The Art Of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli will help you fight your mental biases and realize how imperfect our minds are when it comes to making right choices in life.
The Art Of Thinking Clearly Summary (PDF)
Want to know how to think clearly and make the right decisions?
Our mind is a messy thing, isn’t it?
In this book, the author has discussed many around 99 biases, or fallacies, or effects, that make us take wrong decisions.
And in this book summary, I’m going to share some of the best lessons I have learned from it.
By the end of this summary, you’ll be able to bring clarity to your thoughts.
Alright then, without further ado…
Let’s dive right in!
Lesson #1: Right result doesn’t mean right action
Often we think that if the result is right, then the action taken was also right.
Well, this might be true in an ideal world.
But in reality, there are lots of factors that contribute to the right result.
In fact, we don’t even know properly if the result we are thinking is right is actually right for us or not in the long term.
Anyway, let’s talk about how results don’t justify the action taken.
The author gives a beautiful example to explain this idea:
If many monkeys choose shares in the share market, some of them will fall and some of them will rise in value.
But still, a monkey is a monkey, right?
A monkey — no matter what share he picks — will still remain a monkey.
So if you take any action, and you get the right result, don’t think that you got the right outcome because you took the right action.
It’s possible that you might have taken the right action.
But just because the result(s) is as expected, you shouldn’t ignore the other factors.
Often people miss looking at subtle factors that make false beliefs in their minds.
(You should avoid that…)
When you don’t see the full picture, you give room to many biases.
For instance, let’s say you are facing an interview.
Now, let’s say that you faced 4 interviews and you got selected in 2 interviews when you wore a particular shirt.
Here, your shirt has no relation with the outcome of your interview: Either you get selected or rejected.
But since you are only looking at the outcome from one angle, you may think that your shirt is lucky for you.
You may even think of that shirt as your lucky charm.
The harsh reality is:
If you are not worthy of a particular position, you are going to get rejected most of the time.
There are other factors too…
Maybe the interviewer made a wrong impression of you…
Or you made a mistake, which you don’t make often.
You know, things go wrong when we don’t expect them to. (That’s life for you.)
Sometimes, people also confuse correlation with causation.
If two things happen simultaneously due to some other factor, then it doesn’t mean that there is a causation between those two things.
When you are biased with the outcome, you are more prone to these types of mistakes.
So what’s the solution? How to avoid this mistake of judging outcomes?
Simple, look at the randomness of the event.
Let’s consider the stock market.
There are hundreds of factors that may affect it.
If the randomness is high, then look at all the possible factors.
Give your best.
You may miss a few factors.
That’s completely normal!
You can’t be a God, or can you?
You are a human being.
So look at all the factors and try to understand how they affect each other.
Then maybe you will be able to judge the outcomes properly.
Sometimes, there is only one causing factor.
While the other times, there are hundreds or even thousands of factors.
Or maybe even more…
Lesson #2: Most of our assumptions are often wrong — even when you feel they are right
It’s confusing, isn’t it?
Let me explain.
We all are prone to confirmation bias.
This means that we don’t like when our ideas or beliefs are found wrong. So we look for the shreds of evidence that only reinforce them.
Doing so takes us away from reality.
It’s crucial to make decisions based on reality. Not based on our ideas or beliefs.
So whenever you learn something new, don’t ignore the ideas that talk against it.
When you like a product on Amazon, and really want to buy it. In that case, you might focus more on the positive reviews while ignoring the negative ones.
And on the flip side, if you don’t want to buy the product subconsciously, you might focus more on the negative reviews rather than the positive ones telling them fake.
What’s is right in this case?
Read both positive and negative reviews.
You might be saying, “Thanks. I already know this.”
Yeah, sure, this was an easy example.
But confirmation bias doesn’t restrict itself to purchasing the products on Amazon.
Sometimes, this bias creates bigger problems.
It changes our political and social views too.
If you like a party or a leader, you tend to focus more on the good opinions rather than the negative ones.
The author says that the best approach to deal with this bias is to note down all your ideas, assumptions, or opinions in a diary.
And then focus on disproving them.
That way, if you find lots of disconfirming pieces of evidence, it may mean that your idea was wrong after all.
But if you don’t find any, it would mean that your idea is right.
Still, there is no guarantee that you won’t still make wrong choices.
