So there’s this article going around called 10 life lessons you should unlearn. I’ve seen it passed around the last few days and held up as a great, helpful article. In reality, it has a mixture of good and bad points.
Sadly, one reason to be wary is that this article came from the Oprah magazine. There’s a decent chance that the advice sounds good, but has significant flaws if analyzed closely.
Point #7, that we should NOT think rationally about our decisions, really stuck out. Its rationale was that our “rational” brain is more error-prone than our “animal” brain. This is a foolish point of view that will cause more heartache than happiness in the long run for the following reasons:
1. The human ability to rationalize is our greatest strength over animals. It’s rational thinking that’s allowed our species to obtain its many achievements. Humans have created the Internet and walked on the moon. Our closest competitors can sometimes use sticks and rocks as tools. What the article’s author is asking us to do is to eliminate our greatest advantage.
2. The rational decider has a greater ability to recognize and correct for error. If a decision was made badly, he or she can figure what where the analysis went wrong and improve the decision process for the future. The “animal brain” counterpart does not have this resource.
3. The instinctive decision maker will feel like they are doing better than they actually are. This is for two reasons:
a. Sometimes things will turn out well, sometimes not. Unfortunately, human nature means most of us will put more weight on the times decisions do go well.
b. The instinctive decider has put less effort into considering the pros and cons of all decisions and consequences. This means a lower ability to determine whether a decision was optimal or not (perhaps if only the difference between “good” and “great”, or “bad” and “catastrophic”.)
4. The rational decider can more easily determine when there’s not enough information to make a good decision. Since the instinctive decider doesn’t lean on information as much, a decision might be made with an insufficient view of the situation.
5. It should be noted humans CAN develop instinct. But in order for human instinct to work well, it requires expertise and practice. Experts in a given field can make good decisions with less analysis because they’ve seen more situations and the consequences of decisions. (The chess readers of LEP can relate — you’ve probably noticed you naturally consider stronger moves with more practice and knowledge.)
Making an instinctive decision in a field you have no expertise in is essentially rolling the dice. Why let fate determine the outcome when you can affect how things turn out?
What point #7 should have been: Humans are strongest when they rely on each other. Following your instinct is reasonable if you are an expert in the field. But if you aren’t, and your rational analysis is insufficient to make a good decision, a better course of action is to find someone who is an expert and follow their instinct.
There are nine other pieces of advice in the article, which will not be analyzed here. The only thing I ask is that you actually think about what they say and determine whether they make sense, have important limitations, or are nonsensical.