The individual mind is often inundated with ideas, opinions, and unproductive thinking habits that are continuously bombarding us with manipulative data and information. Additionally, the mind is also highly influenced by the ego, depriving us of the capability of rational thinking.
Scott Adams coined the term ‘loserthink’ to describe all kinds of unproductive thinking habits. Furthermore, his book Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America (2019) delves into this mindset with references from psychology, history, business, and global affairs to understand how and why the human mind is increasingly affected by such irrationalities and the pitfalls of unproductive thinking habits.
The Double-Edged Sword – The Ego
To begin with, consider a scenario where you are at a party with capable and influential people. It isn’t unnatural to feel intimidated by the capabilities of the people surrounding you. Yet the thought never crosses your mind that each and every one of those people might have amped up their egos and could be putting up a performance to simply fit in with the crowd.
Some people’s performances are closer to their true selves; nevertheless many others simply fake it. How do they do it?
The answer lies in thinking of the ego as a tool rather than a part of the personality. For example, in the above situation, if you aren’t able to build confidence to match the crowd, you can learn to fake it!
Simply faking confidence – or believing that you are more valuable than what your achievements indicate – can improve one’s chance at romance, social, professional, and athletic performance, and even help in acing the job interview. Tuning up one’s ego a few notches up, especially in situations where the ego will work in one’s favor can help a person along the path to success because confidence and success often go hand-in-hand.
To learn how to turn the ego into a tool, one has to understand that body language plays a vital role. One can project a strong ego by maintaining eye contact, having a good posture, and owning the space. Such body language helps to exude confidence. In turn, the confidence you exude will make people perceive you as confident and they will treat you with respect, boosting confidence further.
Ego, however, is a double-edged sword, and tuning it up at the wrong time and place can make one seem arrogant. It is very easy to lose control of the ego, and decisions that are led by the ego are a form of loserthink!
For example, when he started the Dilbert comic strip, Adams used funny ideas from all aspects of life. However, fans started writing to him that his office comics were the best. He then reshaped Dilbert as a workplace comic making it the national success it is today. However, had he let his ego dictate decisions, and stuck to what he personally thought worked, he would have never seen success as a cartoonist and then as an entrepreneur.
Overreliance On history
It is natural to look for guidance in past patterns. However, overreliance on history can plus one deep into a trap, as historic patterns aren’t as reliable as we think.
History is an account of the victorious. What has been written is almost always a one-sided account, and thus, there isn’t an objective interpretation of historical events. There are many versions of the same historical event because they are dictated by whose account it is.
For example, one account states that European settlers in America were gracious enough to let the Native Americans live for free on the reservation because they were too primitive. However, from the point of view of Native Americans, it could be said that the European colonists invaded their land and stole it with mass genocide. Yet it is wise to remember that every nation teaches its citizens a version of their history that portrays them in a good light.
If we consider the idea of the American philosopher George Santayana that ‘history repeats itself’, believers and followers of this principle, actually let the past dictate their decisions. This eventually leads to unproductive thinking.
When Adams wrote The Dilbert Principle, his first non-fiction bestseller book, he thought that Santayana’s ‘history repeats itself’ would hold true for him too. Therefore, he jumped at his publisher’s idea of using the success of his first book to publish another book, close to his first one. The book sold only half the numbers of the first one.
Adams learned that readers of non-fiction books – unlike fiction readers who return to the same author time and again due to the style of writing – prefer to move on to other topics, believing that have learned all about the topic. This experience made Adams wary of letting the past influence his decisions.
The Importance Of Micro steps
Whenever we are faced with an obstacle, ‘loserthink’ can make the task at hand seem more impossible to achieve. Getting overwhelmed can tend to psych one out and lead to loserthink. It’s a vicious cycle; nevertheless, it can be broken. The answer lies in micro steps.
Micro steps involve getting oneself busy with the smallest of tasks when the seemingly huge obstacles can prove to be immobilizing. Let’s consider that a person is feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of a massive project. The person just can’t seem to find the will to get up and get moving with the work at hand and feels anxiety and exhaustion at the mere thought of it.