Here is what most people do:
They cling to their ideas and opinions.
And whenever someone tells them they are wrong.
Guess what do they do? They become angry.
What does a wise person do? He takes more interest in the ideas that prove to him that he is wrong.
Ultimately, the goal is to reach the right ideas — to make the right beliefs based on reality — to stick to the facts — not entirely to opinions.
Always relying on your assumptions is a bad idea.
Lesson #3: More information isn’t always better
We are primally curious beings.
And as a result, we love to hunt for answers to the questions we don’t have.
That’s amazing, isn’t it?
But the author says that more information isn’t necessarily useful.
More information means more data.
The more the data, the better we will be able to understand, right?
That may be true for computers with high processing power.
We are not computers, although there are many similarities.
The problem is:
When we load ourselves with too much information, a lot of unnecessary information also comes with that.
We don’t realize what information is good for our mind unless we load it into our minds.
Don’t confuse this “loading” with the one we do with computers.
We are even more sophisticated than computers.
You don’t even need to lift your finger to fill your head with information.
Information is everywhere if you pay attention.
It’s good to have information — but only when you really need it.
Otherwise, you would end up wasting your mental energy on useless data.
That means: Less productivity.
Another disadvantage of filling your head with over-information is:
You get so exhausted that you don’t take any action based on all that information.
If the information isn’t helping in the end, then what’s the point of having it in the first place.
Even computers start acting buggy when you install unnecessary applications — as they consume resources in the background.
Sometimes, what you need is an emptiness within your mind — a free space — to decide what’s worth loading in.
These days, we all have mobiles, so information is being loaded into your mind even when you don’t ask for it.
The key here is to regulate the amount of information you take in.
Well, you can’t just control everything.
But you can surely get rid of those resources that are constantly trying to bombard you with information.
One beautiful example of useless information is News channels.
Yes, it’s true.
Let me explain.
Most of the news you consume every day isn’t going to help you in your life.
Maybe some of it is worth your time.
But 80% of it is utter noise to your mind.
Hmm.. and then we all wonder why do we don’t feel energetic.
You drain your mental energy and willpower consuming useless information.
And you hardly ever evaluate how much of that information was worth your precious time.
It’s worth noting that you sometimes need to consume more information than needed.
Note the word here “needed.”
Just don’t always sit in front of your mobile or TV consuming information — which is infinite.
Even if you spend your whole life, there will still be tons of information left for you to consume.
Back in the day, information was not a big issue. But today, you need to pay more attention to what information you are consuming and from which source.
Lesson #4: Never trust stories blindly
The author talks about Story Bias in one of the chapters.
What is story bias?
Here is an epiphany:
Well, every story is biased!
Yes, almost every story you have ever heard is biased.
There is no such thing as unbiased stories.
You may say, “I don’t read stories. I watch the news.”
The fact is:
Whatever you hear comes to your ears in the form of stories.
Humans don’t talk without stories.
Because if you only talk facts, you will sound boring, and nobody would like to listen to you.
You will almost sound like a broken radio.
Also, it puts you under stress.
“Okay, I got your point. But why are we talking about this?”
The problem is:
“Stories delude us.”
To understand this better, let’s understand how stories are formed.
You see, life is a series of random events.
When we connect them in a particular sequence such that they appeal to our senses and mind, a story is formed.
Do you like boring movies? Nobody does.
Do you like movies with an interesting plot featuring your favorite actors? Maybe yes.
Have you ever thought about why we like watching movies?
That’s because, at the end of every movie, there is an ending that satisfies us.
Although, these days directors are using open-endings. But that’s another thing and is out of the context.
When the movie ends, the tension is released. We feel good.
Then we talk about the movie with our friends.
All of our gossips are also stories.
The author says that stories give us a false sense of understanding.
We think that we understand why an event happened because we hear stories about it from other people.
Most people forget the fact that sometimes things happen randomly.
But you know, we are primally curious, so what do we do? We connect the dots and make a story.
We love order and symmetry.
But just because we love something, it doesn’t mean that everything in the world will happen orderly.
There is randomness too.
What’s the practical use of learning this lesson?
Well, if someone tells you a story, don’t assume that you know or understand everything.
Facts get distorted and important details are often missed.
