When it comes to your personal and professional achievement, you can be your own worst enemy.
You perform poorly on tests because you think you will; you put off work assignments until the night before they’re due; you’re overconfident in the accuracy of your predictions about the economy.
These are but a few examples of the cognitive biases that affect the way you behave and see the world. We’ve rounded up 14 of them, to help you figure out how you could be sabotaging your own success.
Where people succeed — or underperform — because they think they should.
Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, in schools it describes how students who are expected to succeed tend to excel and students who are expected to fail tend to do poorly.
The tendency to seek information when it does not affect action. More information is not always better. Indeed, with less information, people can often make more accurate predictions.
In one study, people who knew the names of basketball teams as well as their performance records made less accurate predictions about the outcome of NBA games than people who only knew the teams’ performance records. However, most people believed that knowing the team names was helpful in making their predictions.
flickr: Lance Neilson
The tendency to put more emphasis on negative experiences rather than positive ones. People with this bias feel that “bad is stronger than good” and will perceive threats more than opportunities in a given situation.
Psychologists argue it’s an evolutionary adaptation — it’s better to mistake a rock for a bear than a bear for a rock.
Speaker Pelosi via Flickr
The tendency to prefer inaction to action, in ourselves and even in politics.
Psychologist Art Markman gave a great example in 2010:
In March, President Obama pushed Congress to enact sweeping health care reforms. Republicans hope that voters will blame Democrats for any problems that arise after the law is enacted.
But since there were problems with health care already, can they really expect that future outcomes will be blamed on Democrats, who passed new laws, rather than Republicans, who opposed them? Yes, they can — the omission bias is on their side.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Some of us are too confident about our abilities, and this causes us to take greater risks in our daily lives.
Perhaps surprisingly, experts are more prone to this bias than laypeople. An expert might make the same inaccurate prediction as someone unfamiliar with the topic — but the expert will probably be convinced that he’s right.
When we believe the world is a better place than it is, we aren’t prepared for the danger and violence we may encounter. The inability to accept the full breadth of human nature leaves us vulnerable.
On the flip side, overoptimism may have some benefits — hopefulness tends to improve physical health and reduce stress. In fact, researchers say we’re basically hardwired to underestimate the probability of negative events — meaning this bias is especially hard to overcome.
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This is the opposite of the overoptimism bias. Pessimists over-weigh negative consequences with their own and others’ actions. Those who are depressed are more likely to exhibit the pessimism bias.
Flickr / soylentgreen23
The tendency to underestimate how much time it will take to complete a task.
According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, people generally think they’re more capable than they actually are and have greater power to influence the future than they really do. For example, even if you know that writing a project report typically takes your coworkers several hours, you might believe that you can finish it in under an hour because you’re especially skilled.
Flickr / Katherine
Deciding to act in favor of the present moment over investing in the future.
For example, even if your goal is to lose weight, you might still go for a thick slice of cake today and say you’ll start your diet tomorrow.
That happens largely because, when you set the weight-loss goal, you don’t take into account that there will be many instances when you’re confronted with cake and you don’t have a plan for managing your future impulses.
Daniel Goodman / Business Insider
When a proponent of an innovation tends to overvalue its usefulness and undervalue its limitations. Sound familiar, Silicon Valley?
Flickr / pritzkerphoto.com
The belief that fairness should trump other values, even when it’s not in our interests.
We learn the reciprocity norm from a young age, and it affects all kinds of interactions. One study found that, when restaurant waiters gave customers extra mints, the customers upped their tips. That’s likely because the customers felt obligated to return the favor.
Yelp.com via flickr
Allowing our expectations to influence how we perceive the world.
In a classic experiment on selective perception, researchers showed a video clip of a football game between Princeton and Dartmouth Universities to students from both schools. Results showed that Princeton students saw Dartmouth players commit more infractions than Dartmouth students saw. The researchers wrote: “The ‘game’ exists for a person and is experienced by him only in so far as certain happenings have significances in terms of his purpose.”
Status quo bias
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The tendency to prefer things to stay the same. This is similar to loss-aversion bias, where people prefer to avoid losses instead of acquiring gains.
In one study, people chose to stick with the same health and retirement plans, even though newer plans might better fit their preferences.
Sociologists have found that we love certainty — even if its counterproductive.
Thus the zero-risk bias.
“Zero-risk bias occurs because individuals worry about risk, and eliminating it entirely means that there is no chance of harm being caused,” says decision science blogger Steve Spaulding. “What is economically efficient and possibly more relevant, however, is not bringing risk from 1% to 0%, but from 50% to 5%.”