Cognitive Bias: How to outsmart your mind when it tries to trick you

Cognitive biases are common thinking errors that hinder our rational decision-making.

We don’t always see things as they are; instead, our minds give that info their own.

This often occurs when our inner self is not in sync with the outer world. 

At the start of civilization, cognitive biases may have helped human beings survive but not anymore. While we can’t get rid of cognitive biases, we can understand and leverage them for our benefit.

8 common cognitive biases and how to use them to your professional advantage

Optimism bias

When we overrate our success and can downgrade that of others, we fall into the optimism bias. While optimism is a good thing to have, especially in business, overly optimistic predictions can be dangerous.

How can we control it? 

  • Be skeptical of your work expectations. 
  • Assume projects will be more difficult than you think.
  • Focus on the numbers. Your business’s cash flow can help you make more rational decisions.

Negativity bias

Negativity bias is the tendency to change our thought processes and behaviors more because of negative things than neutral or positive things. At work, this bias can lead to overcomplicating our challenges and miss new opportunities.

How can we control that? 

  • Track your wins.
  • Focus on the objectives attained, problems solved, and positive effects you have brought upon your own life and that of others.

Confirmation bias

The tendency to look for information that can confirm our pre-existing beliefs and block out anything that goes against that is known as confirmation bias. This bias can lead businesses to resist much-needed change. 

How can we control it? 

  •  Look for information that works against your beliefs. 
  • Solicit feedback from your team before making your opinions known.

Sunk cost fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy describes our tendency to commit to something just because we’ve already invested resources in it – even if it would be better to give up on it. In business, you could often fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy – there’s a fine line between perseverance and falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy. 

How can we control it? 

  •  If a product or strategy isn’t working, evaluate the process to see the entire situation in a new light.
  • Journaling our minds out of these past decisions can also help us to focus on the present.

Anchoring effect

The anchoring effect is the tendency to privilege the first information we encounter, even when subsequent information turns out to be more relevant or realistic.

For businesses and teams driven by metrics, this effect often manifests as an inappropriate emphasis on certain metrics over others, even if the other metrics may be more useful in meeting broader goals.

How can we control it? 

  • Review your data from different angles. 
  • Experiment with different data visualization concepts. You may notice new, different, and more powerful patterns.

IKEA effect

When we create something, we often get more attached to it than usual; this is known as the IKEA effect. This applies to anything in which we invest creativity and labor – for instance, your projects!

How can we control that? 

  •  Get deeper into different parts of your project. 
  • Engage and involve your team. When strategizing new projects, use mind mapping tools.

Goal gradient effect

The goal gradient effect explains why we work harder to achieve our goals when they’re most closely insight. At work, this effect might manifest itself by everyone being enthusiastic towards the end of the project – while not a bad thing – everyone should have the same enthusiasm throughout the project!

How can we control it? 

  •  Visualize your work in ways that allow you to see how far you have to go.
  • Take the MVP approach. Work towards smaller, more attainable goals.

Cognitive miser theory

According to the cognitive miser theory, we tend to put the least amount of effort possible into problem-solving. Some tasks seem routine but are essential to get right – and you may well be tempted to take a shortcut!

How can we control it? 

  • Be mindful and make deliberate choices about how you apply your mental effort.
  • Automate workflows and eliminate manual processes.

Before we can offset our cognitive biases or use them to our advantage, we must admit that we have them. To be human is to be biased.

If we get intimate with our biases, we can attempt, with the right tools, to use cognitive bias to our advantage.


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