Things I wish I had known when I was 20. #1 Narrative Fallacies

What should I write about on my blog? Most successful bloggers have a theme, like, “obscure programming techniques”, or “copied food recipes that I take pictures of”, or “cute kitties”.

This blog is hence-forth about things I’ve learnt and that I wish I had known 20 years ago (when I was 20). The first of these is “narrative fallacies”.

There’s a famous book called “The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb.

Note: When I say famous, I mean “very few people you’ve ever met will actually have read this book, but a larger number might have heard of it”.

It introduces the finance concept of black swan events, which are events that are basically unknowable (and hence unpredictable), but may have massive implications when they occur. He talks about this in a finance sense, where unpredictable things can cause massive ramifications in financial markets. eg: 9/11.

Note 2: “The Black Swan” is a … challenging read. I’ve pretty much summarised the main bit here. You’re welcome.

Anyway, blah blah finance blah. Bear with me. Taleb talks about how our understanding of the world is based on bullshit stories we’ve developed in our past to explain things that happen. These bullshit stories are called Narrative Fallacies. Which is fancy speak for “bullshit”.

In “Thinking Fast and Slow” (an even more ‘famous’ -see above definition of famous book) Daniel Kahneman picks up on the theme. Kahneman talks about how we love stories, and in general, the simpler the better. We like simple. And in particular, we like to believe simple. So we have a level of confidence in our understanding of the past, which is almost certainly a big pile of poo.

A big pile of poo.

Like thunder = some god dude banging on something with a hammer. Or vaccines causing autism. Or global warming la la la la lah….

But I want to talk about a particular form of narrative, the self-narrative. Self-narratives are stories you believe about yourself, and about events in your life.

For example, children may develop a self-narrative that says “I’m good/bad at maths”, or “I’m good/bad at sport”. Obviously, these narratives are extremely simplistic (as befits children), and performance at maths or sport could be explained (as adults) by a huge number of factors, most of which have little to do with the child. Quality of teaching, assistance of parents, stage of physical development etc etc. You can make up your own narratives, feel free.

The thing I wish I had known 20 years ago is that these narratives exist, and that they can be rewritten. It may have been true that at some point, you were bad at Maths. Or languages, sport. Maybe you are overweight, or weak, or shy. Or any number of other beliefs. The point is these narratives can be erased, and new (probably more positive) beliefs can be put into place.

Have a think. How many things do you believe about yourself that are based on stories you made up a long time ago? The negative stories will begin “I can’t…”, “I don’t like to…”, “I’ve never been able to…”, “I’m bad at…”.

Takeaway point: If you want to change these stories to the positive versions “I can..”, “I’m good at” etc., you can. It might not be easy, it will take concerted effort, but they can all be rewritten. Your life is your story.

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Things I wish I had known when I was 20. #1 Narrative Fallacies

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