How to be a Realist. 8 steps to practice Realism.

Who is a Realist?

A realist is a person who is objective, someone who stays in touch with the facts and guides his thoughts with a curiosity for truth.

A realist focuses on reality and uses logic to come to conclusions.

He tries his best to gather all the evidence possible and is willing to change his mind in light of new and contrary evidence.

In short, a realist is a rational person.

Now you might be thinking, are humans not rational? Well, we all like to believe that we are rational and logical in our approach.

The truth, however, is that most people are not rational.

Forces that are deep-rooted in their psyche compel them to act in irrational ways.

In this blog, we will look at those forces as well as learn how we can practice objectivity in our approach so that we can eventually be a realist.

Objectivity and truth

“Don’t seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.”

― Epictetus

Objectivity has two meanings. One of it comes through a metaphysical sense and other comes from epistemology.

In the last blog Perception and Reality, our focus was on the nature of reality which was a metaphysical way of looking at objectivity. (branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality)

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of human knowledge and how we use or gain knowledge.

Objectivity in this sense means practicing the art of thinking objectively hence Realism.

Realism does not mean knowing the truth. A realist does not see the objective truth of the world, which as we discovered last time is impossible to know.

A realist, however ‘tries to think as objectively as he can with the given facts’

An illustration of how thinking objectively is different from knowing the truth

Say you were mediating a dispute.

Since the matter is severe and there is a lot at stake on both sides you decide to be as objective as you can be and make a judgment based on all the facts available to you at the time.

Your goal is to do justice to both the parties but let us say you lacked some evidence, which resulted in you being harsher on one side.

Does it mean you were not analyzing objectively? Of course not.

Objective thinking is more about the process of thinking where the goal is to reach the truth.

A similar thing happens when you are on jury duty for a trial.

Lives and careers of people are at stake and you have to suspend all your beliefs and impulses so that you can look at the facts and ‘think objectively’.

We now realize that we are not always objective.

Rational and irrational are loaded words, most people would call anyone that disagrees with them as irrational.

To look at things objectively requires deliberate focus and practice. It is not something that we can leave to our subconscious brain.

Rational part of our soul

To practice Objectivity we need to listen to the rational part of our soul. Plato believed that all humans have a tripartite soul.

He said that humans are not purely rational beings. The three parts of the human soul he mentioned are-

  1. Appetitive and physical desires
  2. Spirited and emotional
  3. Rational and logical

Appetitive

The appetitive part of the soul craves our appetites.  

It is the drive we share with all other animals. It compels us to persue our base needs like food or sex.

The people that are a slave to their appetites according to Plato are the lowest of all humans.

Spirited

The spirited part of our soul is based on our emotions and feelings.

When inspired it encourages us to fight against injustice and for equality.

At its worst, it can lead us to make terrible decisions in the form of an emotional reaction like sudden bursts of anger.

Rational

The highest and most important part of our soul according to Plato is the rational and logical part.

This part differentiates us from animals and makes humans truly unique.

Plato said that the best humans are those that make decisions from the rational part of their soul since the rational part is what keeps the other two parts of our soul in check.

Emotions and cognition have a very different role in our bodies.

In animals, emotions are there to support their impulsive responses and thus their emotional and impulsive brain works smoothly for the most part for example a fear response that triggers the deer to run when they see a lion.

be a realist

In humans, however, an emotional reaction that triggers an impulsive response may be detrimental as we can see throughout history.

Actions taken under the influence of greed or anger have destroyed entire civilizations.

Instead of letting our emotional impulses getting the better of us, according to Plato we must calm down and listen to the rational part of our soul.

Incomplete perception

You might be wondering how is all this supposed to help you. If we can never know true reality what is the point anyway.

No matter how objective we are if we just doubt ourselves in everything we do how will we ever achieve anything.

Let’s try to tackle this problem.

Although it is true that we cannot fully perceive objective reality what we can do is think objectively and understand more than what our limited perception offers.

Illustration of incomplete perceptions
Blind-elephant parable

There is a famous story of several blind men that hear about an elephant in their town. Filled with curiosity they all go to experience what the elephant is like.

