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4 Ways You Fool Yourself

Updated on December 13, 2016
Woman Thinking
Woman Thinking

Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.

— Richard Feynman

1. Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. So for example you may know that ice cream is killing you, but another inconsistent thought pipes up telling you that's fine and that you want to buy it. Or in another case you might be going out with someone and you see a blatant red flag. The part of you that is not denying reality is saying this person is a nut job, but you deny that and come to an illusory belief in their sanity. Cognitive dissonance can apply to many different situations, but it is in essence a finely crafted form of self suggestion, a kind of illusory state created by your fear of reality.

According to Festinger, the person who created the theory of cognitive dissonance, we hold many cognitions about the world and ourselves; when they clash, a discrepancy is evoked, resulting in a state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. As the experience of dissonance is unpleasant, we are motivated to reduce or eliminate it, and achieve consonance (agreement).

Cognitive Dissonance Dilbert Comic
Cognitive Dissonance Dilbert Comic

We need only in cold blood ACT as if the thing in question were real, and keep acting as if it were real, and it will infallibly end by growing into such a connection with our life that it will become real.

— William James

Most people are not liars. They can't tolerate too much cognitive dissonance. I don't want to deny that there are outright liars, just brazen propagandists. You can find them in journalism and in the academic professions as well. But I don't think that's the norm. The norm is obedience, adoption of uncritical attitudes, taking the easy path of self-deception.

— Noam Chomsky

2. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories. Most people like to believe that their thoughts, opinions, and ideas are logical, rational, and well thought out, taking into account all evidence and coming to a sound conclusion. Yet most people are entirely unaware that the human mind seeks evidence which upholds prejudice, while tending to ignore information that challenges preconceived notions.

CB allows people to hold all sorts of irrational beliefs. Take for example someone who believes in tarot card reading and astrology, they're going to notice all the times when the card reader or their horoscope is correct, while easily ignoring all the times that were blatantly inconsistent with reality. CB also allows people to believe that Islam is a religion of peace even while there are countless verses in the Quran that condone violence, killing, and holy war.

For a simple example I'll use ice cream again. Let's imagine we have an obese person and they're reading all sorts of studies on how ice cream reduces stress and increases happiness so they can comfortably eat ice cream all the time. However, they're ignoring the studies that show ice cream increases your risk for cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. That's the essence of CB.

Confirmation Bias Sports Fan
Confirmation Bias Sports Fan

Misguided good men are more dangerous than honest bad men. It is because they are seen as good that, in and by good conscience, the mob will always, stubbornly back them without question.

— Criss Jami

Most of us are not really approaching the subject [scriptures] in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it [them] in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party.

— C.S. Lewis

3. Projection

We've all heard of this one in some form or another, which is why people often know that a cranky person insulting others is really just down on themselves or having a bad day. Projection is basically when you will not accept yourself, so you project yourself onto someone else. Projection is the misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person who does not have those thoughts, feelings or impulses. Projection is used especially when the thoughts are considered unacceptable for the person to express, or they feel completely ill at ease with having them. For example, a spouse may be angry at their significant other for not listening, when in fact it is the angry spouse who does not listen. Projection is often the result of a lack of insight and acknowledgement of one’s own motivations and feelings.

Let's take for example someone who overeats. They might make a passive aggressive remark at how you hardy take the time to chew your food. Really it's not you that they are critical of, it is themselves, but they can't face that fact and so they project.

Psychological Projection Comic
Psychological Projection Comic

What we see in others is always a mirror of what we see in ourselves. Let it be LOVE that you see. Let it be love that you are.

— Kate McGahan

'I see how you look at me,' spits the hateful man. He thinks we look upon him with the evil eye when we are not looking at him that way at all. We are just looking at him. It’s because he can’t accept the hate inside of himself that he projects it onto us

— Kate McGahan

4. Rationalization

Rationalization is putting something into a different light or offering a different explanation for one’s perceptions or behaviors in the face of a changing reality. For instance, a woman who starts dating a man she really, really likes and thinks the world of is suddenly dumped by the man for no reason. She reframes the situation in her mind with, “I suspected he was a loser all along.”

Another example of rationalization would be religious people saying you are twisting the scriptures, interpreting them wrong, or taking verses out of context, when really you're just taking an objective look at their holy book.

When I tell a meat eater that their food choice is increasing their risk for heart disease, cancer, and various diseases they will rationalize their choices by telling me it's convenient, or that there's no better source of protein, fat, and essential nutrients. That is a very clear example of rationalization.

Rationalization is an advanced form of self suggestion, by using the intellect to cover for primitive irrational desires, one can get away with fooling themselves for a very long time. Sometimes people can go their entire lives wronging others while maintaining a sense of benevolence through rationalization.

Rationalization is a process of not perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotions

— Ayn Rand

Sometimes, we need little lies to save our pride. And sometimes we need big lies to save our souls.

— Bettie Sharpe

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