Confirmation bias. Even if you don’t know what it is or how it works, you’ve probably heard the term. It’s one of the most commonly recognized psychological phenomenons, and for good reason – it impacts almost every part of our lives.
Confirmation bias often works against us, because it prevents us from seeing an objective reality. Some people’s biases lean toward more wishful thinking, or create echo chambers when it comes to political or philosophical ideas. Others, however, reinforce insecurities and fears about one’s life, and have the potential to actively hold them back from fulfilling their potential.
These are a few of the sometimes very subtle ways confirmation bias could be keeping you in a state of fear, reinforcing your negative self-image, or constantly doubting those you love.
1. It’s making your fears become reality even when they aren’t actually happening.
When your brain picks out details that relate to one of your fears, it activates a negative emotion, even though there’s nothing really wrong. You start to fear thunder when it’s not even raining.
2. It’s making you seek out the worst in those around you.
You’re probably more critical of those closest to you not because you don’t really love them, but because you want to shield yourself from potential pain. Trying to identify the shortcomings in those you spend the most time with is a defense mechanism; it’s how we determine who is a “good” person and who is not (or who we can trust not to hurt or abandon us). However, when confirmation bias kicks in, it often results in extrapolating small issues and overreaction.
On the other hand, wanting to believe that someone is “right” for you will keep you seeking out supporting evidence that could very well keep you in the wrong relationship at best, or an abusive one at worst. Being able to see people clearly, and realistically, is crucial.
3. It’s affirming your insecurities.
If you’re worried that you aren’t being taken seriously at work, every time someone sends an email asking a question or requesting an adjustment to something, you may perceive it as an attack on your competence. You are, essentially, ascribing intent incorrectly, proving yourself “right.”
4. It’s creating an echo chamber.
If the only ideas and beliefs you will consider valid are those that are align with your own, you will continually isolate your worldview and stunt your mental growth because the only reality you perceive is one that reflects what you already believe.
5. It’s keeping you in your comfort zone.
Confirmation bias is likely limiting your willingness to consider other possibilities, even if those alternatives would vastly improve your life, your business, your relationship, and what not.
6. It’s creating illusory correlations.
It’s likely making you perceive a connection between otherwise unrelated events, one that either affirms something you want to believe, or makes you more convinced that a priorly-held fear is valid.
7. It is making you overestimate your strengths and underestimate your weaknesses.
When you overestimate your strengths, you stagnate. You limit your capacity for growth, and you inflate your ego in an unhealthy way. True confidence is not blindly believing you are the best at everything, but seeing yourself honestly and still knowing that you are a worthwhile and important person regardless.
When you underestimate your weaknesses, you adopt a “superhero” complex, and end up taking risks that could really impact your life. If you think you are somehow immune to illness, pain or loss, you are setting yourself up to not be able to cope when these things inevitably occur, as they do in anyone’s life.