Bias number 22 is known as the choice supportive bias. This is a cognitive bias that supports a person’s decision-making process once a decision has been made.
The way the choice supportive bias works is this. Once you've made a choice, you retrospectively assign positive attributes towards your decision and negative attributes to the decisions you didn’t make. Emotional reactions towards the decision, such as satisfaction or regret, play just as much a part in the occurrence of this bias as the decision itself.
Research has discovered that memories and the emotional content associated with the memories distort the recall in predictable ways. Because the brain is hardwired for survival, any admission that we might have made a wrong decision gets pushed aside in favour of supporting the decisions we have already made.
This type of thinking helps us maintain a positive self-image, albeit distorted.
The shoe moves to the other foot when a decision has been made for us, for example in work situations, when a leader chooses us to complete an unattractive or uninteresting task. Instead of framing it in a positive light, we may opt for taking the negative road, focusing on the disappointment and regret of the circumstance rather than framing the request in a positive light.
This props up the victim in us, the part that feels powerless and out of control. It alleviates us of any responsibility in the decision itself.
When I read the description of this bias, I immediately recognised it in myself. There have been times in my life in which I have made decisions and to soften the cognitive dissonance, or the mental conflict I experience post-decision, I create justifications to support my decision. Doing so helps me resolve the mental to-ing and fro-ing, examining all the alternatives, and brings my mind back to a state of rest.
And this is not a bad thing, is it? Certainly one of the things many people are seeking in business (and in life, quite frankly) is the feeling of confidence. Being comfortable making decisions and sticking to them plays a powerful role in our ability to feel confidence.
So what happens when a decision you make starts to create limitations in your life? How do you handle what needs to be done then? Do you conjure up elaborate justifications to support your decision in order to preserve your feelings of self-worth, or do you allow yourself to change your mind and subsequent course of action as a result?
There’s something pretty profound about this bias that keeps many of us trapped in decisions that don’t serve us. Can you see what it is?
Here’s a little hint. It concerns the timing of the decision in relation to the presence of the bias.
A decision is a choice made in the past. Continuing to support the decision with biased thinking regardless of the outcomes it produces for us keeps us stuck in a moment in the past. As a result, our justifications of the decision prevent us from making choices in the present that could produce different, and perhaps more attractive outcomes.
On the flip side, seeing ourselves as a victim constitutes the epitome of powerlessness, of being at the effect of circumstance rather than being at the source of our lives and the outcomes we create. So feelings of regret, disappointment and so forth, while understandable, do not help us be powerful in the face of circumstances that occur to us as unfavourable.
So, what can you do to step out of the effects of the choice supportive bias?
The first thing you can do is recognise that there are some confusing semantics at play here that, once corrected, will free you from the constraints of this bias.
Firstly, a decision, whether made by us or by another on our behalf, is a choice that occurs as definitive, final even. Unfortunately we get stuck with it, and we then have to activate the choice supportive bias to continue to validate and justify that decision and diminish and reject the other possible decisions we did not take.
Choice, on the other hand, is an action we take in the moment, in the present moment. We make choices all the time. Today, I entered into a conversation that initially occurred as a fact-finding exercise but emerged as a recruitment exercise. At some point during that conversation, I contemplated the idea of accepting the offer.
I’m glad I did it openly. What occurred next was a flood of flattery designed to draw me further towards the opportunity. Immediately alarm bells rang inside my head, and I withdrew my considerations of the offer.
Was I right or was I wrong to reject the offer, a decision that someone else had made that I might make a good addition to the team? The answer? Neither, and here’s why. When I operate from the place of choice, I am operating according to a moment-by-moment phenomenon. I might make a different choice tomorrow, or next week or next year. I am not stuck with the choice I made today — because I am not attached to it with any emotional investment in it.
Because of the non-attachment to the choice, my self-worth remains stable, regardless of what happens in the future. It is not dependent upon a false perception that my self-confidence is based on my choices.
It’s a classic case of the intermingling of biases, the Berkson bias for example in which we make correlations between two unrelated thinking functions, in this case self-image and choice. When we collapse the two together, we fall into an even deeper trap!
Remember, the way you see yourself is a choice. It’s a choice you make in every moment. If you could remove the desire to fix your self-image and allow it to flow as life flows, what might you discover?
You might discover that making your self-image and feelings of self-worth dependent upon anything else, in this case the decisions you have made in the past and the choices you make in the present, is not only limiting, it’s a prison, a self-created prison that gives you no flexibility or room for growth.
So, give yourself a Get Outta Jail card by separating your self-image from your decision-making. Stop making decisions and start making choices. Be open to what you discover when you let go of the fixed mindset, that things are the way they are forever, and enter into a growth mindset, which allows you the freedom of thought to know that the way things look now is not necessarily the way things will look in the future.
And, who has the power of choice to determine how things look for you? YOU!
Discover the joy that arises from the power of living fully in the present moment, making choices appropriate for RIGHT NOW, and watch your light intensify with brilliance in the process.