What to Do with the Fake News Coming from Inside Your Own Head
“So often the things that are holding me back are things that I can actually fact check.”
READ ON TO DISCOVER:
Why only 20% of the world is operating on authentic information
How to filter the information we receive from the outside world
Who you should be asking for feedback, at work and at home
Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist and the New York Times bestselling author of Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life. She recently joined Amy Blankson, a member of the UN Global Happiness Council and bestselling author of The Future of Happiness, to talk about how to navigate the fake news we feed ourselves, and find a balance between self-reflection and seeking feedback from others.
Tasha: Whatever your political beliefs, I think we can all agree that [fake news] is out there, but it’s very rare for us to realize that in addition to all of the falsities floating around the world, we quite often inadvertently create fake news within ourselves.
Amy: Well certainly. What I’ve found as a speaker and as an author is that most of the feedback we receive is praise. If you start to listen just to the praise, you get a distorted view of who you are in the world. Likewise, if I read all the reviews on Amazon or in the discussion forums, I might be very disheartened that everyone hates me.
Tasha: I’ve done that, by the way. Don’t ever do it.
Amy: It’s a horrible idea. What I’ve found really interesting, though, as I read your book was that the people that I trusted the most said, over the last year, “Amy, sometimes you’re not the best communicator.” I thought, “That’s so weird. I spend all day every day writing emails and texting and making phone calls. I’m literally always on my phone trying to communicate with people, so what do my friends mean?”
After the first friend said this and then a second friend and then my husband and then another friend, I thought, “I think I need to pay attention to this because clearly I might be receiving too much internal fake news, and I need to check in on what really is going on in my life.” Introspection is not just about self-reflection, it’s about getting feedback from others and figuring out how to filter what’s important, so that you can begin to make changes.
“Introspection is not just about self-reflection, it’s about getting feedback from others and figuring out how to filter what’s important, so that you can begin to make changes.”
For me, the Prochaska Stages of Change are so fascinating—the very first stage of making a change in your life is about pre-contemplation, before you ever think about things. When I was reading your book initially, I was in a stage of pre-contemplation, so when my friends started coming up and saying, “Amy, you really need to look at this. You need to become a more regular, personable communicator,” I began contemplation.
Eventually, the [fifth and] final stage is to actually create change in your life through action. There are multiple different ways that we can approach this in our own lives, but it comes back to [the question,] “How do we recognize some of the information in our life that is fake, and what do we do about it? Do we get rid of it or do we tune it out? Do we find more sources of good information, and how much do we need to listen to other people?”
These questions, they’re not just academic. They’re very personal questions through which I aspire to make myself a better person, a better leader, a better speaker, [and] a better author.
“How do we recognize some of the information in our life that is fake, and what do we do about it?”
Tasha: So many of us are about, how we can make it better? How can we be happier? How can we be more fulfilled? How can we be more successful? You and I would both argue that being yourself [is the answer] to all of these questions.
What that doesn’t mean is becoming just a self-loathing machine, over-analyzing everything we do and only speaking critical feedback, but rather [aiming] to get a richer, fuller picture of who we are, what we want, and the role that we’re playing in the world. That begins by acknowledging the blind spots that we all have. Whether in a technologically mediated setting [or] in-person, we can be very blind about how we come across and about what we know.
I wanted to delve into the sources of this internal fake news. Amy, you talk about something called “limiting belief.” What is that, and why is it fake news? Then, what can we do about it?
Amy: In neuroscience we talk a lot about heuristics, which are cognitive processes that help us to make sense of the world. Sometimes we intentionally or, most often, unintentionally have these blinders on that keep us from seeing all the information. It could be that you’re looking out at your day and only [focusing on] the tasks that you need to do, but not the actual priorities. That’s a whole different type of limiting belief where the information that you’re inputting isn’t equaling what you want to output.
It’s a place of catching yourself and realizing that you are not as logical as you might have thought that you were. Most of the time, people think that they are pretty accurate in the guesses they make about the world. It turns out that 50 to 80% of people are wrong about the core information that they’re evaluating tasks with. [That] means that only 20% of the world is actually operating on authentic information.
“Only 20% of the world is actually operating on authentic information.”
