201: How to Train Your Brain to Overcome Bias | Tanya Dalton
Tanya Dalton quote on challenging ourselves
December 1, 2020   |   Episode #:

201: How to Train Your Brain to Overcome Bias

In This Episode:

When was the last time you paused and questioned your own thinking? In this episode, we’re talking all things biases. I touch on two of the big biases that people face: implicit bias and confirmation bias. You’ll get a better understanding for where biases come from and how they work, plus my tips on how to train your brain to overcome the different biases you have!

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

It’s not what you think, it’s WHY you think.

Questions I Answer

  • What is bias?
  • How does our bias work against us?
  • How can I better understand my thinking?

Actions to Take

  • Acknowledge and recognize that we all have biases
  • Stopping and asking yourself questions
  • Make a plan to look for a variety of sources

Key Moments in the Show

  • How biases work

  • Common cognitive biases

  • How confirmation bias affects people

  • How to train your brain to overcome bias

Resources and Links

Show Transcript

This is The Intentional Advantage podcast with your host, Tanya Dalton,
entrepreneur, best-selling author, nationally recognized productivity expert and keynote speaker. On Season 16, Tanya is taking real to another level, sharing more of her
story and opinions and engaging in conscious conversations to start bringing more
women together. Are you ready? Here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.
Hello, Hello, Everyone. Welcome to The Intentional Advantage podcast. I’m your host,
Tanya Dalton, and this is Episode 201, which means this is the first official episode in
the two hundreds. I feel like someone should be applauding or cheering, but I’m just
in a room all by myself. It still feels amazing, but it’s kind of an incredible milestone
and it’s been great having you alongside me through these episodes as we’ve
geared up for Episode 200.
It’s been amazing. So I want to get back to that topic that we’ve been covering all
season long of these conscious conversations, really peeling back the layers of how
you think. And I know if you’ve been listening to the last 5, 10 episodes, I don’t know
how many episodes we’ve had so far this season, but you’ve heard a lot about the
fact that I have really spent a lot of time this whole year really diving into my
personal growth.
And I’m not going to lie, at times it was really gritty. It was really difficult, but it was
enlightening and quite frankly liberating. Yeah, it takes some thinking. It takes a little
bit of work, but it’s absolutely worth it.
And that’s really why I wanted to have this season where we really, really got into all
these concepts and ideas, because I know that for me, when I started digging into
my own thinking, I knew that I had to take a good, hard look at how I make
decisions, because I mean, decision-making is a huge part of what we do every
single day.
It’s at the heart of every single choice we make. Even deciding to see that we have
choices, that’s a decision. You know, all day long, we are inundated with
decision-making from how to react to the snippy texts that we just got from a friend
to whether to pump another couple of thousand into a marketing campaign or what
do we want to do for our holiday dinner decisions at home, decisions at work;
decisions everywhere in between.

