Have you ever heard the phrase “that’s a no brainer”? Well, it’s simply incorrect. Our minds are constantly working — while we hope they’re working for us, sometimes they’re working against us. They trip us up and cause us to make bad decisions. That’s because of biases and mental distortions that can send us down the wrong path. Below are six traps of decision making and tips on how to avoid them in the future:
1. The Anchoring Trap
The anchoring trap is giving a disproportionate weight to the first piece of information received. It could be a couple sentences we heard in a client project kick off, a few minutes of NPR we heard on the way in to the office, or a statistic we saw on a website the day before an important meeting. It comes from a variety of sources and hits us at every angle. Ultimately, it leads us to focus on that piece of information and prevents us from understanding the bigger picture.
Tip: Take a different perspective — pursue another line of thought. Don’t go to another person initially, first think about it deeply on your own. Then, seek other people’s opinions, and be sure to listen and take it all in.
2. Status Quo
One of redpepper’s core values is “If we’re not changing, we’re dying.” But often times, we are averse to change. As humans, we don’t want to change, but change doesn’t have to feel threatening.
Tips: Differentiate whether you are stuck in a rut or doing the right thing. Take all other decisions out of the mix and consider your objectives. Know you have options — creative people can always solve a problem in more than one way. Make a pros and con list. Don’t exaggerate switching courts. Don’t settle or get paralyzed by choice.
3. Sunk Cost
As humans, we hate to be wrong, we hate to lose and we fear failure. The loss of being wrong is so much worse than the gain of being right. So often times, we keep ourselves in a situation even though we know we are wrong. In fact, on a subconscious level, our bodies cannot tell the difference between the fear of being eaten by a bear and the fear of being wrong.
Tips: As Warren Buffett once said, “When you find yourself in a hole the best thing you can do is stop digging.” Don’t cling to flawed decisions. Ask for the input of someone that wasn’t involved in the decision. Remind yourself that the best, most talented people make mistakes. In fact, your mistakes open up a culture where people are rewarded for the quality of their decision making.
4. Confirming Evidence
Often times, we tend to seek information that supports our existing point of view. We tend to go to the safe places. For instance, we stick to media sources that support our beliefs such as CNN or Fox News. We are not looking at counter sources that might challenge our beliefs.
Tips: Consider all evidence. Find a devil’s advocate — ask someone to think about another way to approach the issue at hand. Go to the people that will challenge you.
The way we state a problem influences what we decide. It’s important ask yourself: Are we framing this question so we get an answer that we already want to believe? The framing trap happens on a daily basis. Often times, the framing trap occurs when we position something as a gain vs. a loss.
Tips: Think about neutral terms and present all the information so you’re not leaning one way or another. Think about it from a different perspective or a different frame of mind. If others are making a recommendation, challenge their frame — be that person for someone else too.
The recallability trap occurs when we are overly influenced by past experiences, specifically with trauma or the media. The media is guilty of making it so that we hear things over and over again. For instance, this is often why people exaggerate the number of people that died in a plane crash because when a traumatic event like that happens, we are continuously reminded.
Tips: Examine all of your assumptions — if you think you know something that’s probably the most dangerous place to be, because it’s often by memory. Memory is the basis of the recallability trap, however it is often skewed towards your beliefs, making it an unreliable source. The best thing to do is question everything you know and check all of the facts and figures.
Traps lead us to bad decisions. But a combination of traps lead us to really bad decisions. Awareness is our best weapon. To start, pick one of these traps and work to improve it step by step. Ultimately, working on overcoming these traps can help uncover errors in our thinking before they become errors in our judgement.