Why We Ignore Advice When We Need It The Most

Our minds can be incredibly stubborn when they cling to old beliefs and perspectives.

This is because everyone’s beliefs are susceptible to a range of cognitive biases, or distorted patterns of thinking, which can hinder our learning and knowledge of how the world really works.

Due to these biases, we often ignore important advice or information that could otherwise be helpful to our lives.

If we hear something that’s true or helpful – but it doesn’t fit into our current worldview – our minds will often reject it to preserve the older belief.

So instead of learning something new, we’d rather protect our egos and self-esteem. We try to backwards rationalize our current belief, so that we don’t have to admit we were mistaken or wrong.

Can you see how this pattern hurts our ability to attain new knowledge?

Below I describe 3 specific cognitive biases that cause us to ignore important advice, even when we need it the most:

We seek confirmation bias

Have you ever found yourself asking someone for advice, but instead you just want them to agree with you and take your side?

You don’t really want to hear the other person’s perspective, what you are really asking is, “Please tell me how right I am!”

This is a form of confirmation bias, which is our tendency to favor information that affirms our beliefs and ignore information that contradicts our beliefs.

So if someone gives us advice that doesn’t fit into our current belief system, we are more likely to dismiss what the person says. But if they give us advice that we already agree with, we are more likely to accept it and confirm our old beliefs.

Solution: Encourage the person who is giving advice to be honest about their thoughts, even if they disagree with you. Remember, when you ask for advice you’re looking for an alternative perspective, not someone who tells you what you already know or want to hear.

We avoid cognitive dissonance

If someone presents us with facts or evidence that contradict our beliefs, we often experience a strong feeling of discomfort and unease that psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.”

Just as we seek confirmation bias to feel good about our beliefs, we also avoid cognitive dissonance to not feel bad about our beliefs when they are challenged.

So when someone give us advice or information that elicits this feeling of dissonance, we are motivated to do one of two things:

    A. Reduce the importance of this new information.

    B. Change our existing belief system in the face of this new information.

Solution: While cognitive dissonance can be uncomfortable, it can sometimes motivate us to change our beliefs in a healthy way. If you find yourself experiencing cognitive dissonance in the face of new evidence or information, use that as an opportunity to re-examine your old beliefs and see where they may need to be adjusted.

We have illusory superiority

Another common bias that contributes to ignoring advice is illusory superiority – our tendency to overestimate our positive attributes and underestimate our negative attributes when we compare ourselves with others.

In other words, we often mistaken our skills and intelligence to be above average, even if they aren’t. This can hurt our ability to take advice from others, because we are less likely to listen to someone who we think we are smarter or better than.

Instead, we view it like having a math teacher who can’t do simple addition, or a baseball coach that can’t swing a bat. We feel like we have nothing new to learn from the other person, because we think we already know how to do everything they can do – plus more.

Solution: Avoid the trap of falsely believing you are better than everyone, because it will only hinder your learning. Recognize that you can learn something new from almost anyone. Everyone has some knowledge that you don’t have; and even if someone isn’t an expert in a subject, they may be able to add a unique perspective to a situation.

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