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Rationalizing the irrational

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Rationalizing the irrational

Scott Miker

When I was younger I used to get into heated debates with friends about everything from politics to sports or from religion to science.

There were many frustrating discussions where I couldn’t understand why they didn’t see my logic. The frustration soon turned to curiosity. I usually had tremendous respect for the person with which I was talking. Sometimes they were significantly smarter than me (other times just marginally smarter).

So how can someone so smart be so dumb to not understand my argument? Obviously it wasn’t them, it was me.

Whenever two people have a disagreement they each see logic in their side and see inaccuracies in the opposing side. We see the part of the overall system that proves our point and they see the part of the overall system that proves their point.

If someone is for the death penalty they probably don’t point to the fact that many innocent people have been electrocuted because they were falsely accused. If someone is against the death penalty they probably don’t see the relief it can create for victims knowing this individual is no longer alive to hurt them.

But if you are on one side of the argument you probably only focus on the side that rationalizes your belief. You find the side that feels right emotionally and then work to find information that aligns with how you feel.

We then start a journey of rationalizing the irrational. Many times it doesn’t matter what due diligence we do because we are biased.

Humans are very emotional. We rely on emotion as habit and form beliefs and logic that derive from emotions first. How does something make us feel? Then we justify it.

While this may seem like we are all irrational creatures and prone to make logical mistakes by following emotions this also gives us insight into how we think so we can change it.

One thing that came out of those heated discussions with friends was that I learned to question why I feel a way I do. I used to think about why I was right. Now I think about why my emotions push me towards this side of the argument.

This has provided an incredible benefit to my life. It helped me realize times when I was headed in the wrong direction. I was completely convinced I was right and everyone else was wrong. But as I broke down why I felt that way I usually uncovered systems, structures, and mental models in my life that directed me towards that belief.

From there I could challenge that belief to see if it is truly something that is leading me in the right direction. If it wasn’t then I could quickly change.

Being born right before the millennial generation I noticed this when I was working at a business and felt I should leave for another opportunity. I now know that when I feel this, I need to pause and challenge that feeling and the logic that immediately comes to mind.

Then I can work out the reality a bit more before I make a decision. What I have noticed is that this awareness has probably helped me avoid leaving numerous jobs too soon. By staying I gained a great deal of value for my career and jumping ship would have caused me to take a step back.

So realize we all rationalize the irrational. This will help you to see flaws in your thinking based on your emotions. Then you can work to stop them from sabotaging areas of your life and help align you with success and happiness.