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How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies

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Welcome to part 1 of a 10 part series:

How to get smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies

In this article I’ll introduce you to five of the most important core principles (and biggest hindrances) to critical thinking and higher intelligence:

  • Intellectual laziness
  • Intellectual honesty
  • Intellectual dishonesty
  • Willful ignorance
  • Self-deception

What is Critical Thinking? 

“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” – Socrates

Before we begin: What is critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies?

Let’s start with some definitions:

Critical thinking: “Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment.” en.wikipedia.org

Cognitive bias: “A cognitive bias is a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.” www.chegg.com

Logical fallacy: “A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid.” www.thoughtco.com

In other words we’re learning:

  • How to be better and more intelligent thinkers (critical thinking)
  • What mistakes people often make in their thinking and reasoning (cognitive biases)
  • What mistakes people often make in their logic (logical fallacies)

Why you must become a Critical Thinker

I consider the study of critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies, to be the single most important thing I’ve ever learnt in my entire life.

Here’s why:

  1. Critical thinking makes you smarter. At school (and in life) everyone wants to tell you WHAT to think, what to believe, what to value, what to like, what to dislike etc. Critical thinking on the other hand teaches you HOW to think. It also improves your logic, thinking, reasoning, decision making, problem solving, and analytical skills. In a nutshell: It makes you smarter.
  2. Lies are common, truth is not. If we lived in a world where everyone was fully committed to speaking only the absolute truth, we probably wouldn’t need to screen information and ‘news’ for accuracy and be as skeptical. However the reality is that not only are most people not honest but they lie and talk crap all day long. Fake news, false advertising, gossip, lies, propaganda, pseudoscience, and bullshit is the rule – truth is the exception. You need to find some way to see through all the lies and bullshit – critical thinking will show you how.
  3. Critical thinking improves your bullshit detector. Critical thinking will improve your bullshit detector and stop you from being gullible and naïve. It will teach you how to sort fact from fiction, truth from lies, and reality from fantasy, and it will prevent you from being easily brainwashed and misled by fake news, false advertising, gossip, lies, propaganda, pseudoscience, and bullshit.

But like I said: Before we get into critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies, we need a detailed understanding of five of the most important core principles upon which all critical thinking and higher intelligence rests upon.

Let’s begin…

50. Intellectual laziness 

“Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.” – Thomas A. Edison

Intellectual laziness is easily one of the biggest obstacles to higher intelligence.

Most people are intellectually lazy and would rather other people did their thinking for them and told them want to think.

But if you’re too lazy to think for yourself, to think through and persist with the hard problems, to do your own research and to study the arguments and evidence against your beliefs, you can forget about getting smarter.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

Are you intellectually lazy?

Here are some signs you might be:

