We are all naive sometimes.
And make no mistake:
That can be a very good thing in the right context.
Because the core of scientific, philosophical and personal progress requires the ability to see the world with fresh eyes.
By the same token, being naive can also be incredibly destructive.
It can force you to miss out on so many of life’s pleasures because it can make you:
- Irrational when rationality is needed
- Skeptical when active participation is required
- Emotionally destructive when only reason can save the day
But here’s the very good news:
When it comes to learning how to be less naive, the improvement process could not be simpler.
And this post covers how to increase your wisdom in precise terms.
Let’s get S.M.A.R.T.E.R together!
(I’ll tell you what the acronym means later. I promise!)
Am I Naive? The Top Seven Signs of a Naive Person
Scientists have shown that being naive is essential to our cognitive development as kids. We literally cannot tell the differences between things without allowing curiosity to help us distinguish the difference between things.
For example, as kids we scientifically test the world. We learn to avoid hot surfaces by being naive about what they are and how they harm us.
This means that the number one way to know if someone is being naive is pretty simple.
One: Lack of Experience
If you want to know how to stop being naive, ask this simple question every time an opinion floats to your mind:
Do I actually have the experience required to make my opinion valid?
Questioning everything in this way will instantly make you a smarter person. You’ll certainly stick your foot in your mouth much less often.
This is true because intelligent people ask questions – or at least acknowledge that a topic is in question – before making final statements about it.
But naive people?
Not so much. You can often tell by the speed of their answers that they simply lack the background knowledge required to give an intelligent response.
Two: Lack of Self-Awareness
Some people suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect.
This takes place when a person is not smart enough to know that they aren’t educated in a particular topic area. It’s very destructive, and one need only look at the comments on various social media sites to see how rampant this problem is.
Three: Poor Vocabulary
Did you know that scientists have warned that the vocabulary of our young people is rapidly shrinking?
This connects to our first point about how experience helps us differentiate different things in the world.
We rarely do this through experience alone. Our language helps us process the experience and deepen it through communication with others.
But if we don’t know the words for objects and experiences, our ability to understand and connect them with other aspects of reality shrinks.
Having a larger vocabulary has been shown to help you read faster, which helps you avoid being easily cheated or deceived. The more you know, the more you can know.
Yet, there are people out there who talk for hours about things like the Mandela Effect with zero evidence that it exists.
They don’t realize that other people exploit their lack of scientific literacy.
They do this by showing them ads to sell them products packed with other sensational material. Entire industries direct themselves at consumers with limited mental processing power.
Five: Lack of Critical Thinking Skills
Now, I don’t mean to put only a few people on the spot. Incredibly smart people also display gullibility from time to time.
Desperate health situations, lack of time to think and other situations can cause even people with very high IQ scores to blunder.
However, people with critical thinking abilities often realize their mistakes much quicker. Often, they’re able to reverse course before any significant damage has been done.
They can do this because they’ve had some training in critical thinking, like the kind you can get on this blog. Here are some resources if you’d like to beef up your brain so you can think through important issues faster and make fewer mistakes:
- 9 Critical Thinking Strategies
- Analytical Thinking
- Abstract Thinking
- Concrete Thinking
- Logical vs. Rational Thinking
- 14 of the Best Critical Thinking Books
Six: Lack of Willingness To Change
They say that the only constant is change. But one of the top signs of a naive person is inflexibility.
Nietzsche put it best when he said that asking someone else to change is like asking the entire universe to change. But isn’t that often what naive people do?
As I suggested in my TEDx Talk, which centered on a naive passage of my own life, we know that we can’t change others:
But we can change ourselves.
So if you want to stop being so naive, make sure to check out the various ways that you can change yourself in the section below.
Seven: You Do Not Put Time Aside For Thinking
Believe it or not, thinking is not a natural activity. We descend from animals and our autopilot instincts are geared for survival.
This means that thinking not only has to be learned, but in order to keep it sharp, it also has to be practiced.
A sure sign of a person being naive is when they say that they made a “snap decision.” Some people will even brag that they are “impulsive” or like to “rely on intuition.”
True, life sometimes forces us to make choices on the fly. We may have to listen to our gut.
But it’s never ideal and it’s naive to think so. As Chip and Dan Heath point out in their book, Decisive, much research shows that not taking a time to think things through harms us much more than we think.
