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Confirmation bias – we only see what we look for

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What we see depends mainly on what we look for. Negative talk tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So why not look for positive things most of the time?

Confirmation bias

The confirmation bias is a cognitive bias we are all exposed to. It’s the tendency to interpret information in a way that supports our existing beliefs and hypotheses. We subconsciously discard information or proof which would show our beliefs to be wrong.

Instead, we only take into account whatever confirms our assumptions. We also give this kind of input more weight than contradicting facts. Like “Yeah, I know, but that was an exception…”.

Sherlock Holmes said so himself:

It’s a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a wise man.

This bias weighs in even more when the issue is highly emotional, when we really want something or if we are dead certain that we’re right. Ever tried to reason with someone who wouldn’t budge an inch from their position, although it was completely unreasonable? There are no words and no facts to convince them otherwise. Maybe you are dead set on one specific topic yourself.

It’s always a good idea to keep an open mind, though. Not only are we all prone to confirmation bias at times, but the way we interpret information depends highly on personal experience and beliefs.

Check out these 47 fantastic quotes about positive thinking!

Personal experience and beliefs

Let’s say you believe that you’re a hopeless procrastinator. You’ve always been like that and you remember countless times where you just barely finished your homework or paper.

All this stress and self-blaming every time your hair is on fire. And each time you promise yourself that next time, you will start sooner. But let’s face it, this never happened. And how could it? It’s hopeless!

Well, this is just a story you keep telling yourself. And clearly, the evidence supports it. Of course, it would. First, your definition of procrastination could be biased itself.

Second, you only remember the bad times that support your theory. It probably also happened that some of your homework, paperwork or studying was not done at the last minute.

Or let’s imagine you’re shy. You know you’re shy and networking has you in cold sweats. Your tense and hoarse, and after the first 5 minutes of seemingly endless agony you’re wondering if you can finally go home.

You remember all the times you couldn’t connect with anyone because just can’t do it. You also believe that there’s no way you can get over this.

Again, this is a story you’re telling yourself. We actually don’t die from talking to people.
It might be awkward in the beginning, especially when we’ve been avoiding it our whole lives. But it does get better with practice.


Another thing, that will influence how we see things, is perspective. It’s always good to understand where people are coming from.
It’s easier to relate when we know what’s going on with them. It could even avoid massive misunderstandings.

Depending on our beliefs and experiences, we react differently to the same situation. Because we each have history, but not the same one.
It goes as far as reacting to certain words or expressions because they hold a specific meaning for us.
This can be positive or negative. So when someone has an exaggerated reaction to something we said, maybe we triggered something within them.

Once, I was going to say something silly, but the guy I was talking to changed the subject just before I could say it. So I joked that he had ruined the moment. I didn’t mean anything by it and I wasn’t offended either. He completely flipped out on me.

It turned out that this guy was triggered by the word “ruined”. Apparently, women told him over the years that he had “ruined everything” when they broke up with him. So my harmless joke turned into a huge mess within seconds.

This is an extreme example, but we probably all have some words or expressions that carry a certain association. That’s why it’s so important to think of the other person’s perspective as well.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. To me, it’s just a word that has no meaning. I’ll try to remember”. “I’m sorry, too. I understand that I had an emotional reaction and that you couldn’t know”. Something like that…


So, with confirmation bias, personal experience, and beliefs, as well as a one-sided perspective we tend to see what we look for. Let’s use this to our advantage and look for positive things.

Have you ever noticed how a bad day usually gets worse? Or a good day gets better and better? Look for the good things. It’s so much more rewarding.

Have a great day!

Improve yourself. Improve your life!

And please share your own little story of confirmation bias, beliefs or great days.

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