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Here’s the tricky thing with beliefs: we all think ours are correct. When actually, almost everything we believe, at some point in our lives, will eventually be at least partially wrong. Yet, we never think about this. After all, if we didn’t think our ideas were right, we wouldn’t believe in them!
But our beliefs are never completely correct. In fact, psychologically speaking, we’re
So, if we accept this as our starting point:
The next question becomes, “What’s the best way to determine which of my beliefs are incorrect?”
What’s a process we can develop for questioning ourselves and
Well, a logical starting point would be to name many of the most common mistaken beliefs we tend to hold onto. That’s right, there are basic beliefs and assumptions that you and I regularly buy into with little basis in reality.
The goal of this article is to help you begin to question these basic beliefs and assumptions. Then, ideally, that ability to self-question will extend to other beliefs you hold as well.
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On the surface, this seems like it would be an empowering belief. The reasoning goes that if you believe you know what you’re doing, you’ll have
But this is just another version of the
See? In the wrong hands, confidence can be a problem.
Research shows that if you have overly strong convictions about what you’re doing, you will justify a lot of your own bullshit. You’ll be less open to constructive feedback. And you’ll likely ignore a lot of good ideas and other, better options.
In other words, there’s a fine line between “knowing what you’re doing” and ego.
The antidote to this ego is simply accepting the fact that you
Ironically, it’s an expert’s ability to know what they don’t know that allows them to learn more in the first place. Again, research shows that the ability to adapt to change is a much better predictor of competence in pretty much every area of life.
Sounds simple, but it’s not easy for most of us.
You know how when you were a kid and you’d want to do something and your parents said you couldn’t and you’d say, “It’s not fair!” to which they’d reply, “Life isn’t fair.”
Yeah, I hated that shit, too. But then you grow up and you start to see that Mom and Dad were kinda right. Life isn’t fair. In fact, you couldn’t even conceive of all of the dimensions in which life indiscriminately gives good things to some and bad things to others.
OK, so you’ve heard that before. But allow me to propose something that might blow your mind.
What if the issue isn’t life’s unfairness? What if the issue is our definition of “fair?”
Obviously, every decent, thinking human being believes that people are morally equal—i.e., no individual’s life is inherently more valuable or more important than anyone else’s.
But then, from that, many of us extrapolate the assumption that we should therefore all experience the same pleasures and suffer the same pains.
And that simply doesn’t make sense.
After all, how do we know how much one person suffers and whether it’s more or less than ourselves? How do we know whether something horrible today isn’t life’s greatest gift ten years from now? Or that what we love today will completely screw us over a year in the future?
Leave the “fairness” argument for the court of law. In our day-to-day lives, this whole idea of “fairness”—like life is “unfair” because the economy crashed right as my
Look, it’s not “fair” that I’m not as handsome as Brad Pitt or that I grew up in a place that was really into tractors or that I have a rare genetic blood condition that could kill me by the time I’m 60.
But I’m still gonna do shit, anyway. Hell, I’m going to do it even harder and faster because of those drawbacks. And that’s what matters.
There are things in life we control. And there are things in life we do not control. Put your time and energy towards the things you can control and fuck the rest.
I think on some level, perhaps, most people understand that materialism and conspicuous consumption are ultimately hollow pursuits. And yet, we all still fall into the “more is better” trap in one way or another.
That’s because even when we reject one type of consumerism, we almost always replace it with another.
For example, a lot of millennials rejected the goal of having a big house with a big lawn and two big cars in a big garage in their big suburban neighborhood like their parents had.
But many of these same people have simply replaced material consumption with experiential consumption. They want to travel more, see more, do more—have more fun, more friends, more options, more, more, more.
Whether we’re chasing material wealth or a wealth of experiences, we’re almost always doing it for the same reason: to fill that empty void we feel inside of ourselves.
And yet, having more options at our disposal tends to make us more miserable instead of happier.
Don’t get me wrong, new experiences and new people and new places are all great teachers in life. It’s just that, at a certain point, there’s a diminishing return on “more, more, more.”
