How to Avoid Using Thinking Errors

I came across this blog post on Akipriase.com, and it is a math problem, or riddle that has to be calculated in your head, and it goes like this;

Please Note: This riddle must be done IN YOUR HEAD ONLY and NOT using paper and a pen or Calculator.
Try it.
Take 1000 and add 40 to it.
Now add another 1000.
Now add 30.
then another 1000.
Now add 20.
Now add another 1000.
Now add 10.
And then add 1000
What is the total?

– See more at: Akpriase

Now if you follow the link to the actual post, and scroll down to read the comments, you will notice that the most common answer given is 6000. This makes sense on face value because if you work it out in your head, you will quickly add up all the one thousands you see, so a quick glance will show five 1000s which equals 5000. Next you will add 40 + 30 + 20 + 10 which equals one hundred. However because you previously calculated by the 1000s you might be tempted to add an extra zero to that one hundred to keep things consistent, so therefore 5100 now becomes 6000.

If you fell for this error in thinking, and your initial response was 6000, don’t worry you are not dumb, your error in thinking was an entirely subconscious process, based on how you perceive the world. People like you are generally called one step thinkers, meaning that you like things simple and consistent.

Now there is another group of people who did not make the error of turning one hundred into a thousand. These people are called two step thinkers, and more than likely a two step thinker’s answer would have been 5100. Two Step thinkers like one step thinkers like things to be simple and consistent, however they have learned to be on the lookout for complexities, hence they were able to avoid the error of adding an extra zero to one hundred. However 5100 is still the wrong answer.

The third group of thinkers, three step thinkers, would most likely have arrived at the right answer which is 4100. Here’s why;

In your head you take 1000 and add it to 40 which gives you 1040.

Next you take 1040 and add it to another 1000  which give you 2040.
Then you add 30, which gives you 2070.
The riddle goes on to state, “then another 1000.” However there are no specific instructions regarding what you are supposed to do with 1000, granted it may imply that you add this extra 1000, but in the absence of specifics when it comes to the context of following instructions, you do nothing. So you are still left with 2070.
Then you are asked to add 20, this gives you 2090.
Then  you are asked to add another 1000, which gives you 3090.
Then you add another 10, which gives you 3100.
Lastly you add another 1000, which gives you the total of 4100.

Three step thinkers have learned to accept the complexities and nuances of the world in which they live in, and as a result they are very focused and attentive in their daily endeavors. Not only are they in the habit of questioning information they encounter from the outside world, but they are also in the habit of questioning and double checking their reactions to the information they receive.

When it comes to processing information, we all really want to emulate three step thinkers and then some. We should all strive to be critical of the information we receive, and critical of our response to said information. Practicing the habit of critically evaluating information we receive as well as our response to that information, reduces the occurrences of thinking errors and subsequently poor judgment.

A common cause for mental health issues are chronic use of thinking errors. Thinking errors develop through erroneous interpretation of messages, some of which have been designed like the math riddle, to be misinterpreted. With chronic use of thinking errors, some people have developed maladaptive coping strategies to solve their everyday problems, which at best solves nothing and at worst only leads to the worsening of their problems.

Consistency is easy for our brains to process at a baseline level, but with practice, we can develop our brains to readily adapt to understanding complex patterns.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

 

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