  • You avoid intellectually challenging books/conversations/subjects, preferring celebrity gossip/entertainment/video games etc.
  • You get angry/defensive/frustrated when people ask you intellectually challenging questions e.g. “Does anything in life have any objective meaning – or are all meanings subjective and man made?” If you’re intellectually lazy you might respond angrily as my friend did: “Why do I need to know that?” “Why does it matter?”
  • Instead of thinking for yourself and doing your own research you simply believe:
    • What everyone else believes
    • Whatever the ‘experts’ believe
    • Whatever is on the news/trending on social media
  • You believe whatever you want to believe without evidence/based on very little evidence, or on a very limited data set, instead of taking the time to examine ALL of the available evidence, following it where it leads, and aligning your beliefs to reality
  • You refuse to change your mind even when:
    • Someone destroys your argument with airtight logic
    • Contradictory evidence is presented clearly refuting your beliefs
    • New or previously withheld information presents itself
  • You cling to scientifically debunked evidence/information/studies to support your beliefs
  • You care more about the consistency of your thinking/beliefs, than you do about the accuracy of your thinking/beliefs
  • You have an ignorance is bliss mentality and are willfully ignorant about almost everything. Your attitude is “I don’t know – and I don’t want to know” 
  • You’re too lazy to look up a concept/definition/word you don’t know
  • Your homework and research goes no further than the first few pages of Google
  • You stay in your echo chamber and only read/watch/listen/speak to people you agree with
  • Instead of taking the time to study up on all aspects of an issue, and gathering as much information as you can so that you can make an intelligent and informed analysis on the whole, you simply research the arguments and evidence for the side that appeals to you more
  • You’re too lazy to research the arguments and evidence against your beliefs, and to understand why people disagree with you. Instead of taking the time to understand the opposition argument and evidence you simply dismiss it as “bullshit”, “dumb”, “ignorant”, “retarded”, “stupid”, “wrong” etc.
  • You’re quick to dismiss advice/information/things you don’t understand as “irrelevant”, “unimportant”, or “wrong” – without having a clue as to what it is you’re rejecting
  • You take appearances for reality and are quick to draw conclusions about things you know nothing about
  • You’re too lazy to think through and persist with the hard problems (Most people give up on intellectually challenging problems and throw in the towel after just a few minutes if it’s too difficult/if they can’t understand it)
  • You’ve too lazy to study and research cognitive biases and logical fallacies to find out which ones you’re most guilty of and need to give up
  • Instead of taking the time to thoroughly research an issue in-depth so you can have an informed opinion, you simply believe whatever you want to believe and then cherry pick evidence/quotes/statistics to support your beliefs – even if they’re taken out of context and give a misleading impression
  • In an argument/conversation you often assume the answer before you’ve even asked the question
  • You automatically assume your beliefs are right just because they’re popular and on the side of the majority and ‘everyone’ agrees with you
  • You automatically assume you’re right just because your opponent/the opposition is wrong (e.g. Conservatives are wrong – therefore Liberals are right, or because Islam is wrong – Christianity is right)
  • You automatically assume you’re right just because you can’t think of any other possibilities
  • You have a habit of oversimplifying complex issues, and of giving overly simplistic solutions to these over simplified problems
  • You’re quick to put the burden of proof on others (e.g. if you claim that the Illuminati controls the world, instead of providing evidence to prove your claim, you challenge others to come up with evidence to disprove it)
  • Instead of reading between the lines and taking the time to ask questions to try to understand what someone is trying to say, you often take people literally as if they were perfect carriers of information, and frequently get caught up in stupid arguments over semantics that are completely irrelevant to the point
  • If you’re religious: You believe whatever the Bible/Quran/Bhagavad Gita tells you to believe no questions asked – even if it contradicts your own experience/logic/science
  • If you’re religious: You have an ignorance is bliss mentality and whenever you don’t understand something instead of trying to learn it you just say “God did it” (This is the “God of the gaps” argument and it is commonly used by Christians, Muslims, and other religious believers whenever they don’t understand something. The argument is: I don’t know/no one knows how it works/how it happened – therefore “God did it”)

Intellectual laziness is a habit just like physical laziness is.

And like physical laziness, it’s a habit that can be broken.

If you’re not used to thinking for yourself, doing your own research, thinking through and persisting with the hard problems, you’ll get tired and frustrated easily. But I promise you: The more you do it – the easier it gets – and the smarter you’ll get.

Don’t be intellectually lazy. You have a brain so use it. Think for yourself and don’t allow anyone else to do your thinking for you, no matter who they are, no matter what their credentials, no matter how smart you think they might be.

We’ll be exploring intellectual laziness in-depth throughout this series.

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison

49. Intellectual honesty 

“The core of science is not a mathematical modeling – it is intellectual honesty. It is a willingness to have our certainties about the world constrained by good evidence and good argument.” – Sam Harris

Are you intellectually honest?

Here are some signs you might be:

  • In an argument/conversation you’re quick to acknowledge:
    • Alternative viewpoints (not just your own)
    • Reasons as to why other people disagree with you – and why you might be wrong
    • The weak points in your argument
    • When someone else makes a good point
    • When you have a conflict of interest
    • When you’ve made a mistake or when you’re wrong (without denying it, dismissing it, pointing fingers and trying to blame someone else, or trying to rationalize it)
  • You don’t overstate the strength of your argument or your evidence, or try to spin the facts that support your argument to make them sound more impressive than they really are, in order to give the listener a misleading impression
  • You don’t pretend to know things you don’t – or to be an expert on things you’re not
  • You’re honest and truthful with yourself at all times – no matter how ego-destroying, humiliating, inconvenient or uncomfortable it might be – even when you know it won’t be popular – or politically correct
  • You’re humble and open minded to other possibilities, and especially to the possibility that you maybe wrong, and you have a willingness to be corrected if/when you’re wrong, and to have your ideas challenged and criticized (instead of being an arrogant closed minded know-it-all that thinks they’re infallible and takes any criticism of their beliefs as a personal attack)
  • You’re quick to highlight and publicly admit your mistakes – and to print corrections if you’re writing a blog or for a magazine or a newspaper
  • You refuse to accept double standards or inconsistencies in your thinking
  • You resist the urge to form a conclusion or to make a judgement when there isn’t enough data or information available to form an opinion one way or another

