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Weekly 3: Getting to know yourself

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Summary: Uncover core motivations. Be your own critic. Acknowledge your influences. (~5 min read)
 

Idea Journal Weekly 3

March 1 · Issue #128 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Uncover core motivations. Be your own critic. Acknowledge your influences. (~5 min read)

#1. Dig for what you really want
Author and researcher Josh Kaufman writes in his book The Personal MBA that we’re usually not aware of why we want what we want.
Instead of taking your apparent desires at face value, he recommends using the “five-fold why” technique to uncover your core motivations.
Here’s how it works in three steps: 
1. Whenever you set some goal, ask yourself why you want it. As Kaufman puts it, you don’t need to force an answer: “just ask yourself the question in a spirit of curiosity, and wait until your mind generates a response on its own.“
2. When you have an answer, ask “why?” again.
3. Continue asking "why?” until your response is some version of: “because I want it.” You’ve then reached the core motivation.
For example, Kaufman applies the five-fold why technique to the goal “I want to be a millionaire”: 
Why do I want to be a millionaire? Because I don’t want to be stressed about money.
Why don’t I want to be stressed about money? So I don’t feel anxious.
Why do I not want to feel anxious? So I feel secure.
Why do I want to feel secure? So I feel free.
Why do I want to feel free? Because I want to feel free.
The core motivation isn’t having a million dollars – it’s being free. And there are many ways to feel free that don’t involve money.
Identifying the core motivations behind your goals can help you discover new ways to get what you actually want.
#2. The limits of introspection
The five-fold why exercise recommended in Idea #1 above can be clarifying, but such reflection isn’t always reliable.
As author Rolf Dobelli writes in his book The Art of Thinking Clearly, the belief that reflection inevitably leads to accuracy or truth is called the “introspection illusion.”
Dobelli references a study conducted by psychologist Petter Johansson. He had each participant glimpse portraits of two random people, and quickly choose which face was more attractive.
Johannson then showed them the portrait of the preferred face up close, and asked each participant to describe the most attractive features.
But Johannson had actually switched the portraits. Most participants didn’t even notice the switch, and proceeded to explain in detail why the person’s face was so attractive.
When we go soul-searching, we often invent the findings. The problem is that nothing is more convincing than our own beliefs — even if they’re wrong.
Dobelli uses the following example to illustrate this point.
A man named Bruce runs a vitamin business. His father founded the company before supplements became the lifestyle product they are today. And when Bruce took over the operation in the 1990s, demand surged.
Now, Bruce is one of the most successful people in the vitamin industry. 
Bruce has been taking multivitamins since he was a kid. A journalist once asked him if multivitamins have any effect. Bruce replied: “I’m sure of it.”
Do you believe Bruce?
You might think: “It’s obviously in his interest to believe that vitamins work. His family, social status, and wealth depend on the success of the company. He’s been taking multivitamins his entire life — he’d never admit that it was a waste of time.”
Now take an idea you’re certain about. For example, that God exists. Or maybe that your doctor is overcharging you.
Do you believe yourself?
You probably consider your conviction more valid than Bruce’s. After all, you have access to your internal rationale, but not his.
For Dobelli, the solution to the introspective illusion is to be your own toughest critic: “Regard your internal observations with the same skepticism as claims from some random person.”
#3. You're not an island
Author Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature that to better understand yourself, it’s helpful to begin “with the assumption that you are not nearly as much of an individual as you imagine.”
Your beliefs and thoughts are heavily influenced by your family, friends, colleagues, and the broader culture.
It helps to be ruthlessly honest with yourself.
Look at how your beliefs and ideas change the longer you stay within a given group or at a job. You’re under subtle pressure to get along and fit in, and you’ll often respond to this without being aware.
Greene offers two perspectives to help see this tendency more clearly: 
1. When a group you belong to has made bad decisions, how often did you go along with them?
2. How many times have you promoted an idea that is contrary to what the group wants on some core issue, and stuck to your position over a long period?
Quote of the week
“… the key inflection point in the history of humanity is the moment when an external system can reliably understand people better than they understand themselves. This is not an impossible mission because so many people don’t understand themselves very well. 
With the whole idea of shifting authority from humans to algorithms: ‘I trust the algorithm to recommend TV shows to me, and eventually I trust the algorithm to tell me what to study, where to work, who to date, who to marry, and who to vote for.’ 
People say: ‘No, no, no. That won’t happen because there will be all kinds of mistakes and glitches and bugs, and the algorithm will never know everything.’
If the yardstick is that the algorithm needs to make perfect decisions, then yes, that will never happen. 
But that’s not the yardstick.
The algorithm just needs to make better decisions than me … and this is not so very difficult because as humans we often tend to make terrible mistakes, even in the most important decisions in life.”
- Author and historian Yuval Noah Harari in an interview with Sam Harris
Other Weekly 3 issues about understanding yourself
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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