5 Common Mental Errors to Avoid if You Want to be Successful

By AAwosika07 | mental health

Jun 10

My lesson […] is to start every meeting at my boutique by convincing everyone that we are a bunch of idiots who know nothing and are mistake-prone, but happen to be endowed with the rare privilege of knowing it.” – Nassim Taleb

The masses in society are a case study on how not to think. If you did the opposite of what most people do, 8 or 9 times out of ten you’d be making the right decision.

We all suffer from mental errors. Successful people also have mental defects, but they simply have fewer defects and work on reducing them.

Reduction is the key to a successful life. Stop trying to be smart. Instead, don’t be dumb. Stop trying to figure out what to do. Instead, avoid doing the things you know you shouldn’t do. Stop trying to be right. Instead, try to be less wrong.

This is hard, to say the least. I consider myself someone versed in cognitive biases, deception, media/statistical manipulation, etc, and I find myself having to fight my lizard brain urges all the time.

I try to read information from sources I disagree with ideologically and I’ve noticed at times my eyes will literally skip past evidence that disconfirms my beliefs. So I’ll have to go back, re-read it, and still begrudgingly force that information into my brain, while still not all the way believing it because of my predispositions.

I do this because I know the truth about me, about you, and about everyone in society. You’re not a rational person. You primarily use emotions to make decisions. You think your worldview is a reality even though you’ve only experienced a small portion of reality.

Be aware of this, fight against it, and you have a chance to be left with the clear and lucid thinking you can use to improve your life. I could write a 10,000-word article on mental errors, but I’ll keep it to the most pressing ones I see getting in most people’s way.

Flip This Goal Setting Equation

“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.” – Friedrich Nietzche

Most people would rather hold onto their ideology rather than get the outcomes they want. They care about how to get there then actually getting there.

Let’s say you really want to solve problem ‘x’ but you find out the solution to your problem comes from the other side of the aisle. Let’s say solving problem ‘x’ would save lives, but still, you’d have to agree with people from another tribe.

Be honest with yourself, if you can. Odds are, you probably wouldn’t agree to change your mind.

I see this all the time in political debates. Most people want to win the ideology war more than they do getting policies passed. How can you tell? Because often the conversations aren’t about policies at all. When was the last time you’ve seen a substantive debate about policies on the news or social media? Exactly.

The culture war is mostly about feelings, not goals.

I don’t know what to do about the collective, but for you, try your best to focus on the outcomes you want as opposed to the route you need to take to get there. I have fans from every demographic. Why? Because I know most people want the same damn things in life.

Self-improvement transcends ideology, so why not just focus on self-improvement? Because you’re distracted by your own identity. Let it go.

Cherry-pick the information you need to make your life better and the lives of others better, have a combination of stances picked from different groups, stances that match the outcomes you want to see in the world, not the team you want to see win.

If we could hash things out on an issue by issue basis we’d be so much further ahead as a society, but clearly we can’t. While you wait for the peace treaty in the culture war, focus on making an impact with whatever knowledge is useful to you, regardless of where it comes from.

Stop Being Harmed by the Most Powerful Psychological Tool Of All Time

“To transform our lives, we need to change our stories.” – Carl Greer

Your narrative is, for all intents and purposes, your reality. Once you get addicted to a negative story, either about yourself or about the world, the odds of digging yourself out of that narrative are low.

Why am I so bearish on society collectively? They’re under a hypnotic spell. The story they tell themselves, more accurately the story they’ve adopted, is so demoralizing no amount of logic will work on them.

Pessimism or a worldview where you see no opportunities because of ‘x’ is like buying a new car and you start to see that car everywhere on the road.

The world is far from a perfect place. If you have a heightened sense of injustice, negativity, oppression, etc, you’ll have enough examples to last a lifetime. And the media will gladly help you maintain this narrative.

Again, let’s do an example scenario. Let’s say there’s a problem ‘x’ that occurs 365 times total. This is a very low number compared to the total instances of things that occur in life when you multiply ‘things in life’ times ‘billions of people’. The media can run a daily story about problem ‘x’, making it seem worse than it is.

Again, due to mental errors, some people will say if you think there’s less of a problem than some might think, that you think there’s no problem at all.

Let’s take racism. Clearly, racism is still a problem, and in some contexts a severe problem,  in America. But it’s not as bad as it was hundreds of years ago. Objective fact. So for myself personally, I focus on becoming as successful as possible as a black man in America (doing pretty well by the way) and also recognize that racism and institutional policies have created a disproportionately negative effect on minorities.

This is a metaphor for the way you should live life, period. If you’re going to wait for the world to be completely rid of injustice so you can be successful, good luck. I see so many people getting addicted to the sky is falling narrative from the media and it’s ruining their lives.

If you are blessed enough to be in a position where the sky is falling narrative truly doesn’t apply to you, own it, be grateful, and honor it by being successful and helping others. Don’t fall for the narrative.

Avoid the False Set of Choices

“Human beings have a strong dramatic instinct toward binary thinking, a basic urge to divide things into two distinct groups, with nothing but an empty gap in between. We love to dichotomize. Good versus bad. Heroes versus villains. My country versus the rest. Dividing the world into two distinct sides is simple and intuitive, and also dramatic because it implies conflict, and we do it without thinking, all the time.” – Hans Rosling

Maybe I should put this at number one because it’s the mental error I see popping up the most right now. Binary, either-or, black and white thinking will keep you misinformed, angry, and again, not in a position to be successful.

