One of the best ways to make better decisions is to have a deeper understanding of the many things that might stop that happening.
We are far less rational than we like to think we are and we sabotage our thought processes by falling victim to our cognitive biases, our limited attention spans, and our tendency to overestimate our abilities
in areas that are outside our circle of competence.
In this article we are going to focus on another often overlooked factor, and that is the stories that we tell ourselves, the narratives that we weave, and to look closely at how we can avoid what is referred to as the narrative fallacy.
We are hard wired to tell stories and these stories are our way of trying to find meaning
in what so often feel likes a random, chaotic and meaningless universe.
Psychologists have developed a theory about this called narrative theory which offers an explanation as to how we construct our identities through storytelling.
The human brain has evolved a wide range of modules which filter,
interpret and explain and interpret what's going on in the world around
us and all with the primary purpose of helping us to survive.
There is module in our brains that seeks explanations and establishes causality - or what it thinks is causality.
Neuroscientist Dr. Michael Gazzaniga describes this module as The Interpreter as it seeks explanations and explains causality in what is happening in the events that we see and experience, and it then provides us with a plausible end to end narrative of what has happened and why.
Cause & Effect Explanations
The interpreter is constantly spinning stories and supplying causal explanations to the data it’s being fed; doing the best job it can with what it’s got to keep us alive and reproducing.
This may make
you feel safe and in control, but it is so often wrong and it causes you to make sub-optimal decisions to which you are oblivious until you reap the consequences.
Falling Victim to The Narrative Fallacy
This means that we fall foul of the narrative fallacy.
This can best be described as a reverse mirror mental trap that causes us:
As Nassim Taleb points out: we are overwhelmed with so much sensory information that our brains have no choice but to put things in a sequenced order and our brains operate as a linear scanner. This is the only way that we can process the world around us.
The Filter of Beliefs and Cognitive Biases
The difficulty with narrative is that it fools us into believing that we can explain the past through cause-and-effect when we hear a story that supports our prior beliefs and we become subject to confirmation bias.
For example, stories of individual success in the fields of sport or business resonate with readers by offering what the human mind needs: a simple message of success and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression.
These stories may serve many wonderful functions: teaching, motivating, inspiring but the problem is that we too often believe that these stories are predictive.
Gazzaniga describes the way in which our brains can be tricked and manipulated as“hijacking”.
Your brain can be hijacked in so many ways, for example it:
The collective and cumulative impact of hijacking is what causes the tsunami of fake narratives that pour out of multiple social media channels 24/7 and that influence so many already biased minds into dark areas without any direct responsibility.
Anonymously, we are shown "facts" that we want to believe and share in order to feed that hate, to propel that anger.
This failure to see the whole picture, in many cases this failure to even realise that there is a bigger picture, leads so many people to seeing things in simplistic binary terms.
Our paleolithic ancestors, believed what they saw. But with the evolution of language and more sophisticated cognitive capabilities modern people believe what they hear.
We no longer see and believe, we hear and conclude - but without checking the facts.
The Tyranny Of The Intolerant Minority
The compound effect of all of these issues has led to the phenomena of the "Tyranny Of The Intolerant Minority" which occurs when an intolerant minority is present in a
society where the majority are flexible and accommodating, and have no
strong values-based leadership.
What happens is that the flexible, tolerant majority accept the intolerant
minority position but the intolerant minority do not reciprocate.
The outcome of this is that rather than the minority being assimilated into the flexible majority, the flexible majority become assimilated into the inflexible minority and the majority of us become ruled by their unbalanced and extreme beliefs.
This in turn makes it difficult if not impossible to make better decisions.
Story telling is a terrible way to make better decisions because:
Each time you face a decision use these steps, as a tool to counteract the narrative fallacy and your biases and, to help you make better decisions:
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