“Someone who is intellectually honest follows the facts where ever they may lead, and does so in spite of discomfort, inconvenience, or self-interest.  That means that someone’s opinions may shift as the facts change, but if there is no change in the situation, then there’s no cause for an intellectually honest person to change positions.” – Jonathan Koomey

These are all good signs of intellectual honesty.

Ultimately intellectual honesty is about a commitment to the truth at all costs. Even if it hurts. Even if it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unpleasant.

In addition to all of the above, I also recommend surrounding yourself with smart people who won’t hesitate to tell you the truth and to give you a reality check when you need it.

Listen to these people – even if you’re absolutely certain you’re right/they’re wrong.

You don’t have to agree with everything – or anything they say – but at least hear them out and keep an open mind about what they’re telling you because you might be being intellectually dishonest and lying to yourself without knowing it.

Unfortunately most people are NOT intellectually honest – with themselves or with others.

In fact, most people are intellectually DISHONEST.

48. Intellectual dishonesty 

Are you intellectually dishonest?

Unfortunately most people are.

Here are some signs of intellectual dishonesty:

  • Attempting to silence those who disagree with you by:
    • Acting aggressive, erratic, hostile, or unpredictable
    • Giving dirty, shitty looks (death stares) in order to intimidate
    • Swearing
    • Threatening
    • Yelling
  • Attempting to silence those who disagree with you by labeling them:
    • Bigot
    • Fascist
    • Homophobe
    • Islamophobe
    • Transphobe
    • Xenophobe
    • Misogynist
    • Racist
    • Sexist
    • Nazi
    • Or accusing them of engaging in “hate speech”
  • Acting belligerent and/or dismissive when inconvenient facts are brought to your attention (this is also a sign of intellectual laziness and of willful ignorance)
  • Appeal to authority: Instead of trying to convince someone through evidence, facts, logic etc. you try to manipulate their thinking through the use of celebrity, ‘expert’, political, scientific etc. endorsements
  • Asking leading/loaded/trick questions designed to trap the listener
  • Cherry picking evidence/quotes/statistics and using them out of context in order to deceive or to give a misleading impression
  • Doublespeak/equivocation: Instead of speaking plainly so people can actually understand you, you use ambiguous language to deliberately obscure, disguise, distort, or reverse the meaning of words in order to conceal the truth and to deceive the listener, and to avoid committing oneself either way. Politicians and psychics use equivocation to have it both ways
  • Double standards for evidence: You require a much higher standard of evidence to convince you of the things you don’t want to believe e.g.. for the things you do want to believe such as claims of a miracle, a single eye witness testimony is accepted as evidence, but for the things you don’t want to believe such as climate change, a 97% consensus of the scientific community just isn’t enough evidence to convince you. Or as one Reddit user put it: “Conspiracy Theorists will believe low quality footage of UFOs but not HD footage of a rocket landing.” 
  • Shifting the goal posts for evidence: If you said (insert evidence) would change your mind and convince you of something, once (insert evidence) is provided, not only do you refuse to change your mind, but you immediately shift the goalposts and require an even higher standard of evidence in order to be convinced
  • Emotional manipulation: You try to influence/persuade/manipulate someone through emotions rather than logic (e.g. instead of trying to convince someone of your argument through logic, facts, and figures, you show them pictures and videos of cute puppies or starving children to make them feel guilty or sad)
  • Fake facial expressions: You use condescending and fake facial expressions designed to mock and ridicule your opponent (a common debating tactic of politicians) as if to say “you can’t be serious – this is ridiculous”, “you just don’t get it” etc. instead of actually addressing the points in their argument:
