Wellbeing: Developing your inner ‘scout mindset’ – the self-help technique for making better decisions Leave a comment

Having a scout mindset means being open to admitting mistakes and changing direction

TYING knots, lighting fires and camping under the stars – for most kids, being part of the Scouts is an opportunity to learn basic survival and bushcraft skills.

But those lessons in resilience and resolve could still benefit us as adults today, according to Julia Galef, host of the popular Rationally Speaking podcast and author of a new book called The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t.

Galef has spent years researching the patterns behind clear thinking, speaking on the subject for TED and co-founding the Center for Applied Rationality.

She argues that adopting a ‘scout mindset’ will help us decide what’s true and help us to think and reason more successfully in everyday life.


Galef says that many of us have an in-built ‘soldier’ mindset, which means that we see the things we want to see.

This kind of limited mindset is based on emotions such as defensiveness and tribalism, and changing your mind or admitting you’re wrong is seen as a weakness or defeat.

Soldiers are driven to defend the ideas they want to believe and shut down those that challenge them. The scout, meanwhile, is the opposite.

“Scout mindset allows you to recognise when you are wrong, to seek out your blind spots, to test your assumptions and change course,” says Galef.

“It’s what prompts you to honestly ask yourself questions like ‘Was I at fault in that argument?’ or ‘Is this risk worth it?’ or ‘How would I react if someone from the other political party did the same thing?”‘

A scout goes into every situation with an inquisitive mind – surveying the territory to form a clear map of reality.

It’s with this kind of accuracy-motivated truth-seeking that Galef says we’re most likely to make the best decisions, as scouts are unbiased ‘give-it-a-goers’ who look for the hard facts – regardless of what they hope to be the case.


Galef argues that this kind of mindset is particularly helpful in this digital age, where misinformation and emotionally-charged opinions are rife.

While our brains might be naturally wired into a defensive soldier mindset, we can consciously learn skills that stop us from leaning on knee-jerk reactions that cause irrational decision making.

“We rationalise away our flaws and mistakes,” says Galef.

“We indulge in wishful thinking. We cherry-pick evidence that confirms our prejudices and supports our political tribe.

“That picture isn’t wrong, but it is missing something.

“Yes, we often rationalise away our mistakes – but we sometimes acknowledge them, too. We change our minds less often than we should, but more often than we could.

“We’re complex creatures who sometimes hide the truth from ourselves, and sometimes confront it.”

For Galef, the scout mindset is all about looking at the times we succeeded in not fooling ourselves, and what we can learn from those successes.

This, she believes, can teach us to be more enlightened, less confrontational, make better decisions and enjoy the process of learning.

Julia Galef, author of The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t


1. Realise the truth isn’t in conflict with your other goals

“Many people actively resist viewing reality accurately, because they believe that accuracy is a hindrance to their goals – that if they want to be happy, successful and influential, it’s better to view themselves and the world through a distorted lens,” says Galef.

In actual fact, she says that some of the world’s most successful people – like Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – weren’t delusional or overconfident about their companies, and had a clear mindset about the risk of failure (apparently Musk estimated a 10 per cent chance of success for both Tesla and Space X).

2. Learn tools that make it easier to see clearly

There are exercises and techniques you can practise to help you become a more rational thinker.

Galef says it’s not as simple as just asking yourself, “Am I biased?” Thought experiments and introspection techniques, which she details in her book, can help you see things clearly.

For instance, learning to recalibrate the percentage odds you put on facts – like when you say you’re “100 per cent sure” about something – can help you to better understand your confidence in your beliefs.

3. Always be open to changing your mind

Galef says this includes telling other people when you realise they’re right.

Instead of seeing ‘getting it wrong’ as a failure, changing your mind is more about updating your beliefs in line with the evidence.

4. Appreciate the emotional rewards of the scout mindset

“Facing reality with all its uncertainty and disappointments might seem bleak,” says Galef.

“But for the most part, [scouts] are calm, cheerful, playful and resolute.

“That’s because even though it may not be obvious from the outside, scout mindset is emotionally rewarding.

“It’s empowering to be able to resist the temptation to self-deceive, and to know that you can face reality even when it’s unpleasant.”

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t by Julia Galef is published by Piatkus at £14.99

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t by Julia Galef is published by Piatkus, priced £14.99

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