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Mental Tools:

How to Trust What You Read

I recently wrote an article for Dance Magazine. While it was an honor to be published in a magazine that I used to devour as a little girl and still have dozens of copies stacked in the corner of the bedroom I grew up in back in Michigan, the process I went through to get published reminded me of a lesson I've learned through the years - just because something is in print doesn't mean you should take it as absolute truth and follow it blindly.

As I went through the editing process, many sentences were cut or altered to keep the article short and make the language accessible to a wider audience. Understandable. However, with each word deleted or replaced by another, the meaning, tone, and information behind the article changed. While some of these edits were harmless and barely noticeable, others significantly affected the intent of the article and the way it would read. It concerned me how small changes had the potential to greatly misrepresent the original ideas.

When you read with the intent of gaining knowledge for self-improvement purposes, this misinformation can be detrimental. Maybe it isn’t life-threatening or as disastrous as ruining your dance career…but it certainly has the potential to prevent you from making progress and leveling up. Plus, over time, misinformation can imprint some pretty nasty demons in your head.

I used to take everything I read in magazines and news sources at face value, as absolute truth…until I realized I was being lied to. Not necessarily maliciously or even intentionally sometimes, but a lot of what I was reading, believing, and following the advice from was either blatantly false and not based on facts or partially true but neglecting to tell the whole story and therefore giving the wrong impression.

This doesn’t mean you should be mistrustful of every source and swear off reading altogether. You just have to know how to read things so that you aren’t manipulated by false information. With so much conflicting info being thrown at us these days, it's hard to know what to trust. So, let’s run through the steps I fall back on to determine if an article is useful as a self-development tool or not:

1) Ask yourself what the actual intent of the article is.

Does the author have a stake in the battle and want to sway you to his/her side? Is the article sponsored by someone enticing you to buy their product? Is the author trying to preserve the status quo, not rock the boat, and appeal to the widest range of audience possible? Is the author just doing their job, throwing together random resources to shock-and-awe to earn a paycheck? Or, is the article meant to inform you - to arm you with knowledge and tools so you can make informed decisions about your life and grow as a person (unfortunately, very few articles have the actual intent to help you on a genuine level). Sometimes this intent can be hard to determine. It’s usually not obvious, but if you look close enough, you can find the motive.

2) Remind yourself that the whole picture most likely isn’t presented.

In scientific studies, the abstract portion tells the general idea and results of an experiment, but you have to dig into the nitty-gritty details inside the full article to see if the experiment was unbiased and the results real…otherwise, you could get a false impression. Likewise, sources that we read often present the “abstract” or abridged version of stories to appeal to our short attention span. This can be fine to an extent, but realize you may be missing some key points that would make the story richer or even change the meaning. Always keep in mind that you are most likely not getting the whole story in any given article and further research is necessary for topics that interest you.

3) Question the validity of the information in the first place.

Is the information based on science? Is it hearsay handed down from editor to editor through the years as “facts.” Is it pop culture that can be found in any copy of Glamour or Cosmo magazine? Is it “what everybody else is doing and saying…so therefore it must be true?” You’d be surprised (and probably horrified) at how many ideas pass for facts just because they’ve been around for so long…when there isn’t a shred of scientific evidence to back up the claims.

4) Then, if you do find useful bits of information, you have to apply those useful bits to your SELF.

Experiment and observe if the information actually helps you get closer to your goals. It may be scientifically true for a casual human…but is it true for you as a dancer? Factor in your unique circumstances in life (age, lifestyle, stress-levels, economic level, health, goals, etc.) and see how the information fits. Many times it is not a plug and play system, but rather one that you have to adapt to your unique needs.

Questioning the validity of what you read doesn’t mean you should turn into a full on cynical skeptic. It means you should always read with an eye towards protecting yourself. We are all on this journey together, learning and making mistakes as we go. If we reach out and learn from each other’s experiences, we have a greater potential to grow. If you pay close attention, you’ll come to find the people and resources that you trust and add to your well-being. There is a lot of information out there that can really help you achieve your peak performance state...as long as you don't blindly follow without evaluating it first.

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