• joe@jhanderson.biz   
    (206) 351-5607   

  • Cognitive biases come about because your brain has hard-wired shortcuts that you use continually to do basic tasks, like walking across the room (which does require making quite a few judgments). But you use your awesome metaphorical and context-switching ability to use the same shortcuts in problematic ways, making quick judgments about things that deserve more time. But that context-switching is also a fundamental part of who you are. It’s not going away.

    While you can’t eliminate your biases, you can interact with them in a different way. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfeld has a wonderful analogy for watching the mind in meditation: it’s like there’s a group of five puppies in front of you, and your job is to keep them all on a bathmat. They naturally wander off all over the place, and you gently, continually, bring them back.

    Rather than resisting or trying to outwit your biases, you can experience your biases instead as a natural activity of the mind that you observe with curiosity. “Ah, there’s my Confirmation Bias again, making me miss important information because I wasn’t expecting it.” “Oh, I see the Gambler’s Fallacy is back, telling me that the great day I had yesterday means that today will be just as great.” If you can see your mind playing these tricks—most likely not in the moment when it’s happening, but shortly afterward—you can take corrective action as soon as possible and minimize the impact.

    The starting point is curious, open-minded awareness.

    Try It: For the next week, be on the lookout for any of the following common biases. When you notice yourself using biased thinking, give yourself credit for seeing it. Then let it go and keep observing with curiosity.

    • Confirmation Bias: the inclination to give more weight to information that supports your existing opinion. Example “You may think your puppy is obedient and he’s certainly warm and cute, but how do we explain these teeth marks on the chair leg?”
    • Gambler’s Fallacy: the inclination to assume that when good things happen, more good things are sure to follow. “I just won a puppy in a raffle! I’m going out to buy twenty lottery tickets!”
    • Negativity Bias: the converse inclination to see only the problems and not the possibilities in any situation. “I hate puppies. All they do is chew up the furniture.”
    • Anchoring Effect: the inclination to weight the first things in a series more heavily than things that come later. “These other fire hydrants are OK, but that first one…amazing!”
    • The Planning Fallacy: the inclination to underestimate the amount of work required for large generalized tasks. “Mom, I’m totally grown up enough to take care of a puppy. It won’t be that much work.”

    Photo: By ManuelFD CC BY 3.0 from Wikimedia Commons