14 cognitive biases that screw up your success in life

Plate cake crumbs saucer forkWikimedia CommonsDon’t let your biases prevent you from achieving your goals.

When it comes to your personal and professional achievement, you can be your own worst enemy.

You perform poorly on tests because you think you will; you put off work assignments until the night before they’re due; you’re overconfident in the accuracy of your predictions about the economy.

These are but a few examples of the cognitive biases that affect the way you behave and see the world. We’ve rounded up 14 of them, to help you figure out how you could be sabotaging your own success.

Galatea effect


Where people succeed -- or underperform -- because they think they should.

Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, in schools it describes how students who are expected to succeed tend to excel and students who are expected to fail tend to do poorly.


When we believe the world is a better place than it is, we aren't prepared for the danger and violence we may encounter. The inability to accept the full breadth of human nature leaves us vulnerable.

On the flip side, overoptimism may have some benefits -- hopefulness tends to improve physical health and reduce stress. In fact, researchers say we're basically hardwired to underestimate the probability of negative events -- meaning this bias is especially hard to overcome.

Pessimism bias

This is the opposite of the overoptimism bias. Pessimists over-weigh negative consequences with their own and others' actions. Those who are depressed are more likely to exhibit the pessimism bias.

Pro-innovation bias

Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

When a proponent of an innovation tends to overvalue its usefulness and undervalue its limitations. Sound familiar, Silicon Valley?

Zero-risk bias

Sociologists have found that we love certainty -- even if its counterproductive.

Thus the zero-risk bias.

'Zero-risk bias occurs because individuals worry about risk, and eliminating it entirely means that there is no chance of harm being caused,' says decision science blogger Steve Spaulding. 'What is economically efficient and possibly more relevant, however, is not bringing risk from 1% to 0%, but from 50% to 5%.'

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