Practicing Situational I.H. In Conversation By Understanding Cognitive Distortions
Dive into this topic by watching the video, followed by key explanations and exercises below.
Even if you’re generally high in Intellectual Humility, a given situation can spring you out of it.
We all have triggers, and we all have memories and experiences that lead us to be overconfident in some areas—without us even realizing it.
The best ways to increase your chances of always behaving with high intellectual humility is to learn about cognitive distortions and psychologically “prime” yourself to overcome them whether you see them coming or not.
Cognitive distortions are unhelpful patterns of thinking, or biases that prevent us from thinking clearly. They’re often very related to the fallacies we learned about in Lesson 2.9, and it’s natural to fall into them.
The most common indicators of cognitive distortions include:
All or nothing thinking
Dwelling on single points of evidence rather than all of the evidence
Disqualifying the positive
Jumping to conclusions (mind reading or fortune telling)
Magnification and minimization (making small things catastrophic and vice versa)
Reasoning through emotion rather than logic
Making things personal
You can dig deeper into the definitions of cognitive biases and distortions at this interactive website: https://yourbias.is/
And you can learn about your own cognitive distortions by taking some of the mini-quizzes at https://www.clearerthinking.org/tools-and-mini-courses
To act with IH, you need to create psychological safety for yourself.
When you think you may not be thinking clearly, it needs to feel safe for you to change your mind, or you’ll devolve into more cognitive distortions.
It also needs to feel safe for your to express yourself.
Often, the best way to create this safety for yourself is to take some time out to breathe, think, and re-approach the conversation or situation with renewed openness and confidence in your desire to find the truth (as opposed to confidence in your opinions).
Often you will feel safer to express yourself in a smaller group or in a 1 on 1 situation, versus in front of a big group in the moment.
Say, “I don’t know… yet” and take a walk—or go home and through the exercises below if the situation makes sense for them.
Practice Exercise: Computer Says Yes
We practiced this exercise earlier in the course, but if you skipped or forgot it, now’s a good time to give it another shot:
ABOUT THIS EXERCISE:
A good way to check whether your current thinking is biased is to ask yourself, “Would a computer with great recording equipment be able to say this same thing?”
“I am less than" 6 feet tall.” YES, a computer could say that.
“I am too short.” NO, a computer could not say that. A computer would be able to say that I am “shorter than the average” person, or “too short to touch a basketball rim,” but not just “too” short. “Too short” alone is a biased opinion.
“I didn’t give money to the homeless man.” YES, a computer could record that.
“I am selfish.” NO, a computer would not say that.
“Hank is a jerk.” NO. Opinion.
“Hank interrupted Alli at least one time in each of the last three meetings.” Computer says YES.
“We’re screwed.” NO. Opinion.
“At the current trajectory, we run out of cash in May.” Computer says YES.
“Emilia doesn’t like me.” Computer can’t read minds.
“Joe told me Emilia said he should fire me.” Computer says YES; it was there listening in the room like some sort of creep.
“You smell like garlic.” Computer’s olfactory sensors say, YES!
“You smell bad.” Computer doesn’t judge.
You get the idea!
Practice Exercise: Negative Thought Journal
Add this exercise to your Lie & Label journal, if you’ve been doing this exercise from the earlier lessons:
Throughout your day, make a note of any time you have an automatic, negative thought.
E.g. “event discussion”
When you have space to do so, write down in your journal where you were and what you were doing, along with any other relevant info about the situation. Try to paint the scene objectively if you can.
E.g. “I was discussing the upcoming event with Sarah and she responded to my idea for the venue in a mocking tone.”
Now write down the emotion(s) you felt and rate the strength of the emotion, on a scale of 0% to 100%.
E.g. Angry: 40%. Shame: 75%.
Now write down the negative automatic thought you had in response to this situation and emotion.
E.g. I thought, “Sarah is a jerk and doesn’t care about my feelings more than the stupid event venue.”
Now note the evidence for and against your negative thought, using only observations the Computer could say Yes to. E.g.
For: Sarah changed her speaking voice to a mocking tone. She did not go with my idea, and did not ask how I felt.
Against: I cannot read Sarah’s mind. Sarah did not say she doesn’t care about my feelings. And she has, in the past, agreed with some of my ideas.
Now come up with a less negative alternative opinion to your negative one. This is only an opinion, so it isn’t necessarily right. But it should be a conclusion that the evidence could also lend itself to.
E.g. Sarah thought she made a funny joke, and did not realize it might hurt my feelings.
Finally, after thinking through this alternative scenario, rate the strength of emotion(s) you feel about the situation that happened.
E.g. Anger: 0%. Shame 50%. I now just feel ashamed for jumping to the conclusion, but am not angry at Sarah.
Ideally this exercise leads to a change in negative feelings, but it doesn’t have to. The most important thing is it helps you practice not being fixed in your conclusions. If negative emotions persist after you explore alternatives, it’s a good time to approach the person using the toolkit we learned about in Lesson 2.15, and have an honest conversation.