Do you have "info courage?"
Let’s say you have a nagging pain in your side. It has been getting slightly worse over time and your spouse says you should get it checked out. “I know, I will,” you say but you keep putting it off.
Because what you don’t know frightens you. You don’t want to find out you need surgery. Or even that you need to lose 25 pounds. Or that you should drink less. You’d rather live happily in the bliss of ignorance than the discomfort of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The information you have includes the possibility that nothing is wrong and you can continue with your status quo behavior. A visit to your doc may erase that possibility. Even though the additional data may confirm that nothing is seriously wrong, the chance of terrible news looms larger in your subconscious. And that’s scary.
(A signpost of getting older is that with each new ache or pain you develop, you’re never sure if it is an injury or just the way you are now. Ah, the joys of aging!)
Your decisions are only as good as the information you use to make them. But instead of using solid, unbiased information that would be most useful, we often rely on information that is either incomplete (like the pain in your side) or dolled up with pretty make-up and a sugar coating.
And we do it on purpose.
Information adornments are the non-information additions we attach to a piece of information. We either add or latch onto opinions, beliefs, hopes, false certainty, and emotions that taint the information and make us feel better about it.
Information that is pure, unfiltered, and unadorned can be frightening. It’s scary and anxiety-inducing to expose yourself to something you know may make you feel bad - like news about your health.
You also fear information that may damage your pride, self worth or identity. The straight dope doesn’t care about your feelings.
I experience this fear whenever I have given a keynote talk and there is a recording of it. I know I need to watch the video because it is the best way for me to improve, but I hate doing it. I mean, I REALLY hate watching myself. I cringe and moan and critique every second.
Oftentimes I don’t watch it because I don’t want that raw data about my performance slapping me in the face. I would prefer to bask in the comfort of the information I already have - the feeling that I did a great job. That’s a bad decision because it keeps me from improving as quickly as I could.
I’m reminded of the cartoon showing two kiosks, one dispensing "comforting lies" and the other - "unpleasant truths." I’m sure you can guess which one has a long line of people and which is empty.
“Info courage” is the ability to look past the easy and comfortable adornments with which we wrap our information so we can uncover the truth. It also involves recognizing when your knowledge is incomplete and taking the necessary steps to get the complete and naked information in all its potentially unpleasant glory.
Some common situations where we need courage to seek better information are:
whenever we perform a job in front of others and are afraid of feedback
when we are aware of evidence that may refute a long-held belief
when we fear that knowing something may cause us to be disillusioned
Disillusionment is a wonderful thing! It means we used to be wrong about something (we had an illusion) and now we see how it really is. Sure, it can be a huge disappointment, but you are much better off being disillusioned than "illusioned."
Sometimes we only pretend to want the truth when in reality it’s just the opposite. It’s like the old joke where the wife asks the husband, “Do these pants make me look fat?” There’s only one safe answer and it is probably not the truth!
The key to summoning the necessary courage to face the facts is to simply do a long-term cost-benefit analysis of 1) getting more complete and unadorned information, and 2) not getting it.
For example, the costs of going to the doctor include time, money and the emotional impact of potentially bad news. Second level costs could be expensive treatment or the inconvenience of reducing your sodium intake or walking 2 miles a day. The benefits - you get to live longer and feel better.
Seems like a no brainer.
Think well and be well.
- Steve Haffner
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