This is one of "22 virus definitions" (thought-mistakes that cause ineffectiveness and unnecessary negative emotions).

Using the antivirus for your mind, you first write down the negative thoughts you have when you feel discouraged. Next, you will look at those thoughts, one at a time, to see if they contain any mistakes. A common mistake is overcertainty. Look at your negative statement and see whether or not you really have enough evidence to justify your explanation of the setback. You will often find your “evidence” is rather weak and wouldn’t be enough to convince you if you heard someone else say it. Zipping through your mind without examining it, the thought may pass. But write it down and look at it and you may at once have the horrifying realization that your brain is cluttered with bullpucky.

Ask this question of all negative thoughts: Does the evidence compel you to accept your conclusion? Please understand me here. The question is not: “do you have some evidence for your conclusion?” But rather, is the evidence so strong that you must accept your pessimistic conclusion? That is a much higher standard, and since it is vitally important that you refuse to accept a demoralizing conclusion unless you have to (because the consequences are so dangerous), having a high standard is the only sane way to handle negative thoughts.

Standing before a jury, would you be able to convince them that your explanation is the only one? Or the best one? If you were in the jury and heard your argument, would you be convinced?

This is the core principle of the scientific method, and the reason science progressively increases our understanding of the world. Human history can almost be seen as the progressive realization that we are talking out our asses. In other words, ever since people could speak, they’ve been saying untrue things with a lot of confidence. Slowly and surely, we have disabused ourselves of mistaken notions. How? By constantly looking through this filter: Do we have enough evidence to compel us to accept this or that notion?

Here’s one example I’ve come across recently. Native Americans cultivated their environment much more than Europeans suspected. When the Europeans landed on the New England coast, it seemed very obvious that the Native Americans lived in harmony with nature — fishing, hunting, doing a little gardening, but otherwise living the wild life.

Only recently have archaeologists discovered that the Native Americans had created this wild environment to suit them. They were semi-farming, and doing it in a way that Europeans didn’t recognize. It all looked like naturally-occurring abundance, and that’s what they all assumed, and they were quite certain about it.

But that certainty has eroded as new findings have come in. Digging through remains, scientists have found evidence of massive and repeated fires. Looking through first-hand reports of Europeans’ very first contacts with Native Americans, here and there one of them mentions some of the things Native Americans had done, such as deliberately burning areas. Adding all the evidence together, we see an entirely different picture. It was a Native American practice throughout much of the Americas to burn off huge areas of forest. Then they either planted fruit and nut trees, or simply letting grass grow, which brought large grazing animals into the area, which the Native Americans could then hunt.

When Europeans arrived, they saw large areas of grass filled with game, and incredibly rich forests. It looked like pure luck that the Native Americans could wander into their nearby forests and pick hazelnuts, chestnuts, hickory nuts, beechnuts, acorns, butternuts, pecans, walnuts. But it wasn't luck at all. The whole area was created deliberately. They were farming, but not in any familiar way, so it was overlooked. Europeans drew conclusions with too much certainty, as we all do from time to time, and it prevented them from seeing what was really there.

See the complete list of definitions: The 22 Virus Definitions.

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