A decision holds three variables.
They are information, outcomes and action. Every decision starts with a search for information. As a result, we are hungry for information. But rather than wait for the truth, we prejudge it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle alludes to this—and its dangers—when he said: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Consider a conspiracy theory for a moment. It is a speculative guess with facts twisted to fit a narrative that makes sense. Because it makes 'sense' (I use the word loosely) it grows to dominate popular thought. Whether it be the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales, the origins of COVID-19, or the 9-11 attacks, we trust the ruse.
Even though detailed investigations have unearthed the facts, those speculative theories won’t go away. A conspiracy theory gains more traction when many believe the same thing. On a more personal level, we form assumptions, opinions, and beliefs—which are all statements of theory.
So why do we theorize instead of waiting for the facts?
In short, we have an inbuilt urgency to form a judgement on what has or will happen for fear of what it will mean for us. We are not patient and so our cognitive biases all add their weight to the speculation to make it ‘fact’.
Assumptions are activities we expect to occur even though we have no evidence they will. We take their previous occurrence as validation and believe they will happen again. We take the same falsely created information and share them as opinions. Weighted by our perceived authority, opinions can become more factual.
As we hold onto both, they form beliefs—and our intuition adjusts to accept them.
And this is before we get to deal with any real information!
It would be easy to say your one decision this week should be to stop the theoretical practice, but that’s too simplistic. No, what we need beyond this pettiness is a space where we can prepare to process real information. To do this, we need to start asking questions. The rationale to challenge preconceptions comes from our ability to think critically. Questions lie at the heart of this process and where it should begin is with this:
Truth is the way forward. Filtering out the theory, the speculation—and the make-believe is essential. This is where your one decision lies this week.
Start by asking the right question.