The one with the Cognitive Biases: Are you special?

In one of Friend’s episodes, someone asked Phoebe’s phone number (one of the protagonists) and in all her candor she replied “I don’t know I’ve never called myself.” Even though that sounded funny at the time I watched it, there was an element of truth in what she said. The element of truth was the fact that most of the time we tend to focus on others. As a result, we forget to learn about ourselves. Often it’s not even about focusing on others, but on criticizing others’ behavior. For those who were born and raised in Cyprus, they will understand very well why and I mean by what I usually call “το φαινόμενο της κοτζιάκαρης” (the phenomenon of granny). 

Scientifically, this can be translated as a consequence of a cognitive bias. What do I mean by this jargon? As Neil deGrasse Tyson said in one of his Masterclasses, “Being human you have susceptibility to a certain category of bias. Let me distill this a little bit more.” Considering that our brain is exposed to 4 million message units or 50 million bits of information, it can only analyze 134 message units. In these 134 message units, the brain can shortly memorize 7 (+/- 2) chunks of information. Therefore, by now, you’d realized that through the different cognitive processes (e.g., thinking, learning, attending) each one of us is doing, there’s always some information left out and will never be considered. 

So, practically how does that affect your life? Knowing that your thinking and attention, which will consequently form your reality, will tend to focus on finding what’s resonating with your filters. This gives you the choice not to fool yourself into believing that something is true. For example, one common cognitive bias is the bias of wanting to feel special. This works both ways. In other words, you may hear people saying that they’re the best at something you will never achieve. Swinging to the other side of the pendulum, you may hear people saying that they’re the worst and everyone else manages to achieve something and they don’t know how to achieve it because they lack something no one else does. You may argue that you’re special because there is no exact version of yourself, in this time and space, you’re living in. There’s nothing wrong with that. So what’s tricky is the urge of wanting to be special

To sieve all the information you receive through the filter of wanting to feel special, your main focus becomes to see differences in obstacles. In other words, what people tend to do is usually to compare their situation with someone else’s, but they act as a third observer and pinpoint the information that makes their situation different. Therefore, people wire their brains to take a judgmental stance toward others’ behavior. I bet sometimes, somewhere in your life, you heard someone saying “he/she SHOULD have done X” and because he/she didn’t do X, I believe/feel/think he/she is Y. Therefore, I’ll do Z.” If we myopically analyze this sentence, what we will agree on is that the filter we used to deduce what he/she should have done propelled your life in a specific direction. The way you think about other people may impact your relationship with them and inevitably you.

Circling back to cognitive biases, what is important to take with you is that we all have cognitive biases that form our personal truth. This is a statement and there’s out of your control to change this. However, if you’re aware that a thought has been distorted by a cognitive bias and it hampers your ability to interpret what is really happening, you automatically know that it’s worth questioning it. By questioning such a thought, you are basically refining your belief system and learning more about yourself, since you are including other factors which you haven’t had in the first place.