How Self-Serving Bias Skews Your Perception Of Reality

Our brain has a confidence preservation mechanism called self-serving bias. This mechanism is the reason many people attribute success to luck rather than a deliberate effort. The purpose of self-serving bias isn’t to give you the most accurate model of reality, but rather to provide your brain with a belief system that’ll contribute to the development and preservation of your self-esteem.

Self-serving bias works through your Reticular Activating System. This is the medium through which you perceive reality. Because the amount of sensory information surrounding us at any moment is so immense our Reticular Activating System works to focus our attention on whatever it thinks will most benefit us.

For example, If you’re talking with a friend, and an attractive member of the opposite sex walks by, your attention will wander. If you’re maxing out on the bench press or squat you’re probably not focused on who you’re going to hang out with this weekend.

For the most part the Reticular Activating System’s filtering of reality is wonderful. If it didn’t exist we’d constantly have our focus shifting from our breathing, to our plans for the weekend, to the feeling of our fingernails growing.

However, because of self-serving bias our Reticular Activating Systems often work in a manner that serves to steer us away from truth. It’s easier for our brain to attribute success to luck rather than admit our own inadequacies. It’s easier to attribute success with women to looks or money rather than admitting our behavior towards them needs changing.

Unfortunately, once you enter this trap it’s extremely difficult to escape because your brain filters all new beliefs through your foundational model of reality. In other words, people identify with their beliefs, and because of this attachment they actively seek out stimuli to reinforce their beliefs while filtering out that which conflicts with their beliefs.

If, for example you believe success with women is the result of being rich you’ll actively seek out proof of rich men that are successful with women while ignoring or making rationalizations for examples of average or poor men being successful with women.

Imagine self-serving bias as viewing reality through a red lens. I can tell you the whole world is full of blue, but until you let go of your identity with your beliefs and drop the red lens you’ll be unable to see blue.

Letting Go

So, the question then becomes how do you stop identifying with your beliefs? Many people try affirmations. I’ve tried affirmations in the past, but found them generally ineffective (for myself at least), and have since developed an active, simple way to let go.

Now bear with me as this is somewhat new agey, but the biggest epiphany I’ve had in letting go of identification with my beliefs is realizing that it isn’t me that’s letting go of my beliefs. Think about that for a second. It’s not you that’s identified with your beliefs. It’s merely your ego.

You are not your ego. The voice in your head isn’t you. How could it be? You’re perceiving it. The real you is not the voice in your head, or even your physical body. Those are just the mediums through which you interact with the physical reality.

The real you is the observer. This is something Eckhart Tolle teaches. When you say, “I can’t live with myself.” Who is the myself that you cannot live with? It’s not you, it’s your ego.

The biggest reason we lack presence to the moment is because as a society we’ve made the most pivotal inaccurate assumption of all. That we are the voice in our heads. That we are the ego.

Under the belief that you are your ego identifying with your beliefs is safe because it allows for the preservation of yourself. To drop the identification with your beliefs would be to threaten your sense of self. To do so would threaten your sense of being.

Thus, the most effective way to change your beliefs surrounding the world is understanding that you are neither your ego, nor your beliefs. Because you’ve lost touch with your true self those were only the vehicles you identified with to maintain a false sense of self-esteem.

When you let go of the false sense of self you’re able to tap into the natural sense of self-esteem that is the default state of the human experience. Happiness is the default state unstifled human beings experience. Once this is realized identification with any belief becomes unnecessary because you’re already experiencing a genuine sense of self-esteem, and happiness.

Of course, you’ll never be perfect at being present to the moment, and letting go of your ego, but through daily meditation, and conscious effort you can tap into human beings’ default state of happiness and greatly reduce the amount self-serving bias affects you.

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Picture is from December 2011

Also, I’m experimenting with a new design on the blog. If any regular readers have feedback on this post or the blog’s new design I’d love to hear it.

Merry Christmas to you as well! 🙂

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