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Problem Solving

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Our self-esteem and human misjudgment

Our self-esteem is vital for personal well-being and happiness. People with higher self-esteem are more satisfied with their lives.

But sometimes, life doesn't give us any reasons for self-love. We get fired, or a relationship ends. Under the influence of bias from self-interest, we may change the facts so that they become acceptable. In some cases, this can grow harmful.

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Problem Solving

A person with a strong self-serving bias may have little capacity to assess a situation objectively.

In his speech, The psychology of human misjudgment, Charlie Munger considers the tendencies of serious criminals in Tolstoy's novels.

The criminals defend themselves in one of two ways:

  • They are either in denial of committing the crime.
  • They think that the crime is justifiable in light of their hardships.

Denial happens when we have a serious thought about reality but decide to ignore it. For example, discovering a dark spot on your skin that you want to ignore. Later, it becomes darker, and eventually, you may visit the doctor. Some denial may serve as a buffer to absorb the information, but once denial becomes the default coping mechanism, it can amplify our problems and cause harm.

The psychological effects of drug addiction and alcoholism can lead people to believe that they have remained in a respectable condition with good prospects even if they continue to deteriorate.

We go to great lengths to preserve our self-image, even when we engage in behaviours that are inconsistent with our inner self-image. We may use phrases such as "not telling the truth is not lying", "I didn't have the time" to justify our actions.

The drive to save face is so strong that it often overrules and contradicts the effects of rewards and punishments. We may ignore our moral compass and instead find rationales for the bad, but fixable, choices that we repeat when it suits us.

When we face a decision whose consequences are morally ambiguous, the first choice starts the process of entrapment. It leads us to justify our actions, which leads to further action in the wrong direction, which increases the intensity of our choice. This causes a vicious cycle of self-justification.

The implication is that if we don't draw the line, our habits and circumstances will do it for us.

We will do dumb things. However, we are not doomed to live in denial or keep trying to justify our actions. We can choose to correct our tendencies when we recognise them.

We can break the self-justification habit by reflecting on our behaviour and the reasons for our behaviour. Resisting the urge for self-justification is not easy, but it is much better than letting it cripple the integrity of our behaviours.

On a personal level, Charlie Munger suggests we should face two facts:

  1. Correctable, but unfixed bad performance is bad character and may make more of itself and cause more damage.
  2. In demanding places, like sports teams, excuses and bad behaviour will prevent progress.

On an institutional level, Munger suggests:

  1. Building a fair, meritocratic culture and methods of handling people that build up morale.
  2. Separate the worst offenders when possible.

These are usually long-winded, boring documents that are purely written for academic rather than entertainment value. These are usually found in textbooks, case studies, business reports, financial analysis reports, and many more.

  1. Find a good place to read - your reading environment has a huge impact on how much text you cover and how much information you retain. It's best to have a well-lit, quiet, and comfortable reading environment
  2. SQ3R Reading method - stands for survey, question, read, review, and recite
  3. Learn to Speed Read
  4. Read Backwards - not lietrally, but it can be easier for you to locate the important topics when you read the conclusion or the context summary before reading the rest of the chapter
Describing Functional Fixedness

It is the tendency to see objects as only working in a particular way. You might view a thumbtack as something that can only be used to hold paper to a corkboard.

Functional fixedness can prevent people from seeing other uses for an object. It can also diminish our ability to think of creative solutions to problems.

If you have two candles, numerous thumbtacks, and a box of matches, try to figure out how to mount the candles to the wall.
Answer: Using the matches, melt the bottom part of each candle, then use the hot wax to stick the candle to the matchbox. Then use the thumbtacks to attach the box to the wall.

Due to functional fixedness, many people might try to use the thumbtacks directly to fix the candles to the wall. They may consider it as the only way to use the thumbtacks.

Most of us understand probability and the likelihood of certain things to happen, or not happening, but still do not fully believe in it. For us, it’s about right and wrong, black or white.


Example: Nate Silver(a numbers guy) said in 2016 that Hillary Clinton has a 72 percent chance to win. This didn’t mean he was wrong when Clinton lost, but most people believed he was.

  • The pandemic death toll predictions are probabilities but the newspapers keep them as benchmark numbers which will be held against the experts.
  • In investing, stock predictions that come true are hailed on CNBC, as if those people have some superpower.

Probability gets sidelined because:


  • People want certainty, not accuracy. It’s more appealing to make them feel better(with lies, if required) than to give them cold, hard data.
  • There are not many chances to measure our prediction skills, with sufficient sample sizes taking long to play out.
  • People don’t really understand what odds mean, as their beliefs and preferences of what should happen, takes precedence over probability.
  • Evocation: it is evoked spontaneously without intention.
  • Transcendence: it involves a moment of clarity and awareness of new possibilities.
  • Approach motivation: it pushes us to transmit, express, or actualize a new idea or vision.

Inspiration involves both being inspired by something and acting on that inspiration.

It opens us to new possibilities by allowing us to go beyond our ordinary experiences and limitations. Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities. 

And the good news is that it can be activated, captured, and manipulated, and it has a major effect on important life outcomes.

Inspired people report higher levels of important psychological resources, including belief in their own abilities, self-esteem, and optimism.

Mastery of work, absorption, creativity, perceived competence, self-esteem, and optimism are all consequences of inspiration.

Inspiration is not the same as positive affect.

Inspiration involves elevated levels of positive affect and task involvement and lower levels of negative affects, but it is more meaningful and driven than a mere positive feeling.

Inspiration births creativity. Inspired people view themselves as more creative and show actual increases in self-ratings of creativity over time.

The link between inspiration and creativity is consistent with the transcendent aspect of inspiration since creativity involves seeing possibilities beyond existing constraints.

Inspiration facilitates progress toward goals.

The pursuit of goals is more successful among inspired individuals, with them experiencing more purpose in life and more gratitude.

Inspiration increases well-being due to the overall positive affect, purpose and gratitude that inspired people exhibit.

Inspiration is also more strongly related to future than to present satisfaction.

  • Using strategic vision to motivate and inspire.
  • Empowering employees at all levels.
  • Accumulating and sharing internal knowledge.
  • Gathering and integrating external information.
  • Challenging the status quo and enabling creativity.

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