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And what we often don’t realize is that there’s a secret motivation driving those
decisions that we make. And I think it’s really important to uncover that, to bring it to
light, because if you’re making decisions all day long, don’t we want to understand
how we’re getting to those decisions? I think it’s really important. And here’s the
thing: that secret motivation, that secret driving force, is bias.
Ah, I know. That word feels–it feels like an ugly word. You know, we hear that word
bias, and a lot of times our first instinct is to think of it as a form of prejudice. And it’s
true, there are a lot of different biases that fall into that category. Racial bias, gender
bias, class bias, political bias. We’ve seen quite a bit of that, haven’t we?
There’s a lot of biases, though, that don’t really fall into that kind of prejudice. They
instead sneakily influence our thinking. And I say sneakily, because we don’t even
realize that we have these biases within us. And here’s what’s really interesting, I
think, when it comes to bias: it’s really unique to each of us.
We talked several episodes back about how our environment really influences our
thinking in our subconscious thought, and our subconscious thought is where many
of these biases live. That’s the little home they like to be in. So a lot of times these
biases are influenced by where we grew up, where we live, who we associate with,
the things that have happened to us in our lives.
So they’re both innate and learned and they live there in that subconscious mind
that we have. And as you know, from that episode where we talked about it, our
subconscious mind is really what drives our ‘how’ when it comes to our thinking. So
this makes bias sound like this terrible, horrible thing, but the truth is our
subconscious mind creates these biases to help us sift through all of the information
that we’re hit with all the time.
I mean, our brain is constantly being bombarded with more, more, more
information, and it needs a way to organize and to sort the ideas and the thoughts.
So you can think of biases as mental shortcuts; it’s a shortcut that our brain creates
to help us make sense of our world as best that we can, and it helps us move
through our world with as much ease as possible.
Our brain doesn’t want to get bogged down, you know, because we’ve talked about
this before that we have a limited number of calories that our brain can burn. And so
it tries to conserve them. Having a bias or having the shortcut is one of the ways that
we do this.
So I think one of the important things to remember when we talk about bias is that
it is in our subconscious mind, which means they’re just sitting there quietly
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influencing our thoughts, opinions, and behaviors. And if bias influences our
thoughts, opinions, and behaviors, it means it also influences our decision-making
process.
And since we just talked about this idea that we are making decisions all day long, it
means bias is driving our days; it’s really showing us our choices. It’s giving us the
lens that we view the world through. And here’s the thing: We all have some sort of
bias whether we realize it or not. And just because they are mental shortcuts meant
to make our decision-making process easier, it definitely doesn’t mean that they’re
always right or even helpful for that matter.
And I think that’s a good thing to remember because a lot of times we take
shortcuts in life. Sometimes our brain takes shortcuts with our decision-making or
we’ll take a shortcut on the way home from work. We go off the beaten path
because we think it’s going to shave a couple of minutes off of our travel time.
Sometimes these shortcuts work out. Sometimes they lead us totally to the wrong
place altogether.
I think it’s really important to understand and acknowledge that you do have biases.
So, let’s understand how they work. Some experts estimate that we have as many as
a hundred biases actively influencing our thoughts and our decisions. And that’s why
it’s really important to talk about them, to sunshine them, to bring them to light and
discuss them.
Because when it comes to our personal growth and being able to step into ourselves
authentically, we need to understand not just what we think, but how we think. So
let’s get back to that idea of the hundred biases. Oh, that feels like a lot. It feels like I
need to call my therapist right now, but here’s the thing: Step back.
You yourself don’t necessarily have a hundred different cognitive biases hanging
around your subconscious mind. There’s just a hundred different ones. And some of
them are really common; some of them are kind of obscure. I want to focus on the
more common ones. So let me give you a couple of examples because all of us have
different biases. So let me give you a couple of common ones that you might say,
‘Oh, I see myself in that.’
So the first one would be the Zeigarnik effect, which sounds like it’s something that
requires a pill to cure, but it’s not. It’s just that tendency that our brain has to better
remember our incomplete tasks than the ones we actually saw through to
completion. So you’ll actually remember the things that you didn’t finish in greater
detail, which means that you have plenty of ammunition to beat yourself up about
what you didn’t do versus what you did do.

