Do You Know Too Much?

Wouldn’t it be great to feel confident about your choices…to know the answers under pressure, to rightly respond to adversity, to choose the better path when the road splits in two?

Be careful what you wish for.

You might aspire to be like leaders who are boldly decisive. Be wary. They are dangerous.

You might have spent thousands of dollars on books, seminars and motivational speakers hoping to better control your mind. This is delusional. You can know your brain and work with it, but you can’t control it.

As a human, your brain cannot see all possibilities. Your experience is deficient, your intuition is fallible, and your intelligence is victim to your unreliable emotions and instincts. Having a sense of confidence in who you are is good for yourself and others around you. Feeling absolute confidence in what you know is risky.

The good news is that the more you feel confident saying, “I don’t know, let’s talk about it,” the more clarity you will gain.

Yes, taking the time to talk about a problem may not work in emergency situations. Yet when faced with daily decisions, the more you practice looking at all the elements that could be affecting your thought processes, the more natural and faster this analysis will become. But you can’t start this practice on your own.

Your best decisions will be made in conversation.

No matter how smart you are, thinking through a complex issue can rarely be done well in isolated analysis. For the same reason you can’t tickle yourself, you can’t fully explore your own thoughts. Your brain will block and desensitize you to self-imposed exploration. When someone else adeptly challenges your reasoning and dares to ask you a question that penetrates your protective frames, your consciousness can go to new depths. You might get defensive. If you are self-confident, you will pause as your brain synthesizes the new insight, and then you are likely to laugh at seeing what you should have known all along.

In other words, you need others to initiate the interaction that reveals your blind spots. The brain needs to be surprised. The greater the surprise you feel when you discover what elements are affecting your decision or hesitation, the more likely you will have a breakthrough in perception. This surprise is the “Aha” moment.”

A blind spot is something you didn’t know you knew at the time, or possibly, “you didn’t know you didn’t know because you thought you knew what you needed to know already.” Your brain doesn’t want to work that hard. You are functioning quite well with a high degree of ignorance and obliviousness right now. So why take the time to look beyond the sheath?

Blind spots hurt you when you don’t consider their existence when making an important decision or taking an action that will impact others. You instinctively know this because after you make a mistake, you admit you should have known better. Or you blame something else.

You might experience a breakthrough in your thinking when you read surprising results of studies or have an emotional reaction to a story. Yet the most long lasting changes in your thinking occur when you allow others to help you explore your thought processes and you trust them enough to feel uncomfortable with their questions. 

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman explains in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, that the faults in our decision making are a result of “…our excessive confidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in.” The irony is that this desire to feel more confident in what you know only strengthens the frames around your awareness, making it harder to listen to others and accept new ideas. To uncover your blind spots, you have to have the courage to feel vacant and vulnerable. Before a breakthrough happens, you will feel uncomfortable. This discomfort is a sign you are ready to learn.

As Malcolm Gladwell said in Blink, “We need to accept our ignorance and say ‘I don’t know’ more often.”

Do you have a friend you respect and trust enough to allow him or her to question your judgment? Do you know someone who will be honest and straight with you? If not, you need to find someone. In the meantime, hire a qualified coach. This deep, enlightening and gratifying conversation is coaching at its best.

Then commit to being this open and honest with others. If you are a leader looking to empower and develop others, spend more time asking questions than giving advice. A good question can help others make the right decisions for the right reasons without you telling them what to do.

For more ways to Outsmart You Brain, check out the other blog posts on the website.

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