renew: [ri-noo, -nyoo] verb
to begin again; to make effective for an additional period; to restore or replenish; to revive; reestablish; to recover; to restore to a former state; make new or as if new again
(Oh, I love this definition!)
What Is it?
In Romans 12:2, Paul says we are transformed by the renewal of our mind. What does that even mean? These definitions above for ‘renew’ sound like God’s continuing invitation in this journey of being restored. Restored to Him and in all the ways He intended me to think … about myself, you, others, and the world we live in.
So, what gets in the way? What is it about my mind that He offers to “begin again, restore, revive, recover, make as if new again”? I‘ve been intrigued by the concept of Cognitive Biases. A Cognitive Bias is a psychological term, used in counseling and coaching, and it refers to patterns of thinking that often produce distorted perceptions of people, surroundings, situations, and ourselves.
Join me as we explore, in the next few articles, some of the common Cognitive Biases that get in our way and let’s consider our response to this invitation for Renewal.
Why Does It Matter?
Cognitive biases are tools we develop as shortcuts to thinking. And they aren’t all bad; they can be useful in helping us solve some common problems in regard to the ways we think. Blog writer Buster Benson has summarized four primary thinking problems that are addressed with these shortcuts and the downside if we rely on them without awareness:
Problem 1: Too much information.
There is just too much information in the world; we have no choice but to filter almost all of it out. Our brain uses a few simple tricks to pick out the bits of information that are most likely going to be useful in some way.
Problem 2: Not enough meaning.
The world is very confusing, and we end up only seeing a tiny sliver of it, but we need to make some sense of it in order to survive. Once the reduced stream of information comes in, we connect the dots, fill in the gaps with stuff we already think we know and update our mental models of the world.
Problem 3: Need to act fast.
We’re constrained by time and information, and yet we can’t let that paralyze us. Without the ability to act fast in the face of uncertainty, we surely would have perished as a species long ago. With every piece of new information, we need to do our best to assess our ability to affect the situation, apply it to decisions, and simulate the future to predict what might happen next, and otherwise act on our new insight.
Problem 4: What should we remember?
There’s too much information in the universe. We can only afford to keep around the bits that are most likely to prove useful in the future. We need to make constant bets and trade-offs around what we try to remember and what we forget. For example, we prefer generalizations over specifics because they take up less space. When there are lots of irreducible details, we pick out a few standout items to save and discard the rest. What we save here is what is most likely to inform our filters related to problem 1’s information overload, as well as inform what comes to mind during the processes mentioned in problem 2 around filling in incomplete information. It’s all self-reinforcing.
Sounds pretty useful! So what’s the downside?
In addition to the four problems, it would be useful to remember these four truths about how our solutions to these problems have problems of their own:
- We don’t see everything. Some of the information we filter out is actually useful and important.
- Our search for meaning can conjure illusions. We sometimes imagine details that were filled in by our assumptions and construct meaning and stories that aren’t really there.
- Quick decisions can be seriously flawed. Some of the quick reactions and decisions we jump to are unfair, self-serving, and counter-productive.
- Our memory reinforces errors. Some of the stuff we remember for later just makes all of the above systems more biased, and more damaging to our thought processes.
What can we do about it?
Self-awareness comes to the rescue again! At least, as always, it is the first step. Over the next few months, we’ll explore in more detail how some of these cognitive biases show up in our thinking patterns and decision-making processes. We’ll explore what we can do to be transformed by the renewal of our mind, as we can protect ourselves from these default, but often-erroneous ways of thinking.
For now, let’s take some time over the next few days to allow God to begin to reveal some of the biases, or ‘ruts’ we may have gotten into with our thinking patterns. Let’s ask him to show us where we need to have our minds renewed. This will require humility as we intentionally consider where we may be functioning with impaired judgment or restricted vision. Let’s be open to considering alternative perspectives beyond our default ways of processing and making decisions.
- What conclusions do I function from that might not be true?
- In what ways do I make decisions too fast when slowing down might be beneficial?
- What processes do I have in place to help me take a humble perspective of my own conclusions?
- Who might be a trustworthy companion for accountability and discussion on this journey of exploration?
As a coach, I’ve watched people identify and come against damaging thought patterns. With intentionality and God’s grace, I’ve watched them learn how, in a very practical way, take every thought captive and allow transformation through a renewal of thinking. What an incredible thing that God has made available to us! How amazing that He invites us into partnership with him in this renewal journey!