Things I DIDN’T Learn in College: Part 4 – How I Learned to Stop Fooling Myself

by Ron Haynes

In his book, Stumbling on Happiness, author Daniel Gilbert examines a few of the techniques that humans use to make themselves happy. One of these techniques is to see only what our brains want to see. We have a tendency to overlook risks if those risks get in the way of what we want to do anyway. The conspiracy between these two components, our eyes and our brains, allows us to live on the fence between reality and illusion. Too many times we allow ourselves to fool ourselves, looking through life through those proverbial “rose colored glasses.”

Rose Colored GlassesSo many times in my life I have ignored the risk associated with certain activities because I wanted to achieve a particular outcome. One example was investing in stocks. There are definite inherent risks with investing in single stocks but I have ignored a lot of those risks because I was quite confident of a particular outcome. I have been right on some occasions, making huge sums of money, but I have also been spectacularly wrong, even though I was fully confident I was correct.

One of the dangers that Gilbert points out in his book is that we willingly seek out information that matches our existing viewpoint while ignoring any information that contradicts it. This danger manifests itself when we make our New Year’s resolutions, estimate the amount of time we will spend “Stumbling,” predict just how far that stock will go up (or down if you’re interested in shorting stocks), or forecast our ability to exercise every day. We are generally terrible at predicting most events or outcomes because we bring a large amount of bias into our prediction.

Every action has its unintended consequences. Every action has unintended results. Every action has unintended outcomes. Regardless of the amount of planning, there will almost always be an unaccounted variable in the mix. Mike Tyson used to say, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Don’t let your plans be so inflexible that you cannot adjust to the unintended events that will pop up and don’t let your plans only include the possibility of success. Every good business plan has a section of what ifs, items that could happen and the intended course of action under those circumstances.

I remember buying a certain used vehicle as a result of wanting it pretty badly. That “wanting” caused me to ignore a little oil leak, ignore the slightly over book value price, and ignore things like the cost of new tires (over $800). Over the course of three years, that vehicle lost over 70% of its value. I never looked at that vehicle as a potential cost center and by allowing my rose colored glasses to dictate what I saw, I had to take a loss of a lot of money.

When we allow our minds to exaggerate the potential benefits of a certain action and ignore the possible hazards, we can potentially lead ourselves, our families, and our organizations into crusades that are doomed from the beginning. More often than not, these initiatives will fall far short of our expectations because we refused to listen, see, or accumulate any information that didn’t conform to our pre-set belief system.

What is the solution? For me, the solution is to search out contradictory evidence. I now look for information that conflicts with my original idea to insure that I’m getting the whole picture. Aren’t we better off when we’re able to see the whole picture? We need to crack those rose colored glasses so we can see the real world. I have decided to diligently work to remove the filters that prevent me from seeing the other side of an issue or idea. This isn’t having a negative outlook, but is insuring that we are not overly positive to the point of making a potential error. Maybe we should take the road less traveled?

What decisions have you made in the past that didn’t work out? Was there any information that you filtered out? What did you learn from that experience?


[tags]risk, brains, filters, consequences, college, rose, colored, glasses[/tags]

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.


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{ 11 comments }

Patrick

Great article, Ron. In my opinion, the sign of a great leader is someone who is willing to listen to all points of view – even when it contradicts what he wants to hear. If you aren’t even willing to consider alternatives, you set yourself up for failure.

Ron

@Patrick
You’re right. One thing that gets in the way of a leader doing that is office politics. That is another chapter in this series! Thanks for stopping by.

Frugal Dad

You experience with investing in single stocks reminds me of the stupid decision I made to invest on margin back in the late ’90s. At the time I was getting stock tips from “friends” on AIM, and conducting very little of my own research. The worst thing that could have happened to me did – I hit one stock on a $25-$42 run and got out right at the top. I was hooked. Of course, the rest of the story wasn’t so “rosy.” I lost all those proceeds and then some trying to recapture that “beginner’s luck.”

