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My top recommendations on where you can learn more about beliefs
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My recommendations this week are a mix of things – books, podcasts, and articles - that have got me thinking in new ways about beliefs. Rather than reviewing one book every fortnight, I thought it would be more valuable to give you a mix of different recommendations on a particular theme.
We all have deeply held beliefs on everything from politics to sports teams to diets to dress code. And we spend chunks of our days trying to impart those beliefs on others (even if we don’t realise we’re doing so.) At the same time, we often assume that those who hold opposing views are just plain wrong, ill-informed, or even stupid. By default, we respond poorly when they try to impart their beliefs on us.
Just think of the language around beliefs:
“Shooting down” an opposing argument.
“Poking holes” in the other side.
“Shoring up” the opposition.
Our motivation is to defend our beliefs against any evidence or argument that might threaten them. This gets us nowhere. It gets us nowhere in arguments around family dinner tables. It gets us nowhere in making progress on hot-button issues. It gets us nowhere in boardrooms, meetings, and classrooms. And it definitely gets us nowhere in politics.
I think one of the biggest problems in the world today is that we rarely stop to question the origins of our beliefs.
Where did they come from?
When did they form?
Whom or what did we trust?
If we don’t understand how belief systems work in ourselves, how can we begin to understand and empathize with others? That is why I’ve been focused on trying to understand not what people believe but why they need to believe something.
In many ways, beliefs are a product of trust - sometimes, trusting the wrong person or piece of information.
After reading and researching a lot on the complicated and thorny topic of beliefs, here are my top recommendations on where you can start to dig deeper yourself:
The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t by Julia Galef is a fascinating and easy-to-read book that contrasts two ways of thinking: the soldier mindset and the scout mindset.
“A Scout mindset is what allows you to recognise when your wrong, to seek out your blind spots, to test your assumptions and change course,” writes Galef.
The soldiers, on the other hand, constantly seek out evidence to support their assumptions (classic “motivated reasoning”.) Reading the book made me realize that it doesn’t matter how open-minded we like to think we are, we all have moments of acting like a solider to protect ourselves.
The Witch Trials of J.K Rowling is a new podcast series that uses Rowling’s story from the late 1990s as a wider cultural lens on what happens when opposing beliefs seriously collide. Try to put aside any views about the controversy surrounding J.K and Megan Phelps-Roper (the host) because this is audio at its best.
“We should distrust ourselves most when we are most certain,” Rowling says at one point.
This series is not the story of one author’s controversial beliefs: it’s a fascinating take on the chasm between what people say they believe and how they’re understood (or misunderstood) by others. It’s also an urgent call to constantly look for evidence to challenge our beliefs. When we’re certain we’re right, what reliable information would prove us wrong?
Think Again by
“Being wrong is the only way I feel sure I’ve learned anything” he says.
The book is a deep but accessible dive into understanding why independent thinking is so hard. And why resisting groupthink (or tribalism) is so difficult, yet a critical skill to develop at work and in our lives. I’d also recommend subscribing to Adam’s fascinating newsletter Granted here on Substack.
If you want to go even deeper….The Case for Motivated Reasoning is an academic paper by the late social psychologist Ziva Kunda. It was written over 30 years ago but is incredibly relevant in understanding what motivates the formation of our beliefs and how that impacts decisions.
Two other blog posts that are so good on this topic:
Are our beliefs like clothes?
Crony beliefs by Kevin Simler
A FINAL THOUGHT FROM ME.
Our minds are like an ideological immune system, susceptible to some ideas and resistant to others. And just as we don’t understand how we fight off the flu, most of us have no clue how this process works: how we reach certain beliefs, why we cling to them, and why those beliefs make us act in a particular way.
I hope these recommendations start you rethinking not what you believe but why you believe it.
MORE FROM RETHINK WITH RACHEL.
Rethinking Quitting: How do you know when it’s the right time to quit? This was a fascinating topic to dig into. I know this connected with how many of you are feeling about work right now.
My take on ChatGPT: How will humans differ from AI? Spoiler alert: I think the human ability to doubt is something we should hold onto.
Rethink Recommendation, A Fortunate Woman: I learned more from this book about empathy and the nature of earning trust than from any business or leadership book I've read.
These recommendations are curated thoughtfully by me from books I have read and enjoyed. But, just so you know, I may earn a commission if you make a book purchase from the links in this list.