6 Ways To Ensure You Are Operating on Objective Reality - Not Your Biased View
The greater the gap between our version of reality and objective reality, the more significant our errors become
Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump made it clear that his version of reality was robust enough to resist influence from any amount of hard “science” or factual claims. By selectively filtering out information that didn’t serve him, he created a reality that suited him better.
This ability to create a sugar-coated version of reality is common among narcissists. The fragile ego protects itself from painful truths by denying, suppressing, and twisting real-world information so it appears less threatening.
We tend to see reality in a way that fits with our beliefs. For a narcissist, this is a reality that reflects their brilliance and hides their flaws. For others it might be the opposite: a reality that reflects their flaws and hides their brilliance. Both are inaccurate versions of reality.
All of us do this to some extent. We filter reality through a lens of belief, expectation, hope, and fear. This process is beneath our conscious awareness — we don’t realize we’re doing it. Instead, we accept the world at face value however it presents itself. We can’t see the biases and blind spots that obscure the truth of our reality.
But in time, the truth always becomes clear. The couple in persistent conflict who tell themselves everything is fine. The failing business owner who dismisses customer feedback as irrelevant. The narcissistic president who tells himself he’s doing a great job. All of them feel the harsh truth of reality in time, whether it’s through divorce, bankruptcy, or impeachment.
We do ourselves a great disservice when we deny the reality of a situation. When we deny what is, our decision-making capacity is impaired. We choose courses of action based on inaccurate data and suffer the consequences. The greater the gap between our version of reality and objective reality, the more significant our errors become.
The most successful people in life are those who are able to see an accurate version of reality. Warren Buffet has made billions by being able to accurately determine the likelihood of a company profiting in the long term. He’s able to see behind the facade of marketing, financial projections, and other professional’s opinions that often cloud an investor’s judgment. Oprah Winfrey’s talk show is so popular because she helps her guests uncover truths about themselves or a situation. This allows viewers of the show to see a new, more accurate version of reality.
The truth is hard to find. It’s hidden behind a veil of how others want you to see things. Our reality gets manipulated every time we read a news article, see an ad, or get told a story by a friend. Separating fact from fiction becomes challenging.
But you can teach yourself to get better at it. By bringing your subconscious reality-filter into conscious awareness, you can learn to recognize when you’re distorting reality.
When you see reality for what it is, you’ll be better able to predict the future, and avoid making the same mistakes. Here are six ways to help you along that path.
1. Recognize How Emotions Color Your Reality
Everyone has a lens through which they see the world. This lens colors all perceptions and influences how we interpret events. Most of us are oblivious to its existence, insisting that everything we experience is the absolute truth. Until we see it isn’t. Then with “hindsight bias” — the tendency to see past events as more predictable than they actually were — we wonder how we could have been so blind.
Our emotional state makes up a big part of this lens. When we’re in a good mood, events get interpreted in a positive way, and we form an optimism bias. We begin to interpret all events in a more positive way. When we’re in a bad mood, we tend to interpret things negatively due to the opposite occurring — forming a pessimism bias. This is what’s behind the infamous “bad day” phenomenon. Both reactions lead to an inaccurate version of reality.
Like our mood, how we filter our reality fluctuates on a daily basis. Something you feel strongly about one day can take on a completely different meaning the next. Recognizing when this happens will help you appreciate just how convincing each version of reality is.
Always stop and ask yourself — which version is more accurate? You’ll tend to find that the less emotional you are, the more accurate your version of reality is.
Journaling is the best way to develop insight into how emotions color your world. By writing for a few minutes at the end of an emotional day, you’ll learn to recognize how emotions distort your reality. Next time an event triggers a strong emotion, write a line or two for each of these questions:
- What happened?
- What emotions came up?
- How did these emotions change your perception of what was happening?
- Did these emotions continue to change your perception of reality after the event?
- If the emotion wasn’t present, would you have acted differently?
- What could you do next time to limit the impact of the emotion on your behavior?
