Magical thinking remains a subtle impediment to making sound decisions. The more you examine yourself, the more you can reduce your tendency to indulge in it.
Discover the truth for yourself. Beware of the tendency to let others think for you. Don’t believe what your parents, teachers, counselors, mentors, priests, and authorities of all inclinations have taught you from an early age. (The best predictor of people’s spiritual beliefs is the religiosity of their parents.) Question others’ underlying premises and discover for yourself what’s reasonable. Force yourself to test for alternatives.
Don’t believe what you want to believe is true. Many people believe in UFOs and ghosts, even when there’s no credible verification for any visitation from outer space or dead souls haunting abandoned buildings. Often, misinformation is cunningly designed to evade careful analytical reasoning—it can easily slip under the radar of even the most well-informed people. Shun blind optimism.
Consciously identify your biases and adverse instincts. Psychologists have identified more than 100 cognitive biases that can get in the way of clear and rational thinking. Explore how those biases could come into play in your thinking. Try to determine their motive. Work to extricate yourself from them to the best of your ability.
Demand proof when the facts seem demonstrable. Remain intellectually agnostic toward what hasn’t been established scientifically or isn’t provable. If you can’t determine if something is true or it isn’t, suspend judgment. Beware of anecdotes—emotionally swaying stories in particular—they are the weakest form of evidence.
Don’t believe in something that isn’t true just because there’s a practical reason to. If you feel emotionally inclined to believe in something because it gives you hope, comfort, and the illusion of control, identify your belief as just that. Faith is often no more than an inclination that’s not withstood the tests of reason. The process of faith is an absence of doubt. There’ll always be people who reject evolution for reasons that have little to do with evolution. Don’t act with more confidence in unproven theories than is justifiable.
Idea for Impact: Be wary of the influences that can put you at risk for magical thinking.
Give critical thinking and systematic evidence the central role in how you understand the world. Improving the criteria you use to judge the truth of things is difficult—but it’s of the essence. Have an unvarying, well-balanced degree of skepticism about everything, especially your own postulations.