Think Smart


Modern psychology reveals an unsettling truth: we are slaves to our mental impulses. “Much of our thinking takes place below the surface of consciousness, influencing our thoughts and behaviours,” says psychologist Cordelia Fine, the author of A Mind Of Its Own. These blips in rationality are called ‘cognitive biases’. Tweak the way you think and you’ll banish poor decision-making for good.


Streamline your efficiency

The blip: Sometimes, you continue blindly with a particular line of thinking simply because you’re already invested in it. This is irrational escalation and it’s the reason you throw money at a failing project.

The override: “The solution is to implement periodic checks – but not by you,” says psychologist Binna Kandola. Ask a colleague who is not directly involved to analyse the project at four intervals throughout its lifespan or according to specific criteria. “Because they are not emotionally engaged, they won’t succumb to the bias,” says Kandola.


Accentuate the positives

The blip: Glass-half empty? Negativity bias means you fixate on the downside of life. Eg: you recover stronger from a broken leg but you’re still all nerves in training.

The override: “Rediscover strength by using performance tests you believe in,” says sports psychologist Victor Thompson. So, if you happen to have broken a leg, boost your confidence by doing dynamic hops and single-leg squats. “The real experience convinces your brain it no longer needs to be on the lookout for injuries happening again.”


Trust in your insights

The blip: Everyone follows the crowd now and then; it’s just herd instinct. That’s why you’re tempted to invest in gold, even though the value has probably peaked.

The override: Escape the herd by asking your partner to play devil’s advocate to any decision that’s influenced by a group or seek out websites that advocate the opposite opinion. Research in the journal Political Psychology found appointing a ‘critical evaluator’ is the best way to avoid sheepish decisions.


Harness real self-belief

The blip:  If you’re convinced you live a healthy lifestyle when the doc – and that sharp pain in your chest – warn you otherwise, blame illusory superiority. This causes you to overestimate positives.

The override: To overcome it, look at a friend who is healthier than you, says Sinclair. Grab a pen and list how they behave in three key areas: nutrition, exercise and work. Then, compare this to how you behave. Realising where you’re falling short will help you question your assumptions and enable you to devise a regime of self-improvement you can stick to.


Build courage after setbacks

The blip: Losing something has twice the emotional impact of acquiring it, found psychologist Daniel Kahneman. It’s called loss aversion. Eg: you don’t take a penalty because a miss would hurt more than a goal would thrill.

The override: Turn this around by first scoring in your head. “Imagine the moment you score,” says Dr Michael Sinclair of City Psychology in London. Do this for five minutes before the game and repeat for 1-2 minutes during the intervals. With each repeat engage a new sense: the sounds of the crowd or the feel of the ball; it’s a mental jab against Southgate Syndrome.


See the value of the truth

The blip: A flaw called source amnesia causes you to forget where ‘facts’ came from. Info from the pub or gains the same weight as a Panorama report.

The override: Avoid this trap by spotting when others do it – like when a colleague invents stats to gain the upper hand. “Question his sources, not his figures,” says Dr Kevin Dutton, author of Flipnosis: The Art of Split-Second Persuasion. “Do this is in group meetings.” But don’t interrogate him: instead ask for his source to use in a presentation.


Push back on deadlines

The blip: Over-promising at work again? That’s planning fallacy: you underestimate task-completion times, then stress out trying to hit deadlines you should never have agreed to in the first place.

The override: To get back on schedule, create a series of benchmarks for similar projects you’ve completed in the past. These will help you predict the time it will take to complete new tasks, says Kahneman. Also, break a big deadline up into smaller ones. Dr Piers Steel’s Temporal Motivation Theory shows we lack focus when it comes to distant deadlines. So don’t just say you’re going to paint the spare room. Set specifi c times to choose the paint, prepare the walls and fi nish the job. It’ll be more satisfying and less stressful. Take that, brain!



Words by Ryan Thompson. Illustration by Peter Crowther


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