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5 Cognitive Biases That Have Kept You From Achieving Full Potential

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We like to think of ourselves as smart, rational, logical people who make good decisions. But in reality, we sometimes have poor judgment and make really bad choices. Every day, we have cognitive biases that influence our thinking. Why should we care? These biases have a major influence on the decision making process.

We have hundreds of cognitive biases, and some keep us from achieving our full potential. Psychologists have been researching them for decades. Here are some of the biases that could be holding you back:

1. The Current Moment Bias

This bias feeds the immediate gratification effect. We would much rather have pleasure now and save pain for later. If you have ever indulged in unhealthy food choices while trying hard to lose weight, or tend to overspend money instead of saving for the future, you have been victim of the current moment bias.

What to do:

  • When you want to make a big purchase, wait for a predetermined amount of time before you purchase the item. This will help you avoid splurging on things you don’t love. For example, plan to wait one week for purchases that amount to $100 and one month for purchases $1000 or more.
  • Plan healthy meals ahead of time so you are less likely to chow down on junk food when you walk in the door from work. Decide in advance what you’ll order at restaurants to avoid making unhealthy spur-of-the-moment dinner choices.

2. The Confirmation Bias

The confirmation bias, according to Science Daily, is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms your preconceptions. This can hold you back from achieving full potential, because being closed-minded can limit your ability to learn, grow, and improve yourself and your life.

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What to do:

  • Be open to other points of view and new possibilities. Be aware that you have certain beliefs, and be willing to evaluate your belief systems objectively.

3. The Framing Effect

Framing information, either positively or negatively, can have a huge impact on how it is received.

Here’s an example of the framing effect in an article by Sam McRoberts:

  • Doctor A: “With proper treatment, you have an 80 percent chance of a full recovery.”
  • Doctor B: “There’s a 20 percent chance that you’ll die after being treated for this illness.”

Although Doctors A and B are providing the same information, they are presenting it differently, which can greatly affect patients’ perceptions. An 80 percent change of recovery sounds much better than a 20 percent chance of dying.

How does this hold you back? When information is presented to you either positively or negatively, it can cause you to make poor decisions.

What to do:

  • Be aware of how information is presented to you in order to persuade you to take a certain action.
  • Look at both sides of statistics. For example, if you are told “this meat is 90% lean,” be aware that it is the same as hearing “this beef is 10% fat.”
  • Consider how you present information to others.

4. The Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect is when we follow the actions or beliefs of a large group of people. According to Dr. Mohammed Ali N M, we do this either because we desire to conform, or because we receive our information from others. The bandwagon effect can hold us back at times when we follow trends and fads without doing our research.

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What to do:

  • Put careful thought into your decisions, and don’t jump into something just because “everyone else” tells you to.

5. The Projection Bias

The projection bias describes our assumption that other people think like we do. We tend to overestimate how common our thoughts and beliefs are. We assume that our way of thinking about things is common among the majority. This can hold us back significantly in life because it causes us to believe we know exactly what people want. We tend to assume we know the priorities, motivations, attitudes, and beliefs of others, when in reality we don’t. This can affect us negatively in relationships in our personal lives and in our careers.

What to do:

  • Make a point of asking people questions instead of assuming they think like you do.

Simply being aware of these biases can help you live a better life. Each day, we make thousands of decisions, and realizing the biases that affect your judgment can help you make better informed, well-thought decisions.

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Featured photo credit: The Thinker / Dan McKay via flickr.com

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