Cognitive Fallacies In Everyday Language

Cognitive Fallacies In Everyday Language

cognitive fallacies
Cognitive Fallacies

Article by Dr.L.Michael Hall and Mr Shawn Dwyer  ~
In ancient times, tribunals accused certain persons (usually women) of being “witches.” If a woman denied that she was a witch, the denial was used as proof that she was a witch. The reasoning was this, “Witches always deny that they are witches.” Conversely, if she said that she is a witch, she was burned at the stake. If she denies it, she was burned at the stake. It was a double-bind cognitive fallacy-damned if she confesses; damned if she
denies! There was no way for her to prove that she was not a witch. The accusation implied the proof.

Cognitive Fallacies and Irrational Thinking

Talk about craziness and irrational thinking-that kind of double-bind reasoning condemns a person by the very act of making an accusation. A very similar thing happens today with name-calling. You use a derogatory label to refer to someone, and the label itself presupposes the very thing that it asserts. The fascinating thing about that is that when a person argues against the label, that person subtly assumes the validity of the label.
“No I’m not stupid.” This tends to reinforce the label inasmuch as it has the structure of a command negation. “Don’t think of blue.” “Don’t question my sincerity.” “I’m not dishonest.” “I’m not a crook.” (Nixon).

Double Binds In The Mind

In these double-binds, name-calling, criticisms, etc. there is a cognitive fallacy. What is the fallacy? It lies in the fact that the person on the receiving end is being called upon to prove a negative. This kind of thing happens a lot in language. Here is another cognitive fallacy that’s incorporated into language and that is difficult to flush out because it requires some thinking things through and some critical thinking skills. I bring it up now because calling someone a racist is today American Media’s Accusation Flavor of the Month.

Unconscious Bias

I’m speaking about the cognitive fallacy within the phrase “unconscious bias,” “unconscious racism,” or any other “unconscious X.” Let’s begin by considering the two words “unconscious bias.”  If we use the NLP Meta-Model, you will notice that what we have here first are two nominalizations which have been tied together. And when they are used together in this way, the result sounds meaningful while it actually is not and does not point to anything empirical. You can tell that it is not meaningful when you start questioning it.

           What do you mean by unconscious bias (unconscious racism)?

           Who is not aware of his bias? When is he not aware of it? In what way is he not aware?

           What does he need to do to be conscious of his bias? 

Often, the person using this terminology will say, “It is just there and you can’t know that it is there, if you don’t, that’s evidence that you are unconsciously biased.” Ah, the double-bind assumption of the very thing which is being proposed!

Open Up Mental Thinking

To open up our understanding of this let’s begin by de-nominalizing the words. Underneath the false nouns (nominalizations) are verbs indicating actions or behaviors.  

Bias: an orientation, tendency, attitude, a thinking pattern.

Unconscious: not-conscious, unaware, not aware.

By turning the false-nouns back into verbs (and actions) here’s what we have: becoming aware of what we were not aware of, namely, our orientation, attitude, and thinking patterns. With this we can now ask questions that will provide more clarity of thought:

           What actions are you seeing or hearing that indicate a bias against certain persons, women, racial heritage, ethnic background, sexual preference, etc.?

Manipulative Language

Now often those who use such language do so to promote a certain agenda. It is manipulative language and they are using it to get an unfair advantage in their propaganda. So they say things like the following to prevent the
phrase from being clearly understood, “But unconscious bias is very subtle, it is hidden in social and cultural structures,” it is institutionized bias. Yet if the person shifts from an individual to talking about a group (e.g., organization, society, country), then again, we ask the Meta-Model questions to derive some clarity of meaning:

What are the practices, polices, rituals, rules, ways of operating (group behaviors) which we need to be aware of that dis-advantages some people, those of one race or another, females, etc.?

The point in using the Meta-Model is this

If you can’t identify the behavior of some concept and put it in terms of external actions and words, or internal behavior such as thinking patterns, then you are dealing with an
unsubstantiated vague concept that only exists in a person’s mind, and not in reality. It’s an ungrounded assumption. Without identifying a specific behavior, it is a muddled double-bind cognitive fallacy, in other words,
craziness and irrationality. No wonder the person cannot clarify.

