How to: Thinking for yourself in an age of experts

In the age of knowledge abundance, it’s easy to lose your autonomy of thinking for yourself. There are many experts, influencers and authority figures we look to for better and factual knowledge.

But it pays to make sense of all the advice and recommendations you find yourself. Don’t outsource your thinking. Your own thoughts and thinking processes are meant to guide your next steps.

Friedrich Nietzsche thought, “The individual has always to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe.”

The best thing we can do to make better decisions is to learn as many thinking tools as possible and use them as a guide to making informed choices.

Too often, many people stop thinking for themselves when they read expert opinions, arguments, comments, recommendations and advice.

They stop asking questions and refuse to think about how that knowledge applies to their lives.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s essential to listen to expert advice when lives are at stake or when ignoring objective advice can result in life-changing consequences.

“That’s why we take the medicine the doctor gives us, it’s why we listen to attorneys, it’s why we seek help from a professor, etc.”, argues Pavel Bermudez of Humanities Center.

Factual knowledge or advice based on evidence and years of research can do more good than harm in the long term. If the goal is to arrive at objective truth, it pays to go with expert advice.

The paradoxical question is: how do we treat the opinion of experts when it comes to self-improvement or living your best life?

How should we treat the advice of the thousands of experts we come across in books, on podcasts, in interviews, in documentaries and on talk shows?
When should we stop thinking or start acting without thinking for ourselves? And are they always right? Does what works for them tend to work for everyone else? When do you start thinking for yourself?

I tend to gather experiences and make decisions for myself when it comes to growth. I like to know what works for Warren Buffett, Richard Feynman, Eckhart Tolle, Seneca, Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, Naval Ravikant, Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert or Angela Duckworth before I make conclusions.

So, I read a lot to build or accumulate enough knowledge that may be useful for me in the future. But in the end, I choose to think of the many options I can consider, the direction I’m headed and the most valuable knowledge that I can apply on that journey.

In an overwhelmingly uncertain world, self-reliant (and informed) thinking is a superpower. Cornel West says, “When you place a high value on truth, you have to think for yourself.”

With compelling advice from experts in a rapidly changing world, you can be tempted to stop thinking for yourself.

You can be forced to look to influencers for all your life and career guidance and relinquishing your capacity to think for yourself.

Of course, experts are essential to help us lead a better life, but we have to learn how to integrate their advice into our lives without sabotaging our ability to think for ourselves.

The people you follow or admire have more influence on your ability to think for yourself, so whatever you do or however you think, don’t pick your experts lightly. Even when you know you are thinking for yourself, their recommendations are sometimes the basics of our decisions.

“Be yourself and think for yourself, and while your conclusions may not be infallible they will be nearer right than the inclusions forced upon you by those who have a personal interest in keeping you in ignorance.” Elbert Hubbard, writer and philosopher said.

So, how can you improve your capacity to think for yourself?

Start with self-knowledge. If you know yourself, your needs and your ambitions in life, you won’t be misguided.

Socrates once said, “ To find yourself, think for yourself.”

Understand your decision-making blindspots. Strengths and weaknesses. Biases and perceptions. Assumptions and thought patterns.

What’s best for you may not be obvious, but self-knowledge can help you lean towards choices that will help you in the long term.

If waking up at 5 am doesn’t work for you, choose the best time that makes it easier to start your day right and on purpose. Work with your body, not against it.

Learn as much as you can about your problems from as many intelligent minds as possible before making decisions. Build your body of knowledge by reading and learning from the experiences of others.

Then make time to think through your options (considering the first, second and third-order consequences of every outcome).

Don’t be led to believe or apply; observe, experiment and change where necessary. Make contemplation and reflection a habit before you arrive at conclusions.

Never let someone else make all your decisions for you or tell you what to think. Develop your capacity for thought; your next best decision depends on it. Thinking for yourself is a right. An expert can guide you but should not think for you. “Dare to think for yourself,” Voltaire said.

This article originally appeared in Medium.