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Develop Rational Thinking to Improve Your Life

I often tell clients that if they want what other people have—lasting love, meaningful work, supportive friends, tolerable family relations, and good health—they need to think and act as others do. By that, I mean people whom they respect and think well of. They can’t keep being reactive, making foolish choices, and following their hearts rather than their heads if they want what others have achieved through rational thinking.

Reading an article about inventor Elon Musk, though I’ve disliked some of his recent public comments, I found value in his description of rational decision-making. He’s a complicated, controversial, brilliant man who appears to use his critical thinking skills at work, but not with love. Want to guess in which arena he’s most successful? (“Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow” by Neil Strauss, Rolling Stone, 11/15/17, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/elon-musk-inventors-plans-for-outer-space-cars-finding-love-w511747?mc_cid=52dfe44621, accessed 11/21/17).

Here’s the “scientific method” Musk uses in problem-solving at work:

1. “Ask a question.” (My example: Is this person I’m dating good relationship material?)

2. “Gather as much evidence as possible about it.” (My example: My friends and family don’t much like him/her; sometimes s/he treats me well and sometimes s/he’s very jealous, overbearing, and possessive; I walk on eggshells around him/her.)

3. “Develop axioms based on the evidence, and try to assign a probability of truth to each one.” (My example: S/he’s 32 and seems to always have run hot and cold in romantic relationships; last time I went out with something with these traits, I was emotionally abused; I’ve asked him/her to change and it hasn’t happened.)

4. “Draw a conclusion based on cogency in order to determine: Are these axioms correct, are they relevant, do they necessarily lead to this conclusion, and with what probability?” (My example: Everything I’ve read on emotional abuse fits him/her and says that people rarely change; he/she isn’t likely to change).

5. Attempt to disprove the conclusion. Seek refutation from others to further help break your conclusion. (My example: When I ask friends and family if I should stay with him/her, they say no; my therapist tells me that s/he isn’t a good choice for a mate.)

6. If nobody can invalidate your conclusion, then you're probably right, but you're not certainly right. (My example: I can’t be sure that s/he will continue to be overbearing, possessive and jealous, but all my exploration points to this truth, so I’d better end the relationship now.)

Musk adds: “But most people don't use it [the scientific method],” he says. “They engage in wishful thinking. They ignore counterarguments.” I couldn’t agree more. People would rather that something be true, such as my hypothetical man or woman being right for them, then they build arguments about why this is so. This same approach is used with food: You want that second piece of cake, so you convince yourself you deserve it, or you tell yourself that you’ll eat less for the rest of the day, so you eat the last of the chicken wings though you’re stuffed.

I repeat: If you want to live up to your potential and attain the “good” things in life, you will need to radically change how you make decisions, which is often by your emotions. The scientific method is an excellent way to proceed in a positive direction. Living by rationality won’t steer you wrong.



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