Who do you believe?

It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.
Mahatma Gandhi
1869 – 1948

From time to time, we all encounter difficult problems. When we’re weighing choices that will significantly impact our future, you’d think that we’d seek out and follow the best advice available. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen; there are a couple of traps that often snag us.

The first pitfall is overestimating our own abilities. To illustrate, let me tell you about a study conducted in 1997 by U.S. News and World Report. In a survey, one thousand Americans were asked who was most likely to get into heaven. The answers were quite interesting. Fifty-two percent said that the current president, Bill Clinton, was likely to get into heaven. Basketball star Michael Jordan was given a 65% chance and Mother Teresa was given a 79% chance. The person given the best chance, coming in at 87%, was the one taking the survey.

In a College Entrance Board of over 829,000 high school seniors, less than 1% rated themselves below average in “getting along with others”, while a full 60% ranked themselves in the top 10%. Needless to say, it’s not possible for 60% of the students to be in the top 10%. People clearly have a strong tendency to overrate their own abilities.

The other trap we often fall into is in relying on advice that costs money. The more we pay for advice, the greater value we assign to it. Our opinions don’t necessarily correlate with the quality of the advice we receive; the key factor is how much we pay for it. Psychologists believe that this tendency stems from a desire to make sure we get our money’s worth; people are very reluctant to admit to buying poor advice.

So what’s the answer? Where should we turn for advice?

The first thing we need to do is to realize that we often over-value our own information and opinions. I’m not saying you should become a doubting Thomas, but I am suggesting that you give up some attachment to your long held beliefs. Pay attention when you’re totally inflexible with your opinions and beliefs. The more rigid you are, the more certain you are of being right, the more concerned you should be.

There are also a couple of great questions you can ask about any advice you receive: is that true, and how do I know? Don’t move forward until you can confidently answer those questions.

Too often we allow our opinions — our beliefs — to rule our decisions. We fail to seek out and rely on facts. Be aware of this tendency and be open to alternate ways of looking at things.

Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
John F. Kennedy
1917 – 1963

Copyright © 2020 by John Chancellor

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