That’s something that we have to deal with and adjust, because if we can’t input the right information, then we’re all operating on faulty information that we continue to share with each other. No wonder we have confusion about not only ourselves, but the other people around us. So the question is really, “How do you limit the limiting beliefs?” Part of that is being able to name what those look like.
I had a life coach [who] once had me go through this exercise called “Capture the Bees and Release the Fireflies.” The idea was that in the back of our minds we have a constant buzzing with information. “You’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not social enough, you’re not funny enough to be able to do the task at hand.” That’s just background noise based in fear, and not in fact.
If you can capture those bees and put them in a jar far away from you and instead take the fireflies inside of you—the things that spark light and joy and connection—and release those into the world, those are the things that are going to move you forward. That’s been really helpful, because so often the things that are holding me back are things that I can actually fact check.
In the field of positive psychology, we find that when your brain is more positive (i.e. you’ve caught all the bees in the back of your head, or least you’ve named them), then your brain actually turns on the learning centers in your mind, enabling you to see new possibilities.
“So often the things that are holding me back are things that I can actually fact check.”
Tasha: If I discover a self-limiting belief—in my case it was the story I was telling myself that I could never change my communication and networking style because I was an introvert—how can I take those things and try something different? There’s this identity aspect to our limiting beliefs. As long as we hold the identity of that limiting belief, we’re holding ourselves back.
There’s another aspect of the work that you and I both do that really focuses on our interaction with the environment. For folks who want to get rid of the fake news outside of them in 2018, tell us a little bit about how outside news impacts what we know about ourselves.
“As long as we hold the identity of that limiting belief, we’re holding ourselves back.”
Amy: When we are in an environment, there’s a give and take of energy where we’re responding to people around us. What I talk about a lot is the effect mirror neurons have on us. The mirror neuron effect says that if there’s somebody in your environment smiling, you smile too.
We mirror the emotions of the people around us. What that means in an organizational context is that the individuals who are around you shape your response to the world, they shape the way you process information, they shape your productivity, your focus, your flow.
If we aren’t careful about how we invest our time within an organization or protect the way that we focus within an organization, then we will find ourselves constantly being swayed by other people. What I’ve found in my research is that you can spread stress and negativity across a room of 100 people in less than a minute. But the same thing holds true for positivity. You can have one positive individual begin to make change and ripple it across a room so quickly when they understand the principles of emotional contagion.
Now what this means for me and particularly my work with happiness and technology is that we have to be very careful both offline and online. Our days often begin with checking the latest news updates and reports or social media feed or looking at our email inbox—all of those become parts of our environment that shape our mental status. As we let those information sources flow into our minds, it’s actually changing the way that we process the world.
What that means for me is if I have some particularly negative information on Facebook, I might unfriend people that I don’t want to negatively shape my environment. But what we also see happening now is that we get these information sources that are completely biased, so we’ve swung from one end to the other.
Rather than shut off negative sources in our life, we should be able to effectively see both the positive and the negative in our world [and] strategically prioritize positive information sources. In my inbox, for example, I don’t need to hear all the information that’s coming through, so sometimes I’ll filter some to spam or to promotional tabs. The way we filter information in our lives is a core skillset [and] the more we can do that with intention, the better off we’ll be.
“The individuals who are around you shape your response to the world, they shape the way you process information, they shape your productivity, your focus, your flow.”
Tasha: We are the arbiter of what our world looks like, for the most part. We can’t control everything, but we can often control what we let in. One of the things that my research team has found by looking at people who really reduce the fake news both inside them and in their external world is that almost everyone did a “daily check-in.” This is a very simple exercise, basically three questions, designed to help you avoid overthinking your day. The first is “What went well today?” The second is “What didn’t go well?” The third is “How can I be smarter tomorrow?”
“We can’t control everything, but we can often control what we let in.”
Amy: There are multiple possible realities that we can live in, but we’re making decisions constantly that shape how we see the world and how we interact with it. In my book, I call it “magnifying micro-decisions”—looking at the little bitty decisions you make throughout the day to see where you’re losing energy, where you could be more efficient, where you could infuse more meaning. It’s the little moments.
