Questioning Norms And Critical Thinking
At our recent Kultured Wellness staff retreat we were able to sit down and really evaluate our values and our goals. These values guide how we practice, how we serve our clients and how we work as a team.
One of the values at the top of our list was questioning norms and critical thinking. This has been so important to me throughout my life, but especially since starting on the long road of healing. I really wanted to share this with you as it is a key underpinning of both my personal and professional life.
I always ask myself, how can I serve the community best without really asking myself the hard questions? The same applies to you in your life. When you hear something, see it on the internet or watch it on TV. Ask yourself:
- This is common but is it normal?
- This is general knowledge but is it right?
- Are we doing this the best way possible?
- What don’t I know about this topic? Where are the gaps?
- Can I believe everything I hear, see and read?
This isn’t just a value for the Kultured Wellness team; this is a way of being for us and everyone who wants to take back some control of their health and wellness. We know that low health literacy, a poor understanding of the contributors to health and wellness, leads to poor health outcomes. I want YOU to have the skills to question and evaluate. To be independent, critical, take control and really harness that desire for accurate knowledge. This is how you become informed, empowered, and a thought leader in your community.
So let’s dive in…how do you learn to ask the hard questions and question the status quo?
What happens if we believe everything we are told? The life we build for ourselves is dependent on our ability to critically think and question norms. Believe all you are told, and half of your life will work out just fine. While the other half…well…you’re at the mercy of other people’s biases, values, beliefs and possibly, misinformation.
Have a think about some knowledge leaders in our society that have previously been unchallenged in the information they provide. Do you believe the Heart Foundation tick is of value? Who funds the Heart foundation tick? Do you believe that the dieticians association is independent in its dietary recommendations based on its level of food industry funding? Commercial interests, financial stakes, and even general foolishness can all drive the quality of information you are exposed to. Historically, saturated fat was bad, low fat was good, eggs were bad, the bar keeps shifting, so ask yourself where your bar sits. I want you to look at the status quo, look at the predominant beliefs around you, and then pull them apart, evaluate it, and reassemble it in a way that works for you.
Here are some aspects of good practice for questioning the information you are given:
- Be Motivated Getting up off your bum and checking out information for yourself (self-directed)
- Make Time Ensuring your set aside the time to actually investigate and clarify what you are being told (self-disciplined)
- Be honest and open Are you being honest about the truth of information as it applies to you eg. What does the evidence say about gluten? Just a little now and then? Or truthfully, never really a good thing (self-monitored and self-corrective thinking)
Once you have your mindset right, to be an inquisitive participant in this age of information, you will need a way to assess what you are hearing or reading. One great way to evaluate the value of what you are hearing is to ask yourself about the actual information.
What is the purpose of this information? To guide us in our health choices, or to promote a personal agenda?
What is the impact of this? Finding out that raw honey is better for blood sugar control will have a very different impact on someone with a candida overgrowth than someone with a robust microbiome. So what is the impact of this information for you?
What assumptions are being made? Are we assuming that a diet high in roots and tubers is appropriate for everyone as it is for certain African populations? Every piece of information that you come across will have made assumptions. Question those. Ask if these assumptions make the information invalid, or if it still applies to you.
What bias is involved? This one is tricky, because it’s not just author bias, it’s also your own (no really, bacon and wine are still OK – because I love those). Real critical thinking involves thinking and re-evaluating your own perceptions and bias’, not just those of the people telling you stuff. But yes, bias is a huge problem in all aspects of research. This is why we value double-blinded controlled randomised trials. It aims to reduce all bias by taking away variable factors and ‘blinding’ both researchers and participants to the treatment or therapy being tested. It is very difficult to seek information without your own bias having a say.
What is the quality of the information? Is the information clearly written, in-depth, supported, logical and considerate of all possible outcomes? Or is it one-sided, poorly constructed information? Is it fact or opinion? Do they have evidence to support their claims?
- Find reputable ‘go to’ people: Within the health and wellness industry you will find people who provide quality, cutting edge, well formulated, evidenced information. Once you know who to trust, you can follow their example of questioning and critical thinking
- Talk to friends and get a debate going: This is a great way to really stimulate some critical thinking and challenge each other to reassess your beliefs and views
- Find your own voice: Do not be afraid to arrive at your own conclusions; do not be afraid if they are different to the norm. These are the ideas and practices that will shape our future. Believe in yourself, but back yourself with the right information.
Clues that what you’re reading is rubbish
- Attention-grabbing headlines
- Selling you something / laden with sales links
- No resources provided
- Uses language full of judgement and dogma
- Research that is not independent eg. undertaken by pharmaceutical companies. A systematic review of industry sponsored research has shown it has a higher likelihood to have favourable outcomes for their own products
- References and resources provided
- Takes a view that you need to make your own assessment of value on this information
- Discusses both points of view in a debate
- Is focused on the individual
- Not afraid of feedback and debate
Now that you’ve found your go-to resources for quality information, the job of questioning this information, as it applies to you, can begin.
For example, in the recent (and highly contentious) “What the Health’ vegan documentary – they claim that eating one egg increases your risk of cancer as much as smoking 5 cigarettes.
Here are some questions for you:
- Do you believe this? If so why?
- Is it credible because it’s in a large budget documentary?
- If it is true, is it relevant to you and what does it mean?
Here are some reasons why you may have believed this…
- Historical dogma around cholesterol
- Fancy imagery of cigarettes toppling onto a plate of eggs in the documentary
- An assumption that there is evidence to support this
The truth is that the documentary makers did not provide evidence for this claim; however, if you look into it yourself, you will find a large body of evidence supporting the health benefits of egg consumption. Have a look at how Dave Asprey has compiled his ‘What the Health’ responses. This is a great example of critical analysis.
Another example would be around questioning and being critical even when the information fits on with your life preferences. The most classic example of this would be the premise that bacon, eggs and sausages are low carbohydrate foods and therefore ideal for a ketogenic diet. Well, I know it would be amazing if that were true. Indeed, you see plates full of sulfite laden, protein overkill meals all over Insta and Facebook. And you want it to be true…we all do. The truth is, that high protein, preservative-laden foods are not good for a ketogenic diet. Here is your first opportunity to go and research that one. It’s hard to question norms if you actually like them.
It can be quite natural to live an unexamined life, to not practice reflection and to not cast a critical eye over information that comes our way. This is understandable as we are social creatures, we like to belong to the group and the community. From an evolutionary sense, there is safety in following the expectations of the group. Tales and fables historically teach children to follow the rules, accept what you are told (lest you wander off, or eat a poisonous plant). However, in the modern age we are bombarded with information, misinformation and barely definable internet weirdness! Some is applicable to us and not others. We must tease through this with a sharp eye to find the behaviours and actions that suit us best. Never stop questioning, always challenge accepted beliefs and stay true to what works for you.