To further push for clarity, ask, “How can I demonstrate that I don’t have an unconscious bias?” If the answer is, “You can’t” then that reveals you are facing someone with a belief-system which cannot be falsified. And that, of course, makes it not only unreasonable and unscientific, but a form of manipulation. The structure of the person’s argument is unanswerable which is probably what the person wants. Now he can rest confident (and arrogant) in his belief.

Experimental Awareness

Actually, there is no such thing as “unconscious bias” or “unconscious racism” apart from behaviors, words, utterances, etc. that a person-at some point in time-is unaware of. Once we make it conscious, we can fix that
bias by adopting a more sane and appropriate way of thinking. That’s what we do when we reframe a limiting understanding or belief.

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Cognitive Fallacies In Everyday Language



~ Article written by Shawn Dwyer and L. Michael Hall PhD ~

Just as a person can get out of control, so can thinking.  Thinking can get out of control.  Nor is that all that uncommon.  It may happen to you, or someone you love, at almost any time.  What triggers it?  All that’s needed is a state of fear.  Get into a state of panic and your thinking will get out of control.  So also with any intense experience of fear, anger, excitement, lust, etc.  Almost any very strong and intense emotional state will do it.  Then, instead of calmly and rationally thinking something through- we jump to conclusions, over-generalize, awfulize, catastrophize, personalize, etc.  Suddenly our thinking regresses to the cognitive distortions.

Emotional Response

When we are threatened, or in a state of fear, we commonly fall back to the thinking patterns of childhood (the cognitive distortions).  That’s because the emotional side of our thinking is prevailing rather than the rational side of our thinking.  Threat, danger, overload – these are the things that trigger the lower functions of our brain to be activated.  That’s when we go into the flight-flight-freeze response of the “general arousal syndrome.”

Then blood is withdrawn from brain and stomach and sent to the larger muscle groups preparing us for a more fundamental survival response.

No wonder we can’t effectively think and especially calmly think through an issue.  We’re definitely in the wrong state for doing that.  If you want to do your best thinking- you’ll need to reduce the sense of threat and/or danger.  You have got to step out of reacting so that you can consciously respond.

Reasonable Thinking

Now when it comes to your thinking getting out of control, you can easily recognize that state or experience.  You or another person becomes defensive and argumentative.  You begin speaking in over-generalized ways saying that things always happen, no one cares, everybody is against you, etc.   When thinking gets out of control, people stop being reasonable.  They are not only emotional, they are overly emotional.  If they were merely emotional, that would be fine and it would be healthy.  It is when we get overly emotional that we then have a problem doing our best thinking.

At that point you cannot reason with them.  They are too agitated, upset, and irritable to think anything through.  Accordingly, you cannot have a healthy disagreement.  They are quick to demonize and moralize.  The other side is not just wrong, they are bad.  Evil.  The issue is not just a different point of view, it is immoral.  Now they are thinking and talking in stereotypical ways so that they no longer treat people as individuals, but as categories.  That allows them to more easily dismiss what they say because “those people” would say that!

Now does any of this sounds like the way politicians, news commentators, and others on television and radio commonly talk?  Dahhh!  It is the way that most of them constantly talk!  So, yes, of course.  Now while I suppose it keeps the audience engaged in a similar way to how a sporting event keeps people engaged, it sets up things as a battle.  “Who’s ahead?  Who’s going to win?”  It doesn’t really help people to think better, understand a problem, or solve an actual problem.

The good news is that you can also tell when thinking is under control.

Then, when someone makes a good point, the opposing side will acknowledge it and say, “That’s a good point.”  “Fair enough, I’ll give you that.  That makes sense.”  But when was the last time you heard that from a politician?

It certainly doesn’t seem to happen very often by my count.

