How to Avoid Damage from Your Biases – Write Your Decisions Down

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Do you write down your decisions?

It’s a question I suspect most of us answer negatively. Until recently, the biggest determining factor regarding the quality of my life came from outcomes and my memory. No journal, no diary — just my mind recalling outcomes I either liked or disliked.

Of course, memories hold no bias, do they?

The biases of recency, outcome and hindsight would certainly blight my view of past events. How often were great outcomes more to do with luck than my brilliant decision-making?

I’m too biased to answer.

In truth, we all are. This is why I ask if you write down your decisions. I’m not talking about capturing your t-shirt selection dilemma, or your decision to hit the snooze button. No, I’m talking about the decisions that matter. The choices you have to make that might change your income, impact where you live — and who you live with. These are the so-called big decisions.

I’ve given you a nudge as to why you should write down your decisions, but maybe you’re not convinced…


Memories

Memories are precious to us.

Photo’s capture moments in time that remind us of our past, of a family gathering — a picnic where we came together in an open space. Each picture stirred past emotions. They take us back, often provoking memories beyond the scene. The squabbles, the laughter, the tears — there are always tears, for they give us a glimpse into the efforts of what it took to achieve that moment.

Even with the nudge of photos, events are still blurry.

It falls to us to fill in the gaps.

Hindsight remembers an alternative version of the truth. It remembers the family gathering — the food, the fun — and the rain. My wife — the pessimist — recalls the day as overcast and gloomy. The rain, although not forecast, was inevitable she says. The food wasn’t great either, the savoury eggs were dry and the sandwiches, well…

Me, I’m the optimist.

I remember it being fun, of everyone laughing at me as I dropped a simple catch when playing rounders with the kids. The sun had us removing our jumpers this early spring weekend. The rain when it came was sudden and heavy, soaking us — and making us laugh as we tried to get back to the sanctuary of the cars.

Hindsight changes our history — it blurs our truth.

Filters from our individual feelings cascade on us like sunlight shining through the various colours of a church window. The pessimist remembers the bad times, the optimist — well, those memories are best forgotten.

Of course, hindsight isn’t alone in changing history.

What of the outcome?

The family gathering was a picnic, but it rained — and that’s all everyone talks about when the event comes up in discussion. Everyone forgets the time we spent together. No one remembers the fun playing rounders, or us laughing when I dropped an easy catch. No one remembers the food — the bite-sized triangle sandwiches, or the delightful savoury eggs. The only memory is the panic to get back to the cars as the heavens opened, and we got soaked.

“That was a bad decision to have a family gathering.” So I’m told.

Maybe the outcome was bad, but the decision?


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Write down your decisions

Our memories deceive us, which is the point of this article.

If you want to make better decisions, then you need to write them down. You need to make the decision-making process separate from the outcome. One certain way to achieve this is to document the choice you face.

Writing it down inevitably delays the decision and forces rationality into the mix.

It also removes the retrospective impact of our biases.

The moment you fail to write down a decision before making it, any analysis made subsequently becomes damaged. Your biases will falsely rationalise the outcome to suit your narrative. The influence of hindsight bias, outcome bias and others — there are 104 biases according to Wikipedia — will change your view of past events.

Documenting your decisions gives you a unique view of life.

It enables you to record the decision and the outcome as two separate events — which they are.

Ask anyone what their best and worst decisions are they will most likely relate to you their best and worst outcomes. Decision = outcome is a perception we know sounds naive, but ask yourself what your best decision was. I’m sure you’ll have the same problem.

When you separate the decision from the outcome, you can begin to appreciate the influence of luck on outcomes. Uncertainty will always feature — that’s life. But, what so often happens is our biases negate this blunt truth by allowing our minds to create a story that gives us certainty.

It’s why you need to write down your decisions today.

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