Body Mind Health

Herd Mentality When you don’t need evidence to back up your claims.

u.1.2019-06-22 herd mentality.jpgIt’s out there. What out there? Every thing! If you have a question someone has an answer. Whether it’s forums or blogs or online magazines or social media. People have always been opinionated but with the Internet it was the dawn of mass support for an idea and the right to express an opinion, how ever you feel like, whether or not there’s enough evidence to back it up. Freedom of speech we say, yet at what point is it ‘bearing false witness’?  Just because you see something on the Internet with 40 doctors backing it up or thousands of people agreeing on social media, it doesn’t make it true. The scary thing is something might only have a limited presence online, with a minority agreeing with it, and it truly is a saving grace. A pivotal key component of people’s happiness or health gets lost in the shuffle of nonsense and noise.

Because there are billions of people online, 3.2 billion in fact as of April of this year1, you can find support for just about anything. Flat earth - Yep, Coffee is good - of course, coffee is bad - for sure, Low-carb diets good, plant-based diets good (which are mostly carbs by the way). After awhile it gets so confusing that the easiest thing to do is just pick one that sounds good to you or seems right. How do you think superstitions began? A few ladies sitting around the stew pot over the open fire start chatting. One says, “You know a black cat crossed my path the other day and then my husband got bit by a goat.” Another lady pipes up, “Weird a couple months ago a black cat crossed my path and I couldn’t find my sewing needle for three weeks.” I don’t know how black cat crossing your path became bad luck started but this is how a lot of concepts get going. It’s called anecdotal evidence. There are two things that happen with enough frequency it looks like there’s a correlation.

The problem with that is we tend to pick things that agree with us if we are not using critical thinking and we aren’t in the mood to change. We like things that don’t rub us the wrong way or that seem better. Maybe easier and more to our liking. Or sometimes the opposite is true, if you love conflict you’ll pick the most controversial idea. Or, if being unique is at your core essence, you might pick something that is most obscure. But no matter how many people all post they agree it and share it, it doesn’t make it right. It might be partially true in certain circumstances but not to the extend we see it blown out of proportion in the media.  Case in point: keto diet, low carb, has had some limited success in helping small children with severe epilepsy but plant based diets (not always vegan or exclusive) are well documented to ward off most lifestyle diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, even cancer, and it is the most common for longevity and vitality in later years. So, yes, there are some positive things about a low carb diet and it may even have a place in the treatment of some disorders but that doesn’t make it the best diet for everyone.

Balance and context are absolutely critical for finding what’s right for our needs in this moment. What’s good for one person might not be good for another. What’s good for you and one circumstance might not be the best choice now. There are teens who game for hours every day that would love to hear research on how video games help with math. But they neglect articles on being sedentary for so many hours a day is harmful for other aspects of their intellect and physical health. A professional athlete might read an article on pushing yourself through the pain. They want to win that metal and are willing to do what they have to get there. Never mind the research on pushing through the pain was in terms of someone who’s had an injury and needed physiotherapy. And how much pushing must be guided to prevent further injury.

Context is very important. I once wrote an article in a tongue-in-cheek sarcastic tone designed for people to use for introspection. However if you read that article with the mindset that this applied to everyone it sounded mean and/or if you aren’t prone to sarcasm. That certainly wasn’t my intention to be mean or make sweeping statements about the human condition.  There are a lot a little one liners on Facebook that really fall into this category. The little one liners like “Just say no” “Peace comes from within” “Be yourself” can sound awesome and inspiring or shallow and meaningless depending on what state of mind you are currently in and what your life circumstances are.

I did a article years ago on how to do the right kind of research to decipher truth so I’m not going to talk about how to do proper scientific research here. Here we are talking about mindset. Your mindset when you’re looking at information. And how to recognize the cues in yourself because you to believe something that may not be in your best interest. I already mentioned a few. Did you catch some of them? Herd mentality, appealing to the senses like tugging at your heart strings or fear tactics, and using your current goals, likes, and dislikes to sway you.

If something appeals to you because it seems easy or fun or it allows you to continue to do something inherently that’s probably the biggest red flag. We want to hear chocolate or coffee is good for you. Or you should rest when something is sore and achy. Most of us would love to just take that at face value, depending on our state of mind or circumstances. Where this hit home for me was in terms of exercise. I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, an autoimmune disorder. There actually very few experts in the field of fibromyalgia because for a long time it was viewed with skepticism. So those of us with the disorder often rely on each other for information along with our general practitioner and rheumatologist. Almost all those with fibromyalgia will tell you doing too much makes them exhausted and in pain. So, we love to hear go slow, take it easy, rest as soon as it starts to hurt. The only trouble is it almost always does and inactivity is the worst thing you can do for fibromyalgia. Really inactivity is the worst thing you can do for your health for anyone. Yes, there are certain injuries requiring rest but the body also needs some motion for circulation the corner stone of health.