    • Eye rolling
    • Fake laughter
    • Shaking your head
    • Sighing
    • Smirking/winking/grinning with a condescending, smug look of superiority that says “I know something you don’t know…” or “I’m smarter than you”
  • False analogies: You make false analogies to make your point
  • False authorities: You quote a false authority not qualified as an expert on the topic e.g. Bill Nye on quantum physics
  • Fear mongering: You try to scare someone into thinking/believing/doing what you want by threatening them with undesirable consequences. No time to think or to examine the evidence – we need to act and act now – or else you won’t like the consequences!
  • In an argument:
    • Attacking the person, instead of the argument e.g.. Asking the audience if they should trust someone who “dresses like a homeless person”, or “was once arrested for shoplifting” – instead of addressing the points in the argument. (This is known as the “ad hominem” fallacy)
    • Definitional retreats: When you attempt to change the meaning of a word or a phrase half way through an argument to deal with an objection raised in order to save face, and to prevent you from admitting you were wrong in the first place. When I said “poor” “rich” “sexual relations” etc. what I really meant was…
    • Failing to acknowledge when someone makes a good point in an argument, and instead quickly asking another question “But what about…” or changing topics “Let’s talk about…” (journalists, lawyers and politicians – easily three of the most intellectually dishonest professions – do this all the time)
    • Intentionally distorting/exaggerating/minimizing evidence or information in order to make it seem more/less important or relevant than it actually is
    • Only comparing the best and strongest parts of your argument, with the weakest and worst parts of your opponents argument, and then trying to convince yourself and others that your argument is much stronger than your opponents based solely on that comparison
    • Misquoting your opponent/taking a quote out of context to give a misleading impression/quoting someone who was joking or being sarcastic – and portraying their quote as if they were being sincere
    • Making statements on behalf of false premises as if:
      • Something was a scientifically proven fact when it isn’t “Science has proven”
      • It had unanimous backing from the scientific community when it doesn’t
      • It was unanimously accepted/believed by everyone when it wasn’t “As we ALL know…” “EVERYONE knows that!”
    • Misrepresenting your opponents argument by changing it or exaggerating it to make it sound ridiculous e.g. in response to a friend saying “Why don’t you give that homeless guy five dollars?” you might respond “Why don’t I give him one hundred dollars?” “Why don’t I give him one thousand dollars?” “Hell, why don’t I just give ALL of my money to the homeless?” “Why don’t I give away EVERYTHING I have? That way, when I have no money left, I’ll be forced to live on the streets and become homeless myself so I’ll know what it’s like right?” Obviously your friend wasn’t implying or saying that, but by distorting and exaggerating their argument to the point of ridiculousness you’re trying to make their argument sound stupid and unreasonable (This is known as the “straw man” argument and it is commonly used by comedians, late night talk show hosts, the media, politicians, and unfortunately 99% of people to mock and ridicule the opposition argument)
    • Pretending not to get it when inconvenient facts are brought up in an argument
    • Purposely omitting/withholding evidence that would go against your argument
    • Redefining words to mean whatever you want them to mean in order to suit your argument
    • Restating what someone has said to make it sound absurd, hostile, illogical, ridiculous, stupid etc. See the Cathy Newman vs Jordan Peterson debate for lots of examples of Cathy twisting Jordan’s words, restating what he has said, purposely misquoting him, and even putting words in his mouth.

This entire interview from Cathy Newman is an exercise in intellectual dishonesty:

