The Triumph or Tragedy of Confirmation Bias
Have you ever wanted to try something new, but your gut instinct is holding you back? This is known as confirmation bias, which is having a set of beliefs or theories that you follow without even realizing it in certain cases. We all have beliefs and theories that make up our perception of many different situations. This can either help us or hurt us- which is what John Casey discusses in the newest episode of The Motivational Intelligence Podcast, “The Triumph or Tragedy of Confirmation Bias”. John dives into what confirmation bias really means, and how it has an impact on our everyday life, such as the workplace. If we have a strong belief that a co-worker or even our boss is unintelligent, we will look for examples to support that claim, no matter what. It works the same way with having a belief that someone is educated as well. Once we make the decision to belief something about someone, our mind is essentially made up and we will always be looking for evidence to support that. This is a huge part of why we make the decisions we make and why we believe the things we do. The interesting part about it is that just because we have an initial thought or belief, that doesn’t mean we have to stick with that. We will often find ourselves stuck in the same tired routine if we continue to try to confirm a belief that is detrimental, which is why it is so important to use confirmation bias to grow, not hold us back from looking at things differently. Interested in hearing more? Tune in to this week’s episode of The Motivational Intelligence Podcast, “The Triumph or Tragedy of Confirmation Bias”. Also, check us out on social media and let us know what you think!
The Triumph or Tragedy of Confirmation Bias
Hi everyone. This is John Casey. Welcome to another two logical podcast. Well, the title of this podcast is “The Triumph or Tragedy of Confirmation Bias.” I know, sounds kind of exciting, but it’s a really important topic. It’s kind of a psychological topic. I want to share with you first, our definition of confirmation bias.
You won’t find this in a psychology textbook or a dictionary. Confirmation bias is something that everyone seems to fall into at many times during their lives and during the day. In this definition, I’m going to use two absolutes. We always caution people about using absolute absolutes.
So, there are few occasions where “always” or “never” applies. I’m giving you the disclaimer ahead of time that I’m going to use two absolutes in this definition, regarding confirmation bias. So here it goes, “everyone and always,” and those are your two absolutes. So, here’s the definition: Everyone always looks for examples that support what they believe and they discount examples that don’t.
So what that means is, unconsciously people are always looking to confirm what they think and believe, and they’re unconsciously tuned to find specific examples that confirm their beliefs about themselves, about a potential, about possibility, and about mistakes.
There’s so many things that we actually use confirmation bias for. Remember that definition; “Everyone always looks for examples that support what they believe and they discount examples that don’t.” So here’s a couple of examples. I fly around the world a lot and I hear something quite frequently in airports.
And it’s usually when there’s weather or there’s difficulty traveling. I hear people say in airports frequently, “My flights are always late.”
Now I’m thinking, you know, statistically that’s not valid. On average, maybe 20 – 23% of flights are delayed or canceled or late. It’s certainly not 100%, but somebody that believes that their flights are always delayed or late. Here’s what happens. Every time a flight lands early or on time, they get off the plane and they go on their merry way. They don’t tell anybody about what just happened, everything went smoothly. But when a flight is delayed or late, or they miss connection or lost luggage or whatever, they tell everybody.
They not only tell the most recent example; they bring up the old examples too. So, they forget about anything that doesn’t match their belief, and then they tell and retell all the examples that do. So eventually that 20 to 23% of flights that are late or delayed become the 100% and it’s flawed.
It’s not fact based. It’s not the truth. But that person that says it and has all those examples of it, will believe it, and they will not change those beliefs very fast. So, here’s another example. I’ll use a professional example about our boss at work now. If someone thinks that their boss is clueless or that their boss is an idiot, it doesn’t even matter if the boss is or not.
Here’s what that employee will do,. That employee will watch their boss make decisions very carefully, say over the course of one week, an employee is watching their boss who they think is an idiot make business decisions throughout the work week. Now, in that week, that boss makes 10 business decisions.
Nine of them are spot on because they’re actually a good boss and they’re experienced. But one of the decisions they make because they’re trying to be creative or innovative is a mistake. So one out of 10 is a mistake. But if an employee believes their bosses clueless or an idiot. They will only grab onto the examples that support that. So they will only remember the example of the bad decision, the bad business choice. And by the way, you know, for you bosses listening in, you probably already realize you are one of the primary topics of conversation at other people’s dinner tables.
And that’s what employees often do, they talk about their boss and their job and their company at the dinner table at home, and they often are using confirmation bias one way or another.
And by the way, if you love your boss, if you think your boss is great, you will look for and collect examples that support that. You can see how confirmation bias can work, positively or negatively. And you know, that boss example, you could just swap out boss and have sibling or spouse replaced….
If we have a dominant belief about another person, we will continually look for and collect examples that support what we believe about that person. And it certainly probably won’t be the whole picture of that individual. So, here’s what we know about confirmation bias through thought or example, repetition.
We form beliefs about certain things. And we can actually shift facts or detach ourselves from the truth or have the truth overwritten. And we can certainly use confirmation bias to make someone appear not as they really are and not on the same page as others.
Let’s go back to some fundamentals, that many of you who are familiar with 2logical, already know and understand. I want to do a review. Our success formula to really delve into this topic of confirmation bias. So, we all know that our results are a direct byproduct of our actions.
If we take the right actions, we get the right results, and if we take the wrong actions, we get the wrong results. So, through cause and effect, our results come from the actions that we choose to take. And most people understand that and it’s black and white and straight forward.
However, what causes our actions? What causes people to take the actions that they take to take this one in and avoid that one. And what we all know causes our actions is our dominant thoughts and beliefs. Because everyone behaves in congruent AC, with their dominant thoughts and beliefs, their mindset, their attitude.
