that we, to put it in simple terms are more prone to respond with more caution when the options we have are framed in terms of risk rather than what we have to gain. Here the framing in framing effect is with regards to the idea that an offer can be made in more than one way, and depending on the way i.e the frame, the receiver of the offer might be more or less likely to accept it. Presenting the offer in terms of successes let’s say: 90% chances of succeeding will likely make people more prone to accept it and the reverse can be said about the opposite. There is one curious thing about the framing effect and that is that the chances of losing don’t have to be as high as the chances of succeeding in order to make us reject or accept the offer. This is due to the loss aversion principle.

The framing effect and loss aversion

If you’ve spent enough time reading or consuming any material on human nature, you probably stumbled into the fact that we are loss-averse beings. Meaning that more often than not, we’d prefer not losing what we already have rather than gaining something new. These phenomena can be said to be in part what goes on with the framing effect. The chances of gaining are as it implies your chances of gaining something in the future. The chances or losses as well, a chance that we might lose something in the future. That something I something we already have and thus it doesn’t take as much for us to try our best to avoid the loss.

Uses of the framing effect

The framing effect can be used in a variety of fields, but first and foremost, the knowledge of it by itself becomes instantly beneficial without any effort from your part. Meaning that knowing how the framing effect works and your propensities to it will more likely protect you from any acts of manipulation against you. Like with any other cognitive bias, knowing is half the battle.

The framing effect on job applications

If you’ve ever applied to a job, chances are that you’ve used the framing effect already. In a resume, you frame yourself in an appositive light. Each stated past work experience is your way of saying that most people you’ve worked for liked your work. This is assuming of course that each past employer is expected to be contacted and you have yourself in your best interest.

In a resume, you focus on your strengths and hardly on your weaknesses. You frame yourself as the ideal applicant with the best of your ability.

Sales

The same effect can be observed in sales. As a general rule, the salesman/woman implies that the product/service they are selling will always work and do as expected. There is no such thing as a flawless product batch. Over time deficiencies in what you sell are bound to escape quality control and lay in the hands of the customer. But this natural fact is hardly if ever brought to light. The product is framed under the light of 100% effectiveness/efficiency i.e  100% chances of winning.

There is definitely a growing movement from the part of companies today, to also bring back to light the fact that they will happily give your money back if the product doesn’t satisfy you, and I can see how one would see this as a representation of the chances that the product might fail but it goes beyond that.

By emphasizing the money-back guarantee, the companies do two things:

  1. They Reinforce the idea that you probably have a 100% chance of having a working product, because why else would they be so confident to make the offer in the first place?

2. For the ones who might be a bit more skeptical. Meaning the ones that there might still be a small chance of failure from the part of the product, the money-back guarantees will certainly bring them back to the 100% win scenario.

The framing effect in medicine

In medicine, the framing effect too plays its role. More often than not your visits to the doctor are completed with a clear and cut solution for our ailment. If we are diligent enough with the medication, eventually we recover and resume our lives. There are sometimes, however, when the solution is not that simple. Whether because of the severity or stage of the disease, the medical approach is varied and requires the input of the patient.

This is often observed in cancer cases where some intervention might have a higher or lower chance of recovery or even death. The way the doctor frames the options can too have an impact on what the patient chooses as its treatment. Here the framing effect on the negative side can have an even more powerful effect since what we lose if we do lose is the most important thing of all: our life.

The framing effect in our social life

In our social lives too we are subject to the framing effect. We like to think of ourselves as independent thinkers free of outside influence, special when it comes to our choices of who we decide to call our friends and lovers.

Here the framing effect is at play in two ways. The first is what goes by the name of social proof. Meaning that we are more naturally attracted to the kind of people other people are attracted to. This is true regardless of whether the person has any of the common attractiveness traits we associate with attractive people. We can’t help but wonder who they are and why crowds of people want to be around them.

The fact that people are attracted to them frames them in a positive light, and because there is hardly ever anyone saying how unattractive they are we don’t see our chances of losing by entering a relationship with them.

On the other hand, if we see a person alone, as mentioned in the book The art of seduction we are more likely to feel repelled to them. Thinking in terms of the framing effect the lone person is framing itself in a negative light. The scene implicitly tells us that no one found that person attractive, at least as far as we can tell.

These two examples are often what consciously or subconsciously drive our social life decisions.