Yet, societies around the world are so collectively gullible that we valorize impulsive celebrities and spend hours following the trainwrecks of their lives.
Luckily, you can avoid belonging to the herd, so let’s turn our attention to simple ways to get more experience, become more intelligent and enjoy reality at an increasingly mature level.
How to Stop Being Naive in Eight Steps
Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce gullibility and become an accurate thinker on a quest for constant improvement.
Let’s have a look at some of the best.
Step One: Take Time To Analyze Things Thoroughly
Snap decisions are deadly. And once you’re in the habit of making them, it can be hard to change.
However, it actually doesn’t take that long to make intelligent decisions. But you do need to take the time it requires to think things through.
One model I love is the W.R.A.P. technique in Decisive. This approach applies to many situations where you will benefit from thinking things through. It works like this:
- Widen your options
- Reality test
- Attain distance
- Prepare to fail
To give you an example, let’s say you hear about repressing your subvocalization from a so-called speed-reading expert.
Before you take this expert at his or her word and plunk down your hard earned cash on their training, you can widen your options by looking up what credible scientists say about this issue.
Then, you can reality test the person’s claims by seeing what they’ve accomplished in life with their approach.
Finally, you can take a break to get some distance between yourself and the topic and let your brain ruminate on autopilot through a process called diffuse thinking.
If you decide to go ahead and invest in the idea after taking time to deliberate, be willing to fail.
By the same token, you should accept that in some areas of self-education, it pays to fail. If you don’t go through a course or two created by charlatans, you risk not sharpening your BS-detection skills, which also requires you to prepare for failure.
In sum, taking time to think in a structured manner is a great way to suffer less from being naive in life.
Step Two: Take Personal Responsibility
Gullible people often avoid seeing how they steered themselves into harm’s way. But that’s an avoidance strategy and one that prevents you from growing.
Even worse, you can wind up trapped in learned helplessness. As researcher Martin Seligman has shown, it’s easy for humans to accept and even come to love the things that hold them back. But it’s also readily possible for anyone to learn to reject the limiting factors in our lives. Studies have shown that feel good dopamine increases when you take actions that increase your mental strength.
In order to become more resilient and learn from your naivety, you need to acknowledge its presence in your life, accept it and then plan to do better.
Getting some time on the calendar to study critical thinking or improve your memory through a program like the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass is a great way to do that.
Step Three: Reduce Screen Time & Mindless Consumption
There was a time when people thought that intelligence was fixed. But research that identified what has come to be known as the Flynn Effect showed that in the 20th century, people were in fact getting smarter and smarter in each and every generation.
This trend continued until recently, but now some researchers think that intelligence may be spiralling downwards. They even call this a reversal of the Flynn Effect in some areas of human knowledge and skill.
One explanation for why this downward trend is taking place is digital amnesia. As the Internet moves closer and closer to creating zero latency online environments, people become increasingly hooked to their devices. Indeed, the CEO of Netflix once said that their only competitor is sleep.
By spending more time reading books, even if you’re a slow reader, you’ll give your mind for reflective thinking that fast-paced online environments usually train your brain to avoid. They are designed to keep you clicking without thinking, whereas reading offline is all about connecting with the thoughts of others in a sustained way.
Step Four: Improve Your Vocabulary In More Than One Language
A lot of people will tell you to travel to give you more life experience. But let’s face it: the beaches and areas of historical interest around the world are packed with as many naive people as your hometown.
A better way to gain world perspective is through language learning. This is because working with languages is what James Hordern calls knowledgeable practice.
The best part is that memorizing vocabulary is fast, easy and fun. I regularly review my copy of Word Power Made Easy to keep my English sharp and read in other languages at least 3-5 times per week.
Step Five: Design Your Own Long Term Learning Projects
A lot of people randomly pile books into their Amazon shopping cart, or collect suggestions on Goodreads.
But savvy lifelong learners are curators of their knowledge. They may read broadly, but usually within highly concentrated areas of interest for dedicated periods of time.
I took so many courses at university, my brain has been trained to think in terms of semesters.
To this day, I search the Internet not for lists of the best books on a certain topic, but for university syllabi put together by experts. I try to find the biggest and most authoritative textbook on a topic that I can, and then read at least 2-3 of the books it discusses within.
