Foolish Expectations

Biases are the debris in reality’s whirlwind. What we feel is true scatters about helpless in the air. It’s not real. It never was real. The real world never conformed to our feelings. We often feel absolutely certain that we are right. We feel justified. We faithfully commit to our own conclusions but then again, child rapists and serial killers also hold steadfast to their beliefs. Everyone usually justifies their actions. Any irrational person could twist the truth and warp the facts to suit a personal agenda. We could begin with a flimsy premise like, "Donald Trump is a sexist bigot," or "Ayn Rand was an evil fascist," and perceive reality with a lens that supports those assertions. When asked for objective evidence and solid reasoning to support our self-proclaimed facts, what do we really rely on? We offer more emotionally charged accusations. We may even scorn those who remain unconvinced of our anger induced biases. The fact remains that very few people are able to make bold or provocative claims and rationally defend them. We’re convinced that we behave and think rationally. We’re convinced that we can detect the obvious. We are wrong. We believe to be aware of the inner workings of our own minds and yet, we don’t see what is directly in front of us.

We are intent on validating what we think we know so fiercely we lose the capacity to see clearly. This is closely related to inattentional blindness or the tendency to miss the unexpected. We are so focused on what we want, our minds don’t register the details that shape the present moment. We construct the ideal image of happiness. Once we focus on that image, we miss the opportunity to achieve real happiness. This blindness applies to our relationships, our careers, and our personal development. Sometimes we overvalue our future plans at the cost of embracing the present and at other times, we bind ourselves to the immediate moment sacrificing our hopes for a stable and rewarding future. We need to restore the balance. The doer and the planner within ourselves need reconciliation. The science that can illuminate the errors in our self-perception is called behavioral economics. It won’t give us exact insight into our why we do what we do, but the science enables us to examine more closely our decision making and the motivations behind those decisions.

A misunderstanding of the way attention works explains why many of us try to focus on several activities at once. We believe we can multitask. We might envision the mind being an octopus juggling many different tasks. The truth is that we’re suffering from an chronic case of overconfidence. No matter how much we boast how talented we are, we’re rapidly switching from one activity to the next. We don’t multitask. Attention is a finite resource; it cannot manage several projects simultaneously. Devoting our concentration to one task at a time is the most efficient use of our energy but despite this truth, some of us would rather chase two rabbits. Hunters like this return home slumped over. With their heads drooping in failure, they feel a lot less adventurous than when they initially stepped foot in the wild. We often cling to unrealistic expectations as we think about who we are and what we want. These unrealistic expectations blur our vision, make us less prepared to see what’s in front of us and adapt to unexpected change. Take meeting someone new for instance. We love to categorize unfamiliar people and use associations to simplify our understanding of them. When we see a reserved and enigmatic person, we might assume weakness and difficulty in being assertive. Alternatively, when we see a vivacious and tactful person, we might assume strength and fearlessness. We make these assumptions even though simplistic associations can never encapsulate other people. People are more complicated than a couple adjectives.

How can we expect to know anything, if we pretend to see it all? It’s foolish to pretend we know someone we’ve just met or to know someone we’ve barely conversed with. It speaks to our overconfidence in understanding even the smallest lessons of life. Our feelings betray us. Our egotistical beliefs shield us from the bitter reality. Reality does not spurt out from our minds like a geyser in the forest or a volcano on an island. Reality persists as it is. Reality carries on independent of our ideas, our thoughts, and our beliefs. We can believe that we are exceptional, enlightened beings. We can believe that we are victimized by some external, punishing force. We can do this even though reality can in many ways contradict these beliefs. The spiritually blind speak so adamantly about what they deserve and how special they are. Though greatest way to begin to open our eyes is to realize we know very little about anything or anyone, including ourselves. Reality doesn’t care for what floats, flashes, and bounces around inside our own minds. The code of creation is not found in our opinions. Our expectation that we are always right and our adversaries are always wrong leads us down a path of desperation and misery. The truth waits for no one. Though with a little humility, we can wipe away the mud lodged in our eyes. We need to recalibrate our expectations. Only then will we bring ourselves closer to the truth of our existence. Reorient our minds to a more receptive state, and real world will begin to reveal itself.