When they touch the elephant each of them experiences something different. One senses the tail of the elephant whereas other touches its tusk.

One senses the skin of the elephant whereas other senses its trunk.

Each of them could only experience a part of the elephant and thus they all came to differing conclusions.

blinds-elephant parable

A Realist would have stepped back and instead of jumping to a conclusion, combined all the various conclusions of others to imagine what the true form of an elephant might be like.

We all have differing abilities and talents. The partial truth one person can come to will be different than someone else.

We are all unique; some are creative where others are reliable.

Some prefer to look at the picture while others are excellent in dealing with detailed specifics.

A Realist will try to surround himself with people that have different ways of thinking and unique talents.

His surroundings would be full of intelligent people that might disagree with him.

This way when making decisions he can view things from various perspectives and not make decisions based on his incomplete perceptions.

Eight steps to becoming a realist.

  1. Gather as much information as possible and then look at all the facts rationally. Resist the urge to ‘pick and choose’ facts.
  2. Do not work backward from a conclusion; try to work towards a flexible and probable conclusion based on facts.
  3. Reflect on mistakes made and try to reach their root causes.
  4. Increase the space between stimulus and response.
  5. Practice mindfulness so that you can be more conscious of your thoughts.
  6. Emphasize Truthfulness and honesty above everything else.
  7. Accept people as facts
  8. Think with first principles.

1.Gather as much information as possible and then look at all the facts rationally. Resist the urge to pick and choose facts.

We, humans, are susceptible to cognitive biases.

These prevent us to look at things rationally and give us inclinations and aversions.

Often you see that in people that look at only the facts that tell their side of the story (confirmation bias).

Some people believe things too strongly which leads to conviction bias.

People that are rigid and orthodox in their views often display this.

Appearance bias is where we think we see people as they are and fail to realize that we are only viewing personality ethic. Appearances are often misleading.

Superiority bias is where we think of ourselves as superior and more rational.

My views are more important since I think more rationally or am morally superior.

Even when we do look at the facts, we end up favoring some facts more than others.

Sometimes we try to exclude or discredit the facts that do not line up with our agenda.

To be a realist we need to be objective and look at facts without color.

We have to take as much information as possible irrespective of the position where we stand and then look at it for what it is and not how we want it to be.

2. Do not work backward from a conclusion; try to work towards a flexible and probable conclusion based on facts.

Many times the beliefs we hold skew us in one position even before we know what the facts of a matter are.

Let us take an example of a person entering a bar at 6 am on Monday.

We might assume that the person is going in to drink and is someone that might not have a job and maybe is wasting his life away.

Maybe this person is very successful. You might have seen him go in the bar to pick up a relative that can’t drive home.

Or perhaps he is overworked and this is the first time he has caught a break from work in a month.

Judging something/someone or Justifying a position as right or wrong happens all the time. We might not even be aware of how much we do in our daily life.

People aren’t aware of these biases that skew their decision and assume that they are making a rational choice when they aren’t.

More often than not we work backward from a conclusion we already agree with and say that it was a rational one because of carefully selected facts.

 To be truly objective a person should be completely open-minded, gather as many facts as he can on an issue without prejudice or bias, and then let those facts dictate the solution to a problem.

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking…”

Leo Tolstoy

3. Reflect on mistakes made and try to reach their Root causes.

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”

Epictetus

No one is perfect and making mistakes is how we learn. The mistakes we make teach us of our strengths and weaknesses.

We think we all take note of the mistakes we made and improved on them but most times our introspection is weak and we avoid looking at the problem too closely.

Often we do a lazy analysis and assign blame to an external circumstance. This is partly to save our ego and avoid accepting where we are truly weak.

This is also referred to as the ego barrier, i.e. when our need to be right supersedes our need to be true.

When that happens, we stop looking at our weaknesses objectively.

We do a superficial surface-level analysis of the problem but all that will do is get rid of the symptoms while the underlying deep problem remains.

To make sure we can learn and improve we have to go deep and look at the root causes where the problem originates.

