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Your most dangerous cognitive bias

What could be more dangerous than these strong competitors?

  • Affective heuristic

  • Agent detection

  • Availability bias

  • Clustering illusion

  • Confirmation bias

  • Groupthink

  • Hostile attribution bias

  • Hyperbolic discounting

  • Identifiable victim effect

  • Illusion of control

  • In-group bias

  • Loss aversion

  • Naive realism

  • Neglect of probability

  • Outcome bias

  • Overjustification effect

  • Plan continuation bias

  • Planning fallacy

  • Projection bias

  • Restraint bias

  • Salience bias

  • Semmelweis reflex

  • Sunk cost bias

  • Survivorship bias​

  • Zero-risk bias

  • Zero-sum bias

  • And more and more...

One bias trumps them all

And this bias is not yet "officially" discovered or recognized as a cognitive bias.

 

Although biases can reinforce each other, I could argue cogently that our unawareness and inattention to this one bias causes more human suffering than all the other "official" biases combined. Let me explain.

Three types of problems

Any problem that occurs to us as a problem can be classified as an internal problem, an external problem, or a problem that's composed of an external problem that occurs as causing an internal problem.

You can have an external problem without any associated internal problem

  • You want to learn to ride a bicycle. You are enjoying the challenge and process of learning how to ride a bicycle. You think you can learn how, but if you don't, that will be okay too.

  • You love your job of figuring out how to solve the problems that your clients have.

  • You love playing poker. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you win. But you're constantly learning something new and exciting.

You can have an internal problem that doesn't occur to be caused by an external problem or stimulus

  • You're feeling so irritable and impatient with another and you don't like it. You can't see anything they did to cause it and they don't deserve that you feel this way toward them.

  • You're just depressed. Everything you do just seems meaningless. You don't know why.

  • Your mind just won't stop. Should you do this? Should you do that? You feel indecisive about everything.

You can have an internal problem that occurs as caused by an external problem

  • You expected to get this done sooner. But your mistakes and the pressure from others are making you frustrated.

  • You haven't achieved in your life what you should have by now. You're thinking something must be wrong with you. What should you do?

  • You just found out that your spouse is having an affair. You're so upset and feel betrayed. Should you try to save your marriage or get out?

  • You really need to lose some weight. You don't feel good about yourself and how much you weigh. You've tried to lose weight, but it's so hard.

The External Problem Bias

Whenever a problem occurs of this third type, most of us, much of the time notice and focus on the external problem, often with little awareness that the internal problem is distinct from the external one. We don't pay attention to the internal problem as a separate problem that can be addressed independently.  We don't identify that internal problem as a civil war with ourselves that's making us suffer as well as making it more difficult to effectively address the external problem.

Internal problems, unresolved, will inhibit our ability to solve the external problems and will even make them worse

Answer the following four questions as they relate back to the four problems mentioned just above.

  • Does that feeling of frustration empower you to take whatever effective action to address the external situation as it now exists?

  • Does that feeling of something being wrong with you, give you the best access to creating the best life from this point forward?

  • Does that upset, that blame toward your spouse or yourself, support you in making the best decision regarding your marriage and then happily implementing your choice?

  • Does criticizing yourself for being at the weight you're at now empower you in creating and playing a fun game to be at your desired weight?

Identify and resolve the internal problem first

Once you've resolved the internal problem, which is what AskDwightHow is all about, you'll be ready to dance and have fun with addressing the external problem, to the extent that it still exists.

External problems, by themselves, can be a source of curiosity, creativity, adventure, satisfaction, and joy

In fact, if we didn't have any external problems, life would not be life and it would be boring, at the very least.

St. Peter and the fisherman

You've got to hear this story about St. Peter and John the fisherman.

John's hobby was fly fishing. He lived for it, always looking for a break from his work or other responsibilities to drive up to one of his favorite streams to cast his rod into the stream to see what he could catch.

Then John died. 

St. Peter met him. "Have I got something to show you!"

St. Peter lead John to an idyllic rushing stream where John was surprised to see a few fish jumping into the air to catch flying insects. 

"Here's all you're going to need to begin your fishing."

