As we get older, we sometimes look back on past decisions and wonder, “What in the world was I thinking?!”
We think that at a certain age, we should finally have enough insight and experience to avoid making poor choices or bad decisions.
But that’s unfortunately not true, and there’s research to back it up.
Researchers in human behavior and psychology used to think that once we had a little life experience under our belts, that we typically made decisions based on rationality and deep thought.
In recent years, however, they’ve sought to figure out why we still make decisions that make no sense — that are emotional or impulsive.
And they’ve come up with a few standard pitfalls that our brains just can’t seem to avoid in our decision-making process.
So, what are they, and how does knowing about them help us to make better decisions?
Author Jim Clear tries to “clear” it up for us in a recent article on the subject.
We all hold on to several biases, whether we think we do or not. One of them is called “Survivorship Bias,” wherein we, as a society, give more credence to “winners” than “losers.”
We always think that if we follow the same steps or paths that led others to success, that we’ll be ensured of the same success.
The problem with that is we start to doubt our “gut” feelings or do something we’re not suited for or that we don’t enjoy – and that almost always leads us away from what may make us successful.
And just because the rich and powerful are always in our line of sight on TV and social media doesn’t mean there are many more people out there who worked their way up on a different sort of path – and did just fine.
Out of sight, out of mind as the saying goes.
The next is something called “Loss Aversion.”
This is something that most of us can attest to based on our own life experiences. Who among us has bought something because it was such a great deal, and then we find we don’t really like it that much?
But do we get rid of it? Nope, because as humans, we’ll do just about anything to avoid a loss.
We’re protective of what we have, even if it’s not rational. Taking this to the extreme can lead to mental health issues like hoarding, but we all do it in one form or another.
The next is the “Availability Heuristic.” Now, heuristic is one of those words you have to Google, but it essentially means something that allows us to discover or learn something about ourselves.
When things are foremost in our minds, we tend to believe they’re more true than other things we may not have heard much about.
Enter the media. In no other time in history have we been so surrounded by constant news. We’re in fear of terrorism and crime rates and global warming… almost crippled by fear sometimes.
In reality, none of these things is really occurring any more frequently than in the past.
It’s just that we hear about it all the time, and so we tend to believe they are more important or consequential than things we don’t hear about every day.
And there’s another aspect to this one.
We tend to put more value in things that are more available – “buy one, get one free” or “limited time offer” or “choice of two sides” seem to make us think these things are more worthy of our attention.
Even if we don’t need a particular item, we’ll buy one so we can have two of that item we don’t need because, “it’s free, people!” You may not want that extra side dish, but you know you won’t turn it down.
And, finally, what Clear calls the most important tendency we all have in regard to making poor decisions – “Confirmation Bias.”
This happens when we search for ways to prove that what we believe in or feel is more important than any other fact or opinion. Or it occurs when we want to do, or be, or see something so badly, that we ignore information that would sway us against doing what we want.
This is very common in today’s political climate — or with strong personal beliefs.
We will always find confirmation that backs up what we believe to be true, while ignoring anything that contradicts our view.
It can be a cause of divisiveness and tension when we refuse to see someone else’s side of things. When someone always has to be “right,” they are sure to be suffering from confirmation bias.
And this can be dangerous when we completely ignore information, for example, knowing something is risky or harmful and doing it anyway.
We bet you can guess when this type of behavior starts – the teen years – although we all tend to rationalize in order to see what we want to see or do what we want to do.
So if you’re wondering how you can still make impulsive or downright bad decisions as a grown, responsible adult, take heart.
It appears we’re all programmed this way, but by knowing we have these little brain quirks, it may be half the battle in working to make better decisions.
(h/t Better Change Project)