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8 Errors in Judgement Most People Make - Tips on How to Avoid Mistakes

By:   |   Jul 08, 2018   |   Views: 14   |   Comments: 0

Upon flipping a coin ten times and having ten successive "heads" as an outcome, is heads or tails more likely on the eleventh toss? Surely it's tails? Wrong! It is a 50/50 chance of course! Every time!

You may have fallen into this trap before - the "Gambler's Fallacy" - where there is a tendency to think that future probabilities are influenced by past events. It's just one example of cognitive slip ups earthlings often make. Judgement errors happen to everyone regardless of age, gender, intelligence or education. The brain is sifting through many hundreds of subconscious processes even if we are only concentrating on one thing at a time. Misplaced judgement is a fundamental principle behind the ideas of motivation and success. I have designed this post more for entertainment as it is only a quick skim, but all the topics and ideas behind them, are as solid as concrete.

1. Self fulfilling prophecy.

This is a prediction which causes itself to become real by engaging in patterns of thought that get results from the confirmation of existing ideas. This goes back thousands of years. Roman legends for example: Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome) were placed in a basket as infants, and thrown in the river Tiber after their uncle feared they would overthrow and kill him. Romulus and Remus were rescued by a she-wolf and eventually discovered their identity as teenagers, leading them to kill their Uncle and fulfil the prophecy.

If I believe that a job interview will be successful, the confidence this instills in me may drive me to do my absolute best, and to leak confidence from every orifice; and so thanks to this I get the job. It is a pattern that crops up in self development all over the place. If I believe that hard work will yield success, I will subconsciously strive to work harder and fulfil my expectations. This is why having a positive attitude is so important in improving your mindset. Tragically it works the other way. Giving yourself limiting beliefs will prevent you from achieving. Withdrawal from social events due to perceived under-confidence will make you less confident. A belief that you can never run a marathon will make it so.

"If you think you can or cannot, then you are probably right" -Confucius

2. The reactivity effect

This is the tendency for people to act differently when they know they are being watched. Soldiers of old fought harder and longer in order to impress watching generals or kings. It is also the reason why we have several different "faces". One for close friends, one for family etc. In the 1980s, a manufacturing plant called Beecham works investigated the effects of music on worker productivity. Astonishingly, the music caused worker productivity to increase dramatically! After the "successful" study however, the productivity dropped to previous levels. Unknown to the managers, the increase in output was caused not by the music, but because the workers were being watched! So they were motivated to change their behaviour, and put themselves in a better light. The reactivity effect can be exploited in academia and sport. Having a workout partner encourages friendly rivalry for more strenuous exercise. Students work harder if teachers are watching them.

3. Pygmalion effect.

Similar to the reactivity effect, the more expectation is placed on students and employees, the better they perform. It is a form of self fulfilling prophecy and so also works the other way, people with poor expectations confirm their negative beliefs. It is believed by sociologists to contribute to the class and education divide.

4. Planning fallacy.

Summed up by the phrase: "The task expands to fill the time available". We tend to think about how long the actual task will take, and not the hold ups or transitions between the tasks. They do however add up to a significant portion of time. Things like overruns on breaks, commute times, sickness, interruptions etc, are all very real considerations to a project's time frame. When you are planning your day, consider also whether the time frames you give yourself are realistic or simply wishful thinking (see no. 8). When planning time, giving yourself deliberately less time for a task is one way to motivate yourself to complete it more efficiently. At the day job do not be tempted to sacrifice the quality of work over quantity. It takes a lot of courage to say to whoever is in charge: "I cannot complete all these tasks to the best of my ability in this amount of time; I would rather complete these tasks properly so they don't have to be cleaned up later".

5. Reactance.

When faced with a perceived threat on our freedom of choice, we naturally want to resist, or do the opposite of what is asked. The individual may not even need or want to engage in the unwanted behaviour, but knowing that it is barred creates a desire to act in that way. The effect is well-known with rebellious teenagers. When reacting to some social stimuli, it might be worth asking yourself if your intended decision is a result of reactance, or whether you have decided logically on the right course of action.

6. Herd mentality.

Peer pressure is another term, it is where we follow the behaviours of those around us to avoid conflict and to feel included in social norms. Many fads like mullets and flares in the '80s; and more recent memes such as the "lying down game" are all caused by herd mentality.

It is like this in the workplace and at home. But in response to this I would not encourage anyone to play by rules just because everyone else does. Are these rules in place for the happiness of all involved? Or is it because a perfectly legitimate alternative would not be considered "normal"? Barefoot walking and running for example is far superior to feet in terms of health and efficiency than wearing shoes; but footwear has sacrificed this advantage in favour of cultural norms.

7. Escalation of commitment.

With all the decisions in life, it is inevitable that some will be unsuccessful. Escalation of commitment is where people continue to support these endeavours even when all hope is lost. Lets say an inventor uses half of his life savings to start a business with his product. If after six months he is still losing money, the best course of action would be to cut the loses and return to the day job. The inventor might however be compelled not only to stick with his original decision, but to throw even more money at the problem in the hope that the business turns around.

In your life you will make commitments that don't turn out the way they planned. And in the same way that the inventor still invests money into the business, you could still invest time or resources from which you will not get a return. Learn to recognise when this is happening. But be aware that the situation in the example is different from a period of low productivity or a brief phase of low motivation. We're talking about an endeavor going seriously the wrong way. Don't for one minute start applying this thinking to justify giving up voluntary work or exercise from which you still get some return. There may still be rewards in the future that are not apparent. If in doubt, ask someone you trust.

8. Wishful thinking.

When we are forming goals to work towards, many people make a fundamental mistake - that is one of forming a goal which is pleasing to imagine fulfilling, and not necessarily one that is going to be attainable. When the goal is found to be too difficult to achieve, the resulting feeling of failure is an enormous knock to confidence.

The lesson to be learned is to not try to do too much. Only set yourself what is realistically achievable. You can test to see if your goals are realistic by writing down exactly how you plan to achieve it; every step of the way. If you reach a stage where a step in the method is too "wishy washy", such as: "work hard every day" you will not be able to commit to it fully as the boundaries of your efforts have not been defined. I encourage the reader to do their research in this area, as goal setting is not an easy thing and most people do go wrong at some stage.


Common faults in thinking at first sight, struggles to be relevant to personal development. But bear in mind that everything we undertake has it's origins in our motivation for happiness and for the best possible outcome. In this respect the idea of self fulfilling prophecies, believing in one's self and wishful thinking are phenomena that must be considered. For how many years have you made new year's resolutions based on wishful thinking, as opposed to what you can realistically achieve? Are your actions in the social scene influenced more by your individuality and uniqueness, or are you just following a crowd? Would the Pygmalion effect have a positive effect on your life? Could you utilise a higher expectation of others to allow them to fulfil their potential and not just yourself?

Personal development and self improvement involve training yourself to think in new ways. To combat our cognitive bias and replace it with a behaviour that actually works for the pursuit of happiness. If you understand the mind then you can start making progress towards changing it's faults.

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