How to Avoid Psychological Decision-Making Biases

Everyone has decision-making biases, and everyone acts on them at some point in their life. 

When you work in healthcare, making the correct decisions is of utmost importance, but not always possible to do. 

On top of an already demanding job because of the high physical expectations, healthcare professionals are left to manage mental and emotional stress from coworkers, patients, and managers.

All of these things together breeds the perfect environment for cognitive bias.

What are Decision-Making Biases?

Everybody has bad days where their decision-making skills are off and they make bad calls.

Or maybe you even know someone who just isn’t the best at making good decisions, and they usually find themselves in some sort of trouble.

This could be stemmed from a cognitive bias, which is a type of error in thinking that happens when your brain is trying to process and interpret the world around it.

Our brains are powerful, but not perfect. When you experience a cognitive bias, it’s usually your brain’s attempt to simplify information processing. They are standards your brain relies on to make sense of what’s happening around you, and help you reach quick decisions.

Typically, you like to think of your judgment calls and decisions as objective, logical, and informed. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Yes, Decision-Making Biases are a Real Thing!

Back in cave-man days, our brains were wired to make decisions that would keep us alive. We needed the ability to spot predators that could cause us or our families harm, protect our food, run away from danger, and deciding friend or foe relatively quickly. 

If our brains didn’t have that capacity, natural selection would have wiped us out very early on.

And while most things have evolved since then, our brains didn’t get the memo.

Our brains are still wired in a way that keeps us alive, which isn’t exactly exclusive to making rational decisions.

In fact, being rational is one of the few things our brains aren’t great at doing at all. In a study by Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahnemann, our brains are wired with an assortment of cognitive biases that help us act quickly when we’re in danger but impair our ability to weigh evidence, assess situations, and decide logically.

How Do Decision-Making Biases Affect Us as Healthcare Professionals?

On average, humans make 35,000 decisions each day. Experience gives the brain the option of drawing from heuristics, or mental shortcuts that help you make decisions quickly and efficiently. And that works perfectly—most of the time.

In medicine, this fast thinking is a type of decision-making bias and can inhibit decisions and judgments, leading to diagnostic errors and potential patient harm and financial consequences. Human brains are conditioned to find the simple answer, and finding that answer may mean we stop looking for alternatives.

How Do Decision-Making Biases Affect Our Own Health?

Decision-making biases are one way that poor judgment can ultimately affect your own health. As humans, we make thousands and thousands of decisions every day. This results in something called “decision fatigue,” where are brains become exhausted from making too many decisions.

When you consider decision fatigue, it helps explain why some people, who are otherwise practical people, get frustrated quickly with family members and coworkers, have a hard time controlling spending habits, and buy junk food at the grocery store.

You can be the most reasonable, level headed person in the world, but when you’re expected to make decision after decision, your brain pays the price.

It differs from physical fatigue (although you may experience that as well) in the sense that this drains your mental energy. And the more choices you have to make, the harder it gets until your brain eventually looks for shortcuts, which often results in one of two ways.

Option 1: You become impulsive and don’t spend energy on considering the consequences of your actions.

This type of decision-making bias may be why you pull into the fast-food drive-through on the way home from work instead of taking the time to choose a healthier option. Or why you collapse in front of the TV after a long day at work instead of making the decision to exercise or do some self-care.

Option 2: You become avoidant, and do nothing so you won’t have any decisions to make.

How to Avoid Decision-Making Biases

Challenge Your Thoughts

By looking for additional information from a variety of resources and considering other perspectives, you’ll be able to challenge what you think you see.

Another thing you can do is talk to your peers. Consider their thought processes, and take in each perspective, regardless if it’s a viewpoint that isn’t the same as yours. 

Related: What is Mindset & How Can It Help You Be More Successful?

Don’t Rush to Make a Decision

Feeling pressure to make a quick decision is likely to trigger a decision-making bias.

To avoid this, consider your decision making history and determine if you tend to make decisions hastily.

Then, attempt to be hyper-aware of making a point to make decisions slowly. Don’t be afraid to ask for a longer time frame to make the decision. If someone is putting a lot of pressure on you to make the decision quickly, consider if the decision is against your best interests.

Understand Your Own Knowledge is Limited

We all know a know-it-all who really doesn’t know nearly as much as they think they do.

When you place a lot of faith into your own opinions and knowledge, decision-making biases can be triggered. In your head, your contribution is valuable when realistically, it’s not highly valued at all.

Don’t Blame Others

When things go wrong, it’s easy to misplace the blame on others. Often, the scapegoat tends to be someone of a certain stereotype or personality, since objectivity was tossed out the window.

When you experience this, try to look at the situations and people involved without judgment. Consider why certain people behave the way they do and act empathetically towards them.

It’s also important to work on your own emotional intelligence, so you can call yourself out when you’re wrong.

Looking back, have you experienced a decision-making bias? Let us know below!