About this time last year, I bought a new car that has sensors on the mirrors that warn me when someone travels into my blind spot. It took me a while to get used to the new technology, as it always does, but once I learned to rely on the flashing warning lights, I started to wonder how I had driven so many decades without this helps.
It occurred to me that I could improve my decision-making if I could install the psychological equivalent to these flashing lights that would warn me when I was about to make a decision based on my unconscious biases. In the past, when I have allowed what I call “the inner chatter” to distract me, I have rued the outcome.
For instance, in spite of CDC warnings to stay off planes, I decided to travel shortly before Thanksgiving. I felt safe and returned home well. That tempted me to buy a ticket for the first week in December, telling myself I had been safe before, so I would be next time. This exemplifies “outcome bias” at its best.
When I saw the number of COVID cases climb, I forced myself to examine my decision-making and ask myself whether I had made travel plans simply because I wanted to or because I truly believed it was safe to travel. Like the warning lights on my car, I saw the answer clearly: evaluating a decision solely based on its outcome tempts us to value the decision, even though it wasn’t the right one.
What did this experience teach me? When the stakes are high and the decision important, we should drag out our biases, beliefs, and blind spots and do these ten things.Not a fan of New Year’s resolutions? Make an exception in 2021. Try overcoming unconscious bias that insists on influencing decisions with these 10 tips: Click To Tweet
Ten Tips For Overcoming Unconscious Bias
1. Kill sacred cows. Just because you’ve always believed something, it doesn’t mean you have to continue to believe it. Identify core beliefs about things that are important to you. How did you develop this frame of reference? Does it still make sense to believe this? If you didn’t already believe this, would you now start to?
2. Reduce cognitive dissonance. People don’t like to act in one way and think in another. Once people begin to think in new ways, they will want their actions to reflect that thinking. Ask yourself, when you’ve changed your behavior in the past, what did you do?
3. Develop new habits that will serve you in the long run. Instead of creating an uphill battle for yourself every day, design a steep downhill slope and give yourself a push. Remove friction from the trail, and scatter around many signs to let you know you’re succeeding. Silence the negative inner chatter that tells you you won’t succeed.
4. Have trusted advisors in your life who will give you honest feedback but eschew unsolicited feedback or criticism.
5. When necessary, seek an outsider’s perspective that gives you a new or different slant. Pay for the expert’s opinion, and then allow it to influence your decision.
6. Identify blind spots. Ask yourself where these have been in the past and the origin of them.
7. Examine past decisions for their quality, not their outcome. Given a chance, would it make sense to make this same decision again?
8. Make sure you seek and hear disconfirming evidence. Remove yourself from situations that involve confirmation bias. Read another point of view; listen to a different program; try to understand another’s frame of reference. Avoid “WYSIATI” (What You See Is All There Is).
Like highly trained Secret Service agents who scan crowds for threats, train your eyes to see and ears to hear all relevant information. Know what you’re looking for and train your eyes to see it—recognize threats and opportunities. Think about the full context of the situation without overemphasizing one focal event.
9. Frame the decision. Put the decision into one sentence that does not imply a solution and separate “wants” from “must-haves.”
10. Slow down. Give yourself time to hear differing points of view. Educate yourself and avoid impulse buying of ideas.
I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I will make an exception this year. I will try to reduce the number of unconscious biases that insist on influencing my decisions.
I wish the same for you. Happy 2021.