John took the fly-fishing rod from St. Peter. He also noticed some waders, wading boots, a fishing net, and everything else he needed, organized neatly near the edge of the flowing water.

Eager to get started, John cast the fly over the stream and into the water. Within seconds he felt the tug on his line. He reeled in a fish which was likely the most beautiful specimen he had ever caught. Quickly he cast the fly across the water again. This time a fish jumped out of the water to swallow the bait! A third time confirmed that this was the best fishing experience he'd ever had. "Oh, my God," he exclaimed, "This is pure heaven!"

"I'm going to leave you to it. If you need anything, just holler. I'll come a-running," St. Peter said.

John caught fish one after another, each one almost begging him to fish faster. After two hours, John called out to Peter, who appeared instantly. 

"Something's wrong here. It's not fun anymore. I thought that heaven was supposed to be a happy place."

St. Peter replied with a malicious grin, "Who told you that you were in heaven?!"

The grand game of life

If we first address any internal problems or issues, then external problems that we still have will occur as a welcome part of the grand game of life.

AskDwightHow is about your internal problems

Yes, I have included some tools, mostly inside the NFS toolkit, that focus on how to address the important external problem of creating and maintaining great health. Notwithstanding, the #1 function of this site is to assist you in powerfully and easily resolving the internal problems that are endemic to all peoples of the world.

How do we detect an internal problem?

Any of the following feelings are often red flags that indicate an internal problem. An internal problem indicates some level of internal civil unrest, insurgency, pitched battles, or war. To ensure I wouldn't miss any potential red flags, the following list is an excerpt from a handout by Byron Katie called "Emotions List."