I have a rule that if an email makes me irritated (typically bad customer service), I’m not allowed to respond to it until later in the day when I’m calm. If I respond right away, I’m acting in a reality in which the rude customer service agent was intentionally negligent to my issue. My anger assures me this is the case. If I respond later, I act in the more accurate version of reality where the agent misunderstood or didn’t have the correct training to solve my issue immediately. I usually achieve a better outcome with the latter version of reality.
You’ll start to see that when you’re emotional, your ability to objectively view reality is compromised. Delaying action and waiting for a time when you’re less emotional, if possible, can help you avoid making bad decisions based on an inaccurate version of reality.
2. Become Aware of Your Reality-Distorting Beliefs
What we believe, or don’t believe, can change our reality in profound ways.
An atheist may see a tragic event as the result of random probability and bad luck. A spiritualist may see the same tragic event as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Each view of reality will significantly change their response to the event.
Our strongest beliefs are the ones in which we’re blinded to all evidence that disputes them. We want to keep believing, so we subconsciously ignore any contradictory evidence.
This is “confirmation bias,” the tendency to favor information that supports our belief. And it’s just one of the hundreds of biases that we can suffer from.
Take the time to consider your beliefs about the world. Focus on beliefs about yourself, as these tend to distort reality the most. Here are some common examples of reality-distorting beliefs:
Those who carry such beliefs often see them reflected in their external world. But rather than seeing this as evidence of a distorted reality, they see it as evidence for the belief.
By taking the time to dissect these beliefs, you’ll see how their incongruence to objective reality leads to unnecessary suffering. Because our behavior mirrors that of the distorted reality, we meet resistance every time it conflicts with objective reality.
Changing our beliefs is hard, but being aware of what we believe, and how these beliefs change our reality, is easier. When we bring awareness to them, we create an opportunity in which we can change our behavior.
So start writing down all your beliefs about the world, how they change your reality, and how in turn that changes your behavior. You might just find the cause for all those recurring issues in your life.
3. Manage Your Expectations
When poker players have winning streaks, they often start making bad calls. Because the player now expects to keep winning, they adopt an overly aggressive strategy as their “recency bias” tells them winning is more likely. But the odds haven’t changed, only their perception of them.
In poker, they call this being “on tilt,” and it doesn’t just happen with winning streaks. Losing streaks lead to similar lapses in judgment, where the expectation they’re more likely to lose impairs their ability to calculate risk. They may take fewer risks to conserve their chips, or try and “go for broke” adopting an aggressive strategy in the hope they might win their money back.
In both cases of being “on tilt,” the player would do better if they maintained a level head and continued to expect that random probability would prevail.
We all know those times in life when a string of fortunate, or unfortunate events, lead us to behave in reckless ways. The former may lead to an overly carefree attitude, where we overspend or party too much. The latter may lead to a cynical attitude, where we avoid taking risks and isolate ourselves from the world.
Life events change our expectations of reality, and subsequently our behavior. Like “on tilt” poker players, what we expect to occur in the future is biased by what has happened to us recently — the “recency bias” in action.
By acknowledging when big events happen, both positive and negative, we can recognize how our expectations of reality change in response.
Have recent events changed how you view the world? Did a significant event many years ago change how you see the world? Is this perspective a more or less accurate version of reality? If you’re not sure, don’t worry, the next tip will help you uncover the truth.
4. Compare Your Version of Reality to Someone Else's
Who’s the best person to talk to when trying to figure out if you’re in reality or off with the fairies? Anyone other than you.
We’re able to objectively assess other people’s problems far better than our own. This is because the reality-distorting ego is mainly concerned with the self. So when it comes to personal problems, just ask anyone who isn’t you and you’ll get a more accurate version of reality to ground yourself in.
The hard part is opening yourself to the idea that your version of reality might not be correct. The ego often creates these alternate realities to avoid having to face uncomfortable truths. But if we’re not willing to face these truths, we’ll spend our lives lacking insight into the true causes of our problems. We’re then destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over.
