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Ten Reasons Why Things are Better Than you Think

Ten Reasons Why Things are Better Than You Think

Ten Reasons Why Things are Better Than You Think

Hans Rosling's book, "Factfulness: Ten Reasons Why Things are Better Than You Think", is a MUST-READ book.

In it, Rosling posits the suggestion that the world is a vastly better place than the majority of people believe it to be.

On practically every measure, the world is in much better shape than the prevailing opinion believes.

Hans gives 32 measures, ranging from child mortality, to poverty rates, to conservation of wildlife, in which the perceived belief no-way corresponds to the facts.

The facts are MUCH better than the perception.

That is the first message of the Factfulness book.

The second message of the book is that there are definite reasons, why most people underestimate the progress the world has made and are therefore, more worried and pessimistic than they need be.

Hans' hypothesis is that, since pessimism had survival value, the human mind is geared to be pessimistic,

As Stone Age creatures, this innate pessimism served us well, since thinking there MIGHT be a sabre-toothed tiger in the undergrowth, would keep you alive. If you were wrong, then no harm is done. If you were right, you avoided a mauling.

But in the information age, when you are confronted by a worldwide, 24-hour news gathering network, you hear every possible threat from every part of the globe.

The consequence of this threat-overload is to distort the perceived level of danger, and to drive many people to distraction, by overdosing on emotions of fear, anger and worry.

In his book Factfulness, Hans Rosling sets out ten common errors of thinking (what he calls INSTINCTS). He names, defines, explains, illustrates, each one and he offers countermeasures to limit their negative effects.

If you want to treat yourself, then read the book. But for now, here is the list of the ten common errors of thinking, together with a brief explanation.

1. The Gap instinct.

The propensity for many people to see dichotomies:

  • Rich v poor
  • Right v wrong
  • Good v evil
  • Sick v healthy
  • East v west
  • Us v them
  • Educated v ignorant, etc.

and to ignore the fact that the vast majority of any population sits in the middle between the two extremes.

Countermeasure: is to think about the vast majority that occupy the middle ground.

2. Negativity instinct.

This is the propensity of the mind to look on the dark side, to assume the worst.

As mentioned, this may once have had survival value, but it also is very depressing.

It is made worse by the fact that, at all times, we have full access to the world's bad news.

Countermeasure: Actively seek out the good news to counterbalance the bad.

3. The straight-line instinct.

This is the tendency to assume that things will carry-on going as they are, when in fact, most systems are self-limiting.

For example, if you were to measure the height of a new born child for the first seven years of his / her life, then you might well assume that, if you came back in 30 years, if things carried on the same way, the child will be 54 feet tall.

But the truth is that most systems are self-regulating.

In science this is called Chateliers principle. "In a complex system, any imbalance will result in opposing changes in the system to achieve a new equilibrium state".

You hear people saying, "If we carry on as we are, then life on earth will end in 30 years". This is a typical example of straight-line thinking.

So, irrespective of what they say, the world will not come to an end in 30 years, because it is a self-correcting system, which is far more robust than the activists think it is.

Countermeasure: Fight the temptation to regard complex systems as being portrayed by a straight-line graph.

4. Fear instinct.

The tendency to allow fear to distort our perception of the data.

The "negativity instinct" (listed above at point 2) tends to drive people towards the emotion of fear, then people allow their fear to distort their perception of the current situation and it changes their reactions to something maladaptive.

For example, if you fear that you will lose, your fear degrades your performance to the point where you are almost certain to lose. You are betrayed by your fear.

"Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose
the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt."

Countermeasure: Don't allow your fears to distort your logic.

5. Size instinct.

Nothing is big or small. The size of something is meaningless until you know against what you are measuring it.

For example, if I asked you "Are elephants big or small?" The answer is NEITHER. It depends what you are comparing elephants against. Are you comparing elephants against a flea, another elephant, or a planet?

The vast majority of people subconsciously assume themselves to be the (unstated) standard. (Elephants are big - compared to me).

The problem with that is, most people overestimate (or underestimate) themselves and their power to change things.

Countermeasure: When using comparative words, such as "more", or "bigger" or "richer", always ask for the standard against which the first figure is being measured. More than whom? Bigger than what? Richer than whom?

6. Generalisation.

The generalisation instinct is to assume your assumptions are correct.

We all form generalisations based upon our past experiences.

For example, to open a door, you assume that you must first turn the handle and then push or pull.

Normally, you are correct in your generalisation (assumption). However, some doors open upwards (garage doors), some doors rotate, whilst some doors open automatically.

The generalisation instinct is to assume your assumptions are always correct and then feel completely baffled when the door does not open for you.

Countermeasure: Don't be too sure that your assumptions, which are based upon your (limited) experience, will always be true, in all situations. Don't be dogmatic. If you think you are seeing a contradiction, check your assumptions.

7. Destiny instinct.

Destiny instinct is the propensity to think that things are the way they are and there is nothing you can do to change things.

The fact is that things are NEVER static.

Everything changes and one should not mistake SLOW change to mean NO change.

Mountains are not unchanging. Mountains move. But they move slowly. People and cultures are changeable. But they cannot be changed instantaneously.

All we are saying is give change a chance.

Countermeasure. Remember that nothing stays the same forever and that change is always occurring and will occur.

8. Single perspective instinct.

The single perspective instinct is the tendency to evaluate events by using ideas you specialise in, ie:

  • If you are a lawyer, you tend to judge events in terms of their legal implications.
  • If you are an artist, you tend to judge events in terms of aesthetics.
  • If you are a scientist, you judge events in terms of its causes.
  • If you are a gossip, you evaluate events in terms of their gossip potential.

The point that Hans Rosling makes, is to attempt to evaluate events from multiple perspectives.

The more ways you evaluate a particular event, the more you understand it and appreciate it and the greater the probability that you will react to it in adaptive ways.

Countermeasure: To evaluate events from multiple perspectives. Scientific, social, financial, medical, aesthetic, moral, political, economic, logical and emotional. Don't get stuck in a single mode of thought.

9. Blame instinct.

This instinct has two aspects,

  1. The childlike tendency to want to blame somebody when things go wrong.
  2. The tendency to want to avoid responsibility for one's own situation.

If there is a downturn in the economy, who is to blame? The Prime Minister, or the Chancellor, or the Governor of the Bank of England?

If a bridge collapses, who can we blame?

There is an emotional desire to want to pin the blame on an individual or small group and to punish them.

That may satisfy our desire for retribution, but pinning the blame is normally too simplistic, and it stops us from learning the true cause of the event.

Rarely is there a single cause to an event; and pinning the blame onto a person is often NOT the correct response.

Countermeasure. Delay the question, "who is to blame?" and replace it with this question, "What five or six systemic factors combined to create this event?" "How can we interrupt these processes and prevent a reoccurrence?"

10. Urgency instinct.

This is the tendency to mistake activity for achievement.

If something bad happens, then someone will undoubtedly say, "We have to do something, NOW!".

That may be true, but the first thing to do is to, "Get the facts".

Don't act in the absence of facts.

Don't do things simply for the sake of being seen to do things.

Action for the sake of it, is almost always ineffective.

Countermeasure. Counter the impulse to run around doing things. Replace the urge to act with the following three steps:

  1. Find the facts,
  2. Decide the goal,
  3. Formulate a logical plan.... and then run around doing things!

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