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I've been talking about the importance of short and medium term goals a lot lately (in the context of learning and behavior change) so this is terrific support - thank you! The phrase "They literally shut off your brain" did make my eye twitch, though. I'm pretty sure having your brain literally shut off = dead...
Very interesting. I've been toying lately with the notion that most cognitive biases have roots in functional behaviors. In the same way that optical illusions are interesting not just because they are wacky or mind-bending, but because they reveal things to us about how the brain is adapting or interpreting the visual image, cognitive distortions are interesting in that they make explicit and visible the cognitive shorthand that we are using to interpret the world all the time. I think it's primarily an efficiency of the brain -- if we couldn't automate some (or even the majority) of our decision-making, we'd never be able to get things done with any efficiency (similar to the phenomena that Antonio Damasio described around the difficulty of decision making in the absence of emotion). The disconnect shows up when those automated patterns of thinking become calcified or lazy, or when the thought pattern is so ingrained that it's completely transparent to the individual. I'm particularly interesting in the cognitive distortion you described in the Flawed Self-Evaluations post last week. The prevalence of the inflated self-view (majority of people believing that they are above-average intelligence or better than average drivers, etc. - all statistical impossibilities) makes me wonder if there isn't some functional basis for those beliefs (although it could be as simple as needing to protect one's self-esteem, or statistical illiteracy). Similar to the idea from evolutionary psychology that an attraction to foods with high caloric density (sugar or fats) once conveyed an evolutionary advantage, but now work against us in our food-abundant societies, it seems like many cognitive biases have functional roots in the right context, and it might be useful to identify those contexts, to be better able to understand where those same behaviors are then misapplied. With a number of cognitive biases, it's fairly easy to hypothesize a context where that behavior could be valuable (the fallacy of centrality, for example -- in most cases, people are probably *right* to think that if something was going on, they'd know about it, and if this couldn't use this mental shorthand, they would be hopelessly mired in detail or wild goose chases). The question remains -- what to do about it? Evidence-based management is definitely one key tool to check against intuition or habit. Also, I think the mindset you described of "act on their beliefs, while doubting what they know" is very useful. But because the behaviors are so automated, it becomes particular difficult to recognize and question them. It might be useful to have some predefined criteria that triggers specific analytical activities to guard against it. Some people (as you've described) seem to do it naturally, but the rest of us may need to define implementation intentions ( for our own behavior (If I find myself doing X, I will sit down and do Y). After all, which of us haven't had the experience where you were absolutely certain you were right, had no reservations about expressing your *rightness*, and then found later you wrong? Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this -- very helpful (and thought-provoking - clearly it's been on my mind...).