Why do we unconsciously make mistakes

Misconception: How the subconscious affects us

We make a multitude of decisions every day. Allegedly more than 20,000. Many methods and decision-making aids help us to make better decisions. But the best technology is useless if the subconscious is playing tricks on us. Thought is the basis of our actions, but dangerous thinking errors often occur in the process. A wrongly interpreted information or a wrong assumption can be the starting point for a gigantic negative spiral. Typical mistakes in reasoning - and how you can protect yourself against them ...

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

Misconception: The power of the subconscious

A study from the Netherlands, for example, shows how much neglected influences can influence us: Henk Aarts, professor of social and organosational psychology and his colleague Ruud Custers, both from the University of Utrecht, found that people change their behavior just because they do are exposed to optical stimuli. Still too cryptic? Then more specifically: Imagine you walk into an office and see a leather wallet lying on your desk ... Nothing special, you think? Error! In the related experiments, the subjects in this case immediately competed more with one another. Conversely, they behaved more harmoniously as soon as they saw a picture of a library in the background. Employees also kept their workplaces cleaner when there was a slight smell of cleaning agents in the air.

That sounds comparatively harmless. Nevertheless, it already makes clear what power the subconscious exerts on us every day. Another experiment involved solving a puzzle, for example. Before that, however, the test subjects were shown a few words related to it on monitors. However, part of the group occasionally saw words on the screen that had positive associations - for example, “Beach, friend, home”. These fade-ins were so short that they were imperceptible to the conscious mind. However, they were definitely registered, because when the participants later received the puzzles, the group that had previously been unconsciously influenced was more motivated and worked harder and longer on the task.

Experiments like these abound:

  • For example, salespeople give less price reductions when concluding contracts if they sit on a hard chair.
  • Others drink more as soon as they see terms related to thirst, water, or refreshment (a tip for decorating bars, perhaps?).
  • Still others tend to give more constructive feedback as soon as they see a plaque in the background with the names of their loved ones.

A small unconscious stimulus - and our entire behavior changes.

We are not exposed to our subconscious

The processing of information by the subconscious is initially a completely automatic process. It helps us to process the flood of information, stimuli and impressions that shower us every day more easily. It is a survival mechanism without which we would simply go insane. However - and this is the good news - we are not helplessly exposed to our subconscious. Most actions and decisions are then made by consciousness. The subconscious affects us only as long as we stop reflecting on our thoughts and actions, such as:

  • Why do I want this now?
  • Why am I so angry right now?
  • Why do I want to say or do that now?

As soon as we begin to stop acting affectively, we have taken a big step towards inner freedom and become more independent of external influences, provocations or even attempts at manipulation.

8 typical mistakes in reasoning

But stop! It's not that easy after all. Because even with enough self-reflection, there are still a few thought traps that we can consciously tap into. They belong to the group of clichés and stereotypes that we have acquired at some point and are now convinced that they are true. But they don't have to, or no longer have to. A few of them are particularly typical and therefore you may also know them from everyday life:

1. Black and white thinking

In fact, many people tend to think and argue in absolute either-or categories, especially when discussing. Child OR career, success OR happiness, right OR wrong, the same opinion OR an idiot ... Such an attitude only leads to extremism and fundamentalism and overlooks the fact that the world shimmers in many shades of gray. Those who think this way limit their own horizons and become more and more inflexible spiritually. More intolerant anyway.

What helps against the mistake of thinking: Always change your perspective and admit that there may be wrong opinions (from your own point of view), but that the other must live with them and become happy and maybe even can. And of course there is also a good deal of narcissism and perfectionism in this thought trap. One way out is to accept that you are not always the smartest and not have to prove anything to the world. In addition to the either-or attitude, there is often an as well as.

2. Generalize

What is good and right for oneself does not necessarily have to be for others. As a typical advice page, we know what we are talking about: Yes, we are often happy to give clear and general recommendations as to what we think is helpful. Anything else would not be credible either (who recommends what they do not believe in?). But even if we write this with full conviction, this is only an offer. The clear tendency is intended to provide a kind of orientation aid that can be accepted but does not have to be. In any case, we do not imagine that if you do not follow this advice, you will automatically fail. We just believe the opposite: that this increases the chances of success. This includes numerous individually deviating paths.

What helps against the mistake of thinking: As banal as it sounds: don't generalize. It always becomes problematic when a certain view is generalized to dictate or dogma. Many become blind to it, most of their own experiences and successes are based on many variables that do not exist twice. Leave the past in its time. And stop judging others in general, even though they only see a part. Often this is just an echo of yourself. Or as the saying goes: "What Peter says about Paul says more about Peter than about Paul."

3. Emotionalize

Quite a few think what they feel corresponds to reality. But that is a mistake. It is true that emotions cannot be discussed away - they are reality. But not THE reality itself. Feelings are deceptive, they can also change quickly. And that in turn sometimes confuses our minds violently.

What helps against the mistake of thinking: Discipline yourself to be more rational about things. Your gut tells you, “I have a really bad feeling about it…” But your mind should ask, “Why do I have this? Are there justified reasons for this? ”Of course, we like to get around with rationalization again and again. That is why feelings or our conscience are a good countercheck - but only in the interplay do we trick the thinking error.

