Let me tell you an interesting truth about why people die lost in the woods. When you are lost, the first advice you are given is to stop. Stop getting more lost. Sit down, and wait for your rescuers.
Certainty, not thinking, makes you continue. Certainty, believing that you are correct, will lead to your doom.
You are trying to get to my cabin. I give you these simple instructions: From the parking lot, walk down the only trail until you get to the end where there is a ‘T-Junction’, meaning you can’t go straight, you will have to turn left or right. The end of the trail, the ‘T-Junction’ is obvious.
Next, turn right.
My cabin is 1 mile down the trail. You can’t miss it. The trail leads directly to it; however, if by some miracle you walk past us all sitting there enjoying a drink, you’ll know you went too far when you get to the BIG RED BARN that is 2 miles down the trail.
To recap thus far: Walk straight. Turn right, look for cabin 1 mile. if you get to big red barn 2 miles down the trail, you missed us. Turn around and come back, pour a drink, stir in limes and you’re good to go.
The problem is, you turned LEFT back at the beginning and are heading in the wrong direction.
Ok, no problem. You will walk 1 mile, not see the cabin, and maybe wonder if you have gone far enough. You will walk a little further. Then you’ll walk a little further again. Now you have walked beyond 2 miles, no cabin, no red barn. You ask yourself if you goofed this up, but you’re certain you turned the proper way. “Damn that Dennis,” you say to yourself. “He is always over-simplifying things. He said it was easy …”
Believe it or not, you will most likely keep walking many more miles in the wrong direction, maybe for hours until you have walked much further than 2 miles with no cabin nor barn in sight. You might walk 10, or 15 or even 20 miles (which are a kabillion kilometers in Canada).
The Rescuers … in this case, voiced by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor
You will die because the rescuers will underestimate how far you might have walked, believing you are right before you accept that you have made a mistake, and they’ll turn back before finding you. The rescuers will walk, 5 or 6 miles, never believing that you would walk even further than that in the wrong direction.
“Jimmy isn’t stupid,” they’ll say. “Even if Jimmy went the wrong way, there is no way that Jimmy is going to walk further than this!” Wanna bet? Jimmy is about to die of exposure a kabillion kms down the trail.
What was Jimmy thinking?
Jimmy was not thinking. Jimmy was feeling. Jimmy was feeling certain. Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” are sensations that feel like thoughts but arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that function independently of reason.
If, after we consider and deliberate on an issue, we decide that a thought must be correct, we presume that this conclusion is itself a conscious choice. We believe we have done the necessary work to figure it out, when in most cases we haven’t.
Why are people so sure of themselves despite overwhelming evidence that they are often wrong?
In his book, On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton argues that certainty is not a conscious choice nor a thought process, but a sensation that can best be described as a “feeling of knowing.” As a feeling like anger or fear, certainty does not rely on any underlying state of knowledge. What this means, Burton argues, is that we can be wrong even when we’re convinced we’re right.
How then can you tell the difference between feeling right and being right?
First, don’t underestimate the power of your gut. Your gut feeling will override your conscious thought process.
Therefore, look at the evidence.
Focus on the outcome. Being clear about the end point will do two things. First, it will provide guidance for your intuition, enabiling you to sift through all the available information to select what’s important for the decision you need to make.
Second, knowing the desired outcome will give you a solid anchor for your decisions that can accommodate opposing facts and perspectives.
For example, if the end point is to stay under budget, then your decision and the date you use to inform your decision will be filtered based on that. If the end point is to produce a product that meets customers’ unstated needs, then all the available information will be filtered using that criterion. The outcome anchors your decision-making.
Stop mentally concentrating on the issues and let your subconscious do the work for you. Your subconscious is faster than your conscious mind, and it works automatically when your focus is clear. When you turn the issue over to your subconscious, you gain speed and accuracy. Stop. Wait. Clear your head. You went the wrong way.
Question and expose the beliefs you use to interpret what you believe but which aren’t necessarily reflected by a more robust view of reality. This will filter reality to confirm your previous experiences. Questioning your beliefs permits you to improve the accuracy of your analysis, jettison past connotation, and open up new possibilities such as not dying alone in the woods. Don’t surround yourself with ‘yes men.’
Observe your emotions. Be aware of your feelings. Gain perspective and quiet the mental chatter so that you can accurately hear your inner voice. You’ll gain a wider view of the situation and be able to see the alternatives. It’s really easy to fall prey to doubt or to rationalize your decision. If you’re fearful, you may think you have only one option or no options. In climates of high fear, when the rational dominates, making an informed decision requires that you achieve a calmer state of mind so that you can access your higher mental and intuitive functioning.