Personal Productivity

Why You Do Not Usually Make The Best Decision

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Science Decision Making
“The human understanding, when it has once adopted an opinion, draws all things else to support and agree with it.” ~ Francis Bacon

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Why You Do Not Usually Make The Best Decision

Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that makes us give much credit to the information that confirms our beliefs, while making us ignore the information that challenges our expectations. In other words, people tend to favorably filter information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of the veracity or falsehood of that information.

We want to think that our opinions are always the result of rational thought, but they are rather the result of paying too much attention, throughout our lives, to information received and interpreted in a biased manner. Confirmation bias is a phenomenon that affects your life much more than you think. You can observe it everywhere.

People trying to lose weight on a diet in which they believe, will congratulate them when the weight goes down a little and will dismiss as a simple fluctuation the days when the weight remains the same or goes up. Even after two months without losing an ounce, their brain will look for any excuse to satisfactorily explain the reason for the failure of the diet.

A football team fan will likely interpret any event in the game in favor of his team, even if the images and slow-motion replays clearly tell otherwise.

Someone who is going to write an article first looks for information that supports their line of thought and will ignore the information that is inconsistent with their beliefs.

Someone with a particular political orientation selects the publications (television, newspapers, internet, etc.) that reaffirms their position. And they will not read a newspaper from a different ideology even if it is the only one available in the bar where they are eating breakfast.

A work team that has launched a new product will celebrate with enthusiasm any sign indicating a positive evolution of the product, and will tend to think that the negative signs are due to “special circumstances”.

People prefer to be told what they already know, otherwise they feel uncomfortable. What a human being does best is interpret new information in a way that doesn’t change previous conclusions.

You do see the danger in this, right? Confirmation bias makes us completely incompetent when it comes to making decisions. Facts do not cease to exist just because we ignore them. There are thousands of cases—and you know a few of them for sure—where overconfidence in personal beliefs led to disastrous decisions.

Today, due to the information overload to which we are subjected, it is easier than ever to find the information that supports our ideas and ignore the rest. You just have to search on Google. No matter how rare your assumption is, you will find texts to confirm it.

You also have your beliefs and any dissonance with them will cause a little discomfort that you’ll want to avoid most of the time. Even if this may cost you your job, ruin your company or impair an important personal relationship.

What can you do to avoid this? Every time you try to justify facts with phrases like “this is a special case”, “it’s only an exception”, “well, the circumstances are unusual,” etc., pay much attention to the situation.

When you want to confirm a hypothesis, don’t look for arguments that support it. Do what good scientists do, seek evidence that contradict it. You have to be open to investigate any contradiction, objectively, leaning on the data.

To learn, you always have to be willing to unlearn.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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