How to Be Rational: 3 Ways to Anchor Yourself in Reality

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Daily Laws" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you see things as they truly are, or do strong emotions and desires cloud your vision? Do you care too much about what others think?

Robert Greene believes that rationality will help you live a fulfilling life that’s grounded in reality. To view and approach your life more rationally, he advises that you control your emotions, develop a stronger sense of self, and see things through a neutral lens.

Keep reading to learn how to be rational by employing these three strategies.

#1: Control Your Emotions

If you want to learn how to be rational, you must first know how to control your emotions. Greene explains that it takes more effort to think rationally than emotionally—emotions are strong and cause us to react quickly, preventing us from making rational decisions. The first step in controlling your emotions is to accept this truth of human nature. Because we are human, we all have flaws, inaccurate beliefs, and emotional compulsions, such as the desire to be liked or gain approval. When you acknowledge these tendencies, you gain the awareness and distance to better manage them.

(Shortform note: In Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins says that you can better control your emotions in the future by learning from them when they arise. To do this, put a name to your emotion but don’t judge it as good or bad. Instead, approach a negative emotion as if you’re investigating it—ask yourself whether you can learn anything from your experience, what beliefs might have caused you to feel that way, and what actions you can take to resolve your negative feelings. Robbins says that when you reflect on your emotions, you have a reference for how to handle similar situations in the future.)

#2: Develop a Stronger Sense of Self

Second, Greene recommends developing a stronger sense of self so that you’ll care less about what others think. Since we’re social creatures, we value the approval of others, which may cause us to feel insecure or anxious at work or around our friends. However, when you build your own standards of success instead of seeking approval, you’ll feel less emotionally attached to the opinions and expectations of others. Practice feeling genuine joy for the successes of others while building the discipline to work on and feel proud of your own skills.

#3: Use a Neutral Lens

Third, Greene advises learning to view situations as neither positive nor negative. He adds that situations are naturally neutral—it’s your emotions that make them good or bad. With this in mind, don’t take things personally. Instead, treat difficult people or situations as curious puzzles to unravel or a learning experience. Try viewing them neutrally as you would a neutral object, such as a plant or building.

Your Self-Image Affects How You Interpret Situations

In Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz refers to your sense of self as your self-image and defines it as your thoughts about yourself and your past experiences. He explains that these thoughts don’t have to be true for them to affect you—you only need to believe that they’re true, which is why you can fall prey to the false beliefs that Greene discusses. For example, you might think having a lot of friends reflects how likable you are, and this belief affects how you act and interpret other people’s words or actions. Like Greene, Maltz encourages you to develop a stronger sense of self (a positive self-image), and he suggests you do so by visualizing the person you want to be and recalling memories of your past successes.

Maltz also agrees with Greene’s suggestion to view situations neutrally, and he explains why it’s important to do so: Regularly thinking negative thoughts can become a harmful habit that causes you to misinterpret more and more situations negatively. Negative thoughts can become habits because the way you interpret situations affects how you act, which, in turn, reinforces your preexisting interpretation. For example, if you think your colleagues dislike you, you might be distant and aloof, which makes it harder for them to connect with you and reinforces your belief that they dislike you. To combat this habit, Maltz suggests you question negative thoughts or feelings that pop up by considering whether there’s a more rational explanation or whether you might have misinterpreted the situation.
How to Be Rational: 3 Ways to Anchor Yourself in Reality

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  • Why our beliefs tend to leave us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled
  • How to attune yourself to the reality of how the world really works
  • How to manage your emotions and develop rationality

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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