How do our beliefs affect our interpretation of reality? Do I change the narrative of what others say to fit with my beliefs?
These questions came about when a person told me they loved Trump after they came to understand him through research. Yet they didn’t extend this same level of curiosity to Biden. The person reminded me of the value of seeing an argument (or any conflict) from both sides. (You can read more on this incident here and how I learned from it.).
We all tend to interpret and remember information in a way that fits with our prior beliefs and values (also called confirmation bias). In the past, I would have found certain biases to be overwhelming. But I now use smaller questions to help me break things down more logically and figure out a way to approach things
For example, in the past when I’d hear calls to help end poverty globally, I would feel so overwhelmed. My mind would race with questions. Eventually I would just move on and try to forget about these matters because they seemed far too big for me to deal with. But recently, I’ve begun to approach things differently. In my recent post, “Help Locally to Heal Globally,” I had an insight about how to tackle large scale problems by starting close to home.
For any cause we hear about, there is often data to show why we need to address a crisis now rather than later. With climate change, there is so much scientific data that demonstrates how bad the crisis is, and how much it continues to get worse. But it seems no matter what the data shows, we as human beings aren’t wired to act on complex statistical information – even if it comes from sound scientific methods and data. It’s just too complex for us to make sense of in the moment. So we tend to look the other way.
We care a lot more about what is tangible TODAY rather than what “might happen” in the distant future. Behavioral scientists call this “hyperbolic discounting.” This refers to the tendency for people to increasingly choose a “smaller-sooner” reward over a “larger-later” reward. We’re more able to grasp a potential catastrophe if we know it will be done and over within a couple of hours. On the other hand, we resist when the reality of “fixing” the crisis will be spread out over a longer period of time.
These two articles talk about why we ignore things and why those little things we ignore turn into HUGE problems years later.
- Michele Wucker: Why we ignore obvious problems — and how to act on them | TED Talk
- Why We Need to Deal with Problems Before They’re Problems (teach4theheart.com)
It’s important to understand this phenomenon if we want to change how we approach large scale problems that really matter. While it’s essential to address these problems, we won’t be able to if we don’t even understand why we continue to behave in ways that are not beneficial.
One way to address big abstract problems is by breaking them down into smaller parts. It sounds simple, but it’s remarkably effective. By doing this, we’re able to make a situation more manageable. There are some extra resources on this here:
- 3 Ways to Solve a Problem – wikiHow
- Problem Solving Skills: How to Solve Big Problems (jamesclear.com)
- 15 Common Defense Mechanisms (psychcentral.com)
I once had a client tell me that they believe that for every situation, you need to see both sides before making a decision. At the time I didn’t believe the person because for me, solutions often come from my own common sense. They’re as obvious as the tip of my nose! But I’ve since begun to change.
Like many of us, I often get caught in my own biases when looking at certain issues. But I’ve gotten better at catching myself and breaking this pattern. Being aware of it as it happens makes it much easier to change. Instead of jumping to conclusions, I’m now taking more time to do research. This helps me take the time to formulate my own thoughts and come to decisions that are deeply considered.
For many issues, there’s already so much helpful information available because other people have already experienced what you (or I) may be going through. They’ve got advice and experience to share that can help in the moment. By approaching things in this new way, I’m able to get to the real truth of a matter and I’m working to break ancestral ties and patterns that have gone on for too long.
How do you approach the complex problems in your own life? How can you address them more thoughtfully?