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Does that sound familiar? Yeah. That’s a cognitive bias right there. That Zeigarnik
effect, we’ve talked about it on the podcast before, but it is this very real bias that our
brain has; it wants to discount what we did, and just focus on what you screwed up
and didn’t do well.
All right, let’s talk about another one that you might recognize yourself with:
Gambler’s Fallacy. That’s another common example. This is that concept or idea that
we feel absolutely certain that, after we have flipped a coin and it’s landed heads-up
five times in a row, we feel confident that the sixth time when we toss it in the air, it’s
going to be heads up.
Okay. We know really, if we stopped and thought about it, we know no matter how
many times that coin has landed heads-up or tails-up, no matter what, every time
we toss it into the air, there’s a 50-50 chance it’s going to land heads-up. But this is
what keeps us at the casino. This is what keeps us betting on the same things over
and over again because we feel like this is what’s happened in the past, this is what’s
going to happen in the future, right?
Our brains are tricky, but our minds are deceptive and it makes it easy for us to fall
into these silly biases like Gambler’s Fallacy. You know, and you’ve listened to that;
and you think that’s so silly, but we do that, don’t we? We double down on things
because we’re on a hot streak or, ‘Ooh, I’ve been really lucky lately.’
It’s kind of weird when you stop and think about it, that we fall prey to this. But right
there, right there, that’s the key: Stop and think about it. How do you think? You
know, we let our biases affect our decisions and our thoughts, which is why it’s
important to stop and ask yourself from time to time, ‘Why do I think this way? Why
do I feel so strongly about this?’
And one of the most common biases that so many of us have is called confirmation
bias. And that’s where I want to focus most of our time for the rest of the episode,
because it does directly impact most people, especially when it comes to our
decisions and even how we view our world. So let me give you the official definition
of confirmation bias: it is when a person unknowingly gives more weight to the
evidence that confirms their beliefs and they undervalue the evidence that disproves
their beliefs.
In other words, confirmation bias is what leads us to look for evidence, whether
that’s news articles or books or documentaries or other people that confirm what we
already believe and what we already suspect to be true. And it convinces us that all
this extra information just supports what we already believe. But it’s also what
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causes us to discount, or maybe even completely ignore any other evidence,
whether that’s people or documentaries or articles that say the opposite of your
belief.
And here’s the big catch. The so-called evidence that convinces us that what we
believe is already true, doesn’t even have to be that strong. We already believe it, so
we readily and happily buy into that evidence because we like that it supports our
ideas. And I want to remind you, this is not something we do consciously; this is
something that happens without us realizing. So a good example of confirmation
bias is someone who searches online to check, to see whether their belief is correct.
But when they go through the results of the search, they ignore or dismiss all the
sources that share an idea that’s opposite. It’s not intentional, it’s subconscious that
they just skim over that information because your brain is using that shortcut. Here’s
another example of confirmation bias. When you meet someone, you have an initial
impression of who they are. You meet someone and you’re like, ‘Ooh, I really like this
person.’ Or, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t like her very much.’ Or, ‘She’s kind of snobby’ or
whatever it is, right?
Well, from that point on, whatever they do, however they behave, is going to
reinforce that initial belief. If you see them acting in a way that is rude or aggressive,
you’re going to say, ‘See, that’s evidence that they’re not a very nice person.’ If you
see them doing something that’s nice, you’re going to dismiss it as well. You know,
‘She’s just doing that to get what she wants,’ or whatever, right? That’s another
example of confirmation bias.
And we see this a lot of times in that political divide that we’re experiencing right
now in our country, where there is a good number of people on both sides that seem
unwilling or unable to even listen to the other side or consider that there could be
something right being said on the opposite end of the aisle. And as a result, it feels
like no decisions are going to be made, ever, for any topic, because there’s no belief
in the opposite side.
You know, those thought loops that we talked about earlier this season? Yeah, they
eat confirmation bias for breakfast. They love confirmation bias. So there you have it:
We’re all pretty imperfect. We’ve been saying that for years now on the show, but it’s
true. And it’s okay that we’re imperfect because here’s the good news, we can train
our brain to overcome bias. And when we do that, we can significantly improve our
decision-making as a result.
So I want to dive into how we can train our brains to overcome bias. And I want to
talk about some momentum builders to get you started. All right, sound good? Let’s