Here, the person can, perhaps, begin with the smallest of movement – moving the fingers of the hand. Once this is accomplished, the renewed sense of agency can be used to propel the next micro-step of moving the feet and so on, until the person can finally get up to work.
Often, the obstacles are bigger than simply mustering the will to get up and get going. Yet, applying the logic of micro-steps works. It works because even the smallest step can gear one into action and start the process of change of mindset, towards productivity.
Adams understood the value of micro-steps when he had decided to pursue a career as a cartoonist in 1988. Not knowing anything about being a cartoonist and spending his entire career in the corporate world seemed like a huge obstacle.
However, rather than think about the looming larger picture, Adams simply went out to a supply store one day and bought pens and paper. A few days later, he tried his hand at drawing. After that, he resolved to practice every day for an hour before work. While he couldn’t see the fruits of his microsteps as he took them, a year later he saw the fruits of his microsteps when Dilbert started running in newspapers.
Clarifications Are Essential
Adams, a public figure, and having a large following on sites like Twitter, experiences misrepresentation of his words regularly. He has been accused of being a liar, a racist, a neo-Nazi supporter, and even been criticized for supporting President Trump. However, despite the allegations, Adams is understanding the fact that the Fourth Estate is prone to misinterpretation.
He believes the reason behind this is that fact that while humans consider themselves good at the thought guessing game, no one can read minds! Therefore, believing that one knows what another thinks is a form of loserthink too!
Hence, it is vital to wait for at least 48 hours for some sort of clarification, before reacting. For example, in 2018, Roseanne Barr, a comedian, and actress, commented that Valerie Jarrett, the former advisor to President Barrack Obama looked like ‘an offspring of a Planet of the Apes character and the Muslim Brotherhood’.
Barr’s Tweet was viewed as an intentional racial slur especially because Jarrett was part African-American born in Iran. Despite Barr’s push-back that she was unaware of Jarrett’s background, her career was ruined and she was called a racist. According to Adams, however, if the critics had considered the 48-hour rule, they would have probably considered Barr’s ‘ignorance’.
Adams also believes that what a person actually means to say should hold more weight than what others think they said. After all, the actions of a person matter more in the end, and thus, lashing out without clarifications is loserthink!
Looking Into The Future Without Loserthink
We are constantly bombarded with gloom-and-doom news that often makes us worry about the future. Issues such as unemployment, climate change or the healthcare crisis can create a state of anxiety, especially with overactive media adding fuel to the fire.
However, this constant worrying, especially about the matters that one can do nothing about is loser think! If we take unemployment for example, while the world worries about robots and AI displacing low-skilled workers, technological and economical developments have shown that the end of unemployment is fast approaching.
Similarly, technology could help alleviate the negative effects of climate change to a certain degree. The world is taking steps to brainstorm towards the development of technologies that can help in climate change. For example, the British businessman Richard Branson has collaborated with the Indian Government to award $3 million to anyone who comes up with an effective form of air-conditioning that everyone can afford, considering that as the planet warms further, it will become a critical requirement.
On the other hand, partially funded by Bill Gates, the Canadian company Carbon Engineering is developing technology to make jet fuel by converting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Telemedicine and smartphone health tests are turning healthcare more affordable and easily available.
It is one’s own choice as to which side of the coin one wishes to see and believe – the positive one, or the negative one that leads to loserthink!
Unproductive thinking or loserthink is a trap. And sadly, people fall into it without even knowing that they are stuck there. Loserthink can be seen in many forms. For example, actions and behavior that are influenced by one’s ego, believing in and letting past events and history dictate decisions, reacting without clarifications, and finally worrying about the future, especially, that which is out of one’s control, are all forms of loserthink.
These unproductive thought patterns can be battled by being aware of what loserthink is and how it works. Changing one’s perception is the first step towards rational thinking and winning the war against loserthink.