Obviously there has to be a balance based on the needs of the individual person. We don’t like to push ourselves for several reasons maybe it’s too much effort, we don’t have the time, we are avoiding pain, we want to do something else, and the list goes on. The interesting thing is when I push myself, I mean really push myself, the pain does go up a little bit but my enjoyment in life goes up exponentially! So is avoiding pain and not doing the things I love worth it? When I do that, not only am I not getting to do the things I love, but it’s slowly making me worse because the body atrophies very quickly. And truth be told the pain eventually gets less the more activity I do, if I am consistent and alternative what muscles are being worked.

So how do you pick whether or not to believe something without doing a ton of research? How do you know what the truth is?

Step one, be willing to see the truth. Really? What does that have anything to do with if something is right or wrong.  Nothing of course!  Your mindset doesn’t change whether or not a diet is good for you. BUT it does change how you view the information!  Perspective is an integral part of knowledge.  Know how you think and process information. It’s quite amazing how obvious truth becomes when we just follow a few simple steps. I’ve already mentioned the first one you have to be willing to see the truth. You have to be willing to take a look at yourself and make changes. Once you’re willing to honestly look for what’s right for you, the answers become more clear and easier to decipher.

Step two. Get to know yourself better. Are you a skeptic or accepting, are you easily swayed by emotions, how easy is it for you to stand against the crowd?  Sometimes our gut is right, depending on your personality and if you really do want to know the truth. But for others who are easily swayed because their initial gut reaction is to accept what they hear. We call it gullibility (a real gene in the DNA2) but that’s sounds negative so I prefer accepting and the Big Five personality traits adds this as a factor to agreeableness. So it’s clear gullibility/accepting is not a negative character trait. It’s just a predisposition like any other. Accepting people are open to ideas and often friendly and less cynical. Ok, back to our mindset and truth. If you know you’re more accepting/agreeable then maybe your gut instinct isn’t a good first choice or only choice but you can still listen to it. Sometimes that first instinct says I’m not so sure about this, but we actually talk ourselves into it because some part of us wants to believe it. Or we might be predisposed to believing herd mentality (especially if we have low confidence), “Look how many people are saying this is good.” That many can’t be wrong.

Thus step 3 is be slow to accept new ideas but not impervious to them. There’s a good balance between being wishy-washy believing anything that comes around the corner, and immovable no matter how much evidence is presented. This is similar to the first step being willing to be wrong. So be willing to give up a preciously long held idea and open to new ones but require solid evidence.

I want to digress a bit back to herd mentality. It’s not about how many people agree with an idea but who those people are and if they are experts in that field. You might have five doctors all agree that this particular diet is wonderful. You might also have some really close friends that are smart and dear to you that also believe in that same diet. But to really know if the diet is healthy you need to check out what do registered dietitians think about it. Clinical dietitians are far more well-versed in diet the doctors. I know that sounds strange but doctors get very little training in nutrition while dietitians do years of study just in food, how it affects the body and what foods have what nutrients. So it’s not about how much you like the expert or how well they explain something but is this expert truly an expert in his field or her field. Logic isn’t always right, but I talk all bout that in my article on proper research.

And I want to qualify that a true expert is someone who not only is trained generally in that field, but has studied the particular aspect you are looking at. For example I’m a nutritionist but I’m not an expert in blue zone diet’s. I have not sat down and research them in particular for years as much as Dr. Colin Campbell. That’s not to say I don’t know enough to share information but I would not call myself an expert. I think this is where we get lost. Lots of people can talk really well, they are logical, and make sense. How are we to know if they’re actually an expert? Simply look at their biographies. I would generally trust one specialized expert in the field over 100 professionals in that same field. Another words you might have thousands of fitness trainers all with degrees and general experience, all claiming a new exercise routine is the best thing since sliced bread. Physiologists also get on board, and general practitioners start promoting it to their patients. The world gets excited and it’s in magazines and all over the internet. But a researcher comes up who is been studying this particular exercise for 10 years and they say it could possibly hurt your knees. I’m going to go with that one expert because they’ve taken the time to really look at all the critical details that are missed by the others, often because the media fails to report those tiny but vital pieces of the puzzle.

It’s easy to buy into the pack mentality. That the majority is right. But history has repeatedly shown the majority is often not right. You need to be an individual and while there’s a wisdom in a crowd for certain things in life we also have to stand on her own 2 feet when it comes to making decisions for ourselves.