“People don’t think like scientists; they think like lawyers. They hold the belief they want to believe and then they recruit anything they can to support it,” says Peter Ditto, a psychologist who studies judgment and decision-making at the University of California, Irvine. Whether we know it or not, our minds hold irrational thoughts that help us feel better about ourselves or the realities of the world around us.
You Are Irrational
We are all encoded with irrational thought. Everybody has subconscious biases and preferences that shape the way we understand information. According to discovermagazine.com, “motivated reasoning” is our tendency to filter facts to support our pre-existing belief system. This is the standard way that we all process information.1
People tend to formulate opinions and beliefs that resonate within them and seem true. We then seek information that supports our beliefs and we often dismiss data that suggests our belief is incorrect. We even identify with groups of like-minded people and accept their beliefs about other subjects because we tend to trust like-minded people. Not only is motivated reasoning how we get political parties, but it is also how we often deceive ourselves about truths that we don’t want to face.
“Motivated Reasoning” Can be Dangerous
Our motivated reasoning is harmless most of the time. With political or moral issues, our biased reasoning usually won’t harm other people. No harm, no foul, right? However, it is dangerous to avoid facing the facts about the reality of your personal well-being.
If you run a Google search for evidence that coffee is unhealthy, you will find several websites with evidence that coffee is unhealthy. On the contrary, if you run a Google search for evidence that coffee is healthy, you will find plenty of evidence for that too. What we choose to believe will probably be determined by your preference of what we want to believe, and we’ll dismiss the contrary evidence.
This is dangerous because it is easy for people with an addiction or unhealthy behavior to justify themselves by relying on incorrect information. The pressing reality of our unhealthy habits and irrational thoughts needs to be addressed before it gets more difficult. Many people spend years deceiving themselves because they don’t want to face the hard truth.
What Irrational Thoughts Do You Hide Behind?
Someone else can’t do a “reality check” for us. Luckily, Psychology Today2 has provided three steps to help identify whether you might be hiding behind irrational or self-deceptive thoughts. As you learn about your own irrational thoughts, take the time to observe yourself, without judgment or evaluation.
1.) Notice Your Emotion
Generally, if you are emotionally responsive to something, it may be because you are reminded of something that is unresolved, raw or painful. These are usually areas where it is difficult to admit or accept the truth.
For example, if you struggle with trust issues in your romantic relationships, you may feel anxious, angry, or scared when falling in love with a new partner. When you have a strong emotional reaction to something or someone, pause. Ask yourself: What is this emotion? What is my emotion in reaction to? Is my emotion related to the present situation or is the present situation triggering a memory of unresolved baggage from my past?
2.) Notice Your Thoughts
We all want to believe that our thoughts are accurate reflections of reality. Unfortunately, our thoughts are very inaccurate, but we often don’t even notice. Through motivated reasoning, our inaccurate thinking deflects painful realities that we don’t want to admit.
For example, when entering a new romantic relationship, people often think things that are incredibly irrational. These thoughts can be very negative, such as “I am sure my new partner is cheating on me because my ex cheated” and “I am scared to fall in love because I am going to get hurt.” Or they can be overly positive, like “This is the most amazing person in the world.”
3.) Notice Your Behavior
We want our behavior to be separate from our identity because we often don’t want to believe that the way we act reflects who we are. For example, you don’t want to admit that you are jealous even though you check your partners’ phone messages. Yet, the truth is that our behavior is a reflection of who we are in some way.
Opportunity to Change
You might think you are immune from motivated reasoning, but everybody is guilty. It is easier to recognize motivated reasoning in other people than it is in ourselves. We cannot be honest with others or have healthy relationships unless we are first honest with ourselves. Being honest with yourself takes daily effort and we must acknowledge some painful realizations. However, by observing ourselves. We can realize who we really are and take the opportunity to change!
Watch for PART 4 of this series about confronting life change!
If you missed the previous two parts, you can catch up by following these links:
1 A User’s Guide to Rational Thinking | DiscoverMagazine.com. (2018). Discover Magazine. Retrieved 6 November 2018, from http://discovermagazine.com/2015/july-aug/16-user-guide-rational-thinking
2 How Do I Know When I Am Lying to Myself?. (2018). Psychology Today. Retrieved 6 November 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/naked-truth/201405/how-do-i-know-when-i-am-lying-myself