Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers

Mind tricks that limit growth

The pursuit of personal growth and learning plays a central role in my life.  However from time to time I question whether it is worth it.  After all, growth requires change and deep change is hard. Sometimes I ask myself whether I am up to it.  Maybe I am too old, too busy or just too lazy to do the hard work.  Perhaps I’ve grown enough.  After all I have a good life.  Wonderful friends and family surround me and I love my work, which I consider to be meaningful. So why do I need to change?  The answer for me is that I believe to grow is to live. I share this belief with my blogging partner, Katrin Muff who demonstrates her thirst for growth in how she lives every day.

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Last month Katrin described the external conditions that tend to stimulate her and push her to try something new.  The previous month, I discussed an incident that led to my own painful growth.  While reflecting on what stimulates our growth inspires me, I believe that we also need to stay aware of the barriers that can stymie us.

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, psychologist and professor Daniel Kahneman describes “a puzzling limitation of our mind: our excessive confidence in what we believe we know and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and uncertainty of the world we live in.”[1] I suspect that most of us consider ourselves to be logical thinkers. Yet, since we are human, we are all subject to thinking biases that can inhibit our ability to learn and access new experiences apart from our own status quo.  Consider the following:

Confirmation Bias

Magicians, who practice sleight of hand, or misdirection as they call it, count on our seeing what we expect rather than what is taking place in front of our eyes. And usually we do not let them down. We are all susceptible to seeing what we expect. Confirmation bias, or the tendency to seek out, notice, interpret and remember information to protect our prior beliefs and expectations is widespread.

False Consensus and Naïve Realism

The “false consensus effect” refers to our tendency to overestimate the degree to which others agree with us. And the “naïve realism bias” is a tendency to believe that we see reality as it is and that others who disagree with us do not. When suffering from this bias, we view anyone who disagrees with us as irrational, uninformed or overly subjective.[2]  The presumption that everyone sees the world the way that we do can stifle our growth and isolate us from diverse thinking.  However even more dangerous is the belief that those whose views of the world differ from our own are wrong. In truth, our views are merely our theories, hidden or not, of how things work. And theories aren’t the same as truth.

Illusionist making trick with magical play cards

I know that I am susceptible to these mind tricks that can prevent me from change.  Yet if I truly value ongoing growth and personal change, I must be vigilant to falling prey to these biases.  While I do not have any clear answers to how to fight them, I do know that my first step in neutralizing the biases is to acknowledge that I am susceptible, as are all of us.   As I interact with others, I can adopt the discipline of taking mental time-outs to reflect on how I am feeling and what I am thinking.  I can entertain the possibility that the biases might be at work.  This level of self-awareness should give me a fighting chance at foiling my own mind tricks.  And yes this level of vigilance is hard work.  Yet I hope that I will never grow too old, too self-satisfied, too arrogant or too lazy to do the work that growth requires.

[1] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition, October 2011.
[2] List of Cognitive Biases, Wikipedia, 2018.

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