Anyone whose thinking gets out-of-control from time to time probably needs a cognitive make-over.  The issue is not only a matter of defusing yourself or someone else, the problem is deeper.  It goes to the meta-cognitive capacity to recognize, monitor, and regulate one’s thinking itself.  How about yourself?  Would you like a cognitive make-over?

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The Basics Give You Depth


~ Article written by Shawn Dwyer and L. Michael Hall PhD ~

During October when when completing metacoach training – I was impressed all over again about the crucial role of the coaching basics. Over and over I found myself emphasizing- listening and supporting, questioning and meta-questioning, state induction and framing and so on. Nor are these the only basics in Meta-Coaching. I found myself reminding people-

“… think representational system, which system is the client offering his information in?”

“What predicates did you just hear from your client?”

“Did you calibrate to the shift of state that your client just experienced? Did you notice the change of breathing, and flushing of the face…?”

The Basics

The basics that are taught in Modules I and II of the Meta-Coaching System are not to be learned about and then forgotten. They are there to learn and then to over-learn so that they become part and parcel of the way you think, the way you perceive, and the way you respond. They are to be deepened by continual use of them. In fact, when you regularly and consistently refresh your knowledge of these basics and over-learn them, you begin to commission them to drop out of conscious awareness so that you have them as unconsciously present all the time.

If that is not the case with you, then you probably have not sufficiently over-learned them. If you have to recall them or if someone recalls them to your awareness, you probably need to go back to the basics and refresh them.


Years ago I found myself in a “beginning level NLP” workshop at a conference. I didn’t know it was for beginners. I entered because of the trainer, I wanted to hear her. She was well known and I had never heard her present. Upon finding out it was for beginners, I immediately felt disappointed and considered leaving. But I didn’t. And I’m really, really glad that I did not. Within the first minutes when she was presenting the most basic information and definitions- I heard something about representational systems that I had never heard or thought of before.

The speaker presented it as if it was obvious and common knowledge.

Meanwhile I was writing furious trying to get it all down! For me it was wonderful- fantastic – worth the whole price of the Conference! And that changed my way of thinking about “beginning level NLP.” It blew out any assumption that “I know it all about the basics.” I realized that not only do I not know it all- but there are depths that I have not even started to
plummet. And, I can learn new things from anyone!

The basics give you depth.

So, go back to them. Read another basic book on NLP every year. Just when you think, “I know all about that” you will find- if you have an open mind and heart that there are many, many things yet to be discovered and that what you may think of as simple has layers of depths.

When you first study NLP, you study the different models.

So what happens when you deepen your knowledge of the basics- you begin to find connections between them. That’s how I happened to discover the redundancy between the Meta-Model, the Sub-Modalities (Meta-Modalities), Meta-Programs, and Meta-States. And that lead to the Four Meta-Domains of NLP.

Therefore next time you are tempted to say or to dismiss something as “It’s just the basic,” do a second take. Remind yourself that it is not “just the basics.” It’s not that simple. It is the foundation upon which the whole edifice of your work is built. And within those basics are depths that can give you insights which are not obvious, yet hidden with those basics are often leverage points of change.

Giving feedback

Recently we concluded a triad of coach, client, and meta-person. I was the person giving feedback and benchmarking. I asked the coach, did you see him look up to his right and then to the left? “Yes, but I did not know what to do with that.” “Okay,” I suggested, “watch this.” “Joe, what were you looking at when you looked up right and then left.”

“I was comparing the two choices.”

“Were you seeing something when you look here (point to his right) and then here (pointing to his left)?”

“Yes, the choices.”

“And what did those choices look like?”

“Lists. There were two lists.”

“Was there writing on them?”


“Were both black-and-white print or any words in color?”

“Oh, the right once was written in color, the left in black-and-white. That’s interesting.”

“Interesting … because …”

“Because when I see something in color, that’s my choice.”

“Is that the case here?”

“Yes … I guess so. I didn’t realize that…”

Ah, so much in the basics. By just exploring a bit about a visual access cue, much deeper insights were probed.

