How Ego Can Lead to Cognitive Bias and an Inability to Critically ThinkAug 25, 2022
Let me tell you a story about Brad. He's a coach at a local gym in town and I overhead him rationalizing to his client the other day why he should be doing banded sumo squats at least 3 days a week. His rationalization was, "I've been using banded squats in my workouts for 5 years and I've never had back or knee pain, so you should do them also."
How many of you can relate to hearing these comments and not just from trainers but from your clients, who heard their friend swear that Paleo or Keto or Frito's changed their life. (I made Frito's up, obviously. 😂) If you've been training long enough you have heard it all and it requires a long exhale, saying something like, "oh, wow, thats very interesting" and then trying to redirect.
These are examples of what we call "Available Heuristics". Which is just a fancy way of saying we place importance on these immediate things that come to mind that aren't really significant.
This is just one example of not using Critical Thinking to guide our decision making. There are others like Confirmation Bias. I know I've been guilty of this before 🙋🏻♀️. We are sure we see or know certain things, so we start googling research or articles to support our hypothesis when likely there are research and articles to support the complete opposite.
Another example would be reading the newest, greatest research that came out and immediately clinging to it for dear like. "Did you hear about that study that said if you do 25 pushups a day you'll live to 100?" This is called Regency Bias.
Here's an example if you are interested. Apparently if you are married you live longer. Sorry if you are single, sucks for you!
I've been thinking a lot about critical thinking for sometime now (specifically in the fitness and movement industry). What separates those that are able to notice and identify their cognitive bias and be willing to switch gears and change their mind and accept other possibilities without ego, and those that either don't notice or just choose to ignore that there is another possibility?
I'm going to give you my very biased opinion 😉 of what I think are two of the most prevalent contributors to cognitive bias.
1. Thinking requires more energy and we are all inherently wired to conserve energy.
I mean, let's face it, Brad didn't have to do anything to come up with that logic. He didn't have to learn why that might not work for his client or why it worked for him or really if it had any value at all. If it works for him it works for his client. Brad can now move onto his next client or go have lunch and read about something else he is way more interested in than understanding principles of strength training or biomechanics.
2. Allowing EGO, yours or someone else's, to steal your inherent curiosity and be who you truly are.
This is a big one and way too much to unpack in this one email but I want to talk a bit about it, because I know at some point you have felt this sense of disconnect or anxiety or discord between your mind and your body, that exists when you are in an environment or you create an environment where this is happening. It's extremely prevalent and if you take a scroll on social media you are immediately confronted by it over and over again.
Here are a few examples:
Example 1: "FRC is stupid, and so are you if you don't agree with me."
Susan just finished taking her first FRC course and she is super excited about all of the new things she learned and she can't wait to start trying them with her clients. As she scrolls through instagram she stops at one of her favorite accounts who she generally thinks is a smart movement professional and they just posted a meme bashing FRC (insert literally anything here). Her logical brain says, wait a second, there are a lot of good things I learned, but her monkey brain feels hurt, angry, embarrassed, ashamed. This could be fleeting or it could be pervasive, either way it is their ego leading with a cognitive bias and her ego questioning her ability to extrapolate the usefulness from what she just learned because they seemed like a smart great dude and she is now second guessing herself.
Example 2: "You are wrong, spreading misinformation, I know better, and I'm going to tell you all about what a loser you are."
David is scrolling social media and notices someone posted something that doesn't really make sense to him and he immediately think that's not right and he feels a sense of annoyance and frustration because he assumes they are wrong and don't know what they are talking about and he needs to explain that to them. He decides it's better to do so directly in the comments because everyone needs to know that he is superior and identifying that this person is wrong so he can save the movement profession as a whole from the clear misinformation or maybe even disinformation. He points out to them their inconsistencies and makes sure to throw in a few comments about their character. He gets a momentary ego boost and moves on with his day. But, what he doesn't have enough introspection to realize is that he just wasted time actually up-regulating his nervous system, making himself feel like shit and wasted time doing something that doesn't bring joy or positive movement to his own life. But, he'll do it again because the quick ego boost was like a temporary hit of dopamine mixed with a bit of self approved narcissism.
Example 3: "I'm not good enough, everyone knows more than me, and I shouldn't even make posts."
Ashley is just trying to navigate the wealth of information that is available to her online. She follows people with big followings and small followings. She follows friends and colleagues she wants to support and who she shares commonalities with. She follows accounts she has never seen but notice they talk about things she is interested in learning more about. She is just enjoying the experience with a positive, always the student mindset, and then she suddenly comes into contact with Example 1 (Susan) or 2 (David). ☹️ She reads the comments and she feels a bit uneasy. This just doesn't feel right. She thinks, "why do people have to talk this way?". Or maybe she thinks, "I hope no one ever comes at me like that. I better not make that post I was going to make about PRI." Or she thinks, "I need to go take another course because clearly I don't know as much as them because they seem so confident and sure in themselves."
Here's the good part where I remind you of the importance of leading from the person you inherently are and how to frame any scenario so you don't get lost in the constant barrage of ego driven bullshit that can cloud your sense of joy. I also want to remind you that you have control over your community and who you follow. When you feel that disconnect, that's your ego, your monkey brain. These are the moments when critical thinking flies out the window in exchange for ego leg bias. But, it doesn't have to! You can protect your own inherent true, curious, critically thinking, self.
Here is a list of ways to protect quiet your monkey brain, shut down your ego, and stay in a critical thinking mindset.
1. Stop and take some calming breaths. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes. Breathe in for 5, hold for 5 and out for 5. This will calm your nervous system so you can think more clearly and connect to who you really are.
2. Unfollow or mute any accounts that continually provoke this response in your body. This does not mean you are creating your own bias, despite the claims they make that you are, it means that you are protecting your own brain and providing it with a safe environment to continue to explore.
3. Find courses, leaders, and teachers in the industry that support a critically thinking mindset and do not lead with ego. If you are having a hard time distinguishing this, picture them standing in front of a lecture hall speaking to you as a professional and ask yourself if you can see them in that role and if you would like to learn from them.
4. Connect with colleagues who you can meet with in person or online whom you feel safe and supported. You should feel free to say thing like I don't know, I'm not sure, and maybe, when talking about what you are learning and what you are unsure about.
5. If you feel quick to judge another, remind yourself all of the times you may have made a mistake or didn't know as much. We are all on our own journey. Recognize that coming from a place of positivity when asking a question vs. judgement will build relationships not break them down.
6. Read a book. Books are the most underutilized learning resource in this industry, in my opinion. They allow you quiet time to reflect and process from your own unique lens without all of the noise of conflicting opinions.
7. Learn to identify the sensations in your body that come up around these times. For me this feels like a deep knot behind my sternum or a bit of closing of my throat or a feeling of superiority.
We all have an ego, that's just part of being human. We have all made these mistakes and led with our ego and that has caused bias to cloud our judgement. Don't kick yourself for past moments, just recognize they happened and they will continue to happen. But also recognize that you have a lot of choice in your ability to flip the script and this will make all the difference in your learning and teaching journey.
Here are a couple of quotes I think are very relevant.
Thank you for the time it took to read this post. I haven't blogged in a really long time but I hope to pick it back up. If this was helpful or if you would like to hear about a specific topic, please let me know!
All the best,