You Don’t Think as Well as You Think You Do – Part 2

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In a previous post, I explained that not only the Dunning-Kruger Effect, but a variety of cognitive biases keep you from thinking as well as you think you do.

As I explained there, many of these biases are downright interesting. However, all of them hack away at your ability to engage with various situations and limit the chances you will come away with an accurate analysis or the best possible plan for producing an optimum outcome.

I received enough positive responses and requests for additional information on the topic that I decided to offer a few more of the most common thinking errors concerning situations you encounter in your work and your life.

Here’s this second batch:

Premature Conclusions

It’s extremely common for the average person to reach a conclusion too soon, before enough evidence is either available or fully understood. It’s quite natural that we do this, as our brains have evolved to spot dangers before they eat us alive. After all, it’s more likely we’ll survive if we run from a saber-tooth tiger that isn’t there than if we hang around to investigate further and let a real one catch us for dinner.

But in most of the situations we encounter in today’s world, reaching a conclusion or making a judgment too soon often leads to sub-optimal decisions, which quickly accumulate into a large drain on both our productivity and our success.

That’s why it’s good idea – at a minimum – to “sleep on it” before making any important decision. It’s even better if you can take as much time as you need to thoroughly examine and understand what’s going on before you conclude, judge, or decide anything.

Overconfidence

As smart as you are, you’re probably not as smart as you think you are. That’s why some of the smartest people in any room – Nobel Prize and Fields Medal winners, for example – are nearly always willing to listen to the ideas and suggestions of others who lack such exalted credentials and accolades.

They realize, as you should, that humility is a surer and straighter pathway to success than excessive confidence.

This doesn’t mean you should distrust your knowledge, judgment, intuition, or perception. Nor does it mean you should follow the lead of everyone you happen to encounter. It simply means you should remain open to accepting valid, trustworthy information, even when it doesn’t fully align with whatever you currently think or believe.

Monte Carlo Thinking

If you flip an honest coin and it comes up heads ten times in a row, what are the odds the 11th flip will also come up heads?

That’s right: the odds are the exact same 50/50 probability that described the situation for each of the previous ten flips.

If you’re not sure about this, or you believe anything else, you’re suffering from the Monte Carlo Fallacy, which leads you to think certifiably random events might sometimes happen in streaks.

This kind of thinking is also tied in with believing that past performance heavily determines future results. Yes, a horse or an athlete on a winning streak is likely to turn in a good result next time out. But other factors – including pure luck – are also in play and, in many situations, exert far more influence than past performance.

To avoid the Monte Carlo Fallacy in your thinking, take care you don’t let patterns of past performance dictate your expectations about the future. Take them into account, by all means, but only as one factor among many.

Attribution Error

Behavior and results certainly have causes, but it’s a serious error to attribute them erroneously to just one or two factors. This mental error also crops up when we blame others entirely for our own mistakes and failures, or give ourselves full credit for our triumphs and successes.

In truth, a wide variety of factors, including both internal and external causes, are frequently at work in nearly every outcome. It’s important to recognize this complexity, and to try to understand the objective distribution of causality so we can more regularly repeat or avoid the same results in the future.

The important takeaway here is that many different errors in thinking, particularly psychological biases like these and others, are sneaky and subtle. They can creep into your conclusions, judgments, and decisions without you noticing, and can seriously degrade your ability to achieve the results you want.

You can’t inoculate yourself against psychological biases. But you can strive to remain vigilant about them, to seek out and focus primarily on objective evidence and information, and to reform your ways of thinking when you recognize any bias that may have crept in.

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