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Super-Charge Your Ego-Strength

Super-Charge Your Ego-Strength

Ego Strength


~ Article written by L. Michael Hall PhD and Shawn Dwyer, ACMC ~
What we call ego-strength is the strength that a person has in his or her sense of self to look reality in the face without blinking. It is the strength that enables a person to face a challenge in life or an upsetting circumstance and not cave in. With ego-strength you are able to stand up to the negative circumstances, stand up against what you might be tempted to do (give up, quit, etc.), and demonstrates an inner strength of determination, patience, persistence, and resilience. That’s what we mean by the term ego-strength. It has nothing to do with pride, arrogance, selfishness, etc.

Assertive Strength

If that’s ego-strength, do you have that kind of internal strength? How much of it do you have today? How much of it would you like to have?
Without ego-strength people react. They may passive shrink away or they may aggressively over-react with unthinking actions. Both the fight and flight responses, however, are the opposite of ego-strength. Now all of this becomes critical when it comes to knowing if your client is truly a coaching client or someone who needs therapy. Therapy is designed to heal traumas and hurts and enable one to build up a new and strong sense of self.
Coaching requires ego-strength from the start- ego-strength to be able to handle the challenges that are inherent in coaching.

Clarity about “Ego”

We are all born without any ego-strength because we are all born without a sense of ego or self. There is no “I” at first, there is enmeshment. Baby does not distinguish self from mother. For the infant, it is all one and the same. The word “ego” is Greek for “I” or “me.” Open up a version of the Greek New Testament and every time someone says, “I am…” it is the Greek word ego. Sigmund Freud designated ego as the sense of self, the “I” that deals with and relates to reality.


Normally our ego-strength grows and develops as we grow and develop as persons. It’s part of our psycho-cognitive-social development. We develop more and more of a sense of self as we face reality. As that “I” develops the ability to see and accept reality for whatever it is, without the magical thinking of wishing and confusing our wishing with reality, we have more strength to cope and master the facts and constraints before us.


Weak ego-strength means a senses of self that does not easily face, take in, or cope with life’s challenges. A weak sense fo self fights reality, hates it, and wishes it to be otherwise. Expectations are unrealistic and based on inadequate understanding. Reality seems too big, too frightening, too overwhelming … and so we avoid the encounter. Weak ego-strength means that the person doesn’t feel up to the task and so unresourceful, weak, fragile, unable to cope, etc.


Strong ego-strength describes the person who first accepts whatever is as existing, then it looks at it and explores it with a view of dealing with it, coping and mastering it. With strong ego-strength you do not personalize the things out there in the world or what others say or do. You notice and you access the necessary resources to deal with it. The strong your ego-strength grows, the more of a sense of self we develop, a sense of your skills and resources, of your ability to handle whatever comes.

Ego on the line

This use of “ego” differs from how we sometimes use the word, as when we say, “He has his ego involved” in this or that. Then we are speaking about his self-definition, his pride, and his reputation. Typically this indicates a weak ego strength and the need to boaster it up by fighting and defending and being defensive. The stronger our ego, the less our “ego” is
involved, or on the line. Strengthening our ego-strength enables us to sit our “ego” aside and to engage the world in a straightforward way.

Strengthening Our Ego-Strength

Suppose you want to strengthening your ego, what do you do? What patterns enables you to do that? What frames, beliefs, values, expectations, etc. would support you doing that? Start with the following four.


First, meta-stating yourself with acceptance. Access the state of acceptance and apply that feeling to your “self.” Think of something small and simple that you just accept. You could get yourself worked up about it, even furious and frustrated, but you have learned to just go along and accept it. The rain, the traffic, changing the baby’s diaper, taking out the garbage, etc. What is that like? Feel that and reflexively turn that feeling back onto yourself- your sense of self, life, the cards that life has dealt you, when and where you were born, your aptitudes and lack of aptitudes, etc. Acceptance is not necessarily a positive feeling. It’s not resignation or condoning, it is welcoming something into your world without any negative fanfare.