  • Trying to change the subject in an effort to save face when you’re wrong “Let’s talk about” (insert less threatening subject)
  • Lying to yourself and others
  • Muddying the waters: Any attempt to confuse the issue by introducing irrelevant arguments and information
  • Negative pregnant statements: In response to the question: “Do you owe this person money?” You might reply: “I do not owe this person $1, 000” (implying that you might owe them $500, $1500 or some other amount) (You are changing the question so that you can avoid the question being asked, and answer in such a way that it makes you seem less guilty)
  • Obfuscating the point and purposely making it difficult to understand in order to confuse the listener. From Wikipedia: “Obfuscation is the obscuring of the intended meaning of communication by making the message difficult to understand, usually with confusing and ambiguous language.” This is often accomplished by talking around the point, or by using a lot of technical jargon unlikely to be understood by the listener in order to confuse and deceive them.
  • Planting seeds of doubt in the listeners mind by implying that someone can’t be trusted before they’ve even opened their mouth e.g. “The fact is that Bobby’s a liar and a conman – you can believe him if you want but I definitely wouldn’t – and if you do you’ll be sorry…” (This is known as the “poisoning the well” fallacy)
  • Political correctness at the expense of truth in any way, shape, or form
  • Portraying oneself as an authority or an expert when you’re not
  • Portraying yourself as 100% honest/objective/unbiased, and your opponent/anyone who disagrees with you as dishonest/illogical/stupid
  • Presenting the listener with a false dilemma (presenting them with only two choices/options as if these were their only choices when in reality there are more)
  • Pretending that something happens all the time when it doesn’t, or that it almost never happens when it happens all the time
  • Propaganda in any way/shape/form
  • Refusing to answer questions directly, and instead:
    • Acting as if you were above the question “I’m not going to answer that” (condescending tone)
    • Answering the question with another question “Why don’t you tell me?”
    • Answering a different question that wasn’t asked that better suits your agenda (a favorite trick of politicians)
    • Challenging/questioning the question “Are you sure that’s relevant?” “The REAL question is…”
    • Challenging the source of the question “Who said I said that?”
    • Expanding the parameters of the question, and then asking a different question “What you’re really asking is…” (a favorite trick of christian/religious apologists)
    • Refusing to answer the question “I’ve already answered that question”, “I’m not going to talk about that right now”, “I’ll answer that question at a later date”
    • Talking around in circles saying a whole bunch of nothing instead of stating your point simply and directly (This is known as “Circumlocution”)
    • Trying to get clever with semantics instead of answering questions in the spirit they’re asked
  • Rejecting evidence/facts/logic as “just your opinion” e.g. when someone is provided with powerful evidence against their beliefs they’ll often try to dismiss it by saying “well that’s just your opinion”
  • Speaking in terms so vague they don’t mean anything
  • Speaking with a smug sense of superiority as if you were vastly intellectually superior to others, couldn’t be wrong, and knew it all
  • Staying silent when you know you should be speaking up e.g. if someone says “Does anyone know what happened to my money?” even if you’re not put on the spot and asked that question directly, if you know what happened to the money, by staying silent you’re being intellectually dishonest. Or if you know someone is looking for something you took, you stay silent or try to avoid them/the topic so that they won’t ask you for it and you won’t feel obliged to give it to them. Later when they say “Why didn’t you tell me you had my jeans?” you can reply disingenuously “You didn’t ask!”
  • Stubbornly refusing to change your beliefs or your opinions regardless of how much evidence is provided to the contrary, or how badly someone destroys your argument
  • Trying to get someone to commit to a promise they never made, or trying to use peer pressure against them to get them to commit to something they don’t want to
  • Using meaningless slogans “Support our troops” “Vote for freedom” etc. Slogans like these are impossible to disagree with but also worthless because they don’t say anything and they don’t mean anything

“The point of public relations slogans like “Support our troops” is that they don’t mean anything… That’s the whole point of good propaganda.You want to create a slogan that nobody’s going to be against, and everybody’s going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. Its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: Do you support our policy? That’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about.” – Noam Chomsky

Unfortunately, intellectual dishonesty is incredibly common as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Almost everyone is intellectually dishonest and won’t hesitate to lie/deceive/mislead etc. the second it suits them.

Most people care more about the approval of others, winning arguments, and saving face, than they do about honesty, integrity, or the truth, and for that reason, you need to be aware of the above tactics – and make sure you don’t use them yourself.

Throughout this series I’ll be exploring intellectual honesty/dishonesty in depth, but first, let’s talk about something equally problematic…

47. Don’t be willfully ignorant 

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” – Soren Kierkegaard

It’s one thing to be intellectually lazy – it’s another to be willfully ignorant.

An intellectually lazy person (the vast majority of people) is someone who is too lazy to think for themselves, and can’t be bothered putting in the time and effort it takes to learn something they don’t know.

A willfully ignorant person however is even worse, because they’ve made a conscious choice not only to be intellectually lazy and ignorant – but to turn a blind eye to reality.

Not only do they not know – they don’t want to know – and they don’t want you to tell them:

“I’m not interested”

“I don’t want to hear it”

“I don’t want to know”

“It’s none of my business”

Willful ignorance in a nutshell:

“I don’t know – and I don’t want to know”  

The biggest problems with willful ignorance is:

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley

And what you don’t know can KILL YOU.

