If I asked you whether you were biased, you’d immediately say ‘No!’.
You might say you’re biased against racism or violence, but they don’t really count, do they?
The fact is, we’re not fully aware of how our brains work. Our brains process 11 million bits of information every second. But we can consciously process only 16 to 40 bits. That means we aren’t fully aware of 99.99% of the things we see and hear.
And that’s not surprising. If you had to fully review every piece of information you see, you’d never get out the front door in the morning.
But it means that almost everything you do and think is just based on preconceived notions, things that are tucked away in your brain. And that means you and I aren’t aware of our biases.
We’re especially prey to confirmation bias, where we look for things that support our beliefs. If you think you’re a failure or indecisive, you’ll filter information that supports that view. We reject anything that suggests the opposite. When that happens, you need to ask yourself, is this really true, or is it just my brain agreeing with what it’s used to thinking?
Then there’s the status quo bias. We’re happier staying where we are, rather than moving forward into the unknown. It’s the same as loss aversion, where we hate to lose what we’ve got now rather than win a better future.
The well travelled road effect is where we over-estimate the time it will take get to less familiar places, while doing the reverse for routes we know.
Think now about the challenge of making the change. The planning fallacy is where we underestimate how long it will take us to achieve something. And when we find it takes much longer, we give up. It’s important to recognise that achieving something of value can take time, and stick with it. Don’t give up half way through!
Self handicapping is where we avoid risking our self esteem by not taking action. It prevents us from losing face. If you think you might fail to achieve change, you might put blocks in the way, for example through procrastinating.
Gosh, that’s a lot of negative possibilities! There are countervailing biases, ones that lead to over-confidence. As he walked around the line of troops who were diving for cover, the US Civil War General John Sedgwick remonstrated with them: ‘They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance’. At that point a sharpshooter’s bullet hit him in the head, killing him instantly.
But this book is mostly about plucking up the courage to take action, rather than ducking for cover.
Now fill out the table below. It will help you overcome any hidden biases.
You can download a fillable Word document here: Bias quiz.
|Type of bias||Solution||Does this apply to you? If so, how? How will you overcome it?|
|Confirmation bias, looking for things that support our sometimes negative beliefs.||Try to see the world as it is, rather than how you would like it to be.|
|Status quo bias. Are you happier staying where you are, rather than moving forward into the unknown?||Embrace the future. It will challenge you, but also liberate you.|
|Loss aversion. Would you hate to lose what you’ve got now rather than win a better future?||Accept that your new life will be different and better, and that it may involve the loss of what you’re familiar with.|
|The well-travelled road effect. Do you over-estimate how long it will take you to achieve your change?||The longest journey starts with the smallest first step.|
|Planning fallacy. By contrast, are you likely to give up half way through your change project, when you find it takes longer than you expected!||Don’t give up!|
|Self-handicapping is where we avoid risking our self-esteem by not taking action. It prevents us from losing face. If you think you might fail to achieve change, you might put blocks in the way, for example through procrastinating.||Self-destructive behaviour will hold you back. Accept that partial failure affects us all. It is a learning experience.|
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