Breaking Cognitive Biases

By Anthony Gold

Steve is a meek and tidy soul with a passion for detail. He is very quiet and has little interest in people. He was drawn at random from the US census population.

Which is more likely – that Steve is a farmer or a librarian?

What’s your answer?

Perhaps a librarian. He resembles the prototypical librarian.

Now, pulling a word randomly out of the dictionary – which is more likely: that the word has the letter “R” in the first position, or in the third position?

There are tons of words you can come up with that start with the letter “R”.

But there are three times as many words with the letter “R” in the third position as there are words starting with “R”. So, it is far more likely the random word pulled has an “R” in the third slot. Surely 😉

Now, going back to our librarian friend, Steve.

In the US, there are at least 20 times more male farmers than there are male librarians. Thus there are more “meek and tidy souls” who are farmers than there are librarians, and as such it is far more likely that Steve is a farmer, not a librarian.

That’s the challenge with cognitive biases – of which we have many. We are often led to the wrong answer or a poor decision – explaining everything from bad relationships to the financial meltdown from a few years ago.

And cognitive biases are what lead us to cling so tightly to a maladaptive thought system and the subsequent habits we form. It explains why, for instance, it can be so hard to move away from past religious viewpoints (or any other deeply held beliefs).

To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning. No belief is neutral.  (

And our beliefs directly translate into our actions.

Every [belief] has the power to dictate each decision you make. For a decision is a conclusion based on everything that you believe.  (

Join us on Monday where we’ll explore these cognitive biases we’ve formed – as well how we can begin the process of undoing them. The resultant peace is extraordinary. I look forward to seeing you then.

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