So whenever you just can’t figure out what’s real and what’s not, just ask someone you trust. Try to find those brutally honest people who tell you straight, as these are the ones who will bring you back down to earth (even if with a painful thud).
5. Have "Trusted Advisors" on Specific Matters
When it comes to things like financial advice, healthy living, or global events, figuring out what’s “real” is challenging. So having “trusted advisors” can help.
The “trusted advisor” is a person who has the credentials or experience to back up their claims, and who you’ve found to be accurate when fact-checked.
For example, when it comes to health advice rather than reading pseudoscientific “healthy living” blogs, I follow Dr. Rhonda Patrick and Dr. Peter Attia. Both have proven to be reliable sources of information on the latest findings in health and longevity. They sift through all the latest research and deliver a neat summary to me in their podcasts and articles. This allows me to see an accurate version of reality, where I can trust the actionable advice will improve my health.
The internet has given us access to more information in our pockets than prior generations had in all of the World’s libraries. The only catch is that the reliable, accurate nuggets of gold are hidden under a mountain of hearsay, pseudoscience, and hidden agendas. “Trusted advisors” are a shortcut to these golden nuggets of knowledge.
Try and find the most reputable experts in a field, or those with a lot of firsthand experience, and use them as your primary source of information for a specific topic. These are the people who are most in touch with that facet of reality.
The same should apply to your media consumption. In the age of social media providing us with our news, it’s very easy to get swept up in hearsay and propaganda.
Find a source that provides the most accurate and least biased news. Use media bias charts to help you figure out which sources are less biased. Wikipedia current events are an excellent way of keeping up to date (without getting swept up in alternate realities created to fulfill the political aims of various parties).
6. Improve Your Ability to Critically Think
The problem with working out what’s “real” and what’s not, is that it’s subjective. Science gets us as close to objective reality as we’ll ever get, but scientists also have reality-distorting human brains. This is why it’s so difficult to perform an experiment that provides accurate results reflective of what’s real.
The researcher unintentionally imposes their expectations of the experiment onto the unwitting subjects, and the results suffer “researcher bias.” The subjects, aware they’re being observed, behave in ways that don’t reflect real-world behavior, leading to the “Hawthorne bias.”
The best experiments are double-blinded for this reason. The only way to accurately see if a new treatment is effective is if no one knows who’s in the placebo group and who’s in the treatment group until after the results are collected. But even then, plenty of other biases still occur.
If rigorous scientific studies have this much of a problem determining the reality of a situation, then what chance do we stand as individuals in our daily lives?
Our realities are all relative to one another, with some of us having more accurate versions than others. Whether our version is accurate or not depends a lot on our ability to critically think.
Critical thinking is the ability to question information and not just accept it at face value. Those without the ability tend to become flat-earthers or join QAnon. Those with the ability might go on to become scientists, philosophers, writers, or engineers — anyone who spends a lot of time trying to figure stuff out. But anyone can learn how to get better at it.
All it takes is to start questioning everything. Whenever someone tells you a fact, Google it and see if you can find a credible source to back it up. Don’t be that smug person who goes around saying “actually that’s not true” at every opportunity. But do quietly Google things when you have the chance. You might be surprised to find that seemingly knowledgeable friend of yours is talking total nonsense.
Frequently fact-checking everything you’re told and trying to find a credible source will help instill the habit of critical thinking. You’ll then question everything automatically, and the fog on your reality-filtering lens will clear.
Some people prefer to live in their own version of reality, and that’s okay. But in doing so, they may experience friction from a world that doesn’t agree with their way of seeing things.
When your version of reality aligns closely with objective reality, everything begins to make sense. Areas of new understanding pop up everywhere, and you won’t believe how you were oblivious to them the whole time. Some of them will be euphoric revelations, others will be painful truths, but all of them will be life-changing.
It takes courage to seek the truth, but those who find it achieve the best results in life. And if you ever run for president — the world will thank you.