  • abrupt

  • aching

  • achy

  • afflicted

  • aggressive

  • agitated

  • agonized

  • agoraphobic

  • alarmed

  • alienated

  • alone

  • anguished

  • annoyed

  • antagonistic

  • anxious

  • appalled

  • apprehensive

  • argumentative

  • arrogant

  • ashamed

  • attached

  • attacked

  • attacking

  • authoritative

  • avoiding

  • awkward

  • bad

  • belittled

  • bitter

  • blank

  • blasé

  • blindsided

  • blocked

  • blunt

  • blushing

  • bored

  • bossy

  • brutal 

  • bulldozed

  • bullied

  • bummed out

  • burdened

  • cheerless

  • closed

  • cold

  • combative

  • comparing

  • complaining

  • compulsive

  • condemning

  • condescending

  • conflicted

  • contracted

  • contrary

  • controlling

  • cowardly

  • crabby

  • cranky

  • craving

  • critical

  • cross

  • crummy

  • crushed

  • crying

  • cut off

  • defensive

  • dejected

  • demanding

  • deprived

  • desolate

  • despairing

  • desperate

  • despicable

  • despondent

  • devastated

  • dictatorial

  • directionless

  • disappointed

  • disconnected

  • discontented

  • discouraged

  • disgusted

  • disheartened

  • dishonest

  • disillusioned

  • dismayed

  • disoriented

  • disrespectful

  • disrupted

  • dissatisfied

  • distant

  • distracted

  • distraught

  • distressed

  • distrustful

  • disturbed

  • doomed

  • doubtful

  • down

  • downhearted

  • drawn

  • dreading

  • dull

  • embarrassed

  • empty

  • enraged

  • envious

  • exasperated

  • exhausted

  • fake

  • fatigued

  • faultfinding

  • fearful

  • fidgety

  • forlorn

  • fragile

  • frenzied

  • frightened

  • frowning

  • frozen

  • frustrated

  • furious

  • glaring

  • glum

  • grieved

  • groaning

  • grouchy

  • grumpy

  • guarded

  • guilty

  • haggard

  • hard

  • hateful

  • heartbroken

  • hesitant

  • hitting

  • hopeless

  • hostile

  • humiliated

  • hurtful

  • immobile

  • impatient

  • in hell

  • incapable

  • incapacitated

  • incensed

  • incompetent

  • indecisive

  • indignant

  • inept

  • inferior

  • infuriated

  • inhibited

  • injured

  • insecure

  • insensitive

  • insulted

  • insulting

  • intimidated

  • intolerant

  • invaded

  • irritated

  • jealous

  • jittery

  • lifeless

  • lonely

  • lost

  • loud

  • lousy

  • low

  • mad

  • malicious

  • masochistic

  • mean

  • menaced

  • miffed

  • miserable

  • misgiving

  • moaning

  • moody

  • morose

  • mournful

  • nauseated

  • negative

  • neglectful

  • nervous

  • no energy

  • numb

  • obsessive

  • off-kilter

  • offended

  • offensive

  • out of sorts

  • overbearing

  • oversensitive

  • overwhelmed

  • pained

  • panicked

  • paralyzed

  • paranoid

  • pathetic

  • pessimistic

  • petrified

  • phobic

  • phony

  • powerless

  • prejudiced

  • preoccupied

  • punishing

  • pushy

  • quarrelsome

  • ranting

  • reactive

  • rebellious

  • recoiling

  • rejected

  • remorseful

  • reprimanding

  • repulsed

  • resentful

  • reserved

  • resistant

  • restless

  • retaliating

  • revengeful

  • rigid

  • robotic

  • rotten

  • rude

  • sadistic

  • sarcastic

  • scared

  • scolding

  • scornful

  • secretive

  • seething

  • self-absorbed

  • self-castigating

  • self-conscious

  • self-critical

  • self-deprecating

  • self-hating

  • self-loathing

  • serious

  • shaky

  • shallow

  • sharp

  • short-tempered

  • shrill

  • shut down

  • shy

  • sick

  • slighted

  • slouching

  • slow

  • sluggish

  • slumped

  • smothered

  • snapping

  • sorrowful

  • sour

  • spiteful

  • squirming

  • stern

  • stiff

  • stilted

  • stonewalling

  • stony

  • stressed

  • stubborn

  • stuck

  • suffering

  • suicidal

  • sulky

  • sullen

  • superior

  • suspicious

  • tactless

  • tearful 

  • tense

  • terrified

  • territorial

  • threatened

  • tight

  • timid

  • tired

  • tormented

  • tortured

  • touchy

  • trapped

  • trembling

  • troubled

  • unbending

  • uncaring

  • uncertain

  • uncomfortable

  • uneasy

  • unfair

  • unhappy

  • uninterested

  • unpleasant

  • unresponsive

  • unsure

  • unwelcoming

  • unworthy

  • upset

  • uptight

  • useless

  • victimized

  • vindictive

  • vulnerable

  • wary

  • weak

  • wearing

  • weary

  • withdrawn

  • woozy

  • worried

  • wretched

  • wronged

  • yelling

How have we humans evolved to have the External Problem Bias?

We humans are distinct from our non-human ancestors in that we are time-binders. Animals cannot live in the past or future as we can. They cannot observe their own mental and emotional processing as we can. Animals lack the ability to create ideas and beliefs that inform their actions.

 

Consequently, they have no ability to create internal conflicts. For animals, all conflicts occur as external, as they should. Any problem they have is always an external one and they have no ability to be introspective and see it otherwise.

Even though our time-binding and introspective abilities grant us immense power that animals don't have, these same abilities leave us vulnerable to the world of internal conflicts, conflicts that become addictive in the battles between our Now and our Next, our Oneself and our Others. Unlike animals, where there can be no distinction between integrity and dis-integrity (they are always in integrity), we humans are more than prone to fall into and live inside the HOGAB, the world of dis-integrity.

On the time scale of evolution, we have been mammals for at least 178 million years, not even considering our non-mammalian ancestry. Arguably we have become self-conscious, time-binding animals, otherwise known as humans, for less than five million years.

 

Quod erat demonstrandum.

How to undo the External Problem Bias

The first step is to develop the awareness that you're dealing with two problems, not just one. Only by distinguishing the internal problem from the external one, will you have the option to consider addressing the internal one first, which is often the most effective way to handle the external one too. I recommend using Kickstarting a mental habit. With this method, plug in the question to yourself, "Currently, am I aware of any problem I'm focused on in which I haven't distinguished a part of it as being internal?"

Then when you distinguish an internal problem and you decide to resolve it first, use AskDwightHow, as needed to accomplish that.

Have fun with the mystery hunt of sniffing out and addressing those sneaky internal problems. 

Enter: the end of suffering and better results to boot!

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