To buy the full book visit: Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America
We all use our brains. But some of us have never learned how to think effectively. This is not about IQ or other measures of intelligence, which matter in their own way; it is about thinking as a learned skill. Thinking is never taught in schools, and the result is glaring in our everyday life. If you use social media, you’re probably seeing a lot of absurd and unproductive reasoning Scott Adams calls loserthink.
Loserthink isn’t about being underinformed, and it isn’t about being dumb. Loserthink is about unproductive ways of thinking.
You can be well informed and smart while at the same time being a flagrant loserthinker. It is highly possible.
For instance, a trained engineer learns a certain way of thinking about the world that is different from how, a philosopher, a lawyer, or an economist thinks. Having any one of these skill sets puts you way ahead in understanding the world and thinking productively. But unless you sample the thinking techniques across different fields, you are missing a lot. This is not about the facts one learns in those disciplines. It is about the techniques of thinking that students of these fields pick up during the learning process.
The good thing is you do not need to master the fields of engineering, economics, philosophy, science, law, or any other field to learn the basics of how to think the way experts in those areas think.
Loserthink will help you become acquainted with the most productive thinking techniques borrowed from multiple domains. Learning how to think productively does not come naturally to any of us. But it is easy to learn. You simply have to be exposed to the techniques, and you’ll likely remember them for the rest of your life. The techniques are simple to understand and easy to master. This summary will set your brain filters to recognize loserthink wherever you encounter it, in others, and in yourself.
Did you know? If you have been exposed to the thinking styles of only a few disciplines, you will have large gaps in your ability to think about the world productively.
If your complaint about other people involves your belief that you can deduce their inner thoughts, you might be in a mental prison. Humans think they are good judges of what other humans are thinking. We are not. In fact, we are dreadful at it. But people being people, we generally believe we are good at it while also believing other people are not.
The impact of this faulty mind reading is that you are often penalized for what other people think you are thinking. Being punished for other people’s thoughts is an unpleasant experience. If your opinion depends on knowing the inner thoughts of a stranger, or even someone close to you, then you might be in a mental prison.
You can only know what people say and do, and even that knowledge is likely to be incomplete or out of context. And you definitely can’t tell what others are thinking as often as you believe you can. It just feels as if you have that ability. It is an illusion.
If your opinion depends on reliably knowing other people’s inner thoughts, you might be experiencing loserthink.
If you spend some time on the internet, you’ll notice people branding other people as apologists, racists, trolls, and other words that mean “evil.” That’s usually a form of loserthink. Just to be clear, if you are talking about someone who keeps the remaining parts of humans in a freezer in his basement, go ahead and call that person evil.
The loserthink comes into play when we imagine we can read people’s minds (as opposed to observing their actions), and we totally-definitely see some evil in there. We humans did not evolve to be mind readers. We did evolve to jump to ridiculous conclusions while imagining we did not. So, if you are playing the odds, your confidence that you can see some evil in another person’s soul is probably closer to being batshit crazy than to being the first known human with psychic powers.
If you think you can gaze into the soul of a stranger and see evil, you might be experiencing a loserthink hallucination.
We like to think we can judge people’s relative goodness and evilness by observing their actions, but that only works with the easy stuff, such as crime and bullying, and then only when we are sure of the facts. A more typical situation is that people have different ideas about how to reach a greater good in this world.
You might think capitalism is the only way to a better world, while someone else thinks we should focus more on fairness and sharing, which you might call socialism. Preferring one plan to another in the quest for a better world is not evil. It is loserthink to act as if it is.
Did you know? If a simple explanation fits the facts, but you chose an extraordinary interpretation instead, you might have too much confidence in your opinion.
Occam’s razor is like someone trying to throw an anvil at an enemy. If you could lift an anvil and throw it a mile, it would be a powerful weapon. But you can’t, so it isn’t. Similarly, if people could accurately deduce which of several competing explanations is the simplest one, Occam’s razor would mean something. But we can’t. So, it doesn’t.
