It is estimated that over 50 000 thoughts rush through the average person’s mind every single day. The thoughts that run through our minds are based on our experiences and determine how we view the world. And how we view the world affects the decisions that we make.
I have been wanting to cut my hair and dye it blond! This idea came to mind when I saw someone else that had this hairstyle – the perfect Instagram post. The more and more that I dwelt on this thought, the more and more I saw many others that had too decided on this hairstyle. Surely, this was a sign that I too should go for the plunge?!
There is a psychological term called ‘confirmation bias’ that helps us understand how we often justify the decisions that we make based on thoughts previously planted in our minds. Confirmation bias explains how the human mind ‘tends to search for, interpret, favour and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs; often ignoring any contrary information’. I will illustrate with a few examples of how this bias has affected a few areas of my life:
Once upon a time, I tried and failed to lose weight while ‘following’ the Banting diet. The information that I had had on this diet was that I could eat all the meat, butter and cream that my heart desired. My failed experience with this diet made me scoff at anyone that declared that they were on this diet and would proceed to cite all the failed attempts of others to them. Until one day, one of them rebutted me and said: ‘Well, of course it didn’t work on you! You were eating a full chicken every day!’ She unconfirmed my bias.
I left Zimbabwe on the brink of an economic collapse to pursue my tertiary education. I did not have a steady income stream, as my parents were sometimes unable to source foreign currency. This affected the way I viewed money. I was always afraid to be out of money; so much so that even when I did have money, I did not spend it. I just wanted to see it in my bank account. Seeing the amount made me feel safe. It was until I went home for my first vacation and my mother looked at my torn jeans in disbelief. ‘My child, money is there to cover your needs. Buying a new set of jeans is not a luxury, it’s a need.’ She unconfirmed my bias.
‘So have you cut your hair and dyed it blond, Wadzi?’ I hear you asking. Not yet. Why? I have another piece of information. I have done this hairstyle before. The last time I cut and dyed my hair blonde, my children declared that I looked like a banana. They unconfirmed my bias.
Renew your mind
Self-awareness and self-reflection are the biggest gifts you can give yourself and those around you. Taking time every so often to take stock of the thoughts that go through your mind is a fruitful exercise. If we leave our thoughts unchecked, we continue to live a life that is filled with biases, biases that often affect (positively and negatively) those around that surround us. Two things have helped me in this journey: allowing people that I respect and love to speak openly to me about my ‘bias blind spots’ and reading books to help broaden my mind so that I can see the world with a clearer set of lenses.
Wadzanai Mabuto CA(SA)
Senior Lecturer in the Department of Accounting at UJ