A Simple Mind Trick Will Help You Think More Rationally

Emotions can cloud our rational decision-making. By adopting the perspective of an outside advisor, psychologist Dan Ariely says we can inject some rationality into our cognitive processes.

Dan Ariely: There’s one way to be rational; there are many ways to be irrational. We could be irrational by getting confused, not taking actions, being myopic, vindictive, emotional. You name it. There’s lots of ways to be wrong. And because of that, there’s not one way to fix it.

But one interesting way to try and inject some rationality is to think from an outsider’s perspective. So here’s what happens. When you think about your own life, you’re trapped within your own perspective. You’re trapped within your own emotions and feelings and so on. But if you give advice to somebody else, all of a sudden you’re not trapped within that emotional combination, mish-mash, complexity and you can give advice that is more forward-looking and not so specific to the emotions.

So one idea is to basically ask people for advice. So if you're falling in love with some person, good advice is to go to your mother and say, “Mother, what do you think about the long-term compatibility of that person?” You’re infatuated, right. When you’re infatuated you’re not able to see things three months down the road. You’re saying I’m infatuated. I’ll stay infatuated forever and this will never go away. Your mother being an outsider is not infatuated and she could probably look at things like long-term compatibility and so on. But there’s other ways to do it which is not to be advisors to other people but to be advisors for ourselves.

So for example, in one experiment, we asked people, we said, "Look, you went to your doctor. They gave you this diagnosis. You know that the thing that the doctor recommended is much more expensive and there are other things that would be much cheaper. Would you go for a second opinion?" And people say, "No, my doctor recommended it. How could I not take their advice? How could I say, 'Can you please refer me for a second opinion?'" Then we asked another group. We said, "Here is the situation. If this happened to your friend, would you recommend that they go for a second opinion?" People said, "Absolutely. How could you not go for a second opinion?" So one idea is to try and get ourselves from an outside perspective. You look at the situation and then you say to yourself if this was about somebody else, somebody I love and care about and then when this situation what would I advise them? And you would realize that often your advice will be different and often a more rational, useful perspective.

 

Emotions can cloud our rational decision-making. By adopting the perspective of an outside advisor, Duke University psychologist Dan Ariely says we can inject some rationality into our cognitive processes. This isn't merely an exercise in introspection; it's an attempt to remove the limiting pangs of irrational thinking.

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