Seven ways to protect yourself from thinking traps when making decisions

Master techniques that will help you not to succumb to the tricks of the brain and make the right choice more often. But first, subscribe to our Telegram channel. We often publish such valuable articles!

Thinking traps, or cognitive distortions, are brain mechanisms that help you make decisions faster. They rely on misconceptions, stereotypes, and insufficient or erroneously processed information. The decisions are far from optimal. Let’s figure out what to do with it.

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1. Learn to recognize common cognitive biases

They are very deeply rooted, and you can’t just overcome them. Yes, and it is difficult to learn everything by heart. There are more than a hundred traps of thinking. But you can start by studying the most common ones. Go back to the description from time to time, so you will gradually remember the signs of various cognitive distortions and learn to recognize them in your thoughts.

Try to keep track of which traps you fall into most often. And before you decide or judge a situation, ask yourself if your brain has drawn you into one of them.

2. Use the HALT! method

HALT is an acronym for “hungry”, “angry”, “lonely”, “tired” (hungry, angry, lonely, tired). It is the name of the method that people use to overcome addictions. HALT! reminds you to slow down and pay attention to how you feel. It helps control impulsive behavior.

But the method is helpful to absolutely everyone. Before making any decision, consider whether you are hungry, irritated, lonely, or tired. These feelings make you less rational. Under their influence, it is easier to do something harmful to yourself or makes a wrong decision (read How the fear of missing out on the best option prevents us from making decisions). It’s worth waiting until you feel better.

3. Use the S.P.A.D.E.

It is suitable for making responsible decisions with severe consequences. Gokul Rajaram, an engineer at Google, Facebook, and Square, created it. The system consists of five steps:

S-Setting. Clearly define what is required of you, identify the cause, and set time limits.

P-People. Find out who to consult, who to ask for approval, and who will be responsible.

A — Alternative. Find all possible options.

D — Decide. Ask for feedback from other team members. You can arrange a vote for the best option.

E — explain. Explain to colleagues the essence of the solution, and determine the following steps to implement it.

4. Go against your preferences

Let’s say you’re already leaning towards a decision. Think about what will happen if you choose the opposite option. Imagine that you need to defend it in front of others, and collect the data that will be needed to defend it. Compare with the arguments on which your original decision is based. Now look again to see how optimal your original version is. A look from the other side and additionally collected data will help you make a more informed choice.

5. Separate valuable data from irrelevant

The Economist did a little research by asking its subscribers to rate three sentences:

  • subscription to the online version for $59 per year;
  • a print subscription for $125 per year;
  • print and online subscription for $125 per year.

The first option was chosen by only about 16% of respondents. The rest preferred the third. Everything seems obvious: it is much more profitable because you get both an online and a printed version. But when the second offer was removed, 68% of people chose the first option because it was the cheapest. The opportunity to get both versions of the magazine ceased to seem profitable to them.

This statistic shows an interesting fact. Even information about what is unprofitable or not necessary for us (in the example above — an expensive subscription to the printed version of the publication) can significantly influence the choice of a solution that will not be the best for us. Remind yourself of this and what is important to you in each case to avoid this.

6. Collect different points of view

It is a simple and quite effective way to protect yourself from the pitfalls of thinking. Reach out to those you trust: relatives, friends, business partners, and mentors. They can offer honest, constructive criticism and point out weaknesses.

Naturally, they are also subject to cognitive biases, but when you get to know the points of view of different people and compare them with your own, you will be more likely to make an objective decision.

7. Analyze the past

Remember how you used to make decisions in a similar situation? What difficulties did you encounter, and how did you deal with them? What were the results, and what did you learn? The answers to these questions will point you in the right direction.

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