I wish I could burn this sentence in people’s minds: two things can be true at the same time.

I’ll cast aside the major hot-button debates so we can talk about you and your personal growth. The main two things that can be true at the same time for you are that you have disadvantages in your life but you can still be successful.

The difference between myself and many others. I actually agree with them about the problems in the system, but we come to different conclusions.

I talked about this in my book. Look at some of these issues we have within the system right now:

  • We still have many instances of brutal racism and police brutality
  • Healthcare is an absolute mess
  • The real value of minimum wage peaked more than 50 years ago
  • The cost of tuition is skyrocketing, student debt is at an all-time high and you can’t declare bankruptcy on it.
  • Automation is eating jobs.
  • Amazon is killing retail.
  • Wages have remained flat while expenses have gone up.
  • Most people can’t afford a $1,000 emergency.
  • Climate change is an imminent threat to us all.

All true to me. All that being said, I’m still bullish on you being able to live the life you want by avoiding the societal game altogether.

Could I be wrongfully killed by a cop because I’m black? Without question. But I can also be successful. Both things are true. I have no choice but to cross that bridge if it ever comes and we need to fix that issue in society. But while we’re fixing it, I don’t have to be sad, depressed, and afraid every time I walk out the door. And I’m not.

The ultimate two things that are true about society — there’s massive upside and massive downside at the same exact time. Don’t you want to be on the right side?

Add Subhead Here

“Like all men who are fundamentally of the group, of the herd, he was incapable of taking a strong stand with the inevitable loneliness that it implied.” – F. Scott Fitzerald

If I were somehow able to wipe your mind clean and remove all of your group identifications, your ability to think in terms of the group at all, and your tribalistic nature, I wonder how you’d view a set of issues and facts with this blank slate mind.

Groupthink happens because you’re evolutionarily wired to have a sense of belonging. If you fell out of favor with the group, you’d die. Nowadays, the vast majority of people suffer from groupthink to the point they’ve lost their ability to think at all.

Why is this important for you, though? It’s important because your success is predicated on you behaving like almost no one you see, know, or interact with.

I talked about this in an article about becoming the exception to the rule:

Symbolically, at least, you’ll have to let go of society and everyone you know altogether so you can focus on your mission.

Not only does groupthink affect you in a tribalistic sense. It affects you in your need to belong to the group that is society.

The one thing that binds most people, regardless of ideology, is their identification with the masses of men and women, middle-class thinking, unexceptional living, this idea that part of being a member of society is schlepping along at some job you hate, never having your freedom, getting into debt for all the wrong reasons, and living out your life as an indentured servant.

“It is what it is.” No, not if you refuse to accept these terms and conditions. Not if you chose to think for yourself. This goes back to getting the outcomes you want. You know what type of life you really want to live.

Odds are, it’s a lot better than the one you’re living right now. And odds are, it’s a way most people don’t live. You know who I identify with first? Me. When I think of who I am, the first thing I think is “I’m Ayodeji Awosika.”

I don’t think about my skin color, political affiliation, and spiritual beliefs first. I do think about these things, but not first. Get it? Identity politics is a problem that affects both sides of the aisle.

It’s counterproductive, dangerous, and will lead your life in a negative direction. Avoid.

Avoid the Most Pressing Error of All

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” – Disavowed racist Mark Twain

I may have repeated some of these points. They’re kind of defining the same thing repetitively but that’s okay because this is a huge problem you, I, we all need to focus on.

Call it confirmation bias. Call it your way of filtering out everything aside from what you already believe to be true. It goes by many monikers.

But your main mental error is your need to focus on the way you wish things were instead of the way things are. You focus on what you wish to be true instead of what is true.

Now there’s no such thing as objective reality, but there are common sense middle-grounds in many areas that people avoid because of confirmation bias.

I’ve always been an optimist. Sometimes when I see the way people talk and analyze how they think, I’m sitting there thinking, “Why do you want the world to be a bad place so…badly?”

One thing I just started to fully realize about people. A lot of people don’t want things to get better. They don’t want society to get better. They have no aims, goals, out outcomes. Instead, they just want to be angry. They have an incentive to fuel injustice, not quell it.

If your job is to highlight injustice, once injustice goes away, you have no job. Don’t you get that? There’s no incentive for outrage pornographers to fix society’s problems, ever.

And for some individuals, they’re incentivized to fuel injustice because if society did become perfectly equal and they still failed, well then they’d have to blame themselves.

I can’t be the only one who sees what’s going on right now, right?

You see it, don’t you?

Look past your beliefs, your tribe, your group, your narrative, your lizard brain wants and needs, your ego, your distortion or reality, your desperate clinging to an identity you may or may not have even consciously chosen.

Try to figure out the truth even if it’s impossible. Try to be less wrong.

Do that, and you’ll be left with useful answers. Answers that can change your life and the lives of those around you.


About the Author

Ayodeji is the Author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement and two other Amazon best-selling titles. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading, exercising, eating chicken wings, and occasionally drinking old-fashioned's.