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Why Facts Don’t Always Change Our Thinking

Those of us who aspire to be rational creatures generally believe ourselves to be whether we are or not. When asked, we insist that we base our decisions on facts and expect that others should do so as well. But, as explained in “The partisan brain” (The Economist, 12/8/18, p. 33, accessed 12/10/18), the evidence shows that facts aren’t the big persuaders that we wish them to be.

This subject is highly relevant to dysregulated eaters who find it hard to believe that diets don’t work long-term or that certain foods will likely harm their health down the road. As many of you know, these truths don’t always change your thinking or behavior. Ever wonder why? Jeremy Frimer of the University of Winnipeg suggests that “people are willing to dismiss or deny facts and opinions that run counter to their beliefs.”

According to the authors of The Enigma of Reason, Hugo Mercier, and Dan Sperber, “reasoning did not evolve ‘to help individuals achieve greater knowledge and make better decisions’…but to improve the ability of ancestral hunter-gatherers to co-operate in small groups.’ They conclude that “’ What reasoning does…is help us justify our beliefs and actions to others…and evaluate the justification and arguments that others address to us.’ In other words, a lot of reasoning is devoted to affirming your group’s identity and your position within it.”

So, as you’re no longer a hunter-gatherer, what does this all mean for you? The issue is a simple but critical one: Whether you’re ready or not to base your opinions and actions on facts. To find out, ask yourself these questions. Am I willing to forgo the instinct to dismiss or deny facts simply because they don’t fit into my belief system? Am I okay being emotionally uncomfortable in order to take in new or contrary ideas? Am I alright being (gasp) wrong if new facts will put me on the right path to health and happiness? Am I aware of when I cling to old, unsubstantiated beliefs in the face of emerging information that may alter them? Do I realize when my mind and heart snap shut?

Many clients come to therapy because they’re poor decision makers. Some realize this about themselves and some don’t and find it a sore point. If you don’t make the greatest decisions, consider how being more mindful and accepting of facts will change your life for the better. For instance, what do you need to accept as truth about the foods you eat, exercise, lifestyle, stress, relationships, etc.? What are some of the lies you believe because they make you more comfortable in the short run? Take a couple of deep breaths and face and accept one fact that will help you be a more “normal” eater.



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