There is misinformation in your mental databanks. I guarantee it. Sometime in your personal history, you’ve overgeneralized or dropped context or missed something. Yet you rely on information from your mental databanks in all your thinking! How can you be sure you’re not working with bad data?
It’s conceptually simple: you need to systematically root out conflicting information during your thinking process. You need to “clean up” as you go, by testing assumptions and doublechecking your conclusions. A top signal that you need to clean up is the feeling of “cognitive dissonance.”
“Cognitive dissonance” is that uncomfortable experience you have in your head when the thing you’re saying or thinking now doesn’t compute with what you said or thought the other day. It can be a mild discomfort, or discomfort accompanied with intense guilt if the issue is important.
Every time you re-read your thinking on paper, you probably get a few subtle nudges of cognitive dissonance. It happens anywhere you overstated or exaggerated the situation or left something out. The step of re-reading and asking “is this literally true?” helps amplify these signals so you can zero in on where you need to test your assumptions.
“Cognitive dissonance” can be particularly strong when you think you should do something that you’re not doing (or vice versa). For example, if you told yourself that your priority for today is to get something particular finished (your taxes? a report? you name it), and you aren’t doing it, you’ll feel some conflict.
This is a great time to do up to three minutes of thinking on paper to investigate what’s going on in your databanks. Often you will resolve the issue in three minutes. If you don’t, you finish with an open question: e.g., what should be my priorities? Or what is the truth about that issue? You’ll eventually answer the question (maybe not now), and you’ll have cleaned up that little area of your database.
This is mental hygiene. There is no way to systematically scrub the data in your mental databanks. But if you treat any signal of “cognitive dissonance” as a prompt for cleanup in a particular area, you keep the whole database in good working order.
To change the metaphor slightly, to organize your house, you don’t have to go through the entire thing from one end to the rest. You can start with one extra messy area and reorganize that. If you keep tackling one messy area at a time, you eventually get a very orderly house.