Frankly, no one ever adopts a new idea, skills, strategy, or best practice until something happens at their mindset attitude.
First, they have to think of the new ideas. Skills, best practice or idea is a good one that’s in their best interest. And they actually have to believe that they’re capable of, of, of executing that new ideas, skills, strategy, or best practice.
Everything starts in the inner world. Everything starts at the thoughts and beliefs level in what dominates there causes our actions, which of course, cause our results. It’s those three boxes on top of each other, as many of you know, the success model. Our dominant thoughts and beliefs drive our behavior, drive our actions.
Now if some of you want to know the difference between a “thought” and a “belief”, a thought is an immature belief that hasn’t taken root yet, but it will with repetition.
And back to some psychology stuff, we have on average about 60,000 thoughts a day. And for adults, about 90% of our thoughts are repeated thoughts.
It’s thoughts we’ve had before, only 10% of our thoughts, but that’s still 6,000, are new thoughts, new daily thoughts.
But over 50,000 are the same ones. And it’s those repeated thoughts that actually become beliefs. And our beliefs are through spaced repetition, rooted pretty strongly, and we’ve collected on our journey many, many examples that support our dominant beliefs, and we continually unconsciously look for those examples for good.
Another example is, if we’re in a good mood we’re just continually looking for examples and people and memories that will support that good mood and continue it. But the same is true for a bad mood. Confirmation bias can be self-perpetuating, and we can form habits. When we’re in certain circumstances or with certain people, we queued up some of those examples that confirm what we think about the person or the topic. Since confirmation bias is essentially a neutral concept, I guess the key is using it for triumph as much as possible.
You know, if we believe in ourselves, if we believe that we have the potential to get better week over week and continually remind ourselves of those examples, that’s a really good thing. And it’s the truth too, because everybody can be better week over week. Confirming that first cornerstone of wisdom that we all have, “unlimited potential is so important.”
Confirming the fact that we have learned more from our mistakes than our successes in our journey. And mistakes are okay, as long as we don’t repeat them. That’s how we learn. And if you think about it, everything we’re really good at, we’ve built on a trial and error. Having the proper confirmation bias about how to look at mistakes is so important.
You know, every strength we now have was once a weakness. So, in other words, everything we’re good at doing now, we once were awkward and clumsy and cumbersome with. So, in other words, we’re really good at turning weaknesses into strengths because the hundreds or thousands of strengths that we now have all started out as weaknesses.
So we’re really good at change. We’re really good at adopting a new things, turning weaknesses into strengths. Let’s use confirmation bias to continually reinforce that. Every time we’ve probably had a difficult situation, a tough deadline or a difficult project or working maybe even with difficult people, it’s probably stretched our grownups.
So why not confirm those examples? You know, we’ve all developed new skills and set and accomplished goals. Why can’t we confirm those things? We have many examples of those. Let’s use confirmation bias for positive, for triumph, for growth. And how about this? Looking. For the best in others.
And if you do, you’ll find it. Cause confirmation bias kind of means that, “whatever we believe and look for, we’ll find.” But sadly, many use the concept of confirmation bias for tragedy to bring themselves down. To become more negative. You know, we’re all flawed humans and we’ve all made mistakes and maybe hurt people’s feelings and dumb things that we shouldn’t have done or regret. But if we allow those examples to dominate and always come to the surface, we’re not going to think the best of ourselves or think the truth about ourselves.
You know? If we think that, “we’re not very good at certain things and we give up easily.” We have many examples that support that we’re going to be less resilient in the future. If that’s how we use confirmation bias, “that things are easier for others. I have difficulty and there’s all these things I can’t do.”
If we’re continually confirming those things, we will use confirmation bias as a tragedy to shrink ourselves to be less than we have the capable of being.
And, you know, a lot of people use confirmation bias and they come to the conclusion that success is born to a chosen select few, and I’m not one of them.
And that’s not the case. That’s not the truth. You know, understanding that this powerful unconscious concept of confirmation bias, always using and seeking and reminding ourselves of examples that support our dominant beliefs. It can be used to elevate us or to tear us down.
So, you know, it’s so difficult to keep our awareness as high as we possibly can throughout the day because there are so many things competing for our attention. So really, the first important lesson, I think about confirmation bias is to keep our awareness high and to understand what is going on throughout our day regarding confirmation bias. Especially on the negative side. Am I using it to put myself or others down? You know, another great reflection example is to assess, uh, the, the areas of your life that are going really well, assess the great relationships that you have personally and professionally and then reflect are, are, are you actually using.
Confirmation bias, wonderful examples that support those optimal beliefs. Though those great relationships, those areas of your life that are working well, are you actually using confirmation bias examples to support those optimal, wonderful beliefs? And you could also use or reflect on the relationships that you might be struggling with.
Or the areas of your life that aren’t going very well? Are you somehow using a negative examples, using confirmation bias? The tragic way to not see the complete picture of what’s going on. Because of confirmation bias, because of the unconscious commonality for humans to seek out and remind themselves of examples that support what they believe.
In the end, you will find exactly what you seek. I guess the key is just seek!
Well, thank you for your time. Again, this is John Casey from 2logical, talking a little bit about the triumph and tragedy of confirmation bias. Thanks for your time today.
*Transcription was edited for clarity
The Triumph or Tragedy of Confirmation Bias-: Show notes
1:09- What is the definition of confirmation bias?
3:42- We make the decision to look at things a certain way..
4:51- How this happens in workplace situations
6:30- It is all formed around repetition…
8:45- Everything starts at our thoughts and beliefs
11:02- What is the key to using confirmation bias?
12:55- We should confirm what helps us grow
14:23- How we should look at ourselves
16:07- Reflection & conclusion