Have you ever said to yourself “What was I thinking?” You realize that you ignored all the red flags at the beginning when you went for the job interview and took the job or you have somehow forgotten that you have tried that route before and now you are here in a similar setting that did not work before. We sometimes do not do the analysis before we agree to a situation or have come to some faulty assumptions that we wonder how we could be so confused and make a poor decision.

Faulty thinking is one of hazards that we, in our humanness are prone, to. What I am meaning is that simply going by our intuition can send us down the wrong track. An article titled the “Pitfalls of Doing What Comes Naturally” by Diane Cole (2011) in the Psychotherapy Networker provides a counter to the “extraordinary influence wielded by the intuitive mind” in current thinking (p. 1). The author references Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell as a popular work that suggests the decision making power of the intuition is stronger than rational and logical reasoning.

Cole (2011) suggests that the cognitive research cited in The Invisible Gorilla by Chabri and Simons (2010) and On Second Thought by Herbert (2010) provide counter arguments to the “overly positive” view of using intuition as a guide. Their take on cognitive psychology is that our intuition is sometimes helpful and sometimes not. What we remember intuitively largely from our unconscious is influenced by heuristics, “hard-wired mental –shortcuts and cognitive “rules of thumb” that we use in our daily decision-making. The study of heuristics is on the forefront of cognitive research today.

Coasting along on autopilot making decisions, the authors suggest, can cause serious errors in judgment. In this case the information we remember and use for our decision-making sometimes can be considered a “heuristic distortion”. The article suggests that because our mind simplifies and categorizes information it produces these distortions. The premise of the article is that this sometimes erroneous automatic process must be over-ridden by more conscious processes. We need to “tune-in and decipher our brain chatter” (p. 2). What we remember and attend to gets simplified and categorized into schemas or mental maps and they need to be reprogrammed according to the author.

Herbert includes in his book about 20 of the most familiar “heuristics and familiar situations” that in our mind can evade critical thinking. Examples that are provided are “smooth talkers’ whose fluency (“fluency heuristic”) deceives us into not paying attention to the inconsistencies inherent in their talk. Slick marketing lends itself to the “arithmetic heuristic” when our memory is distorted by manipulated numbers. The “caricature heuristic” allows us to create a whole from details resulting in stereotypes and prejudice. The author suggests that we need to label the distortions and develop new skills for reframing and redirecting our minds.

The Invisible Gorilla challenges our assumptions of how accurately we perceive the world and suggests that our intuition often deceives us. They call the distortions “everyday illusions”. The examples of these illusions are “overestimation of our powers of attention”, mental blindness, and the  “illusion of memory” that is the  “selective, elusive, fast-fading and at times self-serving nature of memory” (p.3) In essence we see what we expect to see and remember what we expect to remember.

What we store in memory is not necessarily accurate it is more likely to be a “re-creation” of it. Unless we become conscious of these illusions and how we automatically process and distort information, it will trip us up.

Cole (2010) makes the point that we need to be careful how we use our intuition and that believing what we want to believe, being deceived by smooth talkers and oversimplifying situations are “the cost of being human” however we can minimize the consequences of distorting the truth by becoming much more aware of our memory and attention processes.

How does this apply to our career situation? There is nothing wrong with intuition. I think what we need to do is take notice of our intuition and remember it however along with this we should analyze the situation to make sure that we are not swayed by “everyday illusions”. Not everyone is out for our best interest and people do lie or distort the truth.

When an employer is recruiting us we can be swayed by “smooth talkers” who give us a good sales pitch but there is no truth or substance in it. We can do research about this employer by talking to credible employees in the company or people who have left the company. Their website is usually for marketing and portraying a great image and we can be swayed by this or the words in the advertising.

Remember the phrase “buyer beware” or should I say, “seller beware”. We are in essence selling our skills to an employer. If you have to take the job anyway at least you are going into the situation “eyes open”. You know what you are getting into and the job is a means to an end.

Critical thinking is especially important given the complexity of our world. It is essential in making good career and life decisions. Our intuition is important but going by it alone can lead us astray. Critical thinking takes time however it can help us in the long term.

For more information contact Denise Hall

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