Some recent thoughts on Reality; how it tends to be different from what we believe, and maybe habits to get slightly closer.

Facing Reality

Losing Touch With Reality

TLDR: we make many invalid assumptions, and sometimes we do not have access to the ground truth.

It is common to have misconceptions. About others, about yourself, about reality. Did you know that fortune cookies are actually Japanese and seen as ‘American’ in China?

Consider asking someone about the state of an important project: “It is done, basically. There are a few things …” “But basically, it is done, yes?” “Well, basically, yes.” Since the project is important, you report that is has been finished - only to notice afterward that there is still unfinished work left.

Your friend is boasting about his recent success. He got two new really big clients (a done deal!), and his new biggest concern is the upcoming amount of work. A week later you meet for lunch, and he is depressed, because they jumped ship. “But was it not a done deal?” “Ah, well, not exactly. They still had other offers, but said that our offer looks a lot more promising than the others.”

Or, well, we might just be generally miscalibrated.

So can we develop a habit to actually look at the ground, to actually face reality? But first, why should we?


The Value in Being Close to Reality

TLDR: Truth is the only reality there is, and you need a firm foundation if you want to build a skyscraper.

About 95% percent believe they are self-aware. Actually, it’s more like 10-15% (source).

That means that on a good day, eighty percent of us are lying to ourselves, about weather we are lying to ourselves. That’s pretty scary!

  • Tasha Eurich

There are some obvious benefits of being well-calibrated (having accurate estimates as to how good your estimates are). They include being an awful many times right when betting with friends, as well as making more accurate predictions - and a whole lot in life is about accurate predictions. This includes being able to better tell how many beers you can drink before passing out or what people find funny and being able to humor them. This also makes you an interesting conversationalist, since the truth tends to slightly disagree with certain (commonly believed) facts. We all know that knowledge is power, but knowledge about things that are not true can ruin you fast.

What I found in my research is that when we are self-aware, we’re happier, we make better decisions at work and at home, we raise more mature children, the list goes on. Leaders who are more self-aware even lead more profitable companies.

  • Tasha Eurich

There also seem to be benefits of not being well-calibrated, of not being self-aware. But I won’t go into these. (Still, for better calibration maybe you should look at some yourself?)

What is true is already so. Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse. Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away. And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with. Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived. People can stand what is true, for they are already enduring it.

  • Eugene T. Gendlin, Focusing

The Human Brain and Reality

TLDR: People mostly do not tell us when we are wrong.

It is really hard to notice flaws without looking for them. It is also hard seeing them when looking for them. Your colleagues will not tell you the flaws about they have noticed. And why should they? They want to be polite. They have an interest in working together with you, and this usually includes not accidentally making you an enemy. Hell, They might not even notice. Or see it as something they can work with just fine. Everything should just stay the way it is. Please no change, there is enough stress like this already.

The internet will tell you that you are wrong. Well, the internet will tell you that you are wrong about everything. So not exactly helpful. It is worse, even, because it is so easy to find information to confirm your theories, your beliefs. It is fine to be an asshole. The moon landings were fake. And whatever else you always wanted to be true.

Approaches to being more Grounded

TLDR: Do activities where you are frequently being brought back to the grounds of reality.

There are multiple ways to be more in touch with reality. Having friends that criticize you is a good start, but not everyone has friends close enough. Same with a mentor giving feedback. “You should listen to others more” - “Yeah right, but their ideas are always so stupid and never work”. Obviously, an attitude of gratitude and openness is a precondition for successfully applying the feedback. How to get that if you do not have it?

Fail. Hard. It does not even need to be in your main job. Regularly experiencing your assumptions getting shattered might leave you more deluded in the short term, but you need to update your beliefs at some point if you want to succeed. So I would argue a hobby in a competitive situation (you competing with people way above your league) leaves you sufficiently humble. I did chess for some time. Repeatedly losing because of really small things you did not see is initially frustrating. But it keeps you grounded, and humble.

More generally, I would recommend doing some sort of martial art. Whatever it is, Aikido, Jiu-jiutsu, Judo, Teakwando or something else. The essential part is that there are others that ground you fast, should you do something wrong. It is fine to stay in one discipline, as long as there are people repeatedly winning against you - which should be the norm, until you are at national competition level. If you seem to be ‘undefeated’ or able to do whatever you want - if you have the slightest feeling of this not keeping you grounded anymore, switch. Search for something else, where you lose. Have you tried archery? Pottery, or some other art?

Of course a 360° personal feedback is also viable. It includes questions about you that everyone around you (your boss, subordinates, peers, everyone you have contact with) can answer anonymously, providing you with valuable feedback. The biggest benefit: Just one person saying something about you is not exactly trustworthy, but everyone around you saying you are an asshole sometimes? Hard to argue with that. Everything where you cannot afford to delude yourself works.

The import part is to ask ‘what is the situation’, instead of ‘why did that happen’. Asking why has a tendency of finding justifications, of creating alternative facts that feel true. What is not asking for emotional reasons, but is trying to understand how it happened. No emotional implications attached.

Relevant Quotes

What is true is already so. Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse. Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away. And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with. Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived. People can stand what is true, for they are already enduring it.

  • Eugene T. Gendlin, Focusing

When you face yourself, you face the truth of who you are.

  • Stephen Richards

delude yourself: to choose to believe something that is not true

About 95% percent believe they are self-aware. Actually, it’s more like 10-15% (source).

That means that on a good day, eighty percent of us are lying to ourselves, about weather we are lying to ourselves. That’s pretty scary!

  • Tasha Eurich

There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.

  • Tennessee Williams

Edit: 2020-03-25: slight rewordings around the 360-feedback.