4. Increase the space between stimulus and response to be a realist.

By now we realize how spontaneous our decision making can be.

We have patterns of behavior that are deep-rooted in us and those can trigger instant reactions in situations.

These almost always aren’t ideal and if we just took some time and thought through a situation we might have reached a better solution that would have been more rational and ended up with a win for everyone involved.

To do that, we need to choose our actions wisely and not react to circumstances. That is only possible is we widen the gap between stimulus and our response.

5. Practice mindfulness to be more conscious of your thoughts.

There is a term in Buddhism called the monkey mind.

This term refers to the mind as a monkey that just jumps from one thought to the next with no self-control.

It represents compulsive thinking that we are all addicted to.

To be mindful we need to be aware of the present moment and instead of worrying too much about the past or the future, we should embrace now.

Meditation as perhaps most successful people have already told you can be a great tool for this.

As we start becoming more mindful, we observe the behavior patterns that govern our thinking.

We can eventually learn to overcome these compulsive thought patterns and tame our minds.

6. Emphasize Truthfulness and honesty above everything else to be a realist.

The path of integrity and honesty might appear tough and arduous however in the long run it is the easiest path there is.

When you put truth and integrity, above all else you start distancing yourself with the ‘acceptable’ manipulations and deceptions other people engage in. 

This forces you to build a strong character.

By being truthful with yourself and others you start to reign in on problems in every area of your life which believe it or not are connected on a deeper level.

A common flaw in character might be affecting our relationships personal and professional.

It is only with brutal honesty that we learn to accept our mistakes and improve on them. Only when we do that can we progress on our path to be a realist.

The emphasis on brutal honesty also teaches us the most important lesson in life.

It isn’t what is right that should have more importance over truth because what is right is subjective.

It is what is true that we should place in the highest regard because only the truth is objective.

7. Accept people as facts

In his remarkable book, The laws of human nature, author Robert Greene mentions the Russian author Anton Chekhov as one of the most fiercely rational people who ever lived. 

“His family was large and poor, and his father, an alcoholic, mercilessly beat all of the children, including young Chekhov. Chekhov became a doctor and took up writing as a side career. He applied his training as a doctor to the human animal, his goal to understand what makes us so irrational, so unhappy, and so dangerous.

In his stories and plays, he found it immensely therapeutic to get inside his characters and make sense of even the worst types.

In this way, he could forgive anybody, even his father. His approach in these cases was to imagine that each person, no matter how twisted, has a reason for what they’ve become, a logic that makes sense to them. In their own way, they are striving for fulfilment, but irrationally.

By stepping back and imagining their story from the inside, Chekhov demythologized the brutes and aggressors; he cut them down to human size. They no longer elicited hatred but rather pity.”

Robert Greene, The Laws of human Nature

By the example of Chekov, we can learn to accept humans for who they are and not how we want them to be.

Looking at various humans as facts of nature, just the way we look at a plant or a tree.

We see a plant for what it is; we do not look at a plant and think it should have been larger or smaller, or look at a mango tree and complain why it does not give apples.

8. Think with first principles.

The world works on fundamental principles. These are undeniable and unbending laws of nature just like gravity.

To understand these first principles we need to boil down things to their most fundamental truths and then reason up from there.

When we start thinking with first principles we see our surroundings and recognize how it works in patterns that keep repeating.

First-principles thinking helps you view the world as it works not how you wish to see it and that is perhaps the most important quality to be a realist.

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails

― William Arthur Ward

In Conclusion

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

― Lao Tzu

Once you can accept things for how they are, you can begin taking action accordingly.

This week try to meditate on the patterns of behaviours you have built.

Do not focus on the things you cannot change, accept life as a fact, and look at things as they are.

Start by exploring the eight steps above further and decide the best way you can start applying them in your life.

It is something that will not happen overnight but the more you will practice the more you will be able to see things objectively.

We urge you to explore what your callings are. Do you possess the courage to chase them?

We provide a free eBook called The perfect beginning that might help you in finding those callings.

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That is all for this week. I hope you have a good day and a good life.