4. Omniscience

Someone says something and you think, “Ah, I know, I know, and I already know the answer!” Probably the biggest mistake of all: a mixture of inability to listen and bias. Or in short: the assumed omniscience. It seduces us into selective perception and so that we only hear what we want to hear and what we think we know. However, our tendentious perception significantly hinders the quality of our decisions and actions - without our being aware of it.

What helps against the mistake of thinking: Unfortunately, there is no really satisfactory way out (in the sense of three bullet points and then it works). The only chance to mitigate the effect consists in self-reflection as critically as possible and repeatedly seeking advice from friends and independent third parties, combined with careful listening and inquiries.

5. If-then attitude

Setting goals is an essential key to success. Big or small doesn't matter. Just reaching these self-chosen milestones makes us happy. We feel self-determined and at the same time know: “What I plan, I can achieve.” So far, everything is good. Often, however, people associate these goals with if-then conditions: "If I only earned 500 euros more, my job would be more fun." "If only I had more responsibility, then I could achieve more." If I had more power, then some things would change here. ”A fallacy. Because what actually happens is: nothing. As soon as we finally earn the 500 euros more, have more responsibility or power, we are not automatically happier. Or at least only in the short term. And the if-then phase starts all over again.

What helps against the mistake of thinking: Cultivate an attitude of gratitude - especially for accomplishments. There is always a higher, faster, further. And there is nothing wrong with setting yourself high goals. But satisfaction does not come from the (endless) hunt for it, but rather from being aware of the path you have already traveled - and being grateful for it. It usually also helps to focus less on the goal (“500 euros more per month”) and more on what you want to do with it and why it should make you so much happier. Depending on the situation, you will discover an alternative how you can achieve this goal in exactly the same way - only regardless of the increase in salary.

6. Black vision

Of course, you should “rethink” all your decisions as thoroughly as possible. But as with everything, the same applies here: The dose makes the poison. Analyzing, worrying and problematizing can also be overdone. For example, the question of whether you will brush your teeth manually or electrically in the future becomes a vital choice of philosophy, the outcome of which could endanger 500 hectares of rainforest. Some even look for errors where there are none. In this case, those affected have already conditioned their minds to search for errors - typical for chronic nonsenseers. Not infrequently, behind the critical rethinking, there is also a hidden procrastination tactic in order to avoid the actual decision and thus also responsibility.

What helps against the mistake of thinking: First: set deadlines and stick to them. Above all, however, focus on the essential questions and remain realistic and pragmatic: the world does not end with one decision. And even if it turns out to be wrong afterwards, it is usually better to have moved on at all. It is usually better to make a decision at all and accept mistakes (which can also be learned from).

7. Foreign goals

Whether we want it or not: Our environment shapes us. Not just friends or family. Also what we read as supposed truths and by comparing ourselves: "All of my fellow students are now in management positions - I should have been there by now!" "I should have had a flourishing company long ago ..." Dissatisfaction and comparison can be incentives and arouse ambitions - but often they only reinforce each other. But with this imperative in the subjunctive we usually lie to ourselves: It is not their life that we live, but our own. And that can be very different. It is not whether the neighbor in the same year already earns 100,000 euros more a year that counts, but our own intentions, which is really important to us.

What helps against the mistake of thinking: Quite banal: Make a list - with your long-term goals in life: for example, to be happily married, to have great children, to live in your own house, to travel the world, to start your own business, all that money to earn ... something. Next, go through this list - and cross out anything that you (just) think you need to (but really don't want to) achieve. What is left are your own goals. And now you can make your own schedule for them. It is irrelevant whether the neighbor or colleague achieves one of these goals and possibly much earlier. Do you know if that really makes him happier?

8. Treason

There may come a point where you realize: “I'm running out of time, I'm lagging behind my own plan. Worse: I may no longer achieve my goal. ”Quite a few then fall into the next thought trap: They help the supposed happiness with unfair means and reveal their personal values ​​in the process. No matter what you achieve with it (if it goes well at all), it never feels good afterwards. You can fool others maybe like that, but nobody cheats themselves. The success is never real, it leaves a bitter aftertaste and possibly a few corpses in the basement that you have to fear forever that one will discover.

What helps against the mistake of thinking: Remain true to yourself and your own values. In life it will most certainly happen that you never achieve some of your goals and success here and there will not be successful. Then to be able to honestly say: “At least I tried” is always more satisfying than knowing: My success and life's work are based on betraying myself (and others). Success costs: strength, diligence, discipline - but never your own values, please. They are priceless.

How to reduce mistakes in reasoning

All of these errors of thought are basically normal and occur in numerous people every day. But Stephan Fleming from the University College London found out that we can also reduce their influence - by relating the level of our self-confidence to the errors in thinking or the right decisions.

In short, the researcher discovered that people who often reflect on their thinking and decisions have higher self-confidence. And, in turn, helps them to make fewer mistakes. More conscious thinking - or better said: thinking ahead BEFORE acting not only protects us from wrong decisions: It also increases our self-confidence and thus in turn the number of correct decisions.

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