Recently I learned about ‘Confirmation Bias.’ As far as I understand it, this relates to a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms your own beliefs and preconceptions. Basically, you focus only on the things in any given situation that prove you right, ignoring the rest.
I think everyone is guilty of this at times. As an anxiety sufferer, I’ve made this a lifestyle choice!
Here’s an example from social/public speaking situations I’ve faced in the past, along with my negative confirmation bias:
“They’re looking at me ‘funny’,” means they’re assuming I’m pathetic/a terrible speaker/crazy/stupid/just a rubbish human being.
I know this because of the way I read the body language in the room; I saw the looks of shock and disbelief on people’s faces. Mid-way through the talk, I saw that the Maths teachers were whispering – no doubt saying how awful and ridiculous I was! Then at the end, a lot of people walked out with their heads down; probably not wanting to have an awkward conversation about how I did.
So thankfully nowadays I’m at least conscious of the fact that I have a predilection to always assume the worst – to confirm whatever negative thought or belief is going through my head at the time. Even after years of retraining my brain to think differently, this is often still where my mind goes automatically. I still assume the worst.
But while I might be far from ‘cured’, just knowing that this way of thinking is a ‘thing’ really helps.
See…. if you know that you’re prone to ‘confirmation bias’ then you can use this to your advantage! Just spend a few minutes, writing down a few of the negative beliefs that go through your head on a regular basis. Now… can you flip them into something a little more realistic? Or even, dare I say, more positive?
Once you’ve done this, make a secret mission of challenging yourself to find evidence that only supports this! Yep – I know – you’re ‘cherry picking’ only the information that fits the best case scenario and ups your self-esteem. But so what?! Our brains are programmed to focus on the negative – it’s not a fair fight. So there’s really no harm in choosing to focus on information that confirms thoughts and beliefs which promote your self-worth.
The more outrageously egotistically, the better! Even if you’re laughing at yourself, that’s a lot better than wallowing in counterfeit negativity.
Let’s go back to my original example and try ‘flipping’ this:
“They’re looking at me ‘funny’,” means they just can’t believe that someone so young has so much passion, intelligence, charisma! They just can’t believe what they’re seeing and hearing!
I know this because of the way I read the body language in the room, because of the genuine complements I received and because of the fact that the headteacher asked me to speak again.
See – I’ve reinterpreted the apparent ‘looks of shock and disbelief’ with a much more positive slant. Plus, I’ve ignored the fact that the Maths teachers talk (because they always do!) and reminded myself that everyone usually rushes out of these things with heads down, myself included, because we have a ton of work to do!
I’ll talk more about thought patterns in tomorrow’s blog! Found this useful? I’d love to know. Anything to add or improve? I’m happy to hear!