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The distinction between believed and checked facts is vital to good thinking. How many things do you know because of firsthand verification rather than secondhand instruction? The truth is many or even most of our assumptions about, well, just about everything are believed facts, not checked ones.

While we only have time to check so many facts, serious problems arise when we can’t distinguish between believed and checked facts. When too many believed facts are misfiled as checked ones, and when we refuse to review and revise them no matter what we see or experience, or worse, when we carefully filter our observations and experiences to preserve our cognitive status quo, we can lose our ability to successfully navigate reality.

There are various reasons we’re all prone to this thinking trap, but the desire to avoid uncertainty is likely a big one. “Yes” and “no” provide security and comfort whereas “maybe” and “probably” are slippery and treacherous. But they’re also a more accurate reflection of reality.

And so if we want to interact with reality more effectively, we must strive to mentally interact with it more effectively, and that requires moving away from monochromatic thinking and toward polychromatic thinking.

This cast of mind can be uncomfortable because it often entails accepting that we don’t know nearly as much as we’d like to think. But it also invites opportunity. Remember—there’s a word for the process of rethinking assumptions and reworking opinions: learning.


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