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Key Idea #8: The Egocentric Mind Is Automatic in Nature

Egocentric thinking, unlike rational thought, operates in a highly automatic, unconscious, and impulsive manner. Based in primitive, often "childish," thought patterns, it reacts to situations in programmed and mechanistic ways. We must recognize, therefore, that it often will spring into action before we have a chance to sidestep or prevent it. It fights. It flees. It denies. It represses. It rationalizes. It distorts. It negates. It scapegoats. And it does all of these in the blink of an eye with no conscious awareness of its deceptive tricks.

Strategic Idea

Because we know that the irrational mind operates in predictable, preprogrammed, automated ways, we become interested observers of the egocentric mechanisms of our own mind. We begin to observe the mechanistic moves our mind makes. Rather than allowing thoughts to operate strictly at the unconscious level, we can actively strive to raise them to conscious realization, as Piaget put it. We can work to bring them into full consciousness. This typically will be after the fact - especially in the beginning of our development as critical thinkers. After a time, when we become keenly aware of how our personal ego functions, we can often forestall egocentric reactions by the prior activity of rational thought.

For instance, as presented in key idea #7, we can begin to recognize when our mind rationalizes in patterned ways. We also can become familiar with the kinds of rationalization our mind tends to use. For example, "I don't have time to do this!" may be a favorite rationalization. We could limit its use by remembering the insight, "People always have time for the things most important to them." We then are forced to face the truth about what we are doing: "I don't want to make room in my priorities for this," or "Since I continually say this is important to me, I'm only deceiving myself by saying, 'but I don't have time for it.'"

Over time and with practice, we can begin to notice when we are denying some important truth about ourselves. We can begin to see when we are refusing to face some reality rather than dealing with it openly and directly. We can begin to recognize when we are automatically thinking in a dishonest way, in attempting to avoid working on a solution to a problem.

In principle, then, we can study the tricks and stratagems of our mind to determine its automated patterns. Furthermore, and most important, we can learn to intervene to disengage irrational thought processes - if necessary after they have begun to operate. In short, we can refuse to be controlled by primitive desires and modes of thinking. We can actively work to replace automatic egocentric thinking with reflective rational thinking.

Test the Idea
Focusing on Denial as a Mechanism of Irrationality

Although the egocentric dimension of the mind uses many defense mechanisms to maintain its self-centered view, we will single out just one for this activity: denial. Think of a relationship you are in now in which you have a selfish interest in seeing things a certain way though the facts probably don't support your view. Let's say you want to believe that your spouse really loves you, even though his or her actual behavior toward you indicates that he or she probably is using you (perhaps as a vehicle of his or her self-gratification).

As another example, let's say that you want to believe you are treating your spouse respectfully, though the facts show that you often treat him or her with little respect and consideration. Admitting the truth would be painful to you. Complete these statements:

  1. The situation is...

  2. What I have denied accepting in this situation is...

  3. I have avoided the truth by telling myself the following untruth...

  4. I realize I have denied looking at the truth in the situation because...

  5. Some implications that have followed from my denial about this situation are...

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