There’s something important you need to know about your brain.
It likes to be right.
Being right feels good (thanks to the chemicals released in your brain) and it takes way less energy than always challenging your current view of the world. This means that, thanks to your brain, you’re subconsciously always looking for evidence to support what you already believe.
This impacts on how you gather, interpret and remember information.
For example, if you believe that people generally don’t like you, you’ll be always on high alert for any signs that someone may not want to connect with you – such as a less friendly than usual expression, a late reply to a text message or showing up late. You may interpret neutral behaviour as negative. You may be more likely to seek out information on why it’s hard to connect with others, and interpret it in a way that confirms you are “unlikeable”. You’ll remember and recall the moments, signs and information that support the fact that others’ don’t like you, more easily than other information.
This is called confirmation bias.
It explains why two people can see the same evidence and come away with two completely different, and perhaps opposing viewpoints, both validating their own beliefs.
Confirmation bias can keep you stuck
The reason I’m telling you all this is that it has major implications for how we experience motherhood. Here’s why…
What you believe to be true about yourself and your life may not be the whole truth, even when there seems to be a whole lot of evidence to prove it.
I know it feels true. That’s because you’ve been believing and proving it for a loooong time. But that still doesn’t make it actually true and you don’t have to keep holding onto it.
Understanding confirmation bias is especially important if you would like to create a different reality to the one you’re living now, or if you’d like to show up in a different way to how you currently are.
Your current beliefs are shaping your current reality and in order to change your reality, you need to identify and change any unhelpful or disempowering beliefs you’re holding onto about yourself and your life.
“I’m a terrible mum.”
“I’m failing at this.”
“I’m not as good as other mums.”
“I’m not loveable.”
“My children are so difficult to deal with.”
“My life is so stressful and overwhelming.”
“My husband isn’t interested in sharing the load with me at home.”
“I should be doing…….”
Since your brain is in the habit of working to prove those current beliefs to be true, it’s going to take some intentional effort to change focus and look for evidence of your new beliefs.
Persisting through the discomfort of changing focus
While you’re making the shift to focusing on your new beliefs, your brain is still going to be finding evidence of the old beliefs. And when it finds that evidence, you might be tempted to give up and stick to those seemingly undeniable old beliefs (please don’t!).
You might also feel pretty uncomfortable when confronted with evidence of your new beliefs. This is because, when it comes to our subconscious, familiar is comfortable and safe and unfamiliar is threatening and scary. The discomfort you feel is called cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance was first proposed in 1957 by Social Psychologist Leon Festinger. It refers to the mental distress we feel when new information is at odds with our own beliefs.
When we’re presented with evidence that contradicts or challenges our existing beliefs our brains struggle to accept it. For example, if you believe you’re a terrible mum and someone tells you that they really admire the way you handled your child’s challenging behaviour, your brain will resist accepting this evidence that you’re actually doing a good job.
Instead, you dismiss it. Perhaps you can accept that the other person perceived it that way, but you tell yourself “they don’t know they whole truth” or “thank goodness they haven’t seen what I’m like at home”. You might put it down to luck or circumstances out of your control, “I only handled it well because we were in public” or “It was a fluke, I don’t even know how it worked out like that”.
We dismiss evidence to protect our beliefs and then we let it go, deleting it from our memory banks.
In this way, our brains continue to “prove” us (our beliefs) to be right.
Right or happy?
Lovely, here’s a question for you…
Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?
I’m pretty sure that those unhelpful, disempowering beliefs that are repeatedly “proven” to be right are NOT making you happy. In fact, they’re probably holding you back, keeping you small and preventing you from feeling the way you want to feel every day.
Sometimes to be happy, we need to accept that what we believe isn’t the truth. It might feel really uncomfortable at first, but if we persist and shift our focus to finding evidence for what we really want to believe, then it will start to feel good with time.
I want to reassure you that there’s nothing wrong with you or your brain. Confirmation bias is a completely natural tendency of our brains. You are empowered by knowing about it because now you don’t have to let it keep you stuck. You can redirect that bias to helpful beliefs that support you in creating the life you want and in being the woman you want to be.
Let’s go back to our example of believing you’re a terrible mum. If you’d rather believe and BE an amazing mum, then be intentional about finding evidence for this. There will be plenty of evidence in your life, even if it’s hard to see straight away. Give yourself grace because you’ve been ignoring and dismissing these things for a long time.
Consider evidence like this:
- The way your children’s faces light up when they see you.
- How tight they wrap their arms around you for a hug.
- The bedtime chats you have when your children confide in you about the things they are worried about or the dreams they have for their life.
- How you can comfort them with a hug when they are sad, or by kissing them better when they hurt themselves.
- The many times you think about and anticipate their needs.
- When you read their favourite book to them, stimulating their mind and nurturing their interests.
- The way you stayed present and listened as they told you about what happened at school that day.
- When you made their lunch (no matter how simple or creative) to nourish their bodies.
The more evidence you find, the more you will see and the easier it will become to find it, until the confirmation bias starts to apply to the new belief and your subconscious takes over, constantly working to prove the new helpful belief to be true. Now that’s worth the effort.
Start using confirmation bias to empower and support you
Why not start using confirmation bias to your advantage right now! Here’s how:
1. Identify the belief you want to change.
2. Every day, intentionally seek evidence to support this belief.
Start with just one small thing if it’s really challenging. Reflect on the past for evidence you have missed and find new evidence every day. Get curious about opposing views and perspectives. Listen to what others have to say. Pay attention to the things you don’t normally notice.
It can be the smallest piece of evidence. What matters is that you do this repeatedly so that your brain is rewired to finding evidence to support the new belief.
I recommend writing this new evidence down somewhere so that you can read it when you are doubting yourself or experiencing the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.
3. Don’t give up when you feel uncomfortable.
Know that this feeling will pass and that it takes time to rewire those patterns in our brains. It will be worth it!