This style of learning allows me to lean on the curation process of experts as I develop my own expertise. Then, when I throw in wildcard discoveries along the way, I automatically read them at a higher level and avoid falling into gullibility because a critical foundation for understanding the topic has already been established.
For any topic I’m studying, I seek to include books from at least these categories:
- History of the topic
- Theory of the topic
- Practical applications of the topic
- Critical biographies related to the topic
If you seek the best possible books from each of these categories and spend 3-6 months focused on them and supplementary materials, you won’t be naive about that topic for long.
And stick with your reading plan. Remember: Variety definitely is the spice of life, but the truth in the cliche won’t help if you keep changing disciplines. You can dive deep into topics and connect them a lot better if you spend periods of focused time on fewer topics in more detailed ways.
The best part is that your focus will compound in value because you’ll have learned the meta skills of how to learn and see many more connections thanks to your depth of study.
Step Six: Carry A Notebook Everywhere
I can think of few things that have helped me more than carrying a notebook 99.9% of the time.
Although it’s true I use memory techniques, there’s nothing better than working thoughts out on paper and planning with my hands. Plus, having a journal is very helpful for quickly creating Memory Palaces (a powerful tool for remembering things quickly).
Besides planning and keeping track of ideas that emerge, notebooks are great for self-assessment, gratitude journaling and generally expanding your mind.
Step Seven: Practice Objectivity
One of the hardest things for chronically naive people is to realize that reality exists independent of their thoughts and opinions.
This mistake happens because they are primarily subjective when they would benefit from being objective thinkers.
No doubt about it, being objective is hard.
Fixing this issue starts by understanding that your brain practically forces you to be emotionally invested in everything you see and do. We are driven to navigate the world by the laws and forces of evolution in the same way that gravity holds us fast to the earth.
To become more objective despite having the chips stacked against you, you can make objectivity one of your first learning projects. Study the sciences of psychology, decision making and game theory. Make a concerted effort to become a philosopher.
As part of this project, build a network of people around you who can help stress test your ideas. I suggest joining paid groups rather than free ones. Whereas many of the free ones are filled with low quality posts that will trap you in naive thinking, a solid investment in a discussion group based around deep dives into challenging content will serve you very well.
If you’d like to be part of one of my upcoming groups, consider letting me know!
Step Eight: Know Your Personality Type
One of my own experiences of being gullible revealed a lot to me about an area I’d never thought about in the context of investing.
For years, I’d been so focused on academic matters and later developing this blog, I had spent almost no time thinking about or studying the different ways I might retire one day.
Because I practice what I preach, I followed a lot of the steps I’ve discussed above. For example, I looked for the foundational books on investing and spent months focused on reading them thoroughly.
I also took courses and spent time with a topic expert to go over my plans.
He said something very interesting to me:
“If you invest in a way that goes against your personality type, you’ll always be miserable.”
I listened deeply to what this expert had to say about personality types when it comes to investing. I journaled about it in my notebook, talked with yet other people and these processes helped me make the right decisions. I know now that I avoided being gullible around a lot of decisions that so-called experts in the field call wise investing, but what actually amounts to uneducated greed.
This particular topic is not very interesting to me, but I’m glad I planned time for it and spoke directly with the experts themselves to help formulate my plans. To make sure you avoid the traps of naivety, I suggest you do the same.
You Don’t Have To Stop Being Naive 100%
As I mentioned in the introduction, we benefit from keeping an open mind and cultivating curiosity.
By the same token, we don’t want to keep our minds so open that our brains fall out.
Instead, we want to strive to be what I call S.M.A.R.T.E.R or serious, mature and ready to embrace reality.
This is important because the wisest people amongst us know one thing to be true above all:
None of us know what we don’t know.
In fact, the most intelligent person alive is still shrouded by monumental ignorance. That person must be because the future is not and cannot be known. Plus, so much of the past was never recorded, and mountains of human knowledge that was preserved at one point has since been lost.
And it helps to be able to remember the steps that we’ve discussed today. If you’d like help with that, please register for my FREE Memory Improvement Kit.
It will help you rapidly create and use the tools memory experts employ to help them learn faster and remember more.
And when you can do that, you can kiss being destructively naive goodbye. For good.