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take a quick mid episode break and then we’ll get right back to it. For our quick little
mid-episode break today, I have a quick call to action for you; I have a quick favor.
I want to ask you, because this is our first episode in the two hundreds, which means
a lot of you have been with me for quite a long time, listening to what we talk about
here, implementing a lot of the strategies. So I want to ask a quick favor of you.
Would you please go and leave a rating and a review? Reviews and five-star ratings,
that’s what helps me get some amazing guests on the show. It’s true; they look at
my reviews; they want to know what people think of the show.
That’s how I get some really big people on the show, and I have some really big
thoughts about who I want for our next season. So this would really help me and
would help you because we could have some incredible guests on the show. And it
also helps the podcast programs like iTunes and Stitcher to recommend The
Intentional Advantage to other like-minded women who want to live with more
intention. So it helps us all connect; it helps us find other people who like the things
that we talk about, and that makes us stronger as a community.
So will you take five minutes today and leave a review and a rating? Five stars is my
favorite, I’m not going to lie. But leave a rating and a review and help us connect
with more women. I would really, really appreciate it. And then send us an email or
send me a DM. Shoot me a picture of it, I would love to see it. And I would love to say
thank you to you because it really does mean a lot to me, for you to take the time to
do me that quick favor.
All right, let’s talk about confirmation bias and how it influences our
decision-making. Warren Buffet famously said, “What human beings are best at
doing is interpreting all the new information so their prior conclusions remain
intact.” Yeah, Warren’s pretty good at making decisions and he’s right; we want to
make sure that we’re not just finding information that confirms what we already
believe.
We want to be challenged. We want to step out of our comfort zone because that’s,
what’s going to push us our businesses, our careers into new Heights. So the big
question remains, Can we train our brain to move beyond or even recover from our
biases? And the quick answer is, yes, we absolutely can. Here’s the longer answer,
any effort we take in reframing our thoughts, understanding where our thoughts
come from and how we think about different things, it takes time. And it’s going to
take patience to get things that we constantly feel like we have a shortage of.
So the truth is, it’s not hard work, but it’s not easy work either. It takes awareness. It’s
really being mindful of the thoughts that are rushing through your head. You know,
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a few weeks back, we talked about that idea of the incessant thoughts that are
happening inside your brain and the need to disrupt them from time to time. And
that’s what we’re circling back around here.
We simply need to allow some space and some room to step back and take a good
look. ‘Where do these thoughts come from? Why do I think this way?’ And that
means it takes courage. It does, it takes confidence. And most importantly, it takes
intentionality on our part. That’s really all it takes. And that’s what I mean by it’s easy,
but it’s hard. It’s definitely without question possible.
Questioning your own thinking is one of the bravest things you can do, but it’s also
the most rewarding. It truly is. You know, earlier I talked about the fact that it is gritty
work and, at times it is difficult work, but it’s so liberating and enlightening. It really
has transformed me and how I feel about my decisions and how I feel about my
thinking.
Overall, the fact of the matter is we have been primed our whole lives for these
different biases for the way that our subconscious mind works. And so it really is
stopping and disrupting those things. Let me give you a really silly example,
something that’s just really simple. Like when we see a spider or a snake in the
garden, we have been primed to look at those things as something to be, not just
avoided, but feared.
Snakes are venomous; spiders are definitely right somewhere along the line. As we
were growing up, we were warned to keep our distance and stay away. And our
subconscious mind: it clung to that warning and it created a bias–a mental
shortcut–to help us because you know what, our brain wants to keep us safe. So if
we encounter a spider or a snake, it wants us to like get away, go away.
So without thinking, we see a spider and we might step on her, even though she’s
minding her own business, spinning a web. We do it because we don’t want spiders;
they’re dangerous. But are they really? I mean, most spiders aren’t poisonous and
they actually eat mosquitoes and gnats–two of my much bigger enemies than
spiders are.
So why do we feel compelled to kill them immediately? Onsite snakes are the same,
eating moles out of my yard. I love snakes. They have no interest in having me for
dinner, but it’s this subconscious draw to kill these things because they’re
dangerous. And even though we know that most snakes aren’t dangerous and we
are aware that most spiders aren’t going to kill us, our subconscious mind still
actively wants us to avoid them because it’s keeping us safe.

