Cognitive Biases & Heuristics | 12 Common Biases That Affect Our Success

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If you find yourself repeating the same mistakes you may be suffering from a faulty cognitive bias or heuristic.

Whether we like it or not, we all have our own biases that affect our thoughts and actions. Quite often these can be deeply and subconsciously programmed in order to default to them in times of stress. Knowing what biases and heuristics can be potentially at play in your decision making process will go a long way in breaking bad habits and helping you realise your potential.

What is a Heuristic?

A heuristic is a cognitive shortcut that allows us to solve problems, make judgments and drive decisions quickly. These subconscious strategies shorten time, reduce decision fatigue and allow us to move quickly between problems and processes. Heuristics are helpful in many day to day situations, but when you are looking to change habits or set new goals they can form into a cognitive bias that derails your progress.

What is a Cognitive Bias?

A cognitive bias is an error in our decision making that occurs when we process information from the world or situation around us. Much like heuristics, biases allow us to shorten our time to make decisions but they are also influenced by our experiences, beliefs and history.

Both heuristics and biases are designed to make our lives easier because our attention and focus is limited. They can be obvious and easy to spot but for some, they can be deeply ingrained from our earliest experiences in life.

12 Common Biases & Heuristics You Need To Watch Out For

Recency

Recency bias favours recent events over historical ones. A recency bias can give us the perception of greater importance to a more recent event over historical facts, arguments or figures.

Confirmation

A confirmation bias gives us the tendency to search for information and supporting facts to confirm our position or beliefs. Combining this with the sunk cost fallacy is usually displayed by people who refuse to change despite an overwhelming amount of information pointing to a contrary solution or outcome.

Groupthink

Groupthink occurs within a group of people that pride harmony or conformity over information which may lead to disagreement or disruption. You may witness this in your own or others’ friendship circles where despite having evidence to support a different outcome, the group decides in a consensus mentality to maintain its current course of action.

Loss & Risk Aversion

Loss and/or risk aversion can be described as the tendency to prefer avoiding negative outcomes or losses over positive ones. Simply put, playing in the comfort zone. We find this to be prominent in areas we are not knowledgeable in such as money.

Narrative

The narrative fallacy refers to people’s tendency to create simple yet flawed stories from a sequence of facts to make sense of the world. This helps us try to make sense of problems or situations we don’t understand or are not experienced with. The problem with a narrative fallacy is that it is based on our own limiting beliefs and experiences.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

A sunk cost fallacy refers to making decisions based on our previous investments rather than the present or future benefits. Usually coming from pride or fear we continue doing things the way we have always done them.

Hindsight

Ever heard someone say “I knew it all along”? Hindsight bias is the common tendency for people to perceive past events as having been more predictable than they actually were. Similar to a narrative fallacy, we use this to justify our position or actions.

Anchoring

This occurs when an individual’s decisions are influenced by a particular reference point. Once we set the value of an anchor the subsequent arguments we make might change from what they would have been without the anchor.

Availability

The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples of information that comes to our mind when we evaluate a specific topic or decision.

Negativity

We are naturally wired to view negative events with more weight than positive ones. With that in mind, it’s no surprise when we find ourselves constantly searching for things that might go wrong when planning a solution.

Self Serving

This comes from our need to maintain our current level of self-esteem and our perception of ourselves. Much like confirmation bias we look to make decisions that do not harm our position or standing with ourselves or others.

Overconfidence

Potentially one of the most dangerous, an overconfidence bias is caused when our perceived ability is higher than our historically documented or proven ability in a given area.

How do I overcome my own limiting biases and heuristics?

Past success and failure is a fantastic starting point when it comes to identifying our own self limiting behaviours and beliefs. Whether we intend to or not we all leave patterns.

When looking at goal setting or motivation it’s important to understand biases and heuristics, particularly when it comes to changing self limiting beliefs or venturing into uncharted territory. By setting up the right motivators and accountability tools you will be able to modify potential biases or behaviours with more suitable and sustainable options.

The positive part in all of this?

As biases and heuristics are set from our experiences, beliefs and history we have the ability to adjust, change or remove them.

Want to learn more? Here’s a 36min masterclass on goal setting and habit shaping:

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