Mind Hacks: 4 Cognitive Biases You Can Use To Your Advantage
Your reality is different from my reality. You process the world differently than I do. There is no “correct” reality …it’s just that they are different. The realities of some people help them win, whereas for many others, their realities are like a logjam between them and their dreams. Some of these realities are what we call “cognitive biases.”
Cognitive bias is a way of processing information that agrees with our self-constructed social reality. In other words, cognitive bias is a short cut to interpretation that neglects the objective reality of a situation. The cognitive biases sometimes lead to irrationality – like, perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment or illogical interpretation. For example, people perceive a smiling face as a friendly face, regardless of what lies behind that smiling face.
We develop cognitive biases for a variety of reasons – our upbringing, our parents’ attitudes, our mental limitations, social influence, and our emotional and moral motivations. Some biases put limitations around what we can accomplish, whereas others help us in getting what we want.
Extremely confident people are cognitively biased towards their strengths and weaknesses. But, they are not victims of their biases because those biases work to their advantage in careers and social situations. On the other hand, a reserved, shy person downplays his/her strengths and misses out on life’s many pleasures.
Robert Kiyosaki, in his book Rich dad poor dad, illustrated this concept long ago. The children of rich people think about money and life differently than the children of not so well-off people. And the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer.
It does make logical sense to believe that we can change our lives if we can re-configure our cognitive biases to fit the world we live in. Many principles of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) revolve around modifying cognitive biases. Let's deconstruct four common cognitive biases and see if there is something we can do about them.
1. The halo effect
If it looks good, it must be good. Our overall impression of someone or something influences our feelings and emotions towards that person or that thing. For example, many people go crazy over any new product Apple brings to the market – because, people see “halo” above Steve Jobs’ head or above Apple’s logo. People see that halo because of their prior experiences with Apple products. If you see someone riding a motorcycle, you quickly assign a few attributes to that person — like wild, interesting, fun. We form an overall impression of a person based on a few traits, and that affects the way we feel about and behave with them. This also happens to be the favorite device of psychopaths.
How can we make the halo effect work for us?
It, therefore, stands to reason that if you can create a halo of good things over your head, people will perceive you favorably. That’s the very essence of marketing and branding. You are a brand, and it is up to you to come across in a way that people accept you – whether it’s for a job or a romantic relationship. Your clothes, appearance, body language, voice, and manners – they all work together to create the halo that others see. Use it well to make a good first impression, and an overall reputation. Your reputation will travel fast and open many doors for you. However, don’t abuse it to manipulate others.
2. Self-serving bias
It refers to our tendency to take personal credit for successes, while blaming outside factors for failures. If you did well in an interview, it was because you are a smart, capable person. If you failed the interview, it was because the interviewer asked senseless questions, or because the other candidate was lucky – but it was not because you are not smart.
This is the bias many confident and optimistic people “suffer” from. The bias serves as a shield for their self-esteem. Is the bias irrational? Maybe. Does it work for people? Most often yes. In the face of adversity, this bias keeps the optimists persevere and go on until they have it made, because they believe they have what it takes and it’s just a matter of making it click. The pessimists, on the other hand blame themselves for any bad news and end up suffering endlessly. They give up easily because they don’t believe they have the necessary ingredients to be a successful person. Also read Optimism: 5 steps to go from being a pessimist to an optimist.
How can we make the self-serving bias to work for us?
Monitor your beliefs regularly. It could be as simple as reflecting on your day for 10 minutes before going to bed. Examine your actions and the related outcomes. Don’t like certain outcome? Do you see that outcome repeatedly? Chances are that you have a belief that is making you act that way repeatedly, which produces the same undesirable outcome. Dig deeper into that beliefs and see if it needs some adjustment.
3. Attentional bias
You wanted to buy a new smartphone. You looked at the people you hang out with and noticed that many of them have iPhones. So you went ahead and got yourself an iPhone. You didn’t even bother to consider Samsung’s, or Motorola’s, or any other brand. Maybe you took a cursory look at other phones and came to a conclusion that they are not as good as iPhone. That is attentional bias – your attention was solely focused on the phone that most people you know owned, and you neglected to consider any other possibility. Our perception is influenced by our recurring thoughts. While we might like to think that we factor all alternatives into consideration, the reality is that we often overlook some options or outcomes.
This forms the basis of subliminal advertising. The ads that you see on billboards and on websites create an “impression” on your brain. If you see an ad repeatedly, you will likely purchase that brand over others, even if no one personally had recommended that brand to you.
How can we make the attentional bias work for us?
Focus only good things in your life. Expect good things to happen and you will increase the likelihood of good things happening to you. Expect that people like you and they end up will liking you.
Your thoughts become words, your words become actions, and your actions become your habits; form good ones. Align your recurring thoughts to the desired outcomes and try to be in a happy state most of the time. No doubt you will fail many times in your life, but if you are upbeat and feeling good, you are more likely to bounce back and persevere until you meet the outcome you had been working for.
4. Confirmation bias
You know what you know, and you want to know more of that which agrees with what you know. “I told you, all stock brokers are assholes, ” or, “He cheated on me. I knew it; I should have never trusted a lawyer.”
In simple words, you are biased towards confirming your existing beliefs. You prefer to accept only information that resonates with your existing beliefs, because, it is convenient and it doesn’t shake you up. For obvious reasons, it is also called myside bias. Confirmation bias has an impact on what people are receptive to and what novel things they learn. Close-minded people are severe victims of confirmation bias. Religiously and politically charged people have a high degree of confirmation bias.
How can we make the confirmation bias work for us?
Nietzsche once said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” You have to let go of your preconceived notions and be receptive to new ideas and theories. You can decide what to keep and what to discard after you have taken in the new theory and experimented with it yourself in real life.
Avoid making the mistake of assuming they are wrong because they don’t agree with you. Listen to them, understand how and why they got there, and see for yourself, if their beliefs have some truth in some shape of form. If it works for you, it will automatically get registered in your set of self-serving beliefs and will continue to serve you.
Come to think of it, we see the world through the veil of our beliefs, or biases. They are so entrenched in our way of thinking that we don’t even realize we have these biases. Wikipedia has a list of over 50 of them. On our quests to become the best we can be, it helps to understand why we do what we do, and to interpret our actions psychologically and philosophically to see if there is anything we can do about them. In most cases, there is always something we can do them.
PS. There is a cognitive bias called “IKEA effect” where people place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created. Well, that explains