It’s often hard to accept that our limitations are largely in our own heads. Personally, every leap forward in my adult life has been the simple result of a change in the way I think.
A growth mindset is not usually characterized by unlimited forward progress, but more like an irregular staircase of upward movement and temporary plateaus. Even then, you have to possess enough self-awareness to know when your thinking may be artificially holding you back.
The problem, of course, is all those wonderful mental shortcuts (called heuristics) that make functioning in this staggeringly complex world possible. It’s only when we resort to heuristics when we should be using our broader cognitive processing power that we get in trouble.
Some of the worst mental shortcuts prevent the very change in thinking that we need to take the next leap. These cognitive biases operate in the background so efficiently that we’re often not aware of them.
Here are three to watch out for. They all handily begin with the letter C, and they all tend to interrelate.
1. Confirmation Bias
We’ve explored in the context of meditation and stoicism that your thoughts, memories, and beliefs are intangible, and not “you.” And yet we not only feel that they’re who we are, we tend to reinforce rather than challenge those beliefs.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms with one’s existing beliefs or preconceptions. In a perfect world, our beliefs would be rational, logical, and objective, but studies show that we pay attention to information that upholds our existing ideas, and ignore information that challenges them.
Solution: Purposefully open your mind. Objectively considering “the other side of the story” does not mean you have to accept it. But at least you have a shot at growth.
2. Conservatism Bias
Let’s say you defeat confirmation bias and open yourself up to receive and even adopt new beliefs and behaviors. Even then, you’ll be slow to act on the new and/or competing information due to conservatism bias.
Evidence that the Earth is round instead of flat was incredibly difficult for people to accept at the time, even those who were open to it. In modern times, conservatism bias is often discussed in the realm of investing, where even professionals react too slowly to new information about a stock that contradicts prior forecasts.
Solution: As with goals, sometimes we need to quickly adapt in the face of new and contrary indications. Take the time to verify, but then make a move.
3. Conformity Bias
If you can defeat your own confirmation and conservatism biases, you can successfully change the way you think. But you still may not change the way you behave, due to the insidious nature of conformity bias.
Conformity bias is the tendency to behave similarly to the others in a group, even if doing so goes against your own judgment. Solomon Asch conducted the classic experiment in this area, in which test subjects were asked to say which two lines of a collection were the same.
The other subjects in the experiment were “plants” who all chose a clearly non-identical line as the correct answer. The true subject agreed with the false group answer a shocking three-quarters of the time.
Solution: Have the courage to act according to your own convictions.
Do you really want to grow and change?
Just like a person with a fixed mindset can shift to a growth mindset simply by accepting that change is possible, so can all of us develop the ability to recognize and overcome cognitive biases like confirmation, conservatism, and conformity.
The only remaining question becomes … do you really want to?
Take Care of Yourself Now
“A report Wednesday from InsideTracker, a health analytics company, reveals far more people would choose to stay at age 50 than 20. And more said they’d prefer to be older than 40, rather than younger, the company reported. Many say this attitude is becoming more common, helped along by seeing others age vigorously and a desire to shed the anxieties of youth.”
Follow the SEAL to Lead
“It’s my firm belief that people want to do well; they want to succeed. Offering autonomy, decision-making power, and opportunities to learn and master their skills are all seeds that further personal and professional growth.”
“When psychologists first started studying awe, one of the unanswered questions was: what do we look like when we’re feeling it? Emotions come with facial expressions (smiles for happy, frowns for sad, mouth open for surprise—your basic emoji alphabet). But no one had studied at what an awe-struck face looked like.”
As always, thanks for tuning in. The boy and I are hanging out this week while Mom and big sister are away. Beyond personal growth, there will likely be something growing in the kitchen sink by Friday.
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