6 Cognitive Biases that Prevent You From Following Your Dreams

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein

Career change, starting a business, or following your dream is a big decision.

It’s a decision that, due to our cognitive biases, feels scary, complicated, and against our nature instincts.

A cognitive bias refers to an error in our thinking that affects our judgment and decision making. These biases come from our unconscious conditioning and tendency to make assumptions instead of gathering all the information.

These biases influence our choices and can actually prevent us from achieving and creating what we want.

If you’re going to improve and advance your life you can’t get in your own way.

Here are 6 cognitive biases that inhibit you from following your dreams.

1. Confirmation bias

Even with a long list of reasons why someone is wrong, it’s not easy to sway their opinion.

This is because we assume what we believe is a fact, even when presented with evidence to the contrary. We notice, acknowledge, and consider what matches our preexisting beliefs and neglect the rest.

Whether this has to do with our self-concept, or what we believe is possible in life, we accept only that which confirms our own attitudes.

Because of this, your current beliefs can actually get in the way of greater possibilities. It’s helpful to examine what you believe about success, money, and your potential.

If you have limiting beliefs about what you can achieve or what it means to be wealthy or happy, you can get stuck in this limited mindset.

Challenge your negative beliefs about money, happiness, relationships, and vocation. Check out The Work by Byron Katie to start.

2. Loss aversion

Even when a risk can dramatically improve our life, it feels scary and we respond to it as a threat.

This is because we’re wired to avoid risk.

We tend to focus more on what we have to loose than what we have to gain. If we have a secure and stable job, it’s not natural to change careers or pursue our dream.

Even when we have a chance to live our dream, our brain will focus on what we have to lose.

Don’t fall prey to this scarcity thinking. If you want to avoid all risk and have certainty, you’re never going to go for your greatest desires.

Be aware that your brain will resistant risk and change. To get control of this fear, start to take small calculated risks and build your courage muscle.

3. Negativity bias

Emotions like anxiety, fear, guilt, and anger are necessary for our survival. They communicate to us when something is wrong or when we need to make a change.

But, negative emotions can also overtake us and really skew our perception of the world.

As this New York Times article points out, we have a negativity bias. “Over and over,” Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist, says, “the mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly and persistently than to equivalent good things.”

Bad is stronger than good when it comes to emotions. When faced with a problem or challenge we’re going to give more attention to negative feelings.

Be aware of this tendency to fixate on fear, regret, and anxiety.

According to psychologist and author Rick Hanson one way to deal with this bias is to rewire your brain and start to “take in the good.” He uses the acronym HEAL as a guide.

Have a positive experience.

Enrich it.

Absorb it.

Link positive and negative material.

We need to intentionally cultivate emotions like hope, faith, gratitude, and courage, all of which will assist you in chasing your dream.

4. Galatea effect

Our expectations have a impact on how we actually perform and the results we experience. When we believe in ourselves and expect to do well, it’s more likely to happen.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. A negative attitude and low self-esteem with ultimately hinder our behavior and motivation.

There is a self-fulfilling prophecy when it come to how we deal with people, events, and circumstances.

How do you expect to be treated? How do you think people see you? How do you expect yourself to respond to adversity?

Focus on what you want to experience. Expect positive results and think optimistically. Based on the Galatea effect, you’ll change your behavior and have a better outcome.

5. Planning fallacy

First proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979, the planning fallacy is a phenomenon in which we tend to underestimate the time needed to complete a given task.

We have a tendency to assume long-term goals will be achieved with greater ease and quickness than is actually possible.

Make sure you have a realistic timeline for your goals, and don’t be surprised if your dreams taking a little longer than expected.

This doesn’t mean not to go for it, it just means that developing patience and persistence is even more important.

6. The sunk cost fallacy

When we’ve dedicated time, money, and energy to a goal or project, it’s hard to let it go, even when we know it isn’t going to work. 

The sunk cost fallacy is why we keep doing something even if it’s clear it isn’t going to turn out well.

We don’t like the feeling that we’ve wasted resources or are taking a step backward. We get stuck in this mentality and end up feeling stuck in our life.

Just because you went to college for a certain career doesn’t mean you should keep doing it. No matter what you do, it will take an investment of time and money.

Don’t let this fallacy prevent you making desired change. If you’re unhappy with what you do, making a change IS progress.

What have we learned today?

“The fact that logic cannot satisfy us awakens an almost insatiable hunger for the irrational.” – A. N. Wilson

It’s clear that our thinking is organized around patterns of comfort, safety, and certainty.

We don’t like risk, we’re stubborn, and we prefer the path of least resistance. We aren’t naturally wired to follow our dream. Hence, most people don’t do it.

Don’t let this stop you!

You won’t always be able to overcome these biases and fallacies but you can start to be aware of them.

Reflect on your beliefs and make sure they’re serving you.

Make choices based on your values, your heart, and your intuition. We aren’t always as logical as we believe.

Photo credit: Thomas Leuthard