Occupational hazard: I read a zillion articles and posts and tweets and emails and pitches every day, and sometimes these things synthesize into unnecessary navel-gazing in the evening hours. This makes my head hurt.
Information bias – the tendency to seek information even when it cannot affect action
Yesterday I read this New York Times article about the cost of raising a child. (Newflash: They're expensive!) The writer had already decided not to have kids, and she justified that decision by talking about financial responsibility. When she mentioned this to other mothers, they told her nothing really matters once you decide YOU WANNNNTT A BABBBBEEEEEEEEEE!
I tried to glean some insight from my discussions with women who are personal finance and parenting experts. I hoped they would help me reconcile the knowable and unknowable advantages and disadvantages of having children. Instead I was assured that a cost-benefit analysis was neither necessary nor helpful, and that one day I would feel the urge to procreate, and so I would.
If you read the comment section, your eyes will bleed. People get really pumped about a complete stranger's decision to procreate -- or not.
False-consensus effect - the tendency of a person to overestimate how much other people agree with him or her.
A few hours later, I was doing my #morningstumble on Twitter and I came across the Wikipedia list of cognitive biases. IT IS LONG. I stared at it, then I bookmarked it, then I came back to it and every political ad I've ever seen in my life flashed before my eyes.
Hostile media effect – the tendency to see a media report as being biased, owing to one's own strong partisan views.
I've read all the Malcolm Gladwell books and minored in human relations. My undergraduate degree is in communications. This is not to say I know anything at all about communicating or decision-making, but I like to study it, and the older I get, the more I'm inferring from myself and my surroundings: It is debatable whether or not it will help you to understand how other people make their decisions, but it is incredibly valuable to your mental health to understand and accept how YOU make decisions.
Curse of knowledge – when knowledge of a topic diminishes one's ability to think about it from a less-informed perspective.
Every super-stressful experience to date in my life has arisen from my belief that whatever decision I made at that moment was it, the end, no second chances. Until about age 35 I thought every decision I made -- from my choice of university to the number of children I would have to the house I would buy to the career trajectory I would take to the weight I was at in that moment was as important as the decision whether or not to push the red button and blow up the world.
Illusion of control – the tendency to overestimate one's degree of influence over other external events
And, shocker, I was wrong.
Now I think there are better decisions and less good decisions, but ultimately, life is a series of decisions and -- except in life-and-death matters, of which there are not that many unless you are a professional soldier -- the bad ones are only truly horrific if you don't change your tack after making them and head in a safer direction.
Irrational escalation – the phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong.
I also used to hem and haw for weeks and months over a decision, resting assured the minute I made it, I would never have to think about it again. Also not true.
Ambiguity effect – the tendency to avoid options for which missing information makes the probability seem "unknown."
Just because you made a decision that didn't work out doesn't mean there isn't a chance to course-correct ... and just because you made a smart choice doesn't mean the universe won't reach down and throw you a disease/lay-off/car accident. There are no safe places or unsafe places, there are just places.
Just-world hypothesis – the tendency for people to want to believe that the world is fundamentally just, causing them to rationalize an otherwise inexplicable injustice as deserved by the victim(s).
So now I try to think through all the possible outcomes of my decisions and then go with my gut, even when it isn't the most fiscally prudent way or the most societaly acceptable way or even the way that would make my family the happiest in every instance. Ultimately, we all have to live with our own decisions, and sometimes the decision that will bring you the most money means you won't have a kid or the decision that makes your daughter cry for joy makes you want to stick a fork in your eye every Saturday morning.
I used to think decision-making was a skill and that I was good at this skill, because some things in my life turned out super-awesome. Then I thought I must be very bad at that skill, because of the eating disorder and the depression and the anxiety and the hurt feelings and stupid jobs and not-recession-proof houses. Then I looked at this list and realized I am neither good nor bad at decision-making: I am human.
Outcome bias – the tendency to judge a decision by its eventual outcome instead of based on the quality of the decision at the time it was made.
Why do all those commenters care whether or not that writer has children? Why do I care? I think we all care how other people make decisions because we need proof we're good at it, that we can gauge from our armchairs how the shit is going to go down.
Bias blind spot – the tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.
The longer I stare at this list, the more I realize we are all just lucky we haven't all killed each other yet. And also that I really need to stop worrying about how I make my decisions, because they are never, ever, ever going to be completely rational. And I probably wouldn't want them to be. I understand how my heart pumps blood through my body, but even if I concentrate really hard, I can't stop pumping. Self-preservation vs. rational thinking -- that's the human condition smackdown, isn't it?