You Think You’re Pretty Smart, Don’t You?
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” — Shakespeare
You’re not as smart as you think you are. It’s okay. Neither am I. But humans do seem to think they know a lot more than they actually do. In fact, the minute you tell this to someone, they’ll say “oh yeah, it’s that group over there that’s bringing down human intelligence”. No one wants to admit they don’t know. We all want to feel like we’re the special, rational ones and everyone else is a mess.
I get it. It’s hard to look in the mirror and say, “I really have no f*cking idea”. But it’s also quite freeing when you think about it. It’s a lot less pressure, that’s for sure. Take it from my man Socrates who said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
Believing you’re smarter and more capable than you actually are is a type of bias called “Dunning-Kruger” effect. Often, it’s those who are incompetent who seem to be overconfident in their abilities. This cognitive bias is so prevalent that scientists have studied it at great lengths. One book in particular that’s on my list to read is The Knowledge Illusion by Steven Sloman.
But honestly, we’re all susceptible to this bias, so don’t start pointing those fingers just yet. Also, I want to make very clear this has nothing to do with having a low IQ.
I’m sure you’re already saying to yourself, “Yeah and I bet the internet has made it 10x worse”, which is true. Those with this cognitive bias will take a small nugget of information from Google search and believe they’re experts on the subject. It’s almost as if people received their doctorates from Google University overnight. There’s an old saying that goes, “a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing”. And that’s pretty close to the definition of the internet, a bit of everything.
But another reason we fall victim to thinking we know more than we do is the way our brain uses shortcuts. Think about it. Our brain has to sort through over 11 million bits of information PER SECOND. That’s just not feasible at lightning speed without some shortcuts, also known as “heuristics”.
A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently.
- Incredibly important in quick problem-solving and decision-making
- Simplifies things so the brain doesn’t spend endless amounts of time and energy analyzing every little detail
The problem is, these shortcuts the brain uses to handle enormous amounts of information can lead to bias, such as:
For example, the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, which has been in the headlines recently, would be an example of heuristics gone wrong. The men who killed Ahmaud used their quick shortcut thinking, which told them:
- “There’s a black man running. In the past, that means he’s running away from a crime he committed. This man must have committed a crime. We’ve had people around this house construction recently. I bet this black man is up to no good as he’s running around from the construction site.”
In this case, they took what they had seen on TV, perhaps or possibly their own experiences with black men, and assumed the worst in the situation. And then they took it a step further and, in their minds, defended property (that wasn’t theirs), like self-proclaimed vigilantes.
Availability heuristic is overestimating the probability of events you’ve recently seen or read about.
This mental shortcut is one of the most annoying (for me, anyway) and one which is fairly common these days. I have a hard time when people fall into this one because they look at you with such wide eyes, 100% certain of future events they concocted in their minds. I can’t help but giggle to myself (or sometimes aloud) at the absurdity of it. It’s as though everyone became a time-traveler overnight and knows EXACTLY what will happen tomorrow. I’m always just in awe of it and ask where they bought their magic crystal ball. Can you buy them on Amazon or at Target? Because I too want to know what will happen in the future. Everyone seems so certain all the time. I just assumed they possess some kind of cool crystal ball.
I’m not here to rain on your parade. And shocking as it may be, I too am a human being and find myself falling into cognitive bias traps from time to time. I’m merely here to shake you a bit. It’s all about awareness. None of us knows what tomorrow looks like. But what we do know is our brain patterns have a natural negative slant to them. Therefore, we tend to have a negative outlook as we predict the future. Add in doom and gloom from news media, and we have ourselves a case of “Chicken Little”.
I have to say the most irritating statement for me to hear is “I’m usually right about these things” when someone gives me their scary predications of the future. All I can say in response to something so delusional is, “That’s… eh… that’s a bold statement you’re making. I hope you don’t have to eat crow”.
Just because you read this news article or that scientific study does not mean you are:
- an expert in the field
“So many people prefer to live in drama because it’s comfortable. It’s like someone staying in a bad marriage or relationship — it’s actually easier to stay because they know what to expect every day, versus leaving and not knowing what to expect.” — Ellen DeGeneres
Tips On How To Avoid Availability Heuristic:
- Just because we have search engines which give us “answers” to any question in a matter of seconds, DOES NOT mean you are an expert on the topic at hand.
- Just because something happened in the past, DOES NOT mean it will happen again.
- Just because something happened to someone else, DOES NOT mean it will happen to you.
- Embrace the fact you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. NO ONE DOES.
- For the absolute love of all gods, please be aware of the negative spin the news uses to get your attention.
- Avoid jumping on bandwagons. You have a rational part of your brain idling, just waiting to be used. Activate it!
