Optimism – another cognitive bias you want to have

Cognitive biases are unconscious forces that affect our decision making, most of them negatively. Confirmation bias – the tendency to seek out information which confirms what we already believe is one of the most insidious, and sunk cost bias – the tendency to overvalue things in which we’ve invested is another common failing.

However, there are a few cognitive biases that correlate with success. Back in 2013 I wrote about four of them, of which personal exceptionalism, the macro-sense that you are at the top of your cohort is perhaps the most important.

And then today my friend and colleague Richard Hughes-Jones tweeted about another: optimism.

Optimists are normally cheerful and happy, and therefore popular, they are resilient in adapting to failures and hardships, their chances of clinical depression are reduced, their immune system is stronger, they take better care of their health, they feel healthier than others and are in fact likely to live longer.

From Kahneman.

So if we want to be successful we should cultivate a sense of optimism, and of personal exceptionalism. That said, we mustn’t go too far and end up naive or arrogant. The key with positive cognitive biases is to be aware of the bias and keep it in check, but without thinking about it enough to undermine its power.