The Key To Ditching Decision Making Guilt

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Hindsight Bias: What It Is and How To Fix It

By Dr Kim Woodward

Who amongst us wouldn’t like to be able to predict the future? To know in advance how things will unfold so we can always make the ‘right’ decisions. Does that sound too good to be true? Yes, well, that’s because it is.

Can’t figure out how to make the RIGHT decision?

In reality, we make decisions every day without being able to know how things will turn out. We do the best we can with the information we have at the time, but problems of course arise when we look back and think we ‘should’ have known better or ‘should’ have been able to foresee some now seemingly obvious future outcome.

When we judge past decisions, we’re falling into the trap of a cognitive distortion known as hindsight bias – the tendency to look back and see past events as having been more predictable then than they actually were. The problem with hindsight bias is that we beat ourselves up and feel regret over the many ‘wrong’ choices we make – only our choices aren’t wrong.

They’re the right choices at the time. They only seem wrong now with the benefit of hindsight.

To beat the destructive cycle of hindsight bias, you have to let yourself off the hook for information you didn’t have at the time. Retrospective ‘should-ing’ is unhelpful and it’s unfair to retrospectively believe you should have known something you couldn’t possibly have known ahead of time.

So next time you notice yourself getting tricked into thinking you should have been able to predict the future, try saying something like this to yourself instead –

“Wow, there’s that hindsight bias. I’m beating myself up for not knowing something I couldn’t possibly have known. How human of me to think I should have known more than I did, or that that outcome was more predictable that it actually was. I can’t predict the future and that’s ok.

And then ask –

Now that I know what I know though, what different choices, if any, can I make now in the present?

Kim is a warm and empathetic clinical psychology registrar who is passionate about working with adults and young adults to improve their quality of life, enhance adaptive coping/functioning, and reduce suffering. Kim works with a range of presentations including drug and alcohol problems, addiction, issues relating to managing intense emotions, eating disorders and eating related difficulties, low self-esteem and identity issues, relationship difficulties, trauma, stress and coping, anxiety disorders, depression, sleep disorders, personality disorders, and complex and co-morbid presentations.


 

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