You are a rock in a stream bed and your thoughts are the current. As they pass over you, they become part of you, but only for a moment. The next moment, they are out of sight, beyond your concern as another one works its way toward you. So what can we do about overconfidence? Try to think about the reasons why your judgment may be wrong. In a sense, this is similar to considering alternative hypotheses. If we evaluate alternative hypotheses, and the reasons why those alternatives could be correct, we'll implicitly consider evidence contrary to our current belief or judgment, which should keep our overconfidence in check. Considering the alternatives is one of the most effective methods we have to counter many of our problematic judgment biases. Since we're often overconfident, we tend to think that our intuitive judgments are quite accurate. When we make intuitive judgments, we collect various pieces of information, evaluate the importance of the information, and then somehow combine the data in a subjective way to arrive at our decision. We like to think that these intuitive judgments are more accurate than just relying on statistical data alone because subjective assessments allow us to use our own personal expertise in the decision process. Of course, these judgments can be pretty good at times. But as you might expect, they can also result in errors and serious consequences. This is especially true when professionals make intuitive judgments that have a significant impact on our lives. Consider, for example, the college admissions decision. When we apply to college, our fate is in the hands of an admissions committee. While admission members examine hard, statistical data like a student's prior grade point average and SAT scores, they (for some schools) also place considerable importance on interviewing the prospective student. Committee members like to think they can see some intangible quality during an interview that allows them to predict whether the student will be successful in college. They then subjectively assess all the information to arrive at their own intuitive assessment of the applicant. The problem is, interviews are notoriously unreliable in predicting future success.

As psychologist Robyn Dawes points out, it's presumptuous to think that someone can learn more about a student's abilities in a half-hour interview than by examining their grade point average, which describes the student's performance over four years. In fact, personal assessments from interviews can be harmful, because they lack both reliability and validity. Dozens of studies have shown that an interviewer's assessment isn't a good indicator of an applicant's future success--and different interviewers often don't even agree with one another's assessment. Yet, many colleges employ interviews as a main ingredient in their acceptance decisions. Why do we continue to believe in the value of interviews? We think that our intuitive judgment is better than relying on statistical data. Part of the problem comes, once again, from remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. An admissions committee member is likely to remember the time he accepted a student with poor grades on a hunch, and the student went on to perform very well in school. Such a memory can only bolster one's confidence in his intuitive judgment. Unfortunately, the committee member is likely to forget the times he accepted a student on a hunch, and the student performed poorly. It's no wonder that we think we have special skills that just can't be replicated by relying on only statistical data. In addition, we think it's just not right to base major decisions on statistics alone--we think it's soulless. Many students would vehemently complain if rejected based solely on their past statistics, arguing that they need to be interviewed to uncover their true potential as a student. All of the hindrances are dealt with in the same way, and we will look at them here one by one. Let us suppose you have been distracted by some nice experience in meditation. It could be a pleasant fantasy or a thought of pride. It might be a feeling of self-esteem. It might be a thought of love or even the physical sensation of bliss that comes with the meditation experience itself. Whatever it is, what follows is the state of desire--desire to obtain whatever you have been thinking about, or desire to prolong the experience you are having. No matter what its nature, you should handle desire in the following manner.

Notice the thought or sensation as it arises. Notice the mental state of desire that accompanies it as a separate thing. Notice the exact extent or degree of that desire. Then notice how long it lasts and when it finally disappears. When you have done that, return your attention to breathing. Suppose that you have been distracted by some negative experience. It could be something you fear or some nagging worry. It might be guilt or depression or pain. Whatever the actual substance of the thought or sensation, you find yourself rejecting or repressing--trying to avoid it, resist it, or deny it. The handling here is essentially the same. Watch the arising of the thought or sensation. Notice the state of rejection that comes with it. Gauge the extent or degree of that rejection. See how long it lasts and when it fades away. Then return your attention to your breath. Lethargy comes in various grades and intensities, ranging from slight drowsiness to utter torpor. We are talking about a mental state here, not a physical one. Sleepiness or physical fatigue is something quite different and, in the Buddhist system of classification, it would be categorized as a physical feeling. Mental lethargy is closely related to aversion in that it is one of the mind's clever little ways of avoiding those issues it finds unpleasant. Lethargy is a sort of turn-off of the mental apparatus, a dulling of sensory and cognitive acuity.

It is an enforced stupidity pretending to be sleep. This can be a tough one to deal with, because its presence is directly contrary to the employment of mindfulness. Lethargy is nearly the reverse of mindfulness. Nevertheless, mindfulness is the cure for this hindrance, too, and the handling is the same. Note the state of drowsiness when it arises, and note its extent or degree. Note when it arises, how long it lasts, and when it passes away. The only thing special here is the importance of catching the phenomenon early. You have got to get it right at its conception and apply liberal doses of pure awareness right away. If you let it get a start, its growth will probably outpace your mindfulness power. When lethargy wins, the result is the sinking mind, or even sleep. States of restlessness and worry are expressions of mental agitation. Your mind keeps darting around, refusing to settle on any one thing. You may keep running over and over the same issues. But even here, an unsettled feeling is the predominant component. The mind refuses to settle anywhere. It jumps around constantly. The cure for this condition is the same basic sequence. Restlessness imparts a certain feeling to consciousness. You might call it a flavor or texture. Whatever you call it, that unsettled feeling is there as a definable characteristic.

Look for it. Once you have spotted it, note how much of it is present. Note when it arises. Watch how long it lasts, and see when it fades away. Then return your attention to the breath. Doubt has its own distinct feeling in consciousness. The Pali texts describe it very nicely. It's the feeling of a man stumbling through a desert and arriving at an unmarked crossroad. Which road should he take? There is no way to tell. So he just stands there vacillating. One of the common forms this takes in meditation is an inner dialogue something like this: "What am I doing just sitting like this? Am I really getting anything out of this at all? Oh! Sure I am. This is good for me. The book said so. No, that is crazy. This is a waste of time. No, I won't give up.