There is one psychological principle in particular that's impacted me of a lot in recent times. When I became aware of and began to understand how confirmation bias affected my life, it drastically changed the way I looked at my beliefs and the world around me. In (very simplified) layman's terms, confirmation bias is the phenomenon in which people see only what they want to see – or what agrees with how they see the world and their beliefs. Most people can't see past their own beliefs, and will only acknowledge information / facts / experiences etc that are in agreement with their currently held views. Which usually means that by extension, everything that disagrees is ignored, resisted or rejected.
I came to realise that I was far from the objective thinking person I thought I was. Many of my beliefs and biases were not formed out of logical thinking or evidence, but were emotionally formed interpretations or transmuted beliefs that were “thrust upon me” during childhood.
One such belief I came to objectively analyse recently was a belief implanted during my youth. From a young age I was subjected to an impatient attitude towards other drivers on the road. I was also told frequently that “if I treat every other driver as an inconsiderate idiot, I wouldn’t be far wrong”.
The repetition of this statement, along with the emotionally charged anger towards other drivers, cemented a strongly held belief from a young age. When I was old enough to drive myself, I too adopted this same attitude towards other drivers. I became outraged over the slightest inconvenience, I noticed every inconsiderate act and my patience for slow drivers became virtually non-existent. It didn't even matter whether I was trying to get somewhere fast, it seemed to be a case of “you shouldn't be on the road” get out of the way! I only ever seemed to notice the idiots that cut over me on roundabouts, the slow, the tailgaters, the discourteous and the dangerous drivers.
Every time I drove I saw examples that strengthened the certainty of my belief. This continued for years until I became a bit more aware of myself and the likes of confirmation bias etc. So I decided to challenge this old belief objectively. For one whole week, I tallied the number of occasions in which other drivers let me out at junctions, courteously waited, left adequate space behind my rear end, didn't cut over me on roundabouts and so forth. It became apparent that roughly 1 in 100 drivers fit the bill of “inconsiderate asshole”, whereas 99 out of 100 were just casual courteous drivers. Things became scary at this point, because I realised that in all the years I had been driving, I had turned a blind eye to the overwhelming number of circumstances that proved my belief to be incorrect, yet persisted in seeing only what confirmed my belief.
Since that point, I have taken a more objective look at many of my own beliefs, and it's staggering the number of beliefs I hold/have held that have no rational basis whatsoever.
This is a little bit of a digression. However, this is one of the main reasons I no longer watch the news. You'd be hard pressed not to notice that the majority of the news is basically “doom and gloom“ … You could even check this objectively and tally the number of “murder, rape, disaster, intolerance, terrorist, the world is screwed up” type of stories versus the uplifting stories. Now i'm not denying that horrific events don't take place – of course they do, I'm not naïve. However, at the same time all of these horrific events are taking place, there are millions of beautiful breathtaking events happening all over the world that go unmentioned or unseen. Also, I've found that the news shifts my focus from what's right about the world, to what's wrong with it. The more often I watch it, the more examples I see that confirm the beliefs the media (perhaps unintentionally) impose on me. Of course you could be saying, well a rational mind would still look at the news and not be affected by it. That would be true, assuming everything you saw on the news was processed consciously and nothing filtered through to your unconscious mind (the place in which beliefs are acted upon). It’s a matter of time and exposure however, and in the same way that a one cheese burger isn't likely to affect your health significantly – given enough time and enough cheese burgers, the difference becomes very noticeable when compounded over time.