You have this great idea. It’s something that will give you health, wealth, happiness or all three. A business idea, a new relationship, a work of art.
How do you achieve it, tread the path to success?
Many ideas about personal growth involve techniques, tips and so on. But I feel these don’t go far enough. We can try them out, but many of them won’t work. Success I feel it’s more about having the right attitude.
Below I outline two mindsets that you will need for success to be found.
This is the language of doubt. Looking at what you know and wondering how reliable it is. It involves questioning your own knowledge, opinions or beliefs, to see how valid they are.
We spend a lot of time making rapid assumptions about the world because there is not enough time to gather all the information and make a considered judgement. Because of this many of our ideas can be false, and some of them can hold us back.
You may think you’re not smart enough or talented enough to try something new.
Fully understanding the limits of our knowledge is impossible, but we can get a better sense of them if we know the limits of our thinking and perception.
The limits of perception can be explained by taking a look at optical illusions. Knowing that what we see can be a distorted view of reality can help teach us not to accept things at face value. Our knowledge about the world can be flawed because we are also subject to a slew of biases.
For example an important one is Availability bias. This is the understanding that we can only make decisions based upon what we know. Yet what we know is not all that there is to know.
For example if you were to walk into a bookstore and see shelves of best sellers. You may come to the conclusion that writing is easy, and that writing a bestseller is the same. Yet here you have fallen foul of availability bias. Because for every bestseller you see on the shelf a hundred, if not a thousand books failed to become a success, and you fail to see them. Knowing this can remind us to be wary about jumping to conclusions based upon limited data.
Another way we can limit ourselves is through poor reasoning, such as logical fallacies. Examples of this include, assuming one proposition is false because the opposite is true (Affirming a disjunct). Another is making the claim that a cause is both simple and single, when there could be many causes. (The Fallacy of the single cause).
There are many more but what it boils down to is the fact that our understanding of this world is both limited and error prone
It shows that we are not as smart as we think we are, and that uncertainty will always exist.
‘We don’t know what we don’t know, we are ignorant of our own ignorance.’ – Richard Collison (Tweet this)
Scepticism is therefore necessary to reduce the likelihood of making bad choices based on incomplete or false information and reasoning.
It’s even being adopted in therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is recommended for depression, and social anxiety and is based upon ancient Stoic ideas. It takes the form of questioning your own unspoken opinions and thoughts you have.
What we are really asking here then is how certain are we about these ideas.
Scepticism through critical inquiry is a necessary practice. Because when we destroy false opinions and beliefs we can free ourselves from them.
It’s therefore worth studying more on subject like Critical Thinking.
Despite all the advantages that scepticism can offer it still can’t go far enough on its own.
As I like to think.
‘No one gets out of bed to start a business or get married based on scepticism.
It shows that something more is involved. Scepticism is about knowledge, measurements and statistics.
But if you look up the stats on businesses you will see that many don’t survive for very long . Yet people still start new ventures and still get married.
Scepticism can’t alone guide us through through life, because we have to deal with the limitations of knowledge.
The upshot is that uncertainty will always exist and we need a means to deal with it.
That other something appears to be faith, or perhaps another way of putting it might be, optimism. Those feelings get you to press forwards even when you can’t see the outcome. Making progress with doubt and fear still inside you.
A gut feeling that you know something is right or wrong without knowing why or how.
Scepticism cannot reach this far with logic. That’s why rationality can’t help.
Emotions are necessary as neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has discovered. He describes a study subject of his that suffered brain damage to his prefrontal cortex, which meant he could not feel any emotions. Whilst the subject could pick out the facts and compare choices against each other he was utterly incapable of making even the simplest decisions. 
This is because we evaluate all the choices that are available by assessing them through the lens of emotion. This is what allows us to decide which choice we favour the most.
Consider the act of buying a new car. We can pick out the facts about each choice, such as fuel economy, top speed, acceleration and so on. But to make a choice we have to decide what is most important to us, what characteristic do we value more than others. We have to know which car we like the most.
Emotion comes from the word ’emovere’ which means to move. It’s the feeling we have that get’s us to do something.  Creativity, desire, fascination all come from this place
Emotions like optimism then are what keep us from stalling and stagnating in life. The desires to want things, and make us go out and find them, are just as important and necessary as the thoughts of reason.
These two mindsets working together is what get us to succeed.
Passion and desire propel us down the path to success. Reason and scepticism are what keep us on it.
Passion alone would leave us at the mercy of strong emotions, tossed this way and that without direction, following whatever whims that arise within us. A structureless existence resulting in a frenzy of activity.
Conversely rationality by itself, without emotion would mean that we would never make decision about anything. Indecision and doubt would prevent us from making any choices as we spend endless time searching for facts and enumerating.
Many tasks we do tend towards one or the other. Finding a partner requires more feeling and intuition, where as fixing a car needs more deliberate logical reasoning.
Success then can only come through the application of both, and it’s that skilful balance that will decide between success or failure.
A vector is something with direction and magnitude. Or to put it another way, a vector had both a reason and desire.
The mind has been described a like a rider on a horse. The reasoning rider being in control of the emotional horse. However recent discoveries in neuroscience have overturned that idea. Now we know that reason is not so much in charge, but more of a partner to passion.
If passion is what drives us then the question becomes ‘In which direction?
This is where knowledge and scepticism play their part.
To find success we must harness both these aspects of our ourselves.
‘Passion is what drives us down the right path, knowledge is what keeps us on it’ – Richard Collison. (Tweet this)
I like to think of it this way. If we only want reason in our lives then we are already at a disadvantage, from those individuals that use both passion and reason. We would not fight with one arm tied behind our backs, neither should we limit ourselves to just reason alone. Further still life would be colorless without emotion.
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1. 13 GB/ F, 2014. Small Business Failure Rates and Causes [Internet]. ISBDC. [cited 2014 Oct 2]. Available from: http://isbdc.org/small-business-failure-rates-causes/
2. A. Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Penguin, 1994), 34–50.
A summary can be found here for free.
2. Online Etymology Dictionary [Internet]. [cited 2014 Oct 2]. Available from: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=emotion
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