Challenge your brain

Today’s catch up with a mentor convinced me of the importance to take time to challenge our assumptions. What I took away from this session was a need to check in with ourselves from time to time.

Assumptions we rely on to analyse things and make decisions can sometimes make the judgement itself bias.

One such assumption is to have preconceived notions. Anyone with a brain is guilty of having biases based on unfounded realities. It is a by-product of the process our brain uses as a shortcut to processing the huge amounts of information we come across everyday. In psychology and cognitive science, the framework that helps organise and categorise information is called schema, a term proposed by Jean Piaget.

In most instances it is important for our brain functionality to have schema. This mental framework provides a structure for our brain helping lower the load on processing information. It triggers the automated process of understanding when we see things we have seen before. This means our brain does not have to work as hard when we are faced with a situation we have encountered before like using a credit card or riding a bike. As we learn, schema also makes it easier to retain new information relating to our pre-existing knowledge because there is already relatable knowledge in our minds.

Schema provies a foundation upon which to build our knowledge but the negative ways our brain could use the framework is something we should become aware of.

Consciously or unconsciously, through a kernel of truth or a widely held myth, it is easy for us to start associating certain beliefs and opinions about groups of people and situations. This is the negative side of schema that takes place everyday in stereotypes we make and prejudices we have. This schema will prevent us from seeing the world as it is and restricts us from interpreting situations appropriately. Most times we do not even realise a prejudice has seeped into our schema and over time it becomes an automated assumption we hold when we encounter the same situation.

Why we fall into the trap of preconceived notions?
Humans fall into the trap of preconceived notions because that is how our brain processes and categorises information. It is the connection with our conscience, the ‘security check’ of our brain, that decides what is right and what is wrong. If the information bypasses our security check either because it was taught at school, by a parent or we were compelled to believe by one reason or another then our brain which is like a computer will process the information that enters. This belief becomes stored in our schema and overtime forms the foundation of a preconceived notion.

What are some signs of it?

The most obvious sign is when everyone else does not agree with you on the opinion. This should beg you to question your assumption and whether it is a preconceived notion.

When you are really cynical about something is also a time to question your assumption.

When should we check-in on ourselves?

As cognitive behaviour therapists would recommend, journal yourself in detail for a week and reflect upon it at the end of the week. Use what you learn here to change your actions for the future.

In future reflect upon yourself at the end of each fortnight to see your progress. It could also be useful to confide in close friends.

How do we challenge our brain?

If you feel like you are reverting to preconceived notions, consciously stop and ask yourself the following questions:
1. What has caused me to feel or think this way?
2. Are there evidence to the contrary or am I concluding too quickly?

The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error… but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.
-Arthur Schopenhauer

The East Tennessee State University provides an easy to understand, quick read about schema here

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