Confirmation bias: how it can stall healing

Mar 21, 2024

I bet you brushed your teeth today. Why? Because you believe that it’s good to brush your teeth. You believe that it prevents cavities and keeps your gums healthy. You didn’t actually think through the reasons why you should brush your teeth today. You don’t really need to, because you already believe it so completely that it’s filed away in your subconscious mind.

You simply brushed your teeth.

If I told you that a new study came out that says we no longer need to brush our teeth, you would not believe it, because it’s not consistent with what you already believe.

This is a good example of how our beliefs dictate our actions. And when it comes to having good teeth and healthy gums, it’s great. That belief serves you well.

But what other beliefs do you have that don’t serve you well?

Maybe that you’re…..

  • Not pretty enough.
  • Not thin enough.
  • That you’re too old and it’s too late.
  • That you weren’t a good enough spouse.
  • That you should have been able to save him.
  • That you no longer belong with a particular group of people.
  • That you’re failing at grief.

Beliefs are simply well practiced thoughts.

The more we practice a thought, the sooner brain files it away in the subconscious – in the spirit of efficiency. And yet that belief dictates the actions we take.  

And the brain will then look for more evidence to support the belief. Plus, it blocks out any evidence to the contrary.

It’s called confirmation bias, and we all have it. It’s not just a grieving person thing, it’s a human thing.

This is why most people don’t change political parties. They already believe what they believe. The brain finds more and more evidence to support that belief, and blocks out any evidence to the contrary. Which is why you wouldn’t believe that you no longer need to brush your teeth.

Confirmation bias is normal and always in play.

As a person living life after the loss of a spouse, it’s good to be “on to” your brain. To know your confirmation biases. To find your long-practiced beliefs that are buried in your subconscious mind.

They might be beliefs that you learned as a child and have practiced for decades.

Or, they might be beliefs that came after your loss.

My mission is to help you dig up beliefs and examine them, keeping the ones that are true and serve you well, and deleting the rest.

It’s a bit like cleaning out a closet. You have to open the door and turn on the light. Then take out each item. Some items were never yours, but someone passed them down to you. Other items are decades old and don’t fit you anymore. Some are out of style. Some items were perfect for you before your loss, but don’t fit well now. And some items are perfect for you now.

Let’s not let unexamined beliefs dictate the rest of life. Because confirmation bias means that your brain will continue to find more and more evidence that an unexamined, untrue, unhelpful belief is just true.

And that will hold you hostage, keeping you stuck in a mediocre-at-best existence. It’s existing, without truly living.

We humans get to think about what we think about. We get to open the door and turn on the light to our own brains, and see what’s inside. Take out one thought at a time and examine it – and then choose to keep it or throw it away.

Please don’t believe everything you think. The exact opposite might actually be true.

What if you are, indeed, pretty? What if you’re not too old, and it isn’t too late? What if you were a good (albeit imperfect) spouse? In what ways DO you belong? In what ways ARE you making forward progress with your grief?

Are you open to considering the exact opposite of your current beliefs?

If you are, then confirmation bias loosens its grip on you.

You’ll start to see other possibilities. You’ll set down the heavy burden of suffering. You’ll allow yourself to dream again, and then dream bigger.

You’ll create a life you will love again.

Learn more about Life Reconstructed.

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