It has been said that “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” If you don’t know what a Sith is, then shame on you. Stop reading and go watch the Star Wars movies! For everyone else, let’s talk about why I am secretly a Sith lord, and why you probably are too. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we are all evil people who are drawn by the dark side. What I am saying is that despite our best efforts, we can all have moments where we think irrationally, abandon critical thinking skills, and fail to be a balanced accurate viewer of what is going on around us. We like to have black and white answers to questions about shades of gray. Whether it’s politics, sports, or health and fitness, we all are looking for something that doesn’t exist: The right answer.
There is often times no right answer because the question at hand is not framed within a reasonable context. What’s the best exercise? What are healthy foods? Should I be “eating clean”, or avoiding gluten, dairy, and GMO’s? How do I fix my back pain? Who’s the best boy band of all time? Hint: none of the questions can be even remotely answered without more context. Everyone has extenuating circumstances surrounding him or her, and there can be no right answer without digging a little deeper.
“Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” This Marx Brothers quote from the movie Duck Soup reigns supreme when it comes to our perceptions of reality. We all look for patterns in our daily lives to explain the world around us. It’s why Airborne, vitamin C, and chicken noodle soup are thought to cure common colds. In reality, these interventions don’t do anything at all to help you heal up (1). But, at some point, I’m sure we have all fallen for the Airborne scam of taking a product, feeling better, and thanking that product for making us feel better. Here’s the dirty little secret… you would have felt better anyway because that’s how colds work. This same principle can be applied to many aspects of our lives. Ever hear someone say, “if I eat this ice cream, it will go straight to my hips!” Well, that’s not how the body works. If you’re not in a caloric surplus, then you won’t put on weight. But we see patterns and tend to blame one thing or another. Whether it’s weight gain, muscle building, or aches and pains, there is no one single reason for their occurrence. It is a spectrum of hundreds of factors that play into our health and well-being.
Avoiding The Dark Side
To avoid the dark side and being a Sith lord, try to think in relative terms. So instead of thinking that taking vitamin C will cure no disease, try thinking that vitamin C may help me if I am deficient and therefore could help my body operate more efficiently. This same reasoning can be used with eating organic. Will eating organic foods make you any healthier? Probably not alone, but it may inspire you to eat more fruits and vegetables in general which will make you healthier. Will avoiding chemicals make you healthier? No, but it may inspire you to learn about what’s actually in the food you’re eating.
Should I be on a low carb, low fat diet, or will a Keto diet be best? Should I be taking probiotics? Will these supplements help me lose weight? Who should be telling me what to eat? What exercises should I be doing?
None of these questions matter in isolation, and none of these questions have a right or wrong answer. The answer will almost always be “maybe. It depends.” Don’t take answers at face value because no one source will have all the information. Don’t assign causation or blame because a myriad of factors will play into your results. Don’t simply put all your eggs into one basket. Our perception stinks. We, as humans, have a hard time sorting out reality. We try to use our past experiences to figure out the present, and this leads to all sorts of misguided judgments even in the face of contradicting evidence (2). Don’t dig in and defend these poor decisions once you have made them. Try to keep an open mind, learn as much as you can, and be willing to change as needed.
1. Hemilä, H., & Chalker, E. (2013). Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1), CD000980.
2. Fazio, L. K., Brashier, N. M., Payne, B. K., & Marsh, E. J. (2015). Knowledge does not protect against illusory truth. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 144(5), 993-1002. doi:10.1037/xge0000098