Confirmation bias is an insidious cognitive process that typically travels just below our awareness. Here’s how it worked for me today.
I’m on my way to Spearfish, SD to do a “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” workshop tomorrow and keynote on Friday. My belief is that it’s always hard to pack up and get everything ready and make it to the airport. Usually I hold a negative confirmation bias in my mind. This negative bias involves a belief or working hypothesis that the world will conspire against me and stress me out in the process of trying to arrive at the airport in a timely manner.
First, I’m in my office and about to turn off my computer and my office phone rings. Rarely does my phone ring anymore and it’s even more rare that I answer it with only 10 minutes left before my pre-planned office departure time. But my impulses take over and I answer it. It’s the associate dean and our development officer wondering if I have a few minutes to talk. They rush down and we meet for a few minutes, which puts me only slightly behind as I head to the copy machine for, of course, some last minute copies.
Second, Rita is driving me to the airport. She asks me what route she should take (please note: Rita almost never asks ME what route to take and so this is an anomaly in and of itself). I rise to the bait and tell her my quickest route to the airport.
Third, my best route to the airport begins crumbling when we have to stop for a train.
Fourth, my best route has a back-up option in case of a train. We take it. It leads us directly into road construction.
Fifth, we circumnavigate (I love that word) the road construction and make it to the airport.
Sixth, my confirmation number is in a “pre-check-in” email on my cell phone. I pull out my phone and sort through 53 emails, twice, before concluding that it has apparently disappeared.
Seventh, I get checked in anyway and head through security and upstairs only to discover that Liquid Planet’s espresso machine is broken and I can’t have my pre-flight white chocolate mocha and . . .
Eighth, I have to drag my bags and myself downstairs to use the restroom because the road construction has taken over the upstairs airport bathroom.
But now I’m here, sitting and waiting to board my flight and marveling at how today, for some odd reason, I was able to monitor the universe’s push-back and yet not get sucked into a bad mood. Of course, given that I saw the confirmation bias coming, I was able to simultaneously notice the universe’s positive encouragement as well. After all:
1. The associate dean and development officer are two of the nicest people on the planet and they wanted me to speak at a fancy College of Education and Human Sciences event and that sounds like fun.
2. The copy machine worked perfectly and there was NO LINE!
3. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Missoula as I bicycled back and forth from the University on my perfectly functional bike that didn’t get a flat tire.
4. Rita shared half an avocado with me while at home.
5. The toilet flushed without incident.
6. The car started without incident.
7. The circumnavigation went well and it reminded me of how much I like the word circumnavigation. I was also reminded that Rita is an excellent driver and stupendous conversationalist.
8. The guy at the United Airlines desk was nice and efficient.
9. I got to be in the TSA pre-screening category (not that it makes any difference in the Missoula airport).
10. Instead of getting a white chocolate mocha that I didn’t need I got exercise on my way to and from the restroom.
11. I still got here in time to write this post.
12. And, I’m on my way to Spearfish, South Dakota to have an excellent time with some cool professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping others.
Seriously, it would be difficulty to conclude, despite my usual negative confirmation bias about trips to the airport, that this day (and perhaps my whole life) is anything other than infused with most excellent good fortune.
I wish you all the best with your own confirmation bias challenges. Your homework assignment is to intentionally count the positive events in your life and intentionally not count or dwell too much on the less-positive events.