Why you need to be aware of confirmation bias

Confirmation bias refers to the tendency for people to favour and cherry-pick information that confirms their existing beliefs.

For example, imagine that a person believes that men are lazier than women. Whenever this person see’s any man resting, slacking off or being lazy, they place greater importance on this ‘evidence’ that supports what they already believe. This individual might ignore or discount any time they see men working hard, being industrious or ambitious because these are examples that don’t support their existing belief.

The problem is, confirmation bias can cloud our perception, diminish our ability to make informed decisions, and create conflict and misunderstandings in our lives. We all hold confirmation bias within us, but by training our mind to overcome confirmation bias, we can see things more clearly and act more wisely. Hit play on the podcast below to learn more about how to overcome confirmation bias and get helpful tools to grow your mental strength.

Why confirmation bias holds us back

When confirmation bias occurs, you will unwittingly pay more attention to any information that supports your existing beliefs and reject information that goes against what you believe. The effect of this bias becomes stronger in the case of deeply ingrained beliefs, when we hold tightly to the need to be right, or when we have emotionally charged views. 

This can be problematic because failing to view information in an unbiased way can lead to significant misjudgements and misunderstandings.

For example, a 2013 study from Dan M. Kahan and others at Yale Law School, found that confirmation bias affects the way that people view statistics. They found that people tend to infer information from statistics that backs up their existing beliefs, even when the data supports an opposite view

That is how powerful the effect of confirmation bias can be. It can pose a serious problem when you’re trying to make a rational, fact-based decision. Once formed, our beliefs and viewpoints are remarkably persistent.

Seeing beyond our biases

Now you might be reading this and thinking, well this doesn’t really apply as much to me because I am a rational, open-minded person. I only observe the facts before coming to a decision… but unfortunately, we all have confirmation bias to some degree. 

It’s just part of how the human mind is wired. So it’s very difficult to overcome this natural tendency without deliberate effort.

However, if we are aware of confirmation bias and accept the fact that it does likely operate within us a lot of the time, THEN we can make an effort to see beyond it.

Here are three ways to do so.

1. Stay open and curious to opposing views

See if you can relax the need to be right and instead become more open and curious about opposing views. Really listen to what others have to say and why. As you do so, truly consider that you might not be correct and try seeing through the eyes of another. This can help us to view decisions and issues from multiple perspectives and come to a more objective conclusion. I love Pema Chodron’s suggestion that every time we go into a situation or conversation with opposing views, we can mentally say to ourselves, “Everything I know or think I know, might be wrong.” Then engaging from there with open-heartedness, non-judgement and curiosity.

2. Look for ways to challenge what you think

Question your assumptions and viewpoints regularly and seek out information from a range of sources. Don’t just stay in your own echo chamber and only talk to people who think and believe what you think and believe. Also, it can help to discuss your thoughts with others who have diverse views instead of only those who agree with your way of thinking or seeing things. See if you can get comfortable listening to opposing views and discussing yours in a compassionate and open way. 

3. Keep awareness around confirmation bias

Continue to be aware that confirmation bias may be affecting you and skewing your perceptions. Stay committed to remaining open minded and flexible. Remembering this as you gather information and try to make decisions can support you in keeping a more open, flexible, and unbiased mind.

This week’s mental strength practice

To become mentally stronger you need to keep an open, flexible, and non-judgmental mindset – so the ability to challenge your confirmation bias is a key skill. And that’s the invitation for practice this week. Deliberately relax your need to be right and question your own beliefs. Be open to other views. Seek out and listen to opposing views. Look for ways to challenge what you think. And make an intention to keep doing this on an ongoing basis so that you don’t get caught in rigid, unhelpful, misleading beliefs and perceptions.

I hope this is helpful for you.

Thank you for your practice. Every time you practice getting mentally stronger it’s a gift you give not only to yourself, but to all of us. As you grow in wisdom, resilience, courage and love, your presence makes an impact in the lives around you and in some small way, it ripples out into the whole world.

Increase your practice, with Headstrong

If you’re getting a lot out of these practices with me, you can take your mental strength to the next level, by joining me in Headstrong

Headstrong is my 8-week intensive mental strength program. It offers the best of everything I’ve learned in over two decades of mental strength training and teaching. The program is designed to give you rapid transformational results. As well as arm you with powerful tools and skills that will last a lifetime. This program will help you not only survive but thrive – even in tough times.

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