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Breathing Principles Series - Cognitive Biases – How to Make Better Decisions


In the famous book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman discusses how often our brain can play tricks on us and cause us to come to the wrong conclusions. This is particularly true when we’re forced to make decision quickly or when high emotions are at play and it’s the result of some flaws in the way we think known as ‘cognitive biases. Understanding these biases not only again demonstrates the importance of ‘keeping your cool’ in frightening situations but also helps you to better employ logic and reason when faced with tough and imminent decisions…

Here are some examples of common cognitive biases. Gambler’s Fallacy The gambler’s fallacy is a common misconception that we make when gambling – and it’s responsible for a lot of lost money. The belief here is that when you’ve thrown heads 5 times in a row that the next time you throw a coin it must be tails. Why? Because the odds of throwing heads 6 times in a row are miniscule. Of course, if you remove emotion from the equation and think logically, you’ll realize that there is still a 50/50 chance. That never changes!

Risk Aversion

Risk aversion describes our general distaste for risks. The point here is that we will go out of our way to take a risk even when it’s a good idea. If entering a competition gives you a 50% chance of losing $5 and a 50% chance of gaining $12 then you should of course enter – but you may still feel anxious to!

Confirmation Bias

This is our simple tendency to seek out information that confirms our expectations and our beliefs. Likewise, we are more inclined to believe information that confirms our hypotheses. In fact, though, you should really seek to find information that disproves your beliefs in order to challenge them and grow as a person. Functional Fixedness

In functional fixedness, we find it difficult to think of an object in a different context to its primary use. For example, if you need firewood then you might not think to use a hammer – because a hammer is a hammer and not ‘wood’. Of course, there is often benefitted to thinking outside the box and using tools and objects for other purposes, so it pays to be able to step back and think in this way. Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is a bias that causes us to think of past events as being more predictable or easier than they really were. Armed with new information, old decisions now seem less challenging, and this can prevent us from properly preparing for future challenges!

Contrast Effect

This is the tendency to view things in comparison to other things rather than judging them on their own merit. For example, if you have a mortgage worth $260,000 and you end up paying an extra $1k then you might feel that it doesn’t really matter. But if you’re buying a chocolate bar and it costs an extra $1k then of course that’s going to feel like a very bad deal. In reality though, it’s the same amount of money you’ve lost!

Wrapping it Up

We’ve seen a lot of disparate ideas and learned a lot about psychology throughout the duration of this blog. Hopefully all this has helped you to better understand the workings of your own brain and how this in- formation can be used to suppress anxiety and combat panic attacks. At the same time, hopefully it has shown you how you can ultimately take complete control over all your emotions if only you’re able to put in the right practice and use the right approaches.

To help you get started with this then, let’s take everything we’ve learned and summarize it in a few simple steps for you to follow… Breathe – When you feel anxiety coming over you, make sure to breathe deeply and fully, thereby activating the parasympathetic nervous system and triggering the ‘rest and digest’ state. You can try ‘equal breathing’ to this end. View it as a challenge – To change a stress response into a flow state, try to see it as a fun challenge rather than a serious risk. This will help you to feel focused without the negative anxiety effects.

Act normal –Most importantly, don’t worry about the stress and don’t fight it – continue to act as normal and let it run its course. Employ power positions, grounding, priming and facial feedback if you get the chance.

Breathe correctly – Breathing is important enough to appear twice on this list. It’s the title of the book after all! Whether you’re having anxiety or not, try to breathe the correct way and use abdominal breathing to improve your health and mental state. Learn meditation – Another type of training you can do is to practice meditation and learn to have better control over your own mind.

Practice CBT – Most importantly of all, practice using CBT in order to re- program the way you think and the way you perceive situations. This means noting down your thoughts during mindfulness meditation and it means challenging your negative thoughts. You can also use visualization and even hypothesis testing. Try facing your fears gradually and you’ll learn to stay entirely cool in those situations in future!

Take a moment before making stressed decisions – are you falling victim to a classic cognitive bias?

This takes time and practice so stick with it! Once you finally get there, you’ll find you become the master of your own emotions. And that changes the whole game.

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