Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America: by Scott Adams

Summary

Loserthink is about unproductive ways of thinking. In it, writer Scott Adams will show you how to avoid Loserthink and to become a better and more rational thinker.

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Key Takeaways

What is Loserthink?

Scott Adams defines Loserthink as unproductive ways of thinking. Even if you’re intelligent and well-informed, you can fall into the trap of loserthink. The book describes the many different ways in which loserthink can manifest and lead to suboptimal outcomes.

Incentives influence outcomes

When money, reputation, power, ego, and complexity enter any field, it’s not rational to assume that you will see objective research and outcomes. Adams uses this idea to talk about the dynamics around climate science, which is highly politicized, very complex, and involves money and prestige. Given that these dynamics exist, it’s important to think about how they play into how the topic is researched, discussed, and managed.

Mental prisons

Mental prisons are the forms of loserthink (unproductive thinking) that limit your ability to see the world clearly. And without seeing the world clearly, you won’t be able to act rationally.

The press and political warming

“The inevitable outcome of the press having a business model that rewards brain manipulation versus accuracy is what I call political warming. As the press becomes increasingly skilled at stimulating the emotion centers in our brains, one should expect the public to be in a continuous state of fight-or-flight anxiety. We’re more scared and angry than I imagine we ever have been, at least since World War II. And that means bigger storms ahead in the form of protests and divisiveness.”

Be mindful of how the incentives of the press relate to the stories and information they put out.

Being right and being wrong

“Being absolutely right and being spectacularly wrong feel exactly the same.”

We all walk around believing that we hold informed and accurate perspectives about life, people, and the state of the world. This is delusional thinking. You and I are both walking around with ideas about the world that are incorrect.

It’s not a problem to be wrong at times. The problem is that you can’t even imagine that you’re wrong. How could you…you’re so informed, thoughtful, experienced…and delusional!

In most cases, being right and being wrong feel about the same. Instead of holding your opinion so highly, it’s worth asking yourself the question, “What if I’m wrong?”

You don’t know what other people think

“If your complaint about other people involves your belief that you can deduce their inner thoughts, you might be in a mental prison. We humans think we are good judges of what others are thinking. We are not. In fact, we are dreadful at it. But people being people, we generally believe we are good at it while also believing other people are not.”

Don’t assume you know what someone else is thinking.

How to stop being embarrassed

“Put yourself in potentially embarrassing situations on a regular basis for practice. If you get embarrassed as planned, watch how one year later you are still alive. Maybe you even have a funny story because of it. And…Note how other people’s embarrassments mean little to you when you are an observer. That’s how much your embarrassments mean to them: nothing.”

Is the world really falling apart?

“When you combine a human brain that is wired to notice problems with a press that is incentivized to present stories involving huge problems, you can easily start imagining that the world is falling apart in a variety of fatal ways. And that worldview might limit your ability to appreciate all the things going right.”

Bad at pattern recognition

We think we’re good at using pattern recognition to understand the world and other people. The problem is that humans are bad at pattern recognition. We think we’re good at it, but the reality is that we can’t tell the difference between a pattern that predicts an outcome and a pattern that simply reminds us of something and means nothing.

Systems vs. goals

“When it comes to your personal life, business life, and political opinions, it makes sense to favor systems over goals whenever that is practical. A goal gives you one way to win, whereas a system can surface lots of winning paths, some of which you never could have imagined.”

Instead of thinking about discrete outcomes (goals), it’s worth considering how you can build a system that slowly gets you to various goals and more. Systems may bring multiple winning paths that you could not otherwise predict.

Coincidences

“Sometimes coincidences tell you something useful. But 90 percent of the time they mislead you. Never be too confident about an opinion that depends solely on interpreting a coincidence.”

On the whole, coincidences don’t tell you much about the world. That said, we feel like they do, and we often misattribute significance to events that mean nothing.

How to be less susceptible to biases

“Always ask yourself if the opposite of your theory could be true. Doing so keeps you humble and less susceptible to bias until you get to the truth of the situation.”

In your personal and professional life, ask, “What if the opposite is true?” If you genuinely consider this question, you will find that you may avoid some of the blind spots and biases that would lead you down less good paths.

How to pick projects

To learn and grow, it’s worth finding ways to explore new areas and interests. When you do this, structure your approach in a way that you’ll come out ahead no matter what matters. That means pursuing projects that will teach you a useful skill, help you make valuable contacts, or learn to see the world in an expanded way. 

An effective approach to life

I don’t know how to do that. But I can figure it out.

How to assess the quality of your plan

“If you have a strong opinion about a proposed plan but you have not compared it to the next best alternative, you are not part of a rational conversation.”

Even if you think you have an awesome plan, you need to compare it to the next best alternative. If you simply state the pros of your plan, and you don’t consider the pros of alternative plans, then you don’t really have much of an argument. You also need to consider cons and costs versus other plans. This rarely happens in politics.

A productive system for judging others

Judge people by how they respond to their mistakes. A good response involes taking responsibility for the mistake, giving a genuine apology, making amends (if possible), and not repeating the mistake.

Confidence and rightness

Confidence is not a reliable signal of rightness.

How to be more persuasive

“Pacing involves matching the person you hope to persuade by agreeing with as much of their position as you can without lying, in order to build rapport and trust before taking on the disagreements. Always talk first about the points on which you agree, to set the tone and establish yourself as a reasonable voice. If you are debating a topic in the news, I find it helpful to start by noting that all news sources are unreliable at least sometimes. Most people will agree with that as a general statement. Once you have established that high-ground truth, you have set the table for persuasion.”

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