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Just because we think it doesn’t make it so.

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I love the power of thought. I love how much influence it has over our actions and behaviors. I love how it’s first informed by emotion and I love how it can truly deceive us.

Yes, the power of our own minds can deceive us.

I often witness this with my 6-year-old son. He says something once and it is fact; twice and it’s the undeniable truth … despite solid, concrete evidence to the contrary. While I know there’s a difference between the truth and what is true, my son does not. He tells me he didn’t draw on his carpet with his orange marker, despite:

  1. The orange marker being right beside him,
  2. The carpet having orange marker on it,
  3. The fact that he is an only child, alone in his room with said marker and marked carpet.

I’ve witnessed this dynamic in business, too. I’ve watched leaders and subordinates, sales people and HR professionals, entry level laborers and highly skilled crafts people share what they wanted to be true, so strongly that it became true … to them and, at times, to others around them.

For those familiar with the NPR radio game, “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me,” you know the dynamic that occurs. In one segment, contestants guess which news story is factual, told among other stories that are fictional. Of course the stories are all fairly bizarre, hard to believe and a little crazy, so choosing the “real” one is a challenge. And what’s even more challenging for me is that upon hearing the fictional stories, they become anchored and therefore, in my mind, as true as the real event. This “belief” I quickly develop is so strong that I tell the false stories to my friends and colleagues as if they are real, likely in an effort to demonstrate my mastery of current events. It’s also likely that I entertain more than impress them.

This bothers me. Not that I’m entertaining and not impressive; I’ve come to fully accept that. No, I’m bothered because I do not understand what is occurring. And as with most topics I do not understand, I seek reliable answers.

Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, in their book “Why We Believe What We Believe,” uncover the connections between psychology, philosophy, religion and neuroscience to explain how and why we strive for meaning in just about everything. Most interesting to me are their assertions that we’re prone to believe in mistruths due to this quest for meaning.

It turns out that this phenomenon is quite explainable. According to the work done by psychologists and research scientists, our minds are always at work attempting to create meaning. Aside from opposable thumbs and the ability to accessorize our wardrobes, this constant quest for meaning is one of the few things that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

I find this ironic, knowing that as humans we also have free will and the ability to think independently. Perhaps we’re not relying on independent thought enough. In a time where we blindly accept mass media information, strive to assimilate to lifestyles we do not completely understand, and go along with the herd without questioning where the herd is headed, I’d like to call us out and ask for more independent thought.

The most creative opportunities, innovation and breakthroughs in every field of science, business, politics and art start with independent thinking.

Now you need to decide for yourself if this blog post is believable or not!

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