- Question your own knowledge by learning more and avoid echo chambers where you only hang around people you agree with.
- Slowww down the thought process to give your neocortex time to kick in the logical thinking.
- Start getting comfortable with uncomfortable opposing views. Balance of thought is critical!
- Become more self-aware of your thoughts and the information you allow to dictate your decisions.
A couple of great books to read:
I started my corporate career in digital advertising in 2007. At that time, it was still a fairly new industry. I remember constantly explaining to family and friends details about my work in the digital space. I think a lot of them still do not know what I did for a living. After giving them the most basic 101 course on digital advertising, they’d respond with dumfounded looks. Some even asked if what I did was legal, especially when behavioral targeting first came out.
“Say that again. You follow me around the web, serving me advertisements? That’s a bit creepy. Are you allowed to do that?”
(If people only knew how much and what kinds of data points are extracted from their fun little excursions around the internet… I go into a deep dive on the topic in a previous newsletter if you fancy a read.)
I can’t tell you how many times my mother would periodically ask me to explain to her the ins and outs of the digital sales space.
“But how do they even get those ads on the internet pages for you to sell them? I don’t click on those ads. How are you making any money?”
I’m surprised my eyes didn’t roll out of my head, as I would overhear her trying to regurgitate to friends/family the bits of details about my job she could remember. It was nothing short of cringe-worthy.
“Alright mom, that’s enough,” I would say, annoyed, after spending another hour out of our catch-up calls, trying to sock-puppet my career as a digital sales account executive.
“But I want to understand what it is you do because I’m so proud of you. But I just don’t understand it. Explain it to me again.”
And as I continued to advance in my digital advertising career, working at Cox Enterprises and Google, my job became even more complex and almost impossible to explain. I got so sick of people asking that I would just say what company I worked for and to not worry about my position there. Or I’d say something snarky like, “I make toys for good girls and boys”.
During client meetings, we would all laugh about how no one knew what we did for a living and the absurdity of it all. My clients consisted of 20-year-olds, who handled $500 million dollar advertising budgets for automotive brands. I mean, anyone on the outside would find that insane.
Fast forward to today, sprinkle a pandemic into the mix, and we have ourselves a cornucopia of ways people earn a living now. That’s not to say “regular, 9am-5pm” jobs have disappeared. But I’d say over the past 2 years, careers have transformed dramatically. The pandemic forced every person to sit at home and reflect on their lives. And many people didn’t like who they had become. They realized how unhappy they were in their careers and boldly stepped into entrepreneurial endeavors in all kinds of ways.
But that doesn’t mean everyone is accepting of all the ways one chooses to be happy and make money. In fact, it can lead to a lot of frustration both for the person trying to explain what they do and also for the person who gets paychecks every 2 weeks with their matching 401k. It downright scares the shit out of the latter group when they hear someone living off their savings while they build their YouTube channel.
Things are moving incredibly fast. In fact, Bill Gates (who’s right on the money with just about anything technology-wise) stated the other day he believes the metaverse will host your office meetings in the next 2–3 years.
Do you understand what he means? He’s saying Zoom meetings will transform into VR meetings….in less than 3 years. Yes, “VR” as in virtual reality.
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, Web 3.0 isn’t coming. It’s already here. I think many people have this idea that all this new technology and A.I. advancement will happen long after they’re gone, so they don’t have to worry about it. Not true. Wake up, my dear Gen X and Baby Boomers, because this isn’t the horse and buggy turning into an automobile. This is lightening fast technology evolving every single day.
Outside the fact that this means the very ways we use the internet today are undergoing a dramatic upgrade at Mach 10 speed, it’s also radically changing jobs. I say this because it’s no longer laughable when you hear someone say they’re a YouTuber/TikToker/content creator. The highest paid YouTuber in 2020 was 9-year-old Ryan Kaji, who made close to $30 million last year.
“What on Earth does a 9-year-old do on YouTube?”
He reviews toys.
Just think of all those toy companies licking their chops, spending 100’s of millions of dollars on YouTube advertising just to get on this 9-year-old’s channel as he plays with toys.
Creativity is exploding, and people are making bank. Sure, there’s a lot of junk content out there one must wade through to find quality work. But that’s where Web 3.0 will come into play to organize the internet in a much faster and more intuitive way. (And I swear, it can not come any faster.)
It’s not even just the internet, but also gaming which has moved from “nerd alert” to “money-making machine”. For example, Kyle Geirsdorf from Pennsylvania, age 16, won the top prize in the PlayStation game “Fortnight” last year. The prize? $3 million.
