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Knowledge versus Understanding

Disregulated eaters often lack self-trust and worry incessantly and unnecessarily about the future. Desperate to make right decisions, they confuse accumulation of knowledge and information with understanding. Didn’t know there was a difference? Read on.

Author Malcolm Gladwell tells us how we can learn to use intuition advantageously in BLINK: THE POWER OF THINKING WITHOUT THINKING, an enlightening read for those of you driven by the need for certainty. Regarding when to trust our instincts, he shares some contrary-sounding wisdom: “On straightforward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to get complicated—when we have to juggle many different variables—then our unconscious thought process may be superior.” The problem is that we are “inundated with information” and “have come to confuse information with understanding.”

Need examples? Say you’re planning to buy a house or a car and feel a need to read every article on the subject and get everyone’s opinion on real estate or auto safety. Certainly, you want some basic knowledge, but what you are really looking for is that feeling that you’re making the correct (perhaps perfect?) choice. You’re seeking that final piece of information that confirms that making the “right” choice will ensure that you never have any blowback about it in the future: the house or car will be just right for you and you’ll never have a moment’s worry that you’ve made a mistake in buying it.

Gladwell says that limiting quantity and type of information are better predictors of making a good decision than simply going all out and accumulating too many facts. Some pieces of data are critical for a house or car purchase—say, resale value—and some are irrelevant such as how many owners the house has had or how many people have bought a certain car model. The point is to recognize which pieces of information are key to making a decision versus which are overload and will only muddy the issue.

Whether you’re considering changing jobs or spouses, finding a new school for your child, deciding where to vacation, or choosing what to eat for dinner, identify the relevant information you need to make an effective decision, then trust your gut to use it to do what’s best for you. Notice I didn’t use the word “right.” Because we can’t predict the future and must be flexible and resourceful when things don’t work out, there are no guarantees about tomorrow—ever. But by acquiring and processing particular, key information, then trusting ourselves, we have an excellent shot at things working out.