So, I’ve argued that in order to find meaning and purpose in our lives, we almost always have to do the opposite. We have to focus on
Look, goals are great. I’m a fan. Everyone should have some goals in life. You will be aimless without them. But goals also have some
Goals are supposed to be a means to an end. But sometimes when we become so committed to achieving them, they become an end themselves. We decide to lose 15 pounds because we think it will make us happy. But we get so caught up in the goal emotionally that we base our
In the first case, sometimes our failure to achieve goals makes us feel more hopeless and desperate. Sometimes our goals cause us to do shady shit that we’re not proud of later.
Similarly, even when we achieve our goals, if we’re too invested in them, we feel empty afterwards. There’s a brief high, a sort of ecstasy of, “Fuck yeah, I did it!” followed by a bewilderment and, “Oh shit, what do I do now?”
There’s a saying in Silicon Valley: “Strong opinions, held loosely.”
Well, I say, “Bold goals, held loosely.” The point of goals is not necessarily to accomplish them. Most of the value in them is that they give you direction. They give you something to work towards and ways to improve yourself. The exact quantity of that improvement is less important.
Speaking of self-improvement…
Beware: self-improvement can become a low-level addiction.
I see it all the time. People
Anything to give them an “edge.”
This sort of self-obsession can maximize productivity, but it absolutely guts your emotional life. The dangers of becoming an obsessive self-help addict are many:
To improve something, you must objectify it. And once you objectify something, you take away much of the inherent pleasure, intimacy, or trust that comes with it.
It’s important to develop an interest and capacity for self-improvement. But it’s also important to develop an interest and capacity in non-improvement. Ironically, every once in a while, the most useful thing you can do is not useful. It’s to just sit and play a video game, drink a beer, laugh with a friend, talk to your kid,
Our beliefs help us make sense of our chaotic, messy world. They help us act on incomplete information.
If you’re constantly overspending, unable to save money, and always feel like you’re behind on bills, what
You have to be skeptical of your own beliefs, of your bullshit. There’s a skill to observing, questioning, and then updating your beliefs. It’s a skill we must develop and get good at.
Ultimately, every belief will
Therefore, it’s not so much about adopting the correct beliefs, as much as adopting the process of being able to update our beliefs.
Beliefs give us a mental manual on how to operate in the world. And if you keep running into the same problems over and over again in your life, it’s probably time to update your manual.
We all think we know ourselves well, but psychological studies show otherwise. In fact, most of us are somewhat deluded about ourselves. I put together a 22-page ebook explaining how we can come to know ourselves better, just fill out your email in the form.
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That is why we believe them. In reality, almost everything we believe will eventually be at least partially wrong.
Since some of our beliefs are probably partially incorrect, the best way to spot them is to question some basic beliefs and assumptions.
The reasoning behind this belief is that if you believe you know what you're doing, you'll have more confidence, and you'll do it better.
This may sound nice at first glance, but confidence can also make us justify our own position. We'll be less open to constructive feedback and likely ignore a lot of good ideas and better options. To adapt to change , you have to be open to be wrong in the first place.
The issue with this statement is with our definition of "fair." We do not know how much one person suffers and whether it's more or less than we do. We also don't know whether something we find terrible today isn't life's greatest gift ten years from now.
There are things in life we can control and things we can't. Put your time and energy towards those things you can control.
"More is better" is a trap we fall into even though most people understand that materialism and conspicuous consumption are really empty pursuits. We want to travel more, see more, do more, more friends, more options, more, more, more.
More options tend to make us more unhappy instead of happier. We have to focus on a handful of pursuits and people and focus on them passionately.
Goals are great to have. You will be aimless without them. But goals do have some dangers. At times we become so obsessed with our goals that we sacrifice other parts of our life. And when we achieve our goals, if we're too invested in them, we feel empty afterwards.
Goals cannot make you happy. Goals are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. They are only supposed to give some direction.
Self-improvement has one dangerous drawback: the sense that it's accomplishing something can become a low-level addition. In the process, it will gut your emotional life.
The most meaningful moments in life do not show up on your calendar or to-do list. There is often value in doing something that provides no value. Drink a beer, laugh with a friend, talk to your kid, read a book, then sleep a little too late.
We can never be 100% right about anything. There is always room for improvement. If your dating life is a continuous disaster, consider your beliefs about relationships, for example, believing that people are only interested in relationships for what they can get out of it. Or, if you're continually overspending, consider your beliefs about money.
If you keep running into the same problems over and over again in your life, it's probably time to update your beliefs.
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