See, you can choose to turn a blind eye to reality, but ignoring your problems/reality won’t make them go away any more than turning a blind eye to crime, debt, disease, poverty, rape, or terrorism will make it go away.

Are you willfully ignorant? 

Here are some signs you might be:

  • Your attitude to most things is: “I don’t know – and I don’t want to know”
  • You’re quick to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to something the second it suits you to do so
  • You have a habit of dismissing/ignoring/rejecting any inconvenient facts that conflict with your beliefs and of looking the other way

Why are so many people willfully ignorant?

Why would anyone consciously choose to be willfully ignorant?

  • A desire to escape responsibility – “If I don’t know any better – I’m not responsible”
  • A desire to avoid information that may contradict/disprove their favorite beliefs
  • A feeling that you “can’t handle the truth”  – and therefore, it’s better not to know (If my husband/wife/partner is cheating on me – I’d rather not know because it would kill me)
  • A feeling that there isn’t enough time to know everything – and this information probably isn’t worth knowing
  • An ignorance is bliss mentality “It’s better not to know”
  • If you’re doing something immoral that makes you a lot of money (like selling cocaine or scamming people) you probably don’t want to know how it’s affecting your customers negatively and ruining their lives
  • Intellectually laziness – “I don’t need to know that” “It’s none of my business”
  • If you’re falling in love/in love with someone you may choose to turn a blind eye to their faults, so you can continue to see only the best in them
  • If you’re pursuing your dreams/starting your own business you may want to remain willfully ignorant to the high probabilities of failure in order to keep your spirits up and stay positive

However if you want to get smarter you cannot be willfully ignorant. It’s as simple as that.

You need to face facts and align your beliefs with reality. No matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable it might be.

“The sin which is unpardonable is knowingly and willfully to reject truth, to fear knowledge lest that knowledge pander not to thy prejudices.” – Aleister Crowley

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

46. Avoid self-deception

“The worst of all deceptions is self-deception” – Plato

Self-deception is a special kind of intellectual dishonesty that deserves it’s own mention.

Whilst a willfully ignorant person has consciously chosen to be ignorant of the facts, someone practicing self-deception is lying to themselves about what the facts are, and then actively trying to fool themselves into believing their own lies.

What is self-deception?

Self-deception is about:

  • Lying to yourself and believing whatever you want to believe in order to make yourself feel better
  • Believing things that aren’t true, whilst simultaneously believing refusing to believe the things that are true
  • Seeing yourself the way you want to see yourself, instead of the way you are

Why do we lie to ourselves and practice self-deception?

  • As a defense mechanism because we don’t want to face an uncomfortable fact, or unpleasant reality
  • To avoid feeling negative emotions of anger, fear, insecurity, worry, regret, guilt, shame etc.
  • To avoid taking action/responsibility for things we need to change about our lives but can’t be bothered: addictions to alcohol/coffee/sugar/porn/weed, a bad diet, a crappy job, credit card debt, toxic relationships etc. “It’s not a big deal that I drink/smoke weed every day” “My job sucks but it’ll get better” “My diet sucks and I’m massively overweight but I’ll go on a diet next week”
  • To convince ourselves that our addictions, bad behavior, bad habits, problems, weaknesses etc. aren’t really that bad “Nobody’s perfect”
  • To convince ourselves that we don’t really want something we can’t have, or that we’re too afraid to go for “I don’t really want it anyway”
  • To make ourselves feel better about something we can’t control, feel powerless to change, or feel insecure about “It’s meant to be this that way”
  • To make ourselves feel better when things aren’t going our way “It’s just temporary” “He didn’t really mean that” “There’s always next time”
  • Because it’s incredibly tempting to believe whatever you want to believe “I’m a winner” “I’m smart” “I’m beautiful/handsome/sexy” etc. whereas telling yourself the truth might be horrifying “I’m broke” “I’m a loser” “I have no friends”

Ultimately people lie to themselves for the same reason they do anything: To avoid pain and to feel better in the moment.

