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.”