I say all of this because you’re going to meet people, whether in person or online, who may not have your typical 9am-5pm job. But know that they are working extremely hard. Burnout rates are high with creators because of how much work it takes to build a brand online.
Do not dismiss anyone’s work as they find new niches in the digital space to pour their blood, sweat, and tears into. It may not be your path. You might see it as too risky because you like your “safe” paycheck every 2 weeks. But everyone has a different level of risk tolerance. Don’t bring someone else down to your safety net just because you feel uncomfortable.
When you talk with family and friends who might be pursuing these “risky” lines of work, spending their savings to make a go of it, avoid placing judgement. They’re living THEIR life. At times, they feel unsure of their path and certainly do not need your condescending remarks.
And honestly, this goes for anyone who you might not agree with their life pursuits (unless they’re selling crack on the side of the road. Then yeah, you should be concerned.). Let people live their own lives. No one cares if you find what they do to be odd. It’s not about you and your feelings. It’s their life.
You may not understand it. You may think they’re taking unnecessary risks. But allow them to make that decision for themselves. They don’t need you to protect them from potential failure. They need understanding, love, and support.
You would want the same.
Did You Know?
Trust me. This is a good thing. As I mentioned in my newsletter last week, our brain hasn’t evolved in over 10,000 years. The oldest, strongest, and FASTEST to react part of our brain is the amygdala, which handles our fear and emotions. The slowest and newest/least evolved part of our brain is the neocortex, which is where our logic and rational thinking lives. Our amygdala tends to take over, also known as “Amygdala Hijack”. This is when we have emotional outbursts. We’ve all done it. We’ve all seen it. It’s not pretty. And our poor neocortex, who is like a sloth trying to cross the road, is never given a chance to evaluate the situation.
Because our brain hasn’t evolved in thousands of years, that little amygdala of ours sees modern day society as its worst nightmare. Its very emotional reactions worked well for our species when a saber-toothed tiger approached us thousands of years ago. But it sees the angry email from your boss as no different. Everything is life or death to the amygdala. Obviously, this doesn’t bode well for us trying to navigate in our modern society.
We need to slowwww down the amygdala to allow the rational part of the brain time to kick in.
How do we do that?
- Meditate: MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in activating the body’s response to stress.
- As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex, which handles brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making, becomes thicker.
Meditation is extraordinarily important for our brain health.
Need a bit of help to get you going with meditation?
- I utilize the InsightTimer app. They have thousands of different meditations, from beginner to advanced for all ages.
- Ask anyone who meditates regularly and they will tell you the profound effects it has on their life. They sleep better, have better relationships, and a happier, healthier outlook on life. It reduces blood pressure and works wonders for digestion issues. (Our gut releases more serotonin than our brain. That means when you’re stressed out, your gut is freaking out.)
Always question the overwhelming negative emotions you feel. Is it really life or death?
Throughout the day, I’ll check in with myself if I’m feeling a bit down. I’ll think about where the emotions are coming from and why. If they continue to persist and drag me down, I’ll often say to myself, “Alright brain. Calm down. You’re fine.” And then I’ll giggle a little at my silly emotional amygdala and continue on with my day.
Find the thing that works for you. Remember, we’re not evolved enough to handle modern society. If you do nothing else all day, become mindful of your thoughts.
In my humble opinion, becoming aware of one’s thoughts is the single, most powerful action you can do in your life.
Would You Rather?
… be trapped for an hour in a room full of mosquitoes or rats?
This one is very easy for me. I HATE mosquitoes. I’m using the word “hate” here. They have been my nemesis since I was a young girl. Growing up in Pennslyvania, I would get so bit up each summer that my mother used to take me to the doctors because I looked like I had chickenpox. If there’s a mosquito within a 5-mile radius, I’m the first to get bit. I’m told having type A+ blood makes it even yummier for the blood-suckers. Ugh!
So of course, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where they come in swarms during the summer.
Shocking, right? But I can tell you from living there that the mosquitos are absolutely horrifying. And this is coming from someone who has regularly volunteered at elephant rescues in the middle of Thailand jungles.
The mosquitos in Los Angeles are extremely aggressive and chase after you. They came off of shipment containers from China, barely need any water to survive, and are a major problem for the city. The mosquito population there has absolutely exploded over the past 3 years.
So long story short, I’d choose a room full of rats for an hour any day of the week over hellish mosquitos.
Make Humor Great Again
A teacher told his students, “The person who’ll answer my next question correctly can leave class early.”
Suddenly, a pen came flying across to room, practically hitting the teacher in the face.
“Who threw that?” the teacher shouted angrily.
“Me!” answered a boy from the back of the classroom. “Can I leave now?”
(I think that kid deserves an ‘A’ for his ingenuity, don’t you?)