Adjusting Expectancies

Second, look at your self-expectancies and expectancies of others, the world, work, etc. and adjust them so that you have a fairly accurate map about what is, how things work, and what you can legitimately expect. What have you mapped about yourself, people, relationships, fairness, life, etc.?
Every unrealistic expectation sets us up for a cognitive and semantic jar. If it is unrealistic, then you are trying to navigate and work in a world that is an illusion and that will knock you down. This is where and why learning and developing greater understandings about things increases your ego-strength. Knowing what is, how things work, the rules and principles of people, relationships, careers, etc. gives you the ability to adjust your thinking-and-emoting which increases ego-strength. It takes the surprise and shock out of being caught up short.

Stepping into Your Power Zone

Weak and strong ego-strength is related to your sense of personal power or the lack thereof. You increase it when you accept your personal responses of thinking, emoting, speaking, and behaving, meta-state them with a frame of ownership and then by welcoming and practicing the use of your powers, step more and more into your power zone. This increase self-efficacy, activity, proactivity, etc.

Meta-Stating Flexibility

A fourth process for strengthening ego-strength is replace rigidity and closeness of mind with flexibility, willingness to accept change, and an openness to the flux and flow of life. The sense of insecurity predominates when you have a weak ego-strength. It is then that you don’t want things to change and we want things to stay the same. As you develop more personal security, you are more open to change and to adapting and to using your resources.
If you would like help with developing your inner strength, give me, Shawn a call on 0439194323

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~ Article written by L. Michael Hall PhD ~
If you and I are going to make great decisions, there’s another requirement.
Namely, making decisions that are unbiased. Yet in saying that we now have a problem. The problem is that we all are so primed and skilled in making decisions that are highly biased in our favor. We are biased to think and decide for what we want, even if it is not reasonable, rational, or ecological. In fact, this is the problem with most decisions. Whether you are trying to decide something about yourself or for yourself, or you’re part of making decisions as a family, or a business division is trying to make a decision – most decisions are highly biased. And worse than that, most of the time we’re not even aware of it.

What makes our decisions so biased?

There are many factors-

We solely use information that is available to us, that we easily remember or have access to (availability bias).

Ideas, understandings, and beliefs that already structure our lives- we are biased to confirm what we already know (the confirmation bias).

A narrative or story of your life or group (the narrative bias).

The need to justify what you’ve already said or committed to (self-justification bias).

Desire to make things as simple and easy as possible (ease bias; over-simplification bias).

The desire to want to get the results that you want (the results bias)

And on and on it goes. There are a great many (scores and scores) of biases that can intervene in your decision-making- biases that you may be completely unaware of and yet biases actually controlling our choices and preventing you from discerning differences that may be critical. Given all of these cognitive biases, how is it possible for you and me to make unbiased decisions?

The How To

The first answer is to be sure to take the time to pause, step back, reflect, and consider before deciding. Taking a meta-moment to step back gives you the ability to slow down the compulsion to make a decision simply because you are caught up in an emotional state favoring a particular decision. While emotion does and should play a key role in making solid decisions, you and I also need to avoid being railroaded into a decision solely because of intense driving emotions. Sure you want it-and that’s a good sign. But upon reflection-is it really good for you? What consequences may result from it which you have not thought about? Can you really afford it? How holistic is it when you consider family, relationships, health, etc.?

For big decisions that mean major shifts or reorganizations in our lives- we need a bigger meta-moment for reflection. For this longer-term pause, you may want to put the decision on hold for several days, a week, or even more in order to more thoroughly think through the ins-and-outs of the decision.

A second answer is to be sure to gather high quality information as you are getting ready to make a decision.

What information do you need? What information is available? Do you know how to get it? Who to ask? How to collect and arrange it so that you can use it in a highly resourceful way?
The problem here is the confirmation bias, again- you will be tempted to gather information that is supportive of the decision you want to make. We all do this. To resist that temptation, intentionally create a set of questions such as the following:

What information goes against my preference? How thoroughly have I welcomed, entertained, and considered that information?

Is there information have I not considered?

What do I not know? What do I not know that I don’t know? What potential blind spots may I be operating from?

Am I assuming certain points to be true or obvious?

