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Taking a (Mental) Shortcut

July 11, 2022

I’m all for shortcuts! Whether it’s finding a quicker way to the mall, or streamlining a recipe, if it gets me from Point A to Point B in a speedier manner, shortcuts free up my very valuable time! Now, please don’t ask me to ACCOUNT for all that freed up time! Let’s just assume that I make the most of every single saved second—ironing the pillowcases, say, or working on a cure for cancer (though I do have a theory that too much ironing may be a contributing factor to arm cancer).

I was reading an interesting article about bias the other day. I had time to read this because of my new and nifty housekeeping shortcut: I ask myself, “Is what I am about to clean/tidy just eventually going to get dirty/untidy again?” My answer is usually “Yes,” so then I say to myself, “So there’s really no point, right?” This little internal convo has revolutionized my cleaning routine, and now I can stretch out on my handily unmade bed guilt free, and read articles about bias.

“Bias” is a word I’ve been bandying about for years without understanding the full scope of it. Usually I think of it in purely pejorative terms—someone is biased against people of another race, say, or a different religion. Or, conversely, when I talk, as I am wont to do, about Aiden and Peter’s brilliance, artistic talent and sports acumen, I’ll often end with, “Of course, I am a little biased!” which allows me to brag on and on because hey! At least I admit my favoritism!

But “bias” refers to a wide variety of tricks by which the mind can arrive at a course of action faster than by deliberative thought. There’s Confirmation Bias, where people tend to pay much more attention to information that confirms what they already believe, than information challenging their beliefs. This is being played out large-scale on the political scene these days, of course, but I also recognize that I am much more inclined to listen when “experts” say that running is bad for you. I extrapolate that walking, the gateway drug to running, should also be avoided when possible.

Then there’s Hindsight Bias. Looking back, you knew all along the Cubs or Celtics or Yankees would win (or lose) that big game, didn’t you? Hindsight Bias is not very useful when placing pre-game bets, which are all about foresight, but it’s great for later pontificating at the bar or on sports talk radio.

Other biases include Actor-Observer (I failed the test because the teacher’s questions were too tough! Billy failed the test because he’s stupid!), Optimism Bias (I don’t wear a seatbelt and I’ve never been in a car accident, so I’m good!) and Anchoring Bias (I’m most influenced by whatever I heard first).

All biases are mental shortcuts, and I should try not to use them to circumvent critical thinking, which takes time. And critical thinking, unlike ironing, truly is time well spent.

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    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: www.eliseseyfried.com or email me at eliseseyf@gmail.com.

     

     

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