I recently finished Nobel Prize winning Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow . Many other behavioral psychology authors owe a debt to this book and his research.
I’m not going to review or sumarize the book here. I want to talk about what it’s like to read this book, and many other books like this.
It took me four attempts over as many years to actually get into it. It’s not bedtime reading. To digest the material you have to really be able to really concentrate and think deeply about the material.
I was talking to a friend that had read this who said he had skipped over some parts and felt he had to reread it. This got me wondering about why he skipped parts. And why I sometimes skip parts of books that I read.
If I had to guess the most common reasons they would be:
- This is a boring part.
- I already know this.
But having read a lot of books the last few years, I’ve seen another reason come up. It’s a quieter voice and it’s easy to miss, but it has some real power:
“I don’t understand this and it probably doesn’t matter that much.”
This feels a lot like “boring”, but what I’ve experienced – when I decide to stay with it and try to understand it – is that it runs counter to something I already believe. It’s new knowledge that challenges the status quo in my mind in some way. That’s why it’s hard. It doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t fit into my framework of seeing the world.
When I dig into these “unessential” parts, I often come away with a different understanding of something. Maybe it’s a small detail, maybe larger.
This realization comes with a bit of terror. I’m reading these self-improvement and educational books ostensibly to learn but as soon as I come across something I don’t already know then I skip it.
How much am I learning if I’m only paying attention to the things that I already know?
How much does confirmation bias plague self-education?
I think about those folks who write books of their extreme political views. Are readers who pick these books up looking to learn or are they looking to confirm? Am I doing a similar thing when I choose my self-improvement books? How much of what we do everyday in the name of something else is really just to confirm?
Fortunately, this isn’t the first that I’ve noticed this pattern and I’ve kept an eye out for the nagging feeling of “boring, I don’t get it, let’s get to the stuff I know”. When then hits, I slow down and try to see if there’s something new in there. As I’ve done that, I’m usually rewarded with some actual learning and this encourages me to continue to keep an eye out for confirmation bias reading.