This now brings up a third option in answering how to deal with your own natural biases as you make decisions. Get with someone who will play devil’s advocate with you- someone who will bring a strong healthy skepticism to your decision-making process. Find someone to talk it out with and who will ask “hard” questions to test what you are saying and/or who will help you sort out the pros and cons as well as identify the criteria you’re using as you are thinking about a decision.

Unbiased decision-making is rare and it will never be completely clean of biases, but there are ways that you can work toward reducing your bias so that you can more likely make a great decision. To your highest valued decisions and your best performance in decision-making!

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Short Term Thinking

Short Term Thinking

Thinking is in Short Supply #4 by L.Michael Hall PhD

Short Term Thinking – Another Thinking Disability

I’ve been writing about why real thinking is in short supply and the various factors that actually stop thinking. Here’s another. Regarding a central time factor that’s involved in thinking, there are two forms of thinking.
There is short term thinking and there is long-term thinking. The first comes easy and quickly for us. In that sense it is much more “natural” to think short term, yet it is also frequently a disastrous form of thinking, one that can get us into lots of trouble. Children think that way, and a good bit of parenting and teaching involves helping a child or young person to lift up his thinking horizon to look out further into the future and consider consequences of today’s thinking.

In his classic work The Fifth Discipline (1990) Peter Senge focused primarily on systemic thinking. In that work, he described six “learning disabilities” which we can also view as thinking disabilities.

Six Learning or Thinking Disabilities

1) Identification: “I am my position.”

2) Blaming: “The enemy is out there.”

3) Reactivity: Automatic reacting to words and first impressions without stopping to think.

4) Single Cause-Effect: Seeing things as static snapshots rather than a series of events.

5) Short-term thinking: Focused on the immediately and not able to fsee consequences or cycles.\

6) Pretending: Believing what you want to see, therefore optimistically saying, “All is well!” Focus on image and appearance rather than substance.

Short-Term Thinking

In short-term thinking you focus on what’s immediately in your awareness without extending your perception or vision into future time and/or space.
This makes the breadth of your vision limited so that you do not think in terms of consequences, symptoms, repercussions, etc. Today, this also happens to be the way most managers and executives operate. They focus on the short-term profits, opportunities, changes, etc. They measure things by what’s happening in this quarter. It is short-sighted and it does not really give a new process a chance to take root and grow.

One problem with short-term thinking is that it privileges tactical thinking over strategic thinking. Do that and while you may win a battle you may also do so at the expense of losing the war. Short-term thinking feeds impatience, low frustration tolerance, and a sense of demandingness (“I want what I want now!”). Short-term thinking disregards that things take time as they go through stages of development. It assumes that you can make informed decisions about processes without waiting for the process.

Organizations often declare that a program or an approach doesn’t work after one quarter, hardly giving it time to get started. Consequently, business has been plagued by “flavor of the month” programs for years, going from one fad to the next “big thing” under the illusion that the solution will be a quick fix and doesn’t have to deal with systemic factors.

Long Term Thinking

By contrast, long-term thinking requires patience, asking about what an action will lead to and what will result from that result, and so on.
Long-term thinking requires much more mental effort in seeking to understand things that are hidden from view. Some of this is consequential thinking, another higher level executive function, and one that typically doesn’t even emerge until late adolescence. Yet many adults do not use this as part of their thinking capacities. Some of this is about maturity, the willingness and the ability to wait as you take development into account.

If you have ever said, or heard someone say, “I just didn’t think that X would happen!” you have witnessed one of the consequences of short-term thinking and how it stopped you or someone else from thinking, from really thinking something through. Hence Senge described it as a thinking and a learning disability.

So long-term thinking looks for the system within which an event, experience, behavior, or program is within. “What are the systemic factors that play a role here?” With a long-term perceived, you begin to consider the language system, the cultural system, the economic system, the political system, the religious system, the family systems, and on and on. Finally, you look for the communication loops- the feedback and feed-forward loops so that you can consider how long it takes for information and activity to get around the system loops.

Gain more knowledge for critical thinking here

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