Common lies we tell ourselves

Here are some common lies we tell ourselves:

  • I’m fine
  • I don’t care what anyone thinks
  • I’m not hurt – I’m just angry
  • I’m over it, I don’t even think about it anymore
  • I’ll do it tomorrow/next week
  • I’ve got time, this can wait
  • I’ve done my best
  • I’ve done everything I could have
  • I don’t need anyone else
  • I won’t do that again
  • I’l start my diet next week
  • I’m not addicted
  • I don’t have a problem
  • If I ignore it – it’ll go away
  • I’m not insecure/nervous/scared/worried
  • It’s not about the money
  • I make decisions logically based on the evidence, not emotionally based on habit
  • It’s not my fault – it’s theirs, it’s them – not me
  • I had nothing to do with this
  • This person will change

What lies do you tell yourself?

What are you pretending not to know?

Advantages of self-deception

I’d be lying to you (and intellectually dishonest!) if I pretended that self-deception didn’t sometimes have it’s advantages.

Obviously it does or no one would ever lie to themselves.

  • It can help you. Often people that believe they’re blessed, ‘gifted’, ‘lucky’, special, ‘destined for greatness’ etc. – act like it and go on to achieve great things
  • If you believe your own bullshit it’s easier to convince others of it, because you’ll be congruent in the lie, and not see it as a lie e.g. If you want others to believe you’re the best man/woman for the job – you better believe it first. If you don’t believe it, no one else will believe it either

Why you should avoid self-deception and stop lying to yourself

What’s wrong with self-deception? What’s wrong with lying to yourself?

Despite the advantages of self-deception, there are a lot of disadvantages to it:

  • The biggest problem with lying to yourself and pretending you’re not addicted, angry, hurt, upset etc. when you are, is that it masks your problem and removes your incentive to solve it. e.g. If you pretend to be skinny when you’re fat, there’s no incentive to lose weight. If you pretend not to be addicted to alcohol/cigarettes/coffee/sugar/porn/weed there’s not incentive to do anything about your addiction. Why would you? You’re not addicted!
  • Self-deception/lying to yourself doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t improve anything. It doesn’t make anything better. It just wastes valuable time that could actually be spent improving the thing you’re lying to yourself about.
  • Self-deception makes you delusional. It puts you out of touch with reality and makes you believe things that aren’t true, whilst simultaneously refusing to believe things that are true

How to avoid self-deception

Avoiding self-deception is NOT easy.

“Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

It’s tempting to believe whatever you want to believe. That’s why everyone does it.

But if you want to get smarter, you must make a commitment to be brutally honest and to tell yourself the truth always. Even if you don’t like it. Even if it hurts. Even if it makes you feel embarrassed, insecure, less than etc.

How to avoid self-deception:

  • Make a commitment to intellectually honesty
  • Refuse to be intellectually dishonest
  • Refuse to be willfully ignorant
  • Stop lying to yourself. Don’t lie to yourself about your addictions, insecurities, weaknesses or anything else. Acknowledge them. Accept them. Then work hard to change them.
  • Don’t avoid, deny, ignore, or try to suppress negative emotions and/or memories. Instead acknowledge and accept them, and if you can do something to change or improve the situation – do so. Otherwise accept it.

I’ll go into self-awareness in more depth throughout this series, but for now I’ll just say that you don’t get there by lying to yourself, or by believing whatever you want to believe and living in fantasy land.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Summary

I consider:

  • Intellectual laziness
  • Intellectual dishonesty
  • Willful ignorance
  • Self-deception

To be four of the biggest hindrances to higher intelligence.

Let’s do a quick recap of this weeks points:

50. Intellectual laziness: Having an attitude of mental laziness, and being too lazy to learn, study, or think

49. Intellectual honesty: A commitment to honesty in your thinking and reasoning, even when it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable, and doesn’t suit you or your argument

48. Intellectual dishonesty: “I refuse to be honest in my thinking and reasoning or to follow the evidence where it leads, and I don’t care if I’m being illogical or irrational”

47. Willful ignorance: Consciously choosing to be ignorant of the facts. Being unwilling to listen and learn. Having the attitude: “I don’t know – and I don’t want to know”

46. Self-deception: “I’ll lie to myself and believe whatever I want to believe – regardless of whether it’s true or not because it makes me feel good”

As we go forward in this series I’ll be going into a lot more detail about critical thinking, cognitive biases, logical fallacies and more.

It was important however that we covered these core principles here in part one.

If you would like to read the other parts in this series here they are:

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 2 

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 3

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 4

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 5

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 6

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 7

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 8

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 9

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 10

You might also like to check out my article: How to Learn: 21 Smart Strategies

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