How Not to Fool Yourself

 

how not to fool yourself

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

–Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist

Have you ever listened to someone drone on and on about a topic, displaying incredible confidence in their knowledge about the subject, and yet you knew they were full of crap and in over their heads?

You may have witnessed The Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is named after a Cornell University study done in 1999 by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. The study is about self-awareness and incompetence. Roughly summed up, it says incompetent persons often display disturbing levels of self-confidence and superiority because they lack the ability to 1) recognize competence and expertise and therefore 2) are unaware of their own incompetence. That’s why we have YouTube and reality television “celebrities” who can’t see that they are not in reality what they are in their heads.

It sucks to admit you suck at something. But those affected by the Dunning-Kruger Effect are blissfully unaware of how little they know. This has consequences for lots of people. It is not surprising that Google searches for the Dunning-Kruger Effect have increased quite a bit in the past three years. You can do the math on that one.

So how do you avoid the trap of thinking you are better at something than you really are? Here are some tips:

  • Read, listen and view widely on your work, interests, hobbies and passions. Assume that your knowledge is deficient and needs regular updates and additions. Be committed to continuous learning in every form.
  • Get feedback on those things you’re working on. These might include things like photography, sports, writing, performing and fine arts, leadership, finance, etc. It’s best if the feedback you seek is objective and searching. Your mom and dad will always love your art work but seek the critique of a professional artist if you want to improve. A pro who cares will tell you if your work is lacking and how to improve. A loved one who did well with his investments told me, more than once, “When you have money, go to those who understand money; don’t go to your friends.
  • Set the bar high. Look to the best of the best and follow their advice and practices. When I’m studying classical guitar, I listen to Andrés Segovia. When I’m trying to improve my writing, I pay attention to Stephen King. When I’m trying to improve my leadership and self-differentiation skills, I go to Edwin Friedman. For investment advice, it’s Warren Buffett.

This is first in a series of posts that will deal with ways in which we regularly fool ourselves and how to avoid them. We’ll help each other avoid the banana peels.

Suggested Resources:

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself (David McRaney)

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (Richard P. Feynman)

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Showing Up or Phoning It In?

showing up or phoning it in

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1988, I was hired as the sole manager of a full-line bakery in Upstate New York. I was twenty-four years old and newly married. The owner of the bakery lived a hundred miles away. We did business twenty-four hours a day, 364 days a year. We closed for Christmas; that was it. I was on call always. I learned to get on well with fatigue, my constant buddy.

I learned a lot during the two and a half years I managed the business. One lesson I learned early was the importance of your attitude toward your work, however menial or apparently insignificant. That first year I had one particular employee who worked the counter as one of our bakery clerks. This lady was bright, but not very motivated to keep busy in her tasks, which included waiting on customers and preparing baked goods for the showcases. She told me one day, “When I get a real job, then I will work hard.” (Apparently preparing and selling food, a basic life necessity, didn’t qualify as real work.) Eventually she moved on.

That is the one thing I remember about her. She came to work but she didn’t show up. She punched the clock and did minimal enough work to ensure she didn’t get fired. But she didn’t try. Her attitude colored everything. I’ve wondered a lot over three decades where she ended up in life.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. The best you can. We cheat ourselves and our colleagues when we give the least amount of effort necessary rather than being a professional and acting like it.

Here’s a few reality checks that will help you:

  • What is your attitude as you approach work? Is it engaged and focused, or passive and listless? Trust me, those to whom you report or who report to you can tell the difference.
  • With your tasks, how attentive are you to the details? It’s in the details that excellence and mediocrity part ways. Take the time to do it right. The first time.
  • Are you committed to continuous learning and improvement in your work or do you stay only as current as you need to keep afloat? Doing the latter will catch up with you, eventually; doing the former will serve you.

Suggested Resources:

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life  (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

The Success Principles(TM) – 10th Anniversary Edition: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Jack Canfield with Janet Switzer)

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Failure ≠ Final

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

(Thomas Edison)

 

Suggested Resources:

Edison: A Biography (Matthew Josephson)

Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success (John C. Maxwell)

Hannibal and Me: What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure (Andreas Kluth)

 

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Mind Body Connection: Depression Hacks

If you deal with depression, sporadically or regularly, please read.

I’ve dealt with depression in varying degrees for decades.  It’s not pleasant but a reality for many of us.

Recently I’ve been learning new things about the connection between one’s physiology and the thoughts in the mind.  When you experience depression, so much of it manifesting in an array of unpleasant thoughts (“you’re a failure” “things can’t get better” “life sucks” etc.) and brooding dismal feelings, it’s very difficult to make the connection to your body.  Your physiology—the way your body functions—has a lot to do with your encounter with depression.  More than you know.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor so this is not to be taken as professional advice from one trained in medicine.  If you suffer from more than mild depression, please seek help from someone trained in medicine and psychotherapy and psychopharmacology.

