Imagine that you loved sports cars as a kid and couldn’t wait to buy one for yourself when you grew up. You mention this to your dad, and he says, “Whatever you do, don’t get a red one. Red sports cars get pulled over for speeding more than other colors.” You believe him, of course – it’s Dad, and he knows everything. Anyway, it makes sense to you because red is flashy, it catches the eye. A belief is born.
From then on, every time you pass a driver in a red car getting a ticket, you think, “Yep, the red cars always get pulled over for speeding.” These observations reinforce the belief your dad passed down to you, which you adopted without question.
In reality, studies show that white cars get pulled over most often. But when presented with this statistic, you dismiss it out of hand. After all, you’ve been collecting “evidence” since childhood that red cars do.
And when the day comes to buy your sports car, you pass over that beautiful red car for a more prudent color choice.
Your decision was influenced by confirmation bias, the tendency for your brain to look for evidence supporting what you already believe.
Our senses are bombarded with eleven million bits of sensory input per second, but our conscious mind is only able to process about fifty of them. The brain uses shortcuts to handle it all and that’s where confirmation bias comes in.
The brain decides what’s important and how to interpret the world by using your beliefs as a filter. In an effort to be efficient, it actively looks for evidence that supports what you already believe. Then it deletes, distorts, and generalizes anything that doesn’t match your current beliefs. This way of processing reality is a time-saving technique that protects us from decision fatigue.
A decision about what color car you buy has few consequences, but there are times confirmation bias can negatively affect important business decisions. For example, if you believe you must control everything to be successful, you’ll notice evidence that supports this idea. You’ll overlook or discount the importance of employees doing well without your oversight. You’ll focus on the mistakes and become trapped in a vicious cycle of over-managing that limits your growth and that of your business and team.
Recognizing confirmation bias is a challenge because you think you’re seeing the world as it is. You don’t realize you’re seeing it the way you expect to see it. But you can build awareness by asking yourself questions like: What are the facts of this situation? Is there another way to interpret this? Once you’re aware of how confirmation bias is playing out in a given situation you can start to turn it to your advantage.
Use the Brain’s Filter to Your Advantage
Although confirmation bias can reinforce ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that keep you stuck, it can also work in your favor. For example, if you believe making money is easy, you’ll find evidence for it everytime a client signs a contract, you hit your revenue goals, or you look at your income statement. This will reinforce the belief and you’ll continue taking action to create financial abundance.
You can also use confirmation bias to help cement new beliefs that you want to adopt. For instance, if you tend to interpret a setback as a failure, you can ask your brain to look instead at how the situation is in your favor, or what you’re learning. You’ll start to find evidence for this new belief and it will grow roots. Then confirmation bias will sustain it by acting like a magnet in your mind. You’ll notice what you expect to see and this will reinforce the new, positive belief.
Creating New Beliefs
Can you think of a way that confirmation bias is limiting your business? If so, you’ll want to identify the belief behind it and replace it. When adopting any new belief, repetition is key because neurons that fire together, wire together.
Decide what you want to believe and commit to believing it no matter what. For example, believe you can grow your business AND have freedom at the same time. Write down every reason you can think of that supports this belief. Then create one clear sentence that describes why your new belief is true. Read it several times throughout the day. As you look at life through this new lens, you’ll start to see evidence for it.
Next, as vividly as possible, imagine what life is like when the business is growing and you’re on vacation, or taking a class, or watching your kids play sports. The brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and memories. Even though imagination is in the realm of the future, and memories are about the past, the brain uses the same process to create mental pictures for both.
Amplify the positive feelings the new belief creates. How would you feel? Confident and successful? Practice feeling those emotions now. Feelings fuel action, and taking action from positive emotion gets better results.
Lastly, reinforce your new belief. Strengthen it by writing it, reading it out loud, and journaling about it. Save images that remind you of it and help you visualize it. The more you internalize the belief, the sooner confirmation bias will take over, and you’ll see real-life results that reflect it.
Choosing Your Future
You get to believe whatever you want about your business, so what will you choose? That you can reach a certain revenue or profit target? That people love working for your business? That your business is so valuable other people want to buy it?
Once you create a new belief, the actions you take to get the results you want will feel natural. Then confirmation bias will provide evidence that your new belief is true.
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