Psychological projection is a real phenomenon, but if you think untrained people can identify it in strangers, you might be experiencing loserthink.
In the field of psychology, there is a phenomenon called projection. The simple description of projection is that people accuse others of having the flaws the accuser possesses, and the target might not. For example, a liar might accuse an honest person of being a liar, and might actually believe it. Or a thief might accuse others of stealing — that sort of thing.
Scott Adam’s view on projection is that a professional with a background and education in psychology, who has spent time with a particular client, might be capable of diagnosing projection. And it makes sense that a liar would have a filter on the world in which everyone else is lying too.
There are two ways to look at the ego. One of those ways is extraordinarily useful. The other way is loserthink. And by that, Scoot Adams means it almost guarantees you will be unsuccessful in your career and your personal life. One productive way to think of your ego is to consider it a tool, and not a reflection of who you are. The time you consider your ego as a tool, you can choose to tune it up when needed and tune it down when it would be an obstacle.
Humans hold a higher opinion of their abilities than the facts warrant, that mindset can lead to better results in sports, test-taking, romance, our social lives, careers, and more.
The time you are fit, you will feel more confident in any situation. That’s because confidence is strongly correlated with success. The sweet spot for self-confidence involves operating with the belief that you can do more than the available evidence suggests, but not so much more that it would be crazy.
For example, talking yourself into believing you are the best applicant for a job that many others are trying to get. That belief can come across as confidence, which is a good state of mind to take into a job interview. Confident people perform better under stress. But you don’t want to crank up your ego too much because then you would come across as arrogant.
Lying to yourself a little bit — to boost your ego — can be productive. But don’t overdo it.
Did you know? Thinking ego defines you and is not a tool you can tune up and down as needed, is loserthink.
A defining characteristic of good artists is that they tend to have strong powers of imagination. And that image can be helpful in keeping you out of mental prison. But you don’t need to have an artist–level imagination in order to see the world more clearly.
Have you ever been angered by someone’s apparent selfishness, sloth, lying, incompetence, rudeness, or criminality and later realized there was a perfectly good reason for whatever they did, and it wasn’t for any of those reasons? That situation describes half of most people’s experience of life. We’re continually making bad assumptions about why things happened.
We, humans, are a skeptical bunch, and we often think someone or some entity is running a scam on us. Unfortunately, we are often right. But at least half the time, in general, we think a conspiracy exists when there are perfectly normal explanations for events.
As a rule, we can’t always tell the difference between the people who are far smarter than us and the people who are dumber. Both groups make choices we can’t understand. That’s an important thing to keep in mind. If your opinion is that another person’s idea is terrible, you can only be sure that at least one of you is stupid. You can’t really know which one of you it is except in rare cases in which things can be objectively measured.
When you have multiple possible explanations for an outcome, such as you might hear from competing sides in a murder trial, you can usually sniff out the truth so long as you have a sincere dedication to facts and reason. Or at least we all hope you can because otherwise, the justice system is nothing but a cruel and expensive placebo. But keep in mind that jury trials are a special situation in which the facts are meticulously explained, and a judge helps you decide how to wrestle with those facts.
Your normal life is nothing like that. In our daily lives, we’re often guessing about the facts based on hints, hunches, bias, misinformation, and the like. It is no wonder so many people are walking around in what looks to you a state of delusional thinking.
If you can’t conjure another explanation for a set of facts, it might be because you are bad at imagining things.
Life is messy and unpredictable. Sometimes our underpowered and biased brains correctly deduce a chain of cause and effect. But the accuracy of our opinions is deeply influenced by our ability to imagine alternate explanations for events.
So, what do you do about that? Scott Adams recommends making a mental note every time you find yourself being wrong about something you thought you couldn’t possibly be wrong about. Focusing on your track record can prime you to understand there can be lots of different explanations for a set of facts, and you can’t always think of them all.
