Tag Archives: negative thinking

Open Mind: A Cure for Cognitive Bias

By Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

Fake News…. Alternative Facts….

These are two terms that we hear too much of in the news these days, and they are invading our team and project meetings.

I don’t intend to get into a political debate. What I do want to highlight is the phenomenon of cognitive bias that causes us to rely only on that information which is not in conflict with what we already believe to be true and how it is detrimental to sound critical thinking. Every critical thinking process you can employ adheres to the old adage; “Garbage in, garbage out.” Thereforeif you only use information with which you believe to be true or agree, chances are you will fail in solving your problems correctly, creating solid strategic plans or making accurate decisions.

Cognitive bias occurs because of several reasons:

  • You take mental shortcuts when solving problems or making decisions to save time.
  • Too much information is available, and you gravitate to only that information with which you are most familiar or you believe to be true.
  • You are motivated by emotional or moral reasons.
  • You yearn to be “in-sync” with your associates or friends – Peer pressure or Groupthink.

There are 120 types of cognitive biases that we all experience when assessing situations, solving problems, generating solutions, and making decisions. It’s a regular smorgasbord! Without having to spend years in therapy to break through these biases there is one easy solution we can all practice which will help us steer clear of cognitive biases – having an open mind. An open mind will permit you to look at information that may be in conflict with your experiences and what you understand to be true. Ultimately, an open mind leads to more accurate decisions, plans, and solutions.

Here are ten suggestions you should consider acting on to keep that door to your mind open on a regular basis:

  • Listen More Than You Talk!

When you talk, you reinforce what you already know and believe. When you listen, you hear information that may be different from what you know and believe.

  • Think Positive, Before Negative

Our brains are prewired to protect us. When someone brings up a new idea our brains have an “Automatic Negative Thoughts” trigger. Our first reaction is to give a dozen reasons why the idea is bad or why it won’t work. Force your brain to start thinking about the positives. Think how an idea will work, or what the benefits of that idea could be.

  • Never Say Never, Never Say Always

This mindset keeps your thoughts and beliefs static. The world around us is moving fast. Things DO change. Your thinking and thoughts must also change in order to stay up-to-date. By saying NEVER and ALWAYS you do not allow your thinking to evolve.

  • Avoid Making Snap Decisions

When you make snap decisions it’s usually because of overrated intuition– your gut. That means you do not think through decisions by using established criteria and facts. The more you do this, the more comfortable you feel making decisions “on the fly” which keeps your mind closed.

  • Respect Others’ Point of View

By respecting other people’s points of view, it prevents your brain from being immediately defensive about views, opinions, or feeling that are different than yours. This invites people to express their points of views more often. You will find It increases collaboration and teamwork!

  • Look for New Opportunities

Thomas Edison was quoted as saying, “There is a better way to do it, I have to find it.” Be like Edison and look for new opportunities to be more productive and more efficient. This mindset will help keep your mind’s door wide open.

  • Expand Your Network

We surround ourselves with people who tend to think like we do. They are your comfort zone and provide you a “safe place.” Expand your business network. Add new people to your circle of friends. These people will provide a diversity to your views and what you think.

  • Make Failure an Option

When thinking through new ideas, or different ways to do things, make failure an option in your mind. We naturally avoid failure at all costs so we will make judgments sometimes because of uncertainty or lack of knowledge. When you let yourself consider failure as an option you will not be quick to dismiss those ideas that appear on the surface as unsafe.

  • Get Away from Your Screens

This is the most difficult of all of the suggestions. We are addicted to our screens – computer screens, cell phone screens, TV screens, tablets, and even touch screens on our car’s dashboard. Make an effort to go on a technology diet. Each day, make a conscious decision to detach yourself from all screens for a period of time – one or two hours, initially. When you get on your screens you gravitate to information with which we agree – Facebook pages, Twitter or Instagram accounts, or texts to and from our friends. It confirms our beliefs. It makes us feel “safe.” Turn them off. Walk the dog. Go for a run or a bike ride. Better yet, sit down and talk with your family, friends, and neighbors.


Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on this blog, Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Turning Negative Thinking Into Positive Results

By Lou Quinto, Executive Coach and Speaker

When my youngest daughter was in kindergarten, she was learning her numbers from 1-100. Her teacher sent home a newsletter with some games we could play with her at home that would help her in this learning quest. One of the games she suggested was “Guess the Number.” This is where you – the parent – think of a number in your head and your child has to guess what number you have selected.

“Alright Tess,” I said “Let’s play a game. (Over the years I have found children -and most adults – prefer to play games, than to do homework!) I am thinking of a number between 1 and 100. Your job is to ask me questions to figure out what that number is.”

She sat down next to me and with a huge smile expressing her excitement said, “OK, dad.”

Putting my hand to my forehead and massaging it as if I were actually rubbing the number into my head I said “O.K. I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 100… Got it…. Go!”

Using information of which she was confident, my daughter began by guessing. “Is it one?” No. “Is it two?” No. “Is it three?” Uhhhh, No!

I soon realized the game which I originally thought would end quickly could painfully involve 100 questions (99 of which would be wrong!) By the time she asked, “Is it 18?” it dawned on me that I didn’t have to use the number “65” that I had chosen. So I shouted, “Yes Tess, it’s 18!” We both clapped and I gave my five year-old daughter a hug for her Mensa-like accomplishment.

She was excited and so proud of her demonstration of superior intellect that she demanded we play again. So I obliged. This time when I told her that I had selected my number her first question was different than before. She didn’t start with, “Is it one?” Instead she asked, “Is it 18?” I realized how quickly she had learned a problem solving process that so many adults use to solve problems in their professional and personal lives, and that is going back to what it was the last time. Sadly, that problem solving process is incredibly ineffective.

When teaching or facilitating I find most people immediately assume that a problem occurred because of the same cause which created the same or similar situation the last time. Whether it’s a software problem, a new product, or a manufacturing process, we often jump to solutions because they worked the last time. Thus, ignoring new data and contradictory evidence. Our experience can actually lead us astray as we compound the problem by seeking data that supports our conclusion – a phenomenon called “confirmation bias.”

In “Guess the Number,” the best first question is the one that eliminates the most possible choices. For example, if we ask, “Is it greater than 50?” With one question, we may not know the answer, but we definitely know what the answer is not, and have immediately eliminated 50% of our problem. Continuing that line of thinking, if we discover the answer is not greater than 50, our next question might be, “Is it greater than 25?” So in just two questions we identify what the answer “is not” and have eliminated 75% of our possibilities. If you continue to play the game out you will be surprised at how “few” questions you need to ask until you get down to just one number from 100 possibilities…

There is power in this type of negative thinking, and when we’re looking for the root cause to problems, asking questions which help identify what it “is not” can have tremendous benefit such as saving time and becoming more productive. When attempting to solve your next problem, here are some tips to try:

1. Ask what the problem could be, but is not. Don’t just describe what the problem is. Spend time identifying what the problem could be but is not.

2. Don’t ask “Why?” Ask “Why Not?” instead. Often we encourage confirmation bias by asking people to justify why they believe something is the root cause of the problem. Instead, ask people to uncover data that explains why a potential cause is not the root cause. If you can’t identify any “why not’s,” then it could be your most likely cause.

3. Seek to eliminate possible causes first, rather than confirm them. Just ask, “Which possible causes can we eliminate because they would cause a problem we are not seeing?” For example, let’s say you can’t open an email. It might be a problem with your internet service provider. But, if another computer in your house uses the same connection and it’s working just fine, then the blame lies elsewhere.

So, turn on your negative thinking. Over the past 25 years, I have seen such thinking save my clients time, energy and money they might have wasted implementing the wrong fixes.

Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on his blog Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Filed under Problem Solving