principles /
Beating Biases

Simple guidelines I follow to help—just a teensy bit—with overcoming cognitive biases.

Be Mindful

Emotions come first. Even the most capable folks can get lost in sudden feelings, insecurities, and bodily states. Mindfulness helps us be more aware of what's actually happening—both externally and internally—giving us the space to think more clearly. The greater the gap between stimulus and response, the better!

The easiest way to develop mindfulness is to meditate regularly. This helps to mitigate:

overreliance on intuition / gut feelings, emotional reasoning, tendency to envy, sensitivity to fairness, believing what makes you feel good, denial / self-delusions, need for control, intolerance of uncertainty, influence of stress, influence of tiredness
Suspend Judgement

Suspend judgements and reactions. Besides avoiding Times Square Elmos, very few modern-day situations require an immediate, impulsive response.

A great deal of bias comes from acting or coming to conclusions too hastily. This causes a number of issues:

  1. We form wrong beliefs based on limited or inaccurate information
  2. We make ourselves susceptible to context and delivery (e.g. the influence of a good salesman)
  3. Once the belief is formed, our egos create barriers that make it much harder to go back

Thus, a better approach is simply to suspend judgement until the judgement is actually required. This helps to mitigate:

tendency to act, anchoring, framing effect, availability heuristic, halo effect, ad hominem, endowment effect, choice-supportive bias; confirmation bias, belief bias, sunk cost fallacy, backfire effect, reactance, fundamental attribution error, self-serving bias; denial / self-delusions

When judgements must be made, it's often helpful to think in terms of probabilities rather than absolutes, and then adjust the probabilities when new information is gathered.

Be Crazy Curious

Some of the most insidious biases, such as confirmation bias and fundamental attribution error, come from the ego. The best way to address them is to be crazy curious—that is, to invite alternative perspectives while maintaining an open mind.

This is not easy to do, but if one values truth over "being right," there's no other way. Being crazy curious helps to mitigate:

confirmation bias, belief bias, sunk cost fallacy, backfire effect, reactance, fundamental attribution error, self-serving bias; dunning-kruger effect, curse of knowledge; circular reasoning
Zoooom Out

There's always important information outside the initial frame we start with. Making a habit of zooming out helps us discover new possibilities, find balancing perspectives, and recognize patterns. Oftentimes, the key variables to any given situation are unclear at the beginning.

Zooming out helps to mitigate:

black & white thinking, narrow framing, anecdotal reasoning, focusing on the wrong variable; labeling, clustering illusion, hasty generalization, gambler's fallacy, false cause, conjunction fallacy; barnum effect, personalizing, mind-reading; just world hypothesis, selective perception, should / must thinking, optimism bias, pro-innovation bias, novelty bias, present bias, ostrich effect, negativity bias, negative filtering, pessimism bias, catastrophizing, declinism; outcome bias, hindsight bias, survivorship bias
Think Independently

There's nothing better in life than good relationships with good folks. However, we are super susceptible to influence from others—regardless of whether such influence is accurate or well-intentioned.

The ideal approach is to deliberately maintain independent thought (while still keeping an open mind). Avoid labels and don't take sides without fully understanding the arguments for both. Doing so helps to mitigate:

groupthink, stereotyping, in-group bias, tendency to seek harmony, relative satisfaction / misery, influence of authority, spotlight effect, bystander effect