Did you know? Sometimes our underpowered and biased brains correctly deduce a chain of cause and effect. But the accuracy of our opinions is deeply influenced by our ability to imagine alternate explanations for events.
One of the strongest walls in our mental prisons is a thing called history. And history isn’t even real in two ways. The first way history is not real is that whoever is in charge gets to write history any way they like. And the way they like it in whatever way keeps them in power and looking awesome. That means you should expect the history in one country to be substantially different from the history in another, even when discussing the same events. Which history is the accurate one?
Answer: Neither. Both are filtered and distorted to the point of being misleading if not outright untrue, except for the basic facts such as dates and names.”
If you believe you learned the correct version of history in school, you are probably wrong.
History books get most of the big stuff right, for example, slavery really existed, and World Wars I and II really happened. But context matters and every story can be told multiple ways. Ever since the US presidential election of 2016, the populace has been bombarded with fake news from every political direction. Both sides generate fake news and lots of it. Which versions will historians choose to put in textbooks?
They have multiple realities from which to choose. The best bet is that historians will choose versions of history that are best suited for indoctrinating kids to be obedient and productive citizens. The truth will be a secondary consideration, as always, when it comes to socializing children into productive adults.
There is a second and more profound way in which history keeps us in mental prison: it can have too strong a hold on us. If you can learn to release that hold, another wall of your mental prison will fall. The best example of history as a mental prison is the Middle East. Almost everyone in that region is anchored to history in one negative way or another. Here is a summary of every debate in the Middle East.
First PERSON: Do you remember the time people like you did terrible things to people like me?
Second Person: That was only because people like you did bad things to people like me first.
First PERSON: People like you started it!
And so on to infinity.
If you could erase the knowledge of history from every citizen in the Middle East, it would be easier to live in peace. Trouble happens when we try to manage events in the present to fix the past. This is not possible. The past can’t be fixed, and trying to do so won’t lead to anything good.
But, from a persuasion perspective, history can be a useful tool. If you can make someone feel guilty for something his demographic group did to yours, it might be able to influence him in a way that is good for you. But don’t make the mistake of believing that history matters in situations in which all it does is limit how you think about your options. History doesn’t have to control you.
Did you know? History (even the fake kind) can be useful for persuading others through guilt. But don’t make the mistake of persuading yourself that history should matter to your choices today.
During Scott Adam’s corporate career, he had been involved with dozens of software upgrade projects over the years, both in his cubicle days and later as a cartoonist and entrepreneur. And one thing you can always count on is that whoever is hired to work on the new version of the software will call the person who worked on the last version an idiot. Let’s label this phenomenon professional jealousy.
If you are wondering how skeptical you should be about expert advice on complicated issues, keep in mind that the next expert probably has no respect for the last expert. And vice versa.
Assigning blame to the last person who worked on a project is not limited to technology workers. You see it in every job and in politics. And once you have seen it often enough, you can incorporate it into your thinking. That means whenever you are talking to an expert in any realm, be aware that the next expert is likely to tell you the work done by the last expert looked like a monkey pounding a keyboard with a banana. And the expert after that will be just as rough on the prior expert, all the way to infinity.
Engineers are trained to find practical solutions to problems even when emotions and politics are pushing untrained minds in the wrong direction. Non-engineers often find themselves locked in a mental prison that says the solution to a problem has to be tightly coupled with the cause. That can often be the right path. But sometimes, the cause of a problem is not the best place to look for a solution, and engineers are trained to understand that.
For example, if your home were repeatedly burglarized, most of us would say the fault is with the criminals. But the solution might not involve criminals at all. The solution might involve, for example, getting a dog, better door locks, an alarm system, and an NRA sticker for your front door. Loserthink pairs the solution with the blame. A more productive way to think is that solutions can come from anywhere.