Jeff@My Super-Charged Life

I got a “good deal” once on a used car I wanted. It turned out that the car had been previously wrecked and it was just made to look pretty again. The front-end had all kinds of trouble. Even though my wife thought it drove funny, I avoided getting it checked out prior to the purchase because I didn’t want to spend the money. Needless to say, it cost me a lot more on the backside of the deal. It is amazing how easy it is to ignore the facts when we want something bad enough. I hope I’ve learned my lesson!

Ron

Jeff@My Super-Charged Life »
I had a friend who was determined to buy a Range Rover. He ignored everyone who said that vehicle had experienced major mechanical problems but he eventually learned his lesson. I was there when he sold it to another individual who refused to listen to my friend when he told him of all the problems HE had with the car. As the new buyer drove off, my friend said, “I was like that when I wanted one too.”

Mike

Ron: In my career as a writer, I’ve learned to obey “red lights.” If I get a gut feeling that something doesn’t feel right about a project, I politely decline it. Of course, I learned to get most of those gut feelings from all of the red lights that I missed!

Here was one really goofy example of learning. Soon after going freelance, an editor called me about writing an article for a new magazine. I asked how often the magazine would be published; he wasn’t sure. I asked how much they would pay; he would have to check. And still (yes, it is ridiculous), I accepted the assignment. You won’t be surprised to hear that I wrote the article, sent it in, and never got paid, because that magazine never got from an idea to a printer. I know. I know. It sounds so ridiculous, but I really wanted to get more clients. Ah well, we learn from mistakes, hopefully.

Ron

@Mike »
Yes, we HOPE we learn from our mistakes!

Ron

@Frugal Dad
I’ve done the same things. I hit one from $55 to $72 and another from $19 to $45. Those were great, but lets not talk about the ones where I ignored the industry trends and went from $33 to $20 and $65 to $39 and so on and so on and so on . . .

I still invest in single stocks, but I’m much more careful these days and I pay attention to many indicators and try to gather much more information before jumping in.

jason holmes

Every action has its unintended consequences. Every action has unintended results. Every action has unintended outcomes. Regardless of the amount of planning, there will almost always be an unaccounted variable in the mix.>>>>>> Ron these lines remind me of a short story named “the fly” by Catherine mansfield. We all know that life is stranger than fiction and no matter how much we plan for our future there remains a big question about the accomplishment of the plans. Thus it is of utmost importance that we also think about the steps we must take if our plans fail.

I remember buying a certain used vehicle as a result of wanting it pretty badly. >>>> I remember getting into a job that was paying me peanuts…..and Itook up the new job because I badly wanted to leave my previous office. You won’t believe that the firm was offering me a salary that was much lower than what I was getting in my previous office. But still I took it up :(. Thanks heavens that Iam out of that mess now! This what I say learning from past mistakes.

MartinFortKnox

Great post.

I try to always look at the “pessimistic” side of opportunity due to the amount of times I’ve been personally burned (the optimistic side is what drives me in the first place). It’s not easy for someone like me. I tend to go hard all the way through, PAST the end, past the point of most peoples threshold of B.S., usually only to be rewarded less than satisfactory. It can be depressing.

On one hand, you believe “no pain, no gain”, on the the other “maybe the peer pressure is right”. It’s really hard to tell. Then what happens to burn me up is when I see somebody get my “pot of gold” without going through half of the hurdles I did. Not due to any special inclination in that area but dumb luck. It can infuriate me. The real sad part is that I’m better than that, but their “undeserved” success happens to remind me of the uncountable missteps and bad spills I have had. I guess the way to avoid that misery altogether is take the advice this post mentions to heart.

Martin from NY aka MartinFortKnox

“Happiness lies in the joy achievement and the thrill of creative effort” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

Ron

MartinFortKnox »
Thanks Martin. I always look forward to reading your comments because they’re deep and very well thought out. It is frustrating to see someone else appear to easily succeed when we’ve been struggling. I try to remind myself that there is no “overnight success” and remember the Bible verse, “In all labor there is profit.”

(love the FDR quote)

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