The Narrative Fallacy and Better Decision Making

Aman Manazir
Issue #8
September 10, 2020

Hello everyone,

Every time I write a newsletter or article, I always have my younger brother Aadil take a look at it. He has the uncanny ability to pick out the precise areas that don’t have the proper phrasing and the sections I should think about some more.

Whenever I write something, I put a lot of effort and thought into it. I often spend at least 1-2 hours writing every work, and more time afterwards re-reading and thinking about the structure and flow.

I basically end up staring at my writing so much that I start to lose the perspective needed to write well at certain points. When you write something, the audience reading it usually only skims through it; they don’t analyze it sentence by sentence, like you do when you write it.

Because of this, over time you start to make small mistakes in phrasing and word choice, and you don’t realize it because you condition yourself into thinking that it reads normally. Obvious errors start to slip by you.

This is why I have my brother read my drafts. He is in the position of the audience, as he only reads it once, and thus has a better perspective to judge these small mistakes.

This kind of thing doesn’t only happen when we write.

The Narrative Fallacy

In life, we often construct a narrative around our actions and the way that we interact with other people. This is called The Narrative Fallacy.

Nassim Taleb, in his book The Black Swan, describes it as:

“The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.”

Basically, because you are directly experiencing the events in your life, you start to weave them together into a narrative so they make more sense.

A classic example of this is the feeling of being “cursed.” If one day you get fired and on the drive home your car breaks down, you might look at the sky and think, “Of course this would happen, I’m cursed,” even though there is no connection between those distinct occurrences.

Because our minds aren’t great at understanding chance, we tend to subconsciously inject non-existent causal relationships between the events in our lives.

We can be so engrossed in our own experience that we start to craft a story around it, often painting ourselves as the victim or hero without even realizing it. Sometimes, it can be hard to see your actions from a third person point of view when you're so involved with them. If your nose is tickling a tree, it's impossible to grasp the forest.

Trusted Advisors

Luckily, there exists a simple solution to this problem. You should regularly outsource decision making, especially when you’re submerged in a situation for an extended period of time.

It’s important to have a few friends that you can bounce ideas off of. To receive the best guidance, pick a few trusted advisors that have your best interests in mind, and also are not directly involved.

Obviously, you don’t have to take all of your friend’s proposals. I don’t always accept my brother’s recommendations towards my writing. However, often the simple reminder that other rational alternatives exist can be enough.

Have a great week,


My Favorite Things This Week

For years I've been listening to Ear Biscuits, a podcast by Rhett and Link, two very popular Youtubers. I've been watching their videos for the past 7-8 years, and their podcast is filled with entertaining stories and meaningful insights. It's definitely something I look forward to listening to every week.

Instapaper is a great app for saving and reading articles; every time I come across an article on the internet that I find interesting, I save it to Instapaper to read at the moment or later. It has a beautiful interface and great highlighting/note-taking features.

Why Experiments Matter and Why We Hate Them is an article on why detailed testing and trials are necessary for even the most obvious of claims. This article is especially relevant now that treatment and vaccine trials are rolling out for COVID-19.

Quote of the Week

"Wisdom is nothing more profound than an ability to follow one's own advice." - Sam Harris, Waking Up

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