I’ve learned a few things that help.  Here they are and the cost is zero or minimal:

  • Get into the sunlight. Exposure to sunlight, without sunglasses, is helpful for increasing your levels of serotonin, which is indispensable for dealing with depression.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that gives you the feeling of well-being.  You’ll need to do this for more than a few minutes.  I know two people, one of whom is a child of mine, who moved from the cold, wintry region of northern New York (with very long, cold and dark winters) to Southern California.  When they either returned to northern New York or reflected on their lives there, they remarked at how little sun there is and how a lot of sun affected their sense of happiness and joie de vivre.  No surprise that in areas where there is a lot of precipitation and darkness, the rates of alcohol consumption and other addictions go up.  They’ve even taken steps—via sun lamps—in Scandinavian countries to counteract this.  SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a very real phenomenon
  • Exercise regularly.  Do cardio—whether gym, walking, or workouts in your own home.  I love weight lifting.  Exercise boosts helpful endorphins.  We were made to move, not sit.  The reality of sedentary occupations and lifestyles in our time means we have to be intentional about this.
  • Listen to jazz or rock and roll in the dark and cold months. I learned this on my own.  For example, I love film scores.  But during the dark and cool months, it’s best for me to listen to music that lifts me, energizes me and gives a sense of play and rowdiness.  Heavily emotive music is best for those months with lots of sunshine.  So the score to Schindler’s List is better at other times, as much as I love it.
  • Get with people, especially those who love you. There’s nothing like good friends and family to quash monsters of the mind.  Isolation only makes things bleaker.

We’ll explore this more in future posts.  This is something many of us endure and deal with.  So any helps here will improve our quality of life.

 

Suggested Resources:

 

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (David D. Burns)

The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time (Alex Korb & Daniel J. Siegel)

 

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKJxxq74c-8

 

Ask the Right Questions

“Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” (Anthony Robbins)

I once asked one of the pupils of the late Dr. Edwin Friedman why his teacher was so effective as a Family Therapist.  His answer was telling.

“Ed Friedman was a rabbi.  And rabbis tend to deal in questions rather than answers.  I like to ask questions because they lead to better questions.”

One of the secrets of life is to ask the right questions of life, of people, of literature.  It’s known that one secret to successful comprehension of a book is that one must ask the right questions of the book.  You don’t ask of a science text, say A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking), what you would of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

Here are some helpful questions you should be asking yourself:

  • What do I really want from my life? Corollary is do I know what it is to want versus having a passing interest in a thing?
  • Who do I spend the most time with? And is this helping me or hurting me? “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn)
  • Am I simply going with the flow of interest and information that floods the news and social media? Or do I take the time to get to the truth and separate as much fact, fiction and bias as I can?

There are other questions.  These will get us started.  More in the coming blogs.

 

Suggested Resources:

Friedman’s Fables (Edwin H. Friedman)

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren)

http://sourcesofinsight.com/day-20-ask-better-questions-get-better-results/

 

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“You Can’t Outsmart the Work”

Chris, Jeff and I all went to the same school to work in our respective Master’s programs back in the early 2000’s.  Our studies were challenging and we enjoyed our learning experience.

Jeff went on to earn a Ph.D in Leadership Studies at a fine school on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.  Those pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree spend a lot of time in books and writing, like their counterparts in the medical and legal professions, to name just two disciplines.

Some time later, Chris and Jeff got together—reflecting on their educational journeys.  Their conversation went along these lines.

Chris:  “So, how is your Ph.D program going, Jeff.  I bet it’s intense.”

Jeff:  “For sure.  I’ve never read and wrote so much in my life.”

Chris:  “What does it take to get through a Ph.D program?”

Jeff:  “You’d be surprised.”

Chris:  “Oh really?  What do you mean?”

Jeff:  “Well, the ones who make it through a doctoral program like this aren’t the ones you’d expect.”

Chris:  “Really.  Who make it through and who don’t?”

Jeff:  “Not the geniuses.  The ‘Einsteins’ are the ones who wash out.”

Chris:  “Really?! Why?” (This goes against the standard assumptions of genius and success.)

Jeff:  “Because you can’t outsmart the work.

 

Well.

 

There is gold here.  And it is this.  There is no substitute for putting in your time and paces to earn a high degree/platform or income.  10,000 hour rule again.   One could fairly apply the 19th century label of “snake oil” to a lot of get-rich-quick schemes and thinking that so many of us gravitate to to make as much money in as little time with as little effort as possible.

We cheat ourselves when we do this.  Self-deception is delicious but it bites hard in the end.

Here’s a couple of quotes to ponder on the value of hard work:

  • “Wizard?  Pshaw. It’s plain hard work that does it.” (Thomas Edison, on being called a wizard)
  • “I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.” (Johann Sebastian Bach, author of over 1000 musical works in all sorts of genres)
  • “The only way to escape the personal corruption of praise is to go on working. One is tempted to stop and listen to it. The only thing is to turn away and go on working. Work. There is nothing else.” (Albert Einstein)

Questions:

  • Do you love work or loathe it, seeking to avoid it if at all possible?
  • If you loathe your work, what can you do to change your approach to it? Perhaps cultivate a new field of work, a new discipline?
  • Are you aware of the genius/talent discussion embodied in the “10,000 hour rule” and the Edisonian maxim, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration?” As a counter to the rule read here.

 

Suggested Resources:

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (Geoff Colvin)

Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)

 

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You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I’ve used this phrase a lot over the past year or so.  I did not know that it originated with Socrates, one of the greatest minds in human history.

“You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know” means….

  • You are aware that you have blind spots and a limited, human perspective on everything.
  • You, therefore, will not become complacent and assume a kind of dangerous omniscience about any matter of life. Thus….
  • You will be continually learning. Every day.  Until your heart quits.
  • You realize that the first step to becoming a truly educated person is to come face-to-face with your own ignorance.
  • You will carry yourself humbly, not with arrogance, knowing how little you really know about everything.
  • You will be less inclined to opine and pontificate with the rest of the human race, especially when your opinion is not asked for or wanted.

Suggested Resources:

Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen (Michael A. Roberto)

The Magic of Thinking Big (David J. Schwartz)

 

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