Consider the topic of immigration. The fault for illegal immigration lies entirely with the people who do it. But it isn’t reasonable to expect they will be the ones who solve it. The only solutions to illegal immigration involve either the government making all immigration legal or finding better ways to keep people from immigrating to the country illegally.
A common form of this loserthink is the “Who started it?” question. That’s another way to assign responsibility. There are plenty of reasons to assign responsibility for outcomes. But it doesn’t always tell you the best person to solve the problem. If the group that started a problem is unable or unwilling to solve it. Then the solution to the problem will be unrelated to the cause, and that’s okay. Engineers learn to detach emotions from their decisions. This allows them to find the best solution to a problem without being limited by the question of who is at fault.
Did you know? The people who cause problems are the only people who should solve them. This thinking is very childlike thinking to insist in all cases.
This might help you to know that confirmation bias looks exactly like that. If you think your opinion on a topic is correct because of coincidences that can’t be explained any other way
The day Scoot Adams wrote this paragraph, he bought a package of Sharpies (marking pens), which he loves using for a variety of reasons. While unpacking his shopping bag at home, his television was on. He heard Greg Gutfeld proclaiming his love of Sharpies on the Fox News show “The Five.” That happened while he was holding his new Sharpies in his hand, thinking how great they were. The world is bristling with meaningless coincidences.
One day on Twitter, someone sent around a viral video clip from a movie made in 1958. That involved a con man named Trump trying to sell a protective wall to unsuspecting villagers in a western town. At the same time, Scott Adam saw the video clip, President Trump was visiting the border to talk about his plans for a “wall.” Politics aside, this was quite a coincidence.
What do all these coincidences mean? Absolutely nothing!
Coincidences happen all the time. But humans are wired to put meaning on coincidences, when this happens, it is loserthink.
To be fair, sometimes coincidences do mean something. If the police are investigating a domestic murder, and the surviving spouse booked a flight out of the country right before it happened, that might not be a coincidence at all. But the far more typical situation is when we think a coincidence means something and it doesn’t. We are surrounded by coincidences. Most mean nothing at all.
The most common situations in which coincidences can be misleading involve your career and your personal life. When the topic has an emotional element, and you are already primed to believe something to be true, expect the environment to serve up lots of false signals.
For example, if you suspect a romantic partner of lying, suddenly, you see signs of it everywhere, even if those signals are false. And if you think a particular plan in your workplace is a bad one, you will see all kinds of signals that you are right, even when you are not. The more you care about a topic, the more susceptible you are to assigning meaning to coincidences. And if the situation is rich with variables, you will have plenty from which to choose.
“One of the most common forms of loserthink involves treating individual situations as though they represent an overall pattern or trend. When this sort of observational “evidence” is in play, the term for it is anecdotal, meaning it comes from your unstructured observations as opposed to scientific or other credible data. And therefore, it should not be deemed persuasive.
If someone wearing a green hat punches you in the stomach, you might irrationally draw the conclusion that green-hat-wearing people are dangerous. If you are smart, you’ll realize this is nothing but anecdotal evidence and not representative of all wearers of green hats. In everyday life, most people understand the difference between anecdotal evidence and scientific evidence.
Did you know? You reach general conclusion about a big topic by looking at anecdotal evidence, when you engage in loserthink.
As a teenager, Scott Adams observed the world around him. He thought that if he could understand the field of economics, he would have a huge advantage in comprehending his world. When it was time for college, he made economics his major. In his late twenties, he went back to school for evening classes and earned a master’s in business administration (MBA) from the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. Both of those educational experiences confirmed his hypothesis that understanding economics helps you understand the world on a deeper level.
A basic understanding of economics can help you “see around corners” that others cannot.
For instance, he uses his understanding of economics to avoid speeding tickets. The police department is like any organization that has a limited budget and limited resources. It is fair to assume that they have figured out how to get the most enforcement value out of the dollars they have. And that means not wasting resources handing out speeding tickets on Sunday mornings at six a.m., for example. It wouldn’t make economic sense to deploy resources when there is so little traffic. One of the benefits of giving out speeding tickets is that the other motorists see it happen. You don’t get that benefit with one motorist and one police officer on an empty highway.