Summary

The way we perceive things in life has a lot to do with how we interact with them. Often the gap between perceiving and interacting is so short that we can find it difficult to understand why we behave in certain ways or make certain choices. Thinking about your past choices in the light of the framing effect can be of great help. Bringing to light reasons or theories about your reasons for making the decisions you made.

Sources:

What is a cognitive bias : https://twoscoopsofbusiness.com/what-is-a-cognitive-bias

What is the social proof principle: https://twoscoopsofbusiness.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=423&action=edit

The art of seduction: https://g.co/kgs/LTg2nm

Druckman, J. (2001a).  “Evaluating framing effects” Journal of Economic Psychology. 22: 96–101.

Druckman, J. (2001b). “Using credible advice to overcome framing effects”. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization. 17: 62–82

Gächter, S.; Orzen, H.; Renner, E.; Stamer, C. (2009).  “Are experimental economists prone to framing effects? A natural field experiment”  Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. 70 (3): 443–46.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47, 263-291.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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How To Avoid Confirmation Bias

In this post, we’ll have a short discussion on how to avoid confirmation bias.

We live in a time in which just knowing something and holding an opinion about it is not enough. There is always somewhere at the back of our heads the lingering question of: “how do we know we know what we think we know”? Most of us tend to take the fact that our beliefs are ours as a representative of the truthfulness of the fact. This goes on until someone challenges our beliefs and we find ourselves grappling with reasons why the things we believe in are true.

We look for proof online and offline, and more often than not we find confirming evidence. If our opponent is good at thinking logically and the proof we think proves our point is not actually proof they will have the ability to bring us to the light, and without knowing just at that moment we managed to overcome the confirmation bias.

This is one thing that you’ll probably become more aware of the deeper you get into the study of cognitive biases. The idea that sometimes the best tools that allow you to overcome your thinking weaknesses require no will of your own. For this bias in particular, as you’ll see other people can play a powerful role in clarifying your thinking process, with little effort from your part the only thing you have to do is to be open to it and resist the urge to stop the process.

How To  Avoid Confirmation Bias

First, let’s begin with the definition of confirmation bias. As discussed in the post  “What is the confirmation bias”, the confirmation bias is: “the tendency of people to seek information that supports their assumed values/beliefs and to ignore any form of dis-confirming evidence.”. In essence, you begin from your belief and look only for that which proves your belief. We do this while ignoring or conveniently overlooking any disconfirming evidence. We exit the reasoning process with a sense of certainty derived from flawed reasoning. So how do you avoid it? Below are a few strategies.

1. Start by trying to prove yourself wrong

The first and most intuitive strategy is to actively look for disconfirming evidence. Just as for any point there is a good chance you’ll find supportive evidence, there is also a good chance you’ll find confirming evidence for the opposite.

The first tip here is to become familiar with the disconfirming evidence and try your best to think about the evidence as logically as you can. If you’re trying to prove it wrong, make sure your reasons are valid and not based on emotion. So try to disprove the disconfirming evidence through logic and logic alone.

Still in the same vein, is the idea of avoiding doing any research on the people who provided the disconfirming evidence. The reason for this is that the least you know about the person, the least likely you are to make personal attacks to them as a way to disprove their disproof. This in philosophy is called an ad hominem fallacy, where instead of debating the point you attack the person behind the point to invalidate the argument. So, try to know as least as possible from the sources while preserving the integrity of the argument. If you have to do it, try to focus more on their background. Meaning whatever qualifies them to talk about the subject.

2.Study Philosophy

One thing I’ve been the most grateful university was the chance to take a philosophy course. By studying philosophy you sharpen both the mind and the arguments the mind produces. The reason why this is so important in overcoming the confirmation bias is that if you’re able to find inconsistencies in someone else’s points, you can, to some degree find inconsistencies in your own. Meaning that you can more easily tell when your argument is only taking into account the evidence supporting it.

In philosophy, the confirmation bias is handled by the way philosophers construct their arguments. One thing a great debater does when delivering an argument is that they often try to take into account possible oppositions to their point and to then explain why the oppositions don’t make their point invalid. By doing this you effectively weaken the position of anyone attempting to show you your point is not valid.

How does this help us in avoiding confirmation bias? Well, it does so simply because sometimes we are the other person we are trying to prove wrong. I think this is by far one of the most distinctive markers of a great mind. The ability to have a debate with oneself as if there were two people in the room instead of one. To not just agree because you agree or disagree because you disagree. But to be able to both agree and disagree at the same time even if for a brief moment.

