One of the greatest illusions I’ve had to overcome in my life is that I’m a rational human being. Sure I try to be, and sometimes I might succeed. But the more I’ve studied neuroscience and psychology, the more evidence I’ve seen that a ridiculously small number of human behaviors are a direct result of rational, critical thought.
Instead the vast majority of our behavior is directed by habits and heuristics, mental short cuts that prevent us from having to think too much, a perilously slow process that takes far too much effort to be useful in most everyday situations.
Of course that isn’t the way it seems to us as we go through our day. The conscious part of our brain is tremendously skilled at making meaning and reasons for everything we do and encounter, even if it isn’t privy to all the facts.
We come up with stories that jive with our beliefs and what we’ve experienced in the past. Everything that happens to us we view through this lens. To quote Anais Nin, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”
While our ability think quickly and make predictions is tremendously helpful in our day-to-day lives, it can also make us woefully blind to reality when our expectations are based on erroneous assumptions.
Facts are surprisingly easy for our conscious brains to ignore if they don’t play nicely with the stories our minds generate. The people voting against your favorite candidate are ignorant fools, right? Yet we’re always a little surprised when someone on the other side of the political aisle is actually a nice, thoughtful person.
Reality, especially when it comes to complex issues like another person’s behavior (or even our own behavior), is often more nuanced than our simplistic judgements can see.
Not only does this result in many incongruous situations––sometimes hilarious, sometimes deeply painful––it also makes it difficult for us to change our habits. When we hold on to one story about the world or about ourselves, it can make the path to change virtually invisible.
One thing I try to do here at Summer Tomato is reveal those irrational beliefs and help you change the stories that hold you back from making changes that can improve your life. These faulty beliefs come from many places, from the dieting industry (“No pain, no gain”), to our culture (“Beauty is thin”) to our families (“Food is love”).
I could write until I’m blue in the fingers explaining why restrictive dieting does more harm than good, or why processed foods are dangerous, or the benefits of eating more vegetables. But if you’re interpreting my words through one of the above lenses change will be nearly impossible.
Changing beliefs is hard, because we identify with them so strongly that we usually can’t see them. Over the years I’ve read a number of excellent books that have helped me understand this process and I want to share some of them with you today.
Awareness of how your mind works can help you identify with it less, and is one of the most powerful tools for freeing yourself from the illusion of your beliefs.
These are the books that have influenced my thinking on how our thoughts shape our actions, many of which I’ve read since writing Foodist. I’ve also included some of the classics in case you’re new to the subject.
I’ve grouped these into rough categories around topics such as habits, motivation, and happiness. If you think there’s a great book I’m missing here, feel free to let me know in the comments.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David A. Kessler
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By by Timothy Wilson
Rising Strong by Brene Brown
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister, John Tierney, Denis O’Hare
Finding Your Way to Change: How the Power of Motivational Interviewing Can Reveal What You Want and Help You Get There by Allan Zuckoff, Bonnie Gorscak
Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert
The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
Mind & Brain
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Olive Sacks
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy by Carl R. Rogers
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow
What books have influenced your beliefs?