Your brain wasn’t made for the modern era.
For most of human history we were hunter gatherers surviving in tribes. We didn’t have the stimulation of technology, the safety net of modern medicine or the vastly interconnected social system that we have now.
Because of this fact, our brains and bodies have some left over mechanisms and responses that aren’t exactly suited for our time. Today we are going to be talking about one of the mechanisms and responses that we have left over from a distant past: cognitive biases.
Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment.
Specifically we’ll explore how these cognitive biases can help cause one of the most rampant mental well-being problems that we all have in common, a low self-esteem.
While you think every decision and thought you hold is completely voluntary, I’m here to show you that the shortcuts your brain takes deeply impact how you view yourself and the world around you. Once we are aware of the tricks our brain can play on us, we can control them a little more.
Negative Bias refers to the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things.
In other words, something we consider very positive could have less of an affect on our mental state and behaviour than something we find to be less intensely negative. It could take 5 positive experiences to outweigh one negative.
If you go outside and five people compliment you, but one person insults you, the insult might affect you more than all of the compliments combined. With this in mind it’s easy to see how our self esteem can be skewed from what it could be if we weighed the positive and negative equally.
Attentional Bias is the tendency of our perception to be affected by our recurring thoughts. For example, people who frequently think about the clothes they wear pay more attention to the clothes of others.
Put in the context of self esteem it is easy to see how this could become a problem. If we already think negative thoughts about ourselves often, this bias will send us into a spiral. We will believe that other people are thinking negative things about us and it will become a point of focus for us.
This bias will affect our behaviours and mood based on reoccurring thoughts. If those thoughts are negative (which the negative bias can cause) then we are fighting an uphill battle.
The Spotlight Effect is the phenomenon in which people tend to believe they are noticed more than they really are. Being that one is constantly in the center of one’s own world, an accurate evaluation of how much one is noticed by others has shown to be uncommon.
This can easily damage an already bruised self esteem in that we may believe that everyone around us notices all of the flaws that we see in ourselves. We believe that everyone sees our pimples, or our nervousness in conversations, or our clothes, or height, or whatever else already makes us feel self conscious.
These biases in combination can be detrimental to our mental well-being if we are not aware of them. It’s hard to fight against millions of years of evolution and a brain that we don’t have complete control over. But we have to try to be aware so that the next time some bad happens, we can try to truthfully balance it against the good. Or that we can catch ourselves the next time we are in a spiral of negative thoughts. Or that we can realize that the people around us don’t actually pay as much attention to our flaws as we believe.
If we can keep these biases in mind and try to mitigate their affects whenever possible, we can help lessen the damage they have on our self esteem and live a better quality, happier life.