What makes the discipline of philosophy is very useful is the fact that it teaches not only how to think, but also how to spot flawed thinking in you and others. It’s through the study of what they call fallacies that you improve your reasoning. It’s through the application of rules of logic that you can safely go from a place of confusion to one of understanding. Better than just understanding, a confident form of understanding. A form of understanding gained from your trust in the fundamentals of how the truth looks like, as well as how a lie disguised as the truth would reveal itself if you knew what to look for and had the patience to do it.

3.Debate with another person

The quickest way to get over the confirmation bias is to have a debate on the subject with another human being not just yourself. It’s important to look for a person who you know might hold an opposing view and to again, focus on the structure of their argument as opposed to who they are as people.

When we’re by ourselves the confirmation is harder to avoid because of the fact that our personal investment in our opinion is what will likely lead us to focus only on the evidence that confirms it. When we’re debating with another person, on the other hand, that which gets overlooked is brought to light.

The other person will not only make us pay attention to the evidence we’re overlooking but also bring it back to light when we intentionally or unintentionally dismiss it.

One amazing thing that happens when we have frequent debates is that we start paying attention to and making sure the structure of our points/arguments is sound. You begin first by making a conscious effort to overcome the confirmation bias, and eventually, this attitude will become a part of how you construct your arguments.

4.Make sure your mind is sharp

We all know that different times of the day can make our minds sharper or more cloudy. The reason why this matters is that overcoming this bias requires mental effort, and for a belief, you’re trying to prove or defend there will be lots of iterations on your points. This is an exhausting process and just like anything that tires the tendency is to avoid doing it.

As Steven Kotler once said: “The brain is a giant energy hawk. It’s always trying to conserve’”. The point is to make sure your mind is as sharp as it can be before you jump into the challenge of making sure you really know what you think you know.

This means to make sure you have adequate sleep, as well as that whatever you eat before your thinking journey goes well with your body. Countless were the times in which eating the wrong food clouded my ability to think clearly.

Exercising is among the set of things we hear everyone should do but we don’t. Exercising too is one of these things that has helped me think through subjects that are by nature difficult and complex to think about.

Summary

The confirmation bias like any other kind of cognitive bias can be overcome by practicing. At first, it will feel natural to go as you always went. To look for only the evidence that proves your beliefs and stop when you manage to find one or a handful. When you manage to apply this idea for the first few times with success something else begins to happen. First your instinct turns to disprove your own beliefs before voicing them out, and second is the joy of attempting to prove yourself wrong and failing. You still can’t prove you’re right, but at least there is a higher chance that no one else will be able to prove you wrong because you’ve done your due diligence.

This is the point most people to get their thinking to.

Sources:

What is the confirmation bias: https://twoscoopsofbusiness.com/what-is-the-confirmation-bias

Poor Charlie’s Almanack: https://g.co/kgs/tqioiJ

Ad Hominem Fallacy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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How To Learn Difficult Subjects

In this post, we’ll have a  conversation on the art of learning and mastering difficult subjects.

We’ve been a long way since the moment in which the first of our kind found itself overwhelmed by the urge to understand how the world as we know it works. We’re definitely a long way from uncovering the whole puzzle of what the universe is about for sure, but now we know we know something. Some of the things we as a collective know we know is only accessible to the few of us who just like the first of us, also feel the need to understand. For these people, the degree of “apparent” difficulty of the subject is not relevant. In fact, if anything, the desire to be among the few, or to even be the one who completely understands a subject is a part of what drives them to spend a lifetime reading all there is to read about their field of interest.

The problem arises when the love for the discipline is not there yet. For the simpler and easier to understand, it’s all a matter of pushing through the boredom of reading technical material. For the most difficult ones, on the other hand, it’s much deeper than that. It’s also about the sometimes crushing self-doubt on our own ability to understand what we’re trying to understand. We start to wonder if we weren’t born with a powerful enough brain, and if we go down that rabbit hole we might even wonder if we have some sort of intellectual disability.

How to learn difficult subjects

Expect to make some time investment

The first thing to think about before jumping into a difficult subject is that as a rule difficult subjects take time to master and understand. A fairly large degree of confusion is to be expected and with that confusion also getting past it.

