How to get better at changing your mind
From an article by Behavioral Scientist
Changing our minds is hard, even in the most favourable conditions. There’s the risk of looking inconsistent or like you lack conviction; if you’re a politician, a flip-flopper. But there’s more to it than that.
Changing your mind, more often than not, requires you to grapple with your own identity. Admitting that you were wrong feels personal. We have to face the fact that we’ve been walking around the world all this time believing in something that isn’t true. Even worse, we have to admit that we’re the type of person who walks around being wrong. We know what we think of other people who do that—ugh, how embarrassing!
And yet, how freeing it is to admit we were wrong or that we don’t know something. A weight suddenly lifted from our minds, like telling the truth after holding in a lie. But not only freeing, valuable too. No longer burdened by the need to be right, we have the chance to learn something new, and to better understand the world.
Psychologist Adam Grant wants to make that freeing feeling easier to come by and the rewards easier to reap. In his latest book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, Adam investigates why we struggle to update our ideas and opinions and how we can get better at it. The book, he writes, “is an invitation to let go of knowledge and opinions that are no longer serving you well, and to anchor your sense of self in flexibility, rather than consistency.”
Evan Nesterak, director of Behavioural Scientist, interviewed Adam and here are some insights:
Two broad lessons I drew from early personal experience. One is that it is really easy to do your rethinking in the rearview mirror, to look back and say, "Well, I should have been more open to that idea." In hindsight it’s so clear, but it’s hard to see it in the moment. Secondly, there are always people in these moments who challenge our thinking. What I’ve done in too many of these situations is dismiss them, because they didn’t agree with me. If somebody sees an idea, or an opportunity, or forms an opinion that is different from mine, I should say, "This is an interesting opportunity to learn something from someone who sees things differently from me, and I wonder if they know something I don’t." I guess it’s a lesson in intellectual humility?
Then, I gave a talk on some of my research on givers and takers. I didn’t realize that Danny Kahneman was in the audience. He is a living legend, and one of the great social scientists of all time. I’m doing this double take as I’m walking offstage, and Danny is there. He stops me, and he says, “That was wonderful. I was wrong.” His eyes twinkled as he said it, and he lit up.
Danny is not somebody who walks around beaming all the time, so I was struck by the reaction and intrigued by these two sentences that normally would contradict each other. Normally, what you expect people to say is, “That was wonderful, I was right.” Or, “Actually, you’re wrong. Let me tell you why.”
I ended up sitting down with him and asking him to explain this reaction. He said something to the effect of, "No one enjoys being wrong, but I do enjoy having been wrong, because it means I am now less wrong than I was before."
It was a lightbulb moment for me. Danny, even when his core beliefs are attacked or threatened, seems to take joy in having been wrong, even on things that he believes deeply. And so I asked him about that—why, and how?
On the why question, he said, "Finding out that I was wrong is the only way I’m sure that I’ve learned anything. Otherwise, I’m just going around and living in a world that’s dominated by confirmation bias, or desirability bias. And I’m just affirming the things I already think I know."
On the how part, he said for him it’s about attachment. He thinks there are good ideas everywhere, and his attachment to his ideas is very provisional. He doesn’t fall in love with them, they don’t become part of his identity. That ability to detach and say, look, your ideas are not your identity. They’re just hypotheses. Sometimes they’re accurate. More often, they’re wrong or incomplete. And that’s part of what being not only a social scientist, but just a good thinker is all about.
In the light of the pandemic, protests and politics, one thing I rethought in a major way while writing this book was really fueled by the emergence of binary thinking - the both sides idea. I came in assuming that the best solution to the polarization problem was to show people the other side. I’ve completely rethought that. I now think that the both-sides perspective is not part of the solution, it actually exacerbates the polarization problem. That’s largely because it’s so easy for us to fall victim to binary bias, where you take a very complex spectrum of opinions and attitudes, you oversimplify it into two categories, and when you do that you know which tribe you belong to; the other side is clearly wrong and maybe bad too. It just locks people into preaching about why they’re right and prosecuting everyone on the other side for being wrong.
I do not want to have both-sides conversations anymore. Whenever somebody says, here’s the other side, my first question is, Can you tell me what the third angle and the fourth look like?
I think when we encounter people who disagree with us on charged issues, it is worth thinking about no matter how passionately I feel about a given issue, could I imagine having grown up in a family or in a country, or in an era, where, because of my experiences and the people that I knew, I might believe different things? That allows me to be open to rethinking my animosity toward people who believe those things. It allows me to recognize that their beliefs have the capacity to change, just like mine could have.
Read the full article here.
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