Navigating health choices was already complex even before a global pandemic. Now, decisions like whether to send your child back to school or wear a mask in the park are compounded by vast amounts of scientific data and public recommendations. Even if you’re not a doctor or a scientist, a few simple strategies can help you root out the safest choices for you and your family. Today we share four ways to improve your health literacy from MindBodyGreen researcher Talya Miron-Shatz, Ph.D.
System 1 vs System 2
We use two decision making systems in our lives. System 1 is mostly based on emotions and immediate signals. We execute System 1 responses with little thought. This can also be called our gut reaction. System 2 on the other hand is based on rational thought using data, nuanced information, and calculations. System 2 comes into play once we slow down and really think about an issue. When it comes to health decisions, it’s important to hold out for your System 2 response to kick in. You should acknowledge immediate thoughts and feelings, but don’t let panic or fear rule your decision making.
Remove yourself from the echo chamber
It can be difficult to truly get unbiased information in our modern world. While we surround ourselves with like-minded friends, the media feeds us more of what it thinks we want to hear. This lack of nuance means we can get trapped in the confirmation bias trope, where we assume that our first thoughts on an issue are true. Diversify your perspective by visiting a variety of media sources and take the time to read primary sources, not just others’ interpretations of them.
Seek out clarification
It’s okay to admit that you do not fully understand something. Doctors spend years training to understand and interpret medical information, so it’s normal for the everyday person to have some questions. Ask your doctor for more information or seek out credible, peer-reviewed medical information to do some personal research.
Use best judgment and acknowledge uncertainty
Life is not black and white. We live in gray areas and the medical field is no exception. Make what you determine to be the more responsible decision with the information you have collected, but remember that even our best-informed decisions will have some degree of uncertainty. The best we can do is to proceed with an open mind and reassess when presented with new facts.