A Riff On The Availability Bias


In late 2016 I came across Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast And Slow”. This book breaks down different principles within behavior economics and psychology, but the one that has most impacted my day to day life, and is affecting yours right now whether you realize it or not, is the availability bias. 

Pulling the definition from Wikipedia:

The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a given person’s mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method or decision. The availability heuristic operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important, or at least more important than alternative solutions which are not as readily recalled. Subsequently, under the availability heuristic, people tend to heavily weigh their judgments toward more recent information, making new opinions biased toward that latest news.The availability of consequences associated with an action is positively related to perceptions of the magnitude of the consequences of that action. In other words, the easier it is to recall the consequences of something the greater those consequences are often perceived to be. Most notably, people often rely on the content of their recall if its implications are not called into question by the difficulty that they experience in bringing the relevant material to mind.”

After becoming acquainted with this concept it has changed my habits in two major ways:

  1. Being very intentional about my inputs to start my day. 
  2. Leaving a paper trail of lessons learned. 

Jim Rohn popularized the idea that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, and Austin Kleon took this further to say that our ideas are the average of the ideas we expose ourselves to most. This, I submit, is the availability bias at play, which is why I am very intentional with what goes into my mind to start the day. What does this mean in practice? It means that the ideas you expose yourself to are going to be more readily available in your consciousness throughout your day. Want to make healthier decisions? Expose yourself to a video or article related to health to start your day? Want to be more productive at work? Read “Linchpin” in the morning before you get to work. 

Why leave a paper trail of lessons learned? Well, have you ever gone to a performance appraisal and all that really gets talked about is what you did in the back-half of the year? Or listen to advice given by professionals to students, where the advice is generally about being a working professional? Of course, people are not doing this on purpose; they are doing it because it is what is readily available in their consciousness. 

The habits I have formed because of this now include reading every morning before I go to the gym, and keeping a blog once a week to record thoughts and lessons learned. 

I assert to you that the availability bias can be a great servant, but a terrible master. If your inputs are unproductive, negative, or not something that will move you closer to your goals than they need to be reexamined. If your inputs are positive, relevant, and move you closer to your goals you will constantly be surprising yourself about the ideas you are able to produce – using the availability bias to your advantage. 

injustice by Luis Prado from the Noun Project

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