Do I stop and talk to people at the water cooler? Do I look up from my devices at the dinner table? Each of these little moments creates some changes in the way that our day rolls out. While it’s incredibly difficult to track these little moments, there are some amazing tools that can help us.
Add App, for example, tracks your activity on your phone and the background of your life and then it will synthesize information and provide recommendations to you based on how often you travel, how much time you spend in your car, how often you’re on your phone, how often you’ve been exercising, how well you’re sleeping, etc.
Some people find that kind of information a little bit frightening, but I think that it is where we’re going in the future, to have that level of insight that we wouldn’t be able to have if we were just trying to juggle all these data pieces in our head. Truthfully we have too much going on in our lives to pay attention to each and every one of those little moments, and we need help picking out the most useful, actionable, relevant information to move forward.
One of the other things I find staggering is how much money that corporations are spending trying to understand us. Millions if not billions of dollars right now are spent in trying to buy data to understand how you think. Yet, though we have free access to this information about ourselves, we don’t value it in the same way.
Tasha: In order to really see yourself clearly and to prevent that fake news, we do need to get feedback from other people about how we’re coming across. The research that I and others have done has shown time and time again that other people can provide valuable information to us about ourselves that we either can’t see or don’t want to see.
We were interviewing dozens and dozens of people who made these really dramatic improvements in their self-awareness. I expected them to say things like, “Oh, I love getting critical feedback. It’s so wonderful to learn all of my faults and weaknesses.” Lo and behold, these people actually ended up being human and they said things to us like, “Oh, are you kidding? I hate hearing that I’m not perfect.”
Seeking feedback from other people—no matter who you are, no matter how self-aware you are, no matter how compassionate you are towards yourself—is difficult. I think that’s important for all of us to remember—that it is going to be hard.
“Seeking feedback from other people—no matter who you are, no matter how self-aware you are, no matter how compassionate you are towards yourself—is difficult.”
The second major thing we learned from these highly self-aware people was that they actually relied on a very small number of people to get feedback on a regular basis. Again, this was surprising to me. I was expecting that they would say, “Oh my gosh, I get feedback from everyone.” But instead, they said there were really two criteria that someone had to meet to be a valuable source of feedback.
The people in question needed to have their best interests at heart. [In] the workplace for example, there are so many people that don’t necessarily want us to be successful. They might see life as a zero-sum game: I win, you lose. You win, I lose. Hopefully that’s a very small percentage of people in your workplace, but it is an important consideration. The second criteria that they talked about over and over again was just having a belief that that person is willing to be honest with us. I give the example all the time of my mother. I know my mother wants the best for me, I know she has my best interest at heart, but she is not the most critical person, so I could send her an article I’m writing and she’d tell me it was the best article she’d every read.
Having these “loving critics” is what really sets us up to get valuable feedback that doesn’t tear us down in the process. If we want to live the best life we can, if we want 2018 to be the best year we can possibly have, there has to be some element of getting feedback on how we’re showing up.
Amy: Do you have to be in a good mental space to ask for this kind of feedback? Is it only at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where you’re ready to self-actualize that you can ask these questions, or is it truly helpful to hear it when you are struggling on a fundamental level?
Tasha: The most beautiful thing about taking control and putting ourselves in the driver’s seat of getting feedback is that it’s on our terms. We can decide when and how and who will give us this important feedback. There are times when we’re not ready for it. As long as we do find that time in the future, I think it’s smart to be strategic about not just what we let in, but when we let it in.
“It’s smart to be strategic about not just what we let in, but when we let it in.’’
Amy: A women’s leadership networking resource called Land It provides a space for women to document both what they’ve done in the past and what their goals are for the future.
What I really like on their website is they give a space for creating your own personal board of advisors. You list people [who] are “high trust” individuals for you, and it will regularly email you at a defined period of time to trigger you to say, “Hey, it’s time to go ask for some feedback again.” I did it, I made my own personal board of advisors, and I set it so that every month I’m supposed to check in with those advisors both on vision and also for some feedback as well.
Whether you’re using the website or not, it’s something we could all use. I want to grow into somebody that is constantly evaluating and thinking about my life [and the lives of others] because there’s no greater calling. The ability to learn about ourselves through every resource and means possible is such a gift.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
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