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Our brain loves to keep us safe. It loves to keep us alive, which I’m grateful for. I’m
sure you are too. But what it does is it takes shortcuts to safety time after time. So
again, the focus here lies on being intentional rather than passive. When these
thoughts occur, when we’re like, ‘Oh, spider! I’ve got to step on it,’ ask yourself why.
Why do I need to step on the spider? Let’s think about how we’re thinking.
So let’s do some momentum builders because I think that’s going to really help
intentionally train your brain. And again, this is not difficult work. It’s things that just
require stopping, giving yourself a step back, and asking a question.
So the first momentum builder is, let’s just acknowledge. Let’s recognize and
acknowledge that we all have biases. I have them, you have them, our friends, our
families, they all have them. There’s not a single person out there who’s totally
immune to biases, and that’s okay. We’re all in that same boat. We simply need to
acknowledge that they’re there. After all, we cannot radically change our thoughts
and our behavior for the better if we don’t see what’s keeping us from doing that in
the first place. So let’s go ahead and acknowledge that we have these biases. Pretty
simple so far, right? Not too difficult.
Momentum builder number two, when it comes to making a decision, I want you to
stop and ask yourself some questions. So I wanted to go through a few places where
confirmation bias tends to rear up a little bit. And I want to give you some questions
you can ask yourself. Okay? So the first place you might find some confirmation bias
is when you’re searching for information.
You go online and you’re looking for more information on a subject. I want you to
stop and ask yourself, What search terms did I type in to find the information? Did I
search for information that contradicts or confirms my beliefs; where did my search
turn kind of neutral? Okay.
Another situation is favoring the information. When you scan through your
newsfeed, are you giving more weight to information that supports your beliefs and
less weight to those that go against it? Again, stop, take a deep breath, ask yourself,
How did I react to the points that I agreed with? How did I react to the points I
disagreed with? And then just kind of take a moment to take that in.
Another time we might see confirmation bias is when we’re interpreting
information. When you take in information, do you interpret it in a way that confirms
your beliefs, or do you interpret it in a way that totally contradicts it? So again, it’s
simply taking a moment and asking yourself, Which parts did I automatically agree
with? Which ones did I snap judgment agree with, without much thought? And
then which parts did I ignore? Or did I skim over some of those parts without
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realizing it because I didn’t like what they had to say? There’s a couple of questions
to ask yourself.
And then the fourth place where we can see confirmation bias is in the recall of
information, what we remember about the information. We’re more likely to
remember information that supports our ideas and beliefs, and we forget things
contradict. So again, it’s just asking yourself the question, Did this post or this article
or this documentary, did it confirm any ideas I already had? And why did it confirm
them?
So, there are four situations where we see confirmation bias: when we’re searching,
when we’re favoring, when we’re interpreting and recalling information. And it really
is that easy of just stopping, taking a deep breath, and asking yourself a few
questions about how you’re thinking. Because we can really make intentional plans
and put in a deliberate effort to ask ourselves these questions. I mean, what would
happen if I thought the opposite of my own ideas? Think about it. Would that make
your ideas actually better, to understand the opposing viewpoint?
I mean, that’s what makes our decisions stronger. That’s what makes them better;
understanding the opposition and having a healthy respect for the opposite belief,
instead of subconsciously dismissing it right away. Actively choosing to see the other
side, that’s what’s going to help us make clearer, more competent decisions. After all,
that’s what conscious conversations are all about, right? We’ve touched on this idea
before in a previous momentum builder.
If you’ve discovered that you have a tendency to mainly read or watch articles and
news that really play to your current beliefs and opinions, try making a plan to try
checking a variety of sources, both inside and outside of your comfort zone. You
know, I’m a huge advocate for writing down goals and intentions. I think you already
know that. So I want you to do that with your plans.
I want you to really write down these questions you want to ask yourself. I want you
to write down how you’re going to really think about how you’re thinking, especially
when it comes to your decision-making. Really write that down and put it in a place
where you sit and make decisions at your desk. Maybe you’re a person who goes
through decisions at your kitchen table with your coffee, write it down there.
You know, making decisions should be like a good debate, a good, healthy debate;
not what we see on TV with our political leaders–that’s not a healthy debate. But like
what we see with debate teams, they actively go out and they research their side,
but they also look at the opposing side as well. As a leader, you will do better when
you surround yourself with opposing viewpoints. When you surround yourself with a
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team of people who are not ‘yes women,’ but they are people who are full of
individual thoughts and ideas and beliefs.
You know, you’ve heard me talk before about how I structure my team, because I do
want to make sure we’re making the right decisions. That’s a really important part of
running a business. So if I throw an idea on the table to my team and not one person
thinks differently, that’s a problem. If no one else has an opposing viewpoint or a way
they think it could be better, that means we need to get a little more conversation
going. We need push-back to make our ideas better.
We need feedback to help us hone our concepts. We need contradiction to make
our work stronger. And it doesn’t get stronger if others around you don’t have a
voice. Sometimes that pushback can come from asking yourself the questions that
we just went through. And the ones I really want to encourage you to go through
the show notes and write those down, because truly you can do this for yourself, but
many times it is going to come from people outside of yourself.
So I want to encourage you to keep branching out beyond your current inner circle.
Challenge yourself to move outside of that comfort zone more and more because I
want this to become second nature to you, to really actively choose how you think, to
the decision for yourself and how you want to move forward.
Here’s the thing that we need to remember: Most biases happen in our
subconscious and we just don’t recognize it until we stop and we question our
thinking. You know, I came across a really great visual example that I wanted to
share with you guys. It’s really hard to do in a podcast, obviously. So I’m going to go
ahead and I’m going to shoot a short video that I’ll send out to my email subscribers
this week because I want you guys to see this visual idea of how these kinds of biases
work.
So if you’re not on my email list, go ahead and do that: Tanyadalton.com/email. I’m
planning on shooting some videos more often that go along with these podcast
episodes and I don’t want you to miss out on those. And I want to show you this
really quick, simple drawing that illustrates how our biases work.
Because like we said earlier, we all have these biases. What’s good is to acknowledge
them and then make a plan moving forward. I want to encourage you to keep
challenging yourself, to make new connections with things that you’re less familiar
with, seek out what is different than what you believe simply so you can understand
it.

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Have the courage and the confidence to ask yourself the questions that will
ultimately make you stronger. Because that, my friend, is the intentional Advantage.

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