A few years ago, I decided I wanted to play some more golf. Being a bit of an amateur, I also decided to get a couple of lessons. Among the awkward back breaking stances and (too many) sliced drives, there was one piece of advice given that has always stuck with me. I remember it when I play once or twice a year (spoiler – I didn’t keep my practice up!). It was a single sentence, somewhat of a throw-away line I’m sure, but it resonated deeply.
It went like this. When you are putting, look at the green and make a judgement as to how much the slope will move the ball; take your aim… then halve it and take your shot.
This explained a concept that I had been pondering in such a simple way that something just clicked.
Your brain is tricking you. Make no mistake. It is not intentional – it is trying to help. But we are not the hyper rational computing machines that the economists would have us believe. We are fallible with in built biases that permeate our lives.
We make calculations, but more often than not, they’re wrong.
Acceptance is the first step.
Before we can deal with the bias, we must accept that it is real, and be humble enough to know that we are imperfect, and that this is natural. Sounds simple and a bit new age, but it is crucial.
To actually internalise this without losing your confidence has been a challenge for me, but it is a step you must take. Once that is out of the way, we have a choice. We can deal with these issues in two ways.
Our first choice is we can work to eliminate these biases where possible so we make the right decision the first time.
In some situations this may be possible, but in others we are just hardwired to see the slope as steeper than it actually is. No amount of training will fix this.
Option two- do what the golfers do, make your judgement, but be self aware enough to know you are unreliable in these particular situations and come up with rules of thumb to adjust.
You can implement this strategy straight away, and it really takes no back breaking work to do- you are working with what you have got, and using your self correction to adjust for your inbuilt bias.
Forget golf – what situations do you consistently get wrong? Is there a pattern there?
Here are a few examples of course corrections I use regularly that have helped me emensely and have required no back breaking work to implement;
– I typically undervalue my position by approximately 20% – 25% in a negotiation; to adjust for this, I push a bit harder in these situations than feels comfortable,
– When I make a time estimate of how long a complex task will take, I know that I need to increase my initial estimate by 80% for it to be realistic.
– When analysing risks of a decision, I have a tendency to overestimate the likelihood of a risk occurring by approximately 40%. I am able to adjust for this by examining each risk carefully to see what “really lies below” (usually it is fear based rather than based in reality), and I can get a clear read once I have gone through this process.
Over time you will hone these percentages until they work like clockwork.
Understand how your brain works, and use your rational side to adjust course.
- Golf is hard
- Our brain tricks us, and it is difficult to see this at the time it is occurring
- However, similar situations occur where you will notice yourself making similar mistakes, time based errors are a good place to start.
- Take time to fully think about this and accept it as true.
- You have two choices of how to approach this, try to eliminate these occurring or adjusting for them when you recognise the situation.
- The latter is much more effective and you don’t have to push against your human nature to implement it.
- Hone your bias radar over time and adjust as you go, you will make better decisions.
Where did I get these ideas? This blog is a combination of things I have read, heard, pondered, and in the end weaved together. Some references that influenced this post;
- My own experience
- A golf pro at Morack Golf Course, who’s name I have long forgotten
- Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
- Superforecasting – The Art and Science of Prediction – Philip Tetlock, Dan Gardner
- Principles – Ray Dalio
- Way of the Peaceful Warrior – Dan Millman
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