This is the first in a series of posts exploring cognitive biases, a frequent source of blind spots which inhibit an open mind.
My friend, Eddie, got a dog in October – a rescue named Bowzer – and he thinks it is the perfect pooch. Good lookin’ mutt. Sweet as they come. He’s obedient. Never leaves an unexpected mess. And is always so nice around other people.
Which is great. If it were true.
Every time I’ve been around Bowzer, he growls. Eddie gives commands like “Shhhh” or “Be nice”, but it never works. When I reach to pet him, the growls turn to barks and bared teeth. Worse? The dog can’t control his bladder. So Bowzer’s always arriving at urination station.
What’s going on here? Why does Eddie think he’s got a total canine catch when the opposite seems clear as a see-through chew toy?
The culprit is Choice-Supportive Bias
This little rascal gives you the tendency to defend your decision, or to rate it better than it was, simply because you made it. It will also move you to play down the positive qualities of the alternative choices.
It’s easy to understand why we have choice-supportive bias and fall prey to it
- You know what you like
Chances are excellent you make your decisions to benefit yourself in some way. (Even deciding to do something altruistic, like giving to charity, benefits you by the good feeling you have afterwards.) You typically make choices that appeal to you. Even the hard choices. What’s to question?
- You think you’re smart
If you’re reading this, you probably understand the difference between up and down, stout and slim, wealthy and on the road to becoming wealthy (watch your language, friends!). To question your decision would be to question your intelligence. Tough to swallow for us super-geniuses.
- You did your research
It’s an old maxim in business that people buy based on emotion but justify the purchase based on logic. Nowadays, it’s not that cut-and-dry. But there’s still plenty of truth to it. It’s easy to check for information, reviews, explanations, and all the details you need before making a choice. So the logic behind a decision is easy to put into play. As for the emotion? Let’s just say we all know an impulse buy when we see it.
And still, you’re prone to choice-supportive bias. Join the human race. Thing is, if you’re like me, you don’t want to realize one day you’re touting the benefits of your new polyester popcorn popper just because you decided to buy it. Because what were you thinking?
Let’s get that habituated limitation off our back so we can think differently about our decisions.
Here are five ways to kick choice-supportive bias in the teeth
“The fatal tendency of mankind to stop thinking about something when a decision has been made is the cause of half their errors.” -British philosopher J.S. Mill, 1806–1873
Just knowing that choice-supportive bias exists will give you the context necessary to (re-)evaluate your decision through a new perspective. Ask yourself, “Is that pesky bias influencing me again?” (Maybe say it silently, just cuz.)
Argue the other side
This one’s popular with debate teams for a reason. It forces you to think differently. (That’s our mission here.) You have to make a good case for the alternative decision *objectively* (taking the emotion out of it). Exercise your inner trial attorney and come up with a closed-case rationale *against* your decision. That’ll shake things up.
Compare more than pros and cons
It’s one thing to look at a side-by-side comparison to see if your choice has more of the best features and less of the worst. Since you’re smart, I’m sure you do. But remember, logic is only a part of the equation. In fact, decisions are rarely made on logic alone. Neuroscientist Antonio Demasio proved that. Instead, look within. What emotions come up when you think about your decision? Does it have a strong charge or not? What if you considered other emotions? Are they more important to you than the logical reasons? You gotta have a sit-down with your feelings and air it all out.
You down with OPP? Seek other people’s perspectives
I don’t often seek other people’s opinions when it comes to my decisions. When you’ve got a formidable streak of unique, they can seem quotidian. But so what? Who’s to say their point of view is wrong? Or even wrong for me? It just may be different than mine. Try as I may, I can never see the world from outside my body, my upbringing, my experience. …Unless I ask others. You never know what you’ll hear.
Note: On this one, be sure to ask open-ended, non-leading questions. “What do you think of this cute new pup?” won’t get you the same quality answer as “If you were getting a dog, what would you look for?”
Questionable choice replacement therapy
This might be the most fun of the five. Because you get to use your imagination and visualize perfection. The tool is simple: If you had to replace what you chose (or are going to choose) with something else that would be perfect, what would it be and how is it different? By undertaking this kind of thought experiment, you’ll necessarily compare the ideal choice with your existing choice and see how it stacks up. Even if the perfect choice doesn’t exist, you’ll know if you’re close enough to it.
That’s the ticket
When you’re ready to tell me why your new dog is the ultimate co-pilot, remember your choice-supportive bias. I’m sure, in your case, it was the very best choice.