We live in an age of abundant information. You can search websites, read books and blogs, listen to podcasts, and examine research to become knowledgeable about almost every subject. But just because you get an answer doesn’t mean it’s accurate. As Richard Dawkins, the British author, said, “By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.”
Some folks treat everything they read as gospel and act on the information without questioning it. Then, if things don’t turn out as planned, they have a built-in excuse. After all, they acted on advice from a friend, a recommendation from a website, or research published in a prominent journal. It never crossed their minds that the information they acted on was biased, the research was flawed, or the expert wasn’t really an expert after all. They just assumed the information was objective, accurate, and truthful — and never gave it a second thought.
Consider the advice of others but trust yourself in the end.
Think Before You Act
It’s important to be as informed as you can. As President Woodrow Wilson said, “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.” At the same time, have a healthy dose of skepticism before acting on that information. Don’t be quick to assume others know better, buy into the latest fad, or be persuaded to do something that doesn’t feel right. In other words, use your brains. There is an old saying, “If someone told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?” Of course not. And yet we follow advice, hop on the bandwagon, or believe information without questioning it every day.
Before you take something as gospel, do your homework. What criteria do you use to evaluate information?
Published material. It’s important to analyze information for accuracy, honesty, objectivity, timeliness, and thoroughness. Ask yourself: Do you continually tap the same resource? Is the source credible? Does it reinforce your existing beliefs or provide a fresh perspective? Is the message one-sided or comprehensive? Is the information opinion or fact? Is it current or outdated? You’re careful about the food that you put into your body. Be equally prudent about how you feed your mind.
Advice. Before seeking advice, know exactly what you need and determine the most qualified person to ask. Everyone has a unique perspective. Some people are subject- matter experts. Other individuals have an intimate knowledge of you and your personal preferences. While others may have experienced a similar situation firsthand. Second, before acting on any recommendation, know the rationale. If the reasoning isn’t logical to you, that should be a warning sign. Last, just because it’s right for someone, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Again, use your brains.
Influences. We are dramatically affected by the people around us. In fact, we tend to follow others rather than think for ourselves. Even though being part of a group provides comfort and security it doesn’t guarantee that your group will always think intelligently; in fact, their reasoning may be deeply flawed — and you may be following them right off a cliff. Listen to your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t let others convince you otherwise. One or many believers don’t determine the truth or untruth.
Recommendations. Some folks buy things if they receive a lot of five-star reviews. Unfortunately, you’ll never know if those reviews are real or fake. Take the time to read the comments to determine whether the review is objective, accurate, and truthful.
Research. Some people view research as the unvarnished truth. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Ask yourself, is the methodology rigorous? Is the sample biased? Did the author falsify or fabricate the data, omit key information, or distort the findings? Does the author or researcher have a personal bias or a conflict of interest? Does the sponsor have a second agenda or a vested interest in the outcome?
Know When It’s Time to Reverse Course
Warning…. Even if you secure the best information, there’s still a catch. It is critical for you to pause periodically — to evaluate whether you’re achieving the results that you desire. If you accept the guidance in published materials, research, or advice and it doesn’t pan out, reverse course. While that may seem obvious, some people barrel forward without giving it a second thought. As Yogi Berra, the Baseball Hall of Fame catcher, said, “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn’t my fault that I’m not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?”
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Are You Using Your Brains?
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