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I’m No Expert — And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you ever need a quick pick-me-up/self-esteem boost/chuckle/reason to be smug, try googling “GPS fails”. Then sit back, relax and enjoy story after gut-busting story of motorists blindly following their car’s electronic voice into large bodies of water, off cliffs, and straight through construction sites. Kind of makes you feel smart, no?

Sadly, that delightful feeling of superiority fades quickly if you think about what’s really going on in those stories. They aren’t GPS fails so much as they are common sense fails. And the truth is, the most brilliant among us occasionally drives the car that is their life into the proverbial frozen lake of shame while following some “expert” advice. Make no mistake - I’m all for enlisting the help of a pro when necessary (hello, cat dentist!), but problems can arise when we unwittingly remove the element of sound judgment from our decision-making process.

Living in today’s “information age” affords us unprecedented access to expert advice on any and every subject, anywhere, at any time. But instead of making us smarter/happier/safer/healthier/prettier/richer, it seems like all that information is leaving us more confused than ever. What gives?

First, information comes flooding in (whether we actively seek it or not) at a volume and pace that is nearly impossible for us to process. Inevitably, some of this information is total rubbish inaccurate. Also, much of the information that we see is intended to appeal to the masses and doesn’t necessarily apply to our specific situation. Last but not least, as anyone who has ever tried to figure out whether carbs are friend or foe knows, there is a whole lot of conflicting information out there. Information overload!

While it can feel luxuriously convenient and even prudent to defer to the smorgasbord of readily available information at our fingertips when making decisions, relying too heavily on outside information weakens our common sense muscles and ultimately costs us time and robs us of the confidence to use our inner wisdom to handle even the simplest of choices. We find ourselves going in circles or, worse, paralyzed into inaction. For instance, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you in the supermarket agonizing over peanut butter vs. almond butter vs. sun butter vs. Nutella while the whispers of a dozen nutrition experts swirl around in your mind. Ok, maybe that was me. The point is, that decision likely doesn’t require expert input, and almost certainly doesn’t come with consequences heavy enough to warrant squandering all that time and energy. One epic struggle in the nut butter aisle may not seem all that significant, but we leave our sound judgement at home when the stakes are higher, too (just ask the GPS fail people). If we don’t practice exercising our common sense, all these little moments can add up to a lifetime of unnecessary indecision, confusion and unintended outcomes.

The bottom line is this: nobody knows your unique situation better than you do. YOU are the one who knows your body, your kids, your finances, your life the best. That makes you the expert! So enjoy this wonderful wide world of information, but use it in addition to (not instead of) your own inner knowing. Keep the best and toss the rest!

The next time you are faced with a decision or feel compelled to take action based on some information you’ve received, try these simple steps to help awaken those sleepy common sense muscles:

  1. Observe your situation. Be objective — no overcomplicating (or oversimplifying!).

  2. Determine whether outside information is needed. You might be surprised how frequently the answer is no.

  3. If so, decide what qualifies someone as an “expert” in the subject in question. Do they have education or experience that you don’t? Are they familiar with your specific situation? Is their primary intention to help? To inform? To make a profit?? Check in with your gut - does this information make sense? Filter out anything that doesn’t meet your standard.

  4. Re-evaluate periodically. Make sure the information you’ve chosen to base your action on still makes sense. If not, it’s time to override it with your inner wisdom or seek information from a different source.

Practice makes progress! Before long you’ll be free to enjoy those GPS fail stories with the added pleasure of knowing you aren’t about to become the subject of one.

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