The problem arises when you see other people who for one reason or another have managed to grasp the material relatively quickly. Often the reason for this is that they have some background knowledge or they don’t really understand the material as deeply as they seem. For you, the outsider, the impression is only that they are better and here the word “better” is vague. Sometimes the people around us are going through the same struggles as we, but just like us they too find themselves s locked in their own heads.

Take some time to mentally wrestle with the material, and don’t be surprised if one day you wake up and somehow manage to understand what once was beyond your reach.

Focused and diffused mode

This idea of giving the brain some time to catch up is backed up by science. According to research, during the learning process, the brain goes through several cycles of what they call focused and diffused mode. To put things simply, the focused mode is the mode in which you actively focus on and pay attention to the material. You actively read, memorize and rehearse the material. This is the stage most of us associate with the learning process. The second and by no means any less important is the diffused mode. Here you’re not actively trying to learn the material. If anything you’re probably aware of whatever you were trying to learn an hour ago. You might be relaxing hanging out with friends, or playing a round of golf, what you think is that your brain state is a mere mirror of your mood i.e relaxed and or passive. The truth is that if you’ve spent enough time trying to actively master the material or solve the problem, chances are that even now your brain is still actively wrestling with the material. These are the moments in which we often stumble into creative ideas or novel ways of looking into the subject we were working on. When trying to learn a difficult subject try taking a break because there is a good chance that that’s all you need to run into the enhanced level of understanding you desperately seek.

Try sleeping

Another very underestimated and yet so powerful tool for learning is sleep. We live in  a time in which sleeping is equated with laziness. The man or woman of today is encouraged to keep pushing and trying even when the solution for their problems is as simple as resting. Take a break. Take a nap and see how much you can get done after. See how much more of the material you understand when you wake up.

This too is backed up by science. It’s now known that the brain goes through a process of knowledge integration while we sleep. The things we learned go through a process that makes these lessons more stable and more, if we can say…relatable with whatever knowledge already exists. So you wake up not only remembering what you learned better, but also able to relate this new knowledge with the old.

Try nootropics

First, it’s important to make it clear that this is no medical advice. Having that said, one simple and yet not so simple way to learn complex/difficult subjects is to put your brain in the best chemical state possible for learning. If you pay attention to your own mental performance, often there is some fluctuation on your brain’s ability to learn new information. The world we live in makes us think that learning is a black or white process. Meaning either you’re a good learner or you’re not, and whatever state you’re in when you first attempt to measure your learning ability becomes then the deciding factor on your learning ability.

If you’re objective with yourself chances are that there are times in which you can learn more quickly regardless of how complex/difficult the material and the reverse applies to the opposite case.

One way to become a better learner is to find ways to take control of your own brain’s chemistry and with the right tools put it on the optimal state to acquire and retain new information.

There is plenty of resources out there on the subject, and all you have to do is to begin your journey with Google. It’s also important to talk to your doctor with regards to possible sensitivities your body might have with regards to taking certain kinds of supplements.

Look for different sources

Sometimes difficult subjects are made more difficult because of the people who are put in charge of teaching them. As I often say “teaching is not for everybody”. We are still in a time in which knowing the subject is the minimum requirement to teach it. I’m sure you’ve had both kinds of teachers: The one that makes you understand and the ones that don’t. Chances are that the first have this uncanny ability to minimize the time it takes you to get the material. Chances are that you not only learn it quickly but you do so more deeply.

So, if you’ve tried everything from this post and nothing worked, maybe it’s time to replace the teacher. It means to look for YouTube lectures and tutorials. To do the same on Google, and if all fails to go to our old friend: the library.

Sometimes the wording used by one teacher although not much different from what you’ve heard before makes the difference between confusion and clarity. Sometimes the explanation is the same but for whatever reason, your brain needed to hear it from a deeper or softer voice. Maybe it’s a product of the focused/diffused mode. Whatever it might be, I can testify for the countless times in which   I finally achieved clarity and understanding after a few videos on the same subject.

Summary

At the end of the day, understating difficult subjects require first and foremost a belief that you can, given the right conditions, understand whatever you’re struggling with, and from there take the necessary steps to set the conditions to put yourself there.

The doubts will likely be your biggest obstacle towards the land of clarity. You have to fight them in the same way the gardener fights the weeds that take away the vital resources the flowers need to grow and flourish. Like the gardener, you’ll be in a constant battle with your doubts, but each fight and victory will like the weight and the muscle condition you to bigger and more challenging battles with yourself.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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