Cognitive & Confirmation Biases – How our thinking can affect our experience – Part 2

Hi, I just want to add to my earlier video on how our thinking can affect our experience.

Now, if you wonder what I’m doing, I’m in hospital at the moment after a minor operation on my hand after it was bitten by a dog. And I’m lying in a hospital bed waiting to be discharged. It’s all’s gone well, and I’ll be out soon.

 In my earlier video I was talking about how our thinking can affect our experience and I want to talk about that quite a bit more.

My name’s Leigh D Wilson. I’m a Master Executive Mindset Coach and I help busy professionals quickly overcome their inner struggles so that they can experience greater success and enjoyment in life.

Cognitive Bias

One of the things that we, as humans, experience is that what’s called a negative cognitive bias – that is that we tend to hang on to negative experiences much more than we do positive experiences.

This is a survival mechanism so something that’s part of our DNA that has helped the human species survive for so long. You see it in wild animals if you try to interact with them too, for example.

I’ve got some birds, magpies, kookaburras and other birds that I feed. At first, they’re very shy and timid and it takes a long while to coax them to have the courage to eat out of my hand.

So, they’re on guard all the time just looking out for danger and that’s what we as humans do at some low-lying level. Most of the time our lives are fairly safe but at some very unconscious level we’re looking out for danger, which can cause a low-level sense of anxiety.

So, we have this negative cognitive bias and as a result we remember bad experiences more powerfully than we do positive experiences, which reinforces this caution. If you think back you can probably realize that you remember bad things that have happened in recent times perhaps a bit more strongly than some of the happier more positive events. That’s the way it’s meant to be, but of course, if you’ve got a lifetime of memories that are negative, it’s not quite as enjoyable and it’s not as fulfilling and it’s not as empowering as it would be if you had more positive memories.

Dr Rick Hansen describes it that our negative experiences stick to us like Velcro whereas our positive experiences stick like Teflon!


So, the way to counterbalance this is by using the concept of reframing that I talked about in my previous video. I was talking about how resistance gives pain and often a lot of the pain we experience as humans is because we’re resisting things that are happening to us, things that just can’t be changed. And if we have an attitude of acceptance, the pain lessens and it becomes a far less of an ordeal.


Well in the same way, we can reframe our experiences so that they are viewed in a different light. You know if you look at a picture and then you put a different frame around it, the experience of the picture is different. So, we can do that with our own life experiences. Now it sounds like a bit of a gimmick, and you might take a bit of convincing that it’s a good idea but if you try it out you might be genuinely surprised how, in reframing things, your interpretation and experience of the events changes. In fact, it starts to become a bit of a game that you play with yourself so that whenever anything unpleasant or negative happens, you start to find yourself looking for the positive in it so that you can reframe it.

With practice, this starts to become a way of living. So, to give you example, you know to make up an example, imagine you sleep in you, you’re running late, you burn the toast that you have for breakfast, you stub your toe as you’re trying to get dressed, you miss the train so that you’re late for work and you get into trouble with your boss.

It’d be very easy to say as you’re doing all that “I’m having a bad day” and by telling yourself you’re having a bad day you’re going to get more of what you’re telling yourself in that way.

Confirmation Bias

That is because we have another bias, which is called the confirmation bias: whenever we have a theory, we look for evidence to prove that that theory is true. It’s described quite quaintly by saying that we’ve got two parts of our mind: there’s ‘the thinker’ and ‘the prover’ and whatever the thinker thinks, the prover tries to prove and looks for evidence to prove that it’s right.

So, if you’re saying you’re having a bad day, you’ll be looking all day long for evidence to prove that that theory is right and of course that will accentuate the sort of bad day that you’re having.

Whereas, if you can reframe it so that you’re looking for the positive, you are then accentuating the positive, so you end up creating a life full of more positive experiences. So to put it simply, you could live a glass half-empty life where you’re all the time thinking about how things aren’t going right and how bad life is and how you’ve only got half a glass or you could choose to live a glass half-full life where you’re grateful that you’ve got at least half a glass full and that you have what you have rather than regretting what you don’t have.

And of course, these all add up if you do this, day in, day out. If your experiences are interpreted in a positive light, your recollection of your life, your unconscious mind, becomes filled with much more positive recollections, much more positive experiences, which help empower you, help you build resilience and help you become stronger and, overall, more successful.

So while it might appear to be a little bit of a gimmick and you might think “well, I’m trying to fool myself” you’re not really – you’re looking for what the positive can be in an experience.

In in my book, Overcoming Financial Stress I give the example of being pulled up by a policeman for speeding. You could curse him or her and you could say how unfortunate you are, you’ve now got to pay this fine and how terrible it is, and you’d be feeling really bad.

Alternatively, you could reinterpret it and say “well he (or she) may have saved my life, which will encourage me to drive more slowly that, in turn, could be life-saving not only for me but also for somebody else.  Both interpretations are correct. In fact, as I said in my earlier video, Shakespeare says “a thing is neither good nor bad less thinking makes it so”.

So, you can choose the way you choose to think about things – you have that choice – and by making a positive choice your life experience will be very, very different and far more empowering.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with that thought.  I’m going to be discharged pretty soon, so is all going well here, and I look forward to your comments.

Thank you.

Edited transcript

You also might like to check out the other two parts in this series on “How our thinking affects our experience”:



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