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Stop being so certain

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.  

Stop being so certain

Scott Miker

Have you ever met someone who acts as if he or she knows everything?  Any time they give their opinion they promise they are right. 

They tend to be overconfident most of the time when they make a decision.  Once they make up their mind, it is impossible to change it. 

What if that person is you?  What if you tend to make up your mind too quickly and then stick to your newfound opinion even when challenging thoughts appear?

I think that many of us are like that and never take the time to truly investigate with an open mind.  In fact, it is human nature.

The psychological concept confirmation bias, points to this exact phenomenon.  Confirmation bias is our tendency to take in new information and bias it based on our existing beliefs. 

If we read a recent media headline, “The news media bashes Donald Trump for racist comments,” we can explore how we respond and then start to uncover our own confirmation bias. 

If we are pro-Trump, we likely hear that the media is bashing him again.  We likely feel the media has not been fair to him as president.   

If we are anti-Trump, we likely hear that he is making comments that can be viewed as racist again.  We likely feel that this proves that he is racist and a horrible president. 

Depending on your personal views, one of these two beliefs will sway how you hear the headline.  You will align the information with your current views. 

But nobody realizes this.  We all think that everyone else must be crazy and not see things clearly, like we do.  But if everyone feels that way, then obviously something is wrong. 

When it comes to political beliefs this is one thing, when it comes to improvement in your personal life, confirmation bias might be holding you back from getting better. 

The reason is simple.  You close off your mind to new information.  You make decisions before you have all of the knowledge. 

But our society promotes the idea of having strong opinions and sticking with them.  We don’t value the leader who changes his viewpoint, assuming he or she is weak. 

But being flexible and trying to avoid forming an opinion right away can be incredibly helpful to improve and get better. 

We have to try different strategies and adjust based on new information.  We can’t stick to strategies that don’t work just to try and prove our ego right.  We have to be able to adjust. 

But this doesn’t mean that we are constantly changing for the sake of change.  We don’t simply find ways to do things differently and then constantly shuffle the cards of life. 

We have to be able to stick with something long enough to see the benefit.  We can’t measure success or failure within the first 5 minutes. 

A better approach is to develop a standard, but be willing to constantly test that standard.  Constantly looking for ways to do it better is great, and if you can monitor and measure your progress you can start to slowly use these changes to improve.

If the change improves your results that you measure, then make it the new standard.  If it doesn’t increase your rate of progress, then go back to the old standard. 

This allows us to use the standard as the best that we know about.  We constantly work to improve the standard, while being able to quickly return to the old standard if the new change disappoints us in its results.  

Instead of seeing the black and white version of flexibility and the two sides (hardheaded or flakey) start to see that we can design a new system that allows us to reduce confirmation bias and work to constantly improve what we are doing. 

It takes a bit more work, but at the end of the day we can confidently move forward, knowing that we test new strategies and constantly work to make the best process the standard we follow.  The first step is to stop being so certain and learn to get curious about information that contradicts your current viewpoints.