“Beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be protected.”

Situations change. People change. Here’s why actively open-minded parents are better at predicting the future.

“Beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be protected.”

“Beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be protected.” 1024 683 Looking out Loud

This is part of the DadQuotes series, where I roundup the best quotes from famous figures, insightful authors, and my quickly growing kids, and apply them to the job of parenting.

When my kids were still tiny babies, I remember hearing all kinds of parenting advice from well-intentioned friends, family, and self-proclaimed experts. Tips and tricks for getting my kids to sleep, calming them when they were crying uncontrollably, and stimulating them for optimal development.

As I experimented as a new parent, I noticed two inverse but complimentary trends:

  1. Some things seemed to work—at least for a week or two. But then all of a sudden, they stopped working.
  2. Some things didn’t work at all—at least when I first tried. But then I’d try again some time later, and they worked!

In both cases, I had to update a previous belief about what worked, or didn’t, based on new information I was receiving.

In their book Superforecasting, University of Pennsylvania professor Philip Tetlock and writer Dan Gardner dissect the skills of people who are great at predicting the future. They found these actively open-minded people treat their beliefs like scientists:

“Beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be protected.”
– Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner*

In the experience I shared above, it was a changing reality—my very quickly growing kids—that led previous beliefs to become outdated. But in other cases, beliefs that we hold are simply not true.

The smartest people on the planet used to believe the sun rotated around the Earth—because when you watched the sun come up and go down every day, it was obvious that’s what was happening. Wrong.

You have lots of beliefs about parenting—things you’ve read, heard, or learned through experience. And while many of these beliefs are correct, it’s quite likely that a lot of obvious beliefs are misguided.

Like telling kids they’re smart because you believe it will boost their confidence.

Or jumping in to help with homework, because you believe that failure will set them back.

And the same applies at work.

That stuck-up colleague might actually just be shy. Your manager might not have those ulterior motives you fear.

Why does any of this matter?

Because beliefs guide actions. We guard our emotions at work because we believe that being vulnerable is a sign of weakness. We vaccinate (or don’t vaccinate) our kids because we believe vaccines have some effect (positive or negative) on our children’s future health.

Actively open-minded thinkers are better at anticipating how their actions will affect the world. The better your mental models of the world—your beliefs—match the actual world, the more likely you are to get the results you’re after.

No one really knows the exact best way to raise a child, and it’s almost definitely not the same answer for every kid. It’s also not the same approach over time.

Situations change. People change. And with these changes, so should change our beliefs.

*In Chapter 8 of Superforecasting, Tetlock and Gardner outline attributes and abilities of a “modal superforecaster,” where they include: “Actively open-minded: Beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be protected.”

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