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Cognitive Biases

Take a good look at your cognitive biases

“Oh, the irony. Cognitive Biases prevent us from understanding cognitive biases.” – Eric Barker, “Barking Up the Wrong Tree”

Cognitive biases are unconscious errors in thinking that arise from problems related to memory, attention or other mental mistakes. Essentially, how do we attribute these mental experiences? As is pointed out in the initial quote, lacking the ability to reflect on oneself perpetuates the cognitive biases. 

The list of cognitive biases of very long and growing. Below is a small selection for illustrative purposes:

  • Actor-Observer: tendency to attribute one’s own actions to external causes while attributing other people’s behaviours to internal causes.
  • Anchoring: relying too heavily on the first piece of information presented
  • Attentional bias: paying attention to some facts while ignoring others
  • Availability heuristic: attributing undue weight to new external information when forming an opinion
  • Confirmation bias: favouring information that supports an existing belief
  • False consensus effect: overestimating how much others agree with you
  • Functional fixedness: the inability to realize that something known to have a particular use may also be used to perform other functions
  • Halo effect: our overall impression of a person influences how we feel and think about his or her character.
  • Misinformation effect: the interference of information acquired after an even upon the event itself
  • Optimism bias: the belief that oneself is more likely to succeed than one’s peers
  • Self-serving bias: All bad things are attributed to external influences while all good things are attributed to intrinsic ones

There are lists with over 50 biases, and many can be broken down into further ones. The bottom line is that biases are imbalances and they prevent us from discovering our authenticity and thus preventing us from pursuing our true purpose. Taking action to truly reflect on oneself we can start to observe these biases within ourselves

Cognitive biases come from our conditionings through society, religion, community, parents, etc, and are reinforced by own experiences. Questioning these is a challenge, but many times we come upon experiences where we are given little choice and that awakening is an opportunity to start the healing process.

To some degree, we all have these biases so now that we have that level of awareness, we have this opportunity to start reflecting on ourselves. Some good places to start looking are:

  • Triggers: what triggers you? Our triggers are all about ourselves and not what or who triggers us.
  • Judgement: by definition, any opinion about anything is us exercising judgement. Observing where we have particular strong opinions/judgement can help in the process
  • Perception: how do we perceive our experiences? Where do our biases fall?
  • Fear: any low frequency emotion that comes up through trigger is based in some level of fear. Explore these fears and we can discover cognitive biases within ourselves

Once we discover our biases we can initiate practices to remove them:

  • Observing our experiences allows us to become aware of when we activate our biases, and can then course correct
  • Broaden our range of experiences and influences, move out of the echo chambers and expose ourselves to information contrasting our own views and opinions.
  • Starts surrounding ourselves with a broader mix of people from all walks of life.
  • Start question everything!

These are simply some broad actions and by no means and exhaustive list of practices. However, they provide starting points to discover our cognitive biases. When we do this we open up new vistas of flavour to enrichen our lives.

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