It’s probably also harder to find law enforcement employees who would be willing to work odd hours. It might even cost more because of supply and demand. Like nearly everyone else who drives, Scott Adams sometimes exceeds the speed limit. But he uses his knowledge of economics to predict when and where the police — with their limited budget and resources — are likely to have speed traps.
Scott Adams talked to a professional financial advisor who recommended managed stock funds for his clients. The funds he recommended paid him to recommend their firms, so his clients were not getting independent advice. They paid this advisor about 1% of their portfolio per year to park their money with another fund that also charged a management fee. None of those fees added value. And the financial advisor knew this. Scott Adams asked him where he put his own money, and he laughed, saying he put his own money in unmanaged index funds that anyone could buy without paying fees to experts who recommend them.”
In the case of the financial advisor, everything he was doing was legal, although one could argue it shouldn’t have been. One of the most consistent rules of life is that bad behavior happens almost 100% of the time whenever you have this combination of variables.
1. There is money to be made from the bad behavior
2. The odds of detection are low
3. Lots of people are involve
When you have that setup, it is reasonable to assume crime is rampant. Your best defense for navigating a world in which experts are too often frauds is to seek second opinions whenever that is an option. Real experts are likely to give you advice that is similar or at least compatible.
Did you know? People who understand economics can more easily spot hoaxes because money drives human behavior in predictable ways.
It would be unkind to show you the walls of your mental prison. Without showing you how to break out. The following tools and techniques are for doing just that. Once you are free of your mental prison. Almost every part of your life will get easier. You will understand the world at a level most people never get to appreciate.
Every culture has its own feelings about success. This is called cultural gravity. A young black student in an inner-city area will have a lot of pressure to underperform in order to fit in. If you allow the opinions of unsuccessful people in your culture to hold you back, you’re engaged in loserthink. You can learn to think of yourself as free from the cultural gravity of your peers. It will pay off in the long run.
You don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be much use to anyone else.
Knowing where to start.
If you don’t know the right way to do something, try doing it wrong, so long as it is not dangerous to do so. Doing things wrong is an excellent way to figure out how to do things right. Scott Adams became one of the most successful cartoonists in the world by doing just about everything wrong until he figured out how to do it right. He became one of the highest-paid speakers at major events by being terrible at it until he understood what worked and what didn’t.
If you can’t figure out how to do a task the right way, do it the wrong way. Watch how quickly you get free advice.
Probably the most common way people fall into mental prisons is by not knowing the context of a situation. If you glance at the news headlines on any given day, you’ll be surprised how many so-called news stories are nothing but people misunderstanding what someone said or did because some context was missing.
Probably the single biggest error that humans make in their decision-making is ignoring relevant context. Sometimes, we do it intentionally, as in avoiding news and information sources that would give a competing explanation of reality. That problem can be fixed simply by broadening your information sources. But a bigger problem comes from not knowing what you don’t know.
Did you know? Reports about famous people and other newsworthy topics are either wrong or misleading. Almost about 60% of the time, often because they lack context. Wait a few days before forming an opinion on anything new, just in case context is missing. It usually is.
Keep some examples of your wrongness fresh in your memory. This way you can generate the right level of humility about your omniscience in future situations. Don’t think of your past mistakes as flaws, rather reframe them as learning experiences, because they are. Once you embrace the educational value that comes with being wrong, it will become easy to think. “But I might be wrong this time,” in any given situation.
There will be occasions where you need to dial down your ego to avoid looking like a jerk. For example. You might need to pretend in front of others that. You have some doubts about your opinion, even if you don’t. The alternative would be to look like an arrogant know-it-all. Don’t hesitate to fake humility when the situation calls for it. But don’t overdo it. On the whole, people prefer confident people.
Try this: Influence your ego and confidence.
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