4 Ways Your Mind Plays Tricks On You

mind playing tricks

By Susan Ricker


There may be a bigger roadblock to your workplace productivity than the voice in your head telling you to play solitaire. It's that notion in your brain, called cognitive bias, which makes you confused, uninterested, wrongly informed or ignorant.

A cognitive bias, or a pattern of inaccurate judgment or illogical interpretation, is the result of a distortion in the brain that always leads to the same poor judgment. Every day, your brain plays tricks on you. Sometimes a cognitive bias helps you think faster or preserves your ego, but it usually leads you away from the right answer or the truth.

How can you tell if you're blinded by a cognitive bias at work? Check out this list of common cognitive biases, and learn how to make changes to increase your workplace productivity.

1. Bandwagon effect: The tendency to do or believe things because other people do or believe the same.

How it may affect your work: Although this cognitive bias can affect any work situation, stay especially alert in meetings, when it's easy to agree with an idea that you may not truly agree with or understand.

What you can do: Knowledge is the best way to combat the bandwagon effect. When you understand what's going on around you, you know what you agree with and how to share your opinions. Come to meetings prepared, do follow-up research on ideas discussed during meetings and pass the knowledge on to your clients and co-workers.


2. Confirmation bias: The tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceived notions.

How it may affect your work: You may feel pressure to agree with your manager, especially if she doesn't accept other opinions.

What you can do: When you're conducting research for a project, be aware of the confirmation bias. Are your sources fair, or are you blinded by the desired outcome? Before you compile your findings and look for an answer, ask yourself whether you've adequately researched both sides of the issue. Simply being aware of your bias is often enough to ensure a fair and honest outcome.

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3. Ostrich effect: Ignoring an obviously negative situation.

How it may affect your work: The ostrich effect may make your work life bearable. Ignoring negative situations may help you get through the day, but you may be holding yourself back from your full potential.

What you can do: Honestly assess your day-to-day work life. Do you continuously accept a co-worker's excuses for missing deadlines, making you work twice as hard to manage your workload? Do you take the blame for problems but tell yourself that it's just part of the job? Acknowledge the dysfunctional parts of your role, get your head out of the sand, and start looking for solutions. The ostrich effect disappears once a negative situation has been recognized and handled.


4. Planning fallacy: The tendency to underestimate task-completion times.

How it may affect your work: The planning fallacy may be to blame if you're constantly switching between boredom and stress at work. Do you believe you can do your work quickly, so you allow yourself time to goof off? Do you procrastinate, because you're confident you'll have time later, only to rush through projects at the last minute?

What you can do: Begin each project by estimating how much time the project will take from start to finish. Then, take note of the time, and begin your project. After you finish, note the time again to see how close your estimate was to the actual time needed. Do this for all of your tasks, and you'll start to better manage your time.


Susan Ricker is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.


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