It also depends on the person or the source from which the stories are coming.
Personally, I think that we should do our own investigation if a story concerns us.
Otherwise, there is no problem in welcoming some free entertainment.
Or is there?
So don’t just blindly give meaning to everything you see or hear.
Do investigation. Don’t trust everything you watch in the news.
You know, most news channels want only TRP. They don’t really know you — forget about caring about you.
They will tell stories that will fulfill their goals — not yours.
Yes, I agree, we don’t have all the time in the world to investigate everything.
But when the information directly affects your life, take this lesson seriously.
Trust is highly precious. And so is time.
So finding balance is the key here.
Just remember this:
Don’t trust any information source without some investigation.
Lesson #5: Quit when it’s time
Yeah, this might sound pessimistic.
Did you expect some motivation to do your work?
Well, quitting isn’t always that bad.
Allow me to explain.
There is a fallacy known as the “sunk cost fallacy.”
What does it mean?
We hate to quit when we have invested and so much time in something — despite the thing having no hope in the future.
Another bias related to it is the “effort justification” bias.
We start valuing something more if we have put a lot of effort into achieving it.
It’s good to have hope.
Sure, nothing wrong with that.
But you should also know when to quit.
Sometimes, there is no point in carrying out some tasks.
Sometimes, it’s better to quit and move on.
You know times change, things happen.
Most of the things that used to work in the past don’t work anymore.
So it’s a terrible idea to stick to a process or system — just because you have invested a lot of time and energy in it.
Yes, it may be hard to quit.
You may even hate me for saying this.
But the truth is: You should change according to the time and situation.
Let me give you an example of how this bias affects your life.
First, let’s talk about the sunk cost fallacy.
Let’s say you have started a start-up. Now, it’s been 5 years and you are still not making any profit from it.
So what should you do ideally?
Yes, you should quit in that case and think about something else — unless you are certain that it has a future.
It won’t be easy.
5 years of invested time, energy, and also money, will pull you back and stop you from quitting that business.
You will be attached to it emotionally.
As a result, you will tend to continue that business.
Rationally, you should quit. But emotionally, you won’t be able to.
In short: You will keep wasting your resources.
Okay, there is also “effort justification.”
Since you have put a lot of effort, you will be having thoughts like “Never give up.”
Consequently, you will be doing so much work and still won’t achieve the desired results.
Remember that we are talking with a condition — that your business has no future in reality.
Don’t take this as absolute advice and foolishly apply it everywhere.
Many factors affect the growth or success of any startup.
Want to learn about starting a business? Read: Before You Start A Startup Summary
So be smart! (This doesn’t mean that you should avoid hard work)
Try to understand reality better.
You may take inputs from other people and then see rationally.
More efforts never always mean better results.
What’s gone is in the past now.
There is no past, there is only memory.
Worrying about the past never changes anything.
(Yeah, I know, it’s easy to say and apply it in reality.)
If you can stop worrying about your past, your life is going to be awesome.
Because then you will be focused on the present.
And it has many benefits like improved efficiency, high enthusiasm, etc.
The Art Of Thinking Clearly Quotes
Here are some of the notable quotes from this book:
The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance — it’s the illusion of knowledge. ~ Daniel J. Boorstin
The Art Of Thinking Clearly Review
This book is similar to You Are Not So Smart (Read the summary here).
The book is divided into many chapters.
Each chapter has 2-3 pages.
In each chapter, there are stories that tell how biased and overconfident we all can be while making decisions and still not realize it.
I think everyone should read this book.
This truly helps the reader to think clearly.
The author also tells the reader how he can avoid biases.
If you read this book, you will surely become smarter than before and will make better decisions — considering you don’t fall victim to information bias.
This is a good book for beginners.
As it’s easy to finish.
It took me only a few hours to finish.
The author sounds like David McRaney, the author of You Are Not So Smart.
Earlier, I thought that they have been written by the same author.
You know, I don’t think much about the author when I buy books.
As soon as I find the title interesting, I order it on Amazon.
Okay, so give this book a shot.
You won’t be disappointed.
Book Rating: 8.4/10
Now it’s your turn
There you have it.
I hope you will be able to destroy some of your biases after reading this summary.
I highly recommend that you read this book.
Share this summary with your friends and help them become smarter.
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