No matter how successful or experienced, everyone makes mistakes. No one bats a thousand, and that's okay. It is impossible to always be right. However, there are ways to avoid making poor judgments and decisions, and it centers around being aware of your hidden biases.

Biases are ingrained, hardwired processes that exist in all humans. At one point in history, they may have helped with human survival, but today, they are more likely to get you in trouble.

We are all susceptible to a slew of biases, for example:

  • Anchoring -- Question: Is the population of Ecuador more or less than 3 million? What size is the total population?

    If you are like most people, you severely under guess the population. The actual population of Ecuador is over 16 million, according to World Bank. However, the question is set up in a way that makes most people guess a number a lower number. By asking if the population was more or less than 3 million, the response was anchored around this number.
  • Outcome bias -- People will attribute an outcome to something that has little or no influence on it. An athlete wears their favorite pair of socks when they win a big game. From that point on, they may believe that they need to wear their "lucky socks" to increase their chances of winning again.

  • Rhyme-as-reason -- People are more likely to remember and believe sayings that rhyme. For example, "Birds of a feather, flock together" versus "Similar flying animals travel in unison."

With so many hidden biases, how do you know when you are biased and how do you make better decisions?

1. Accept that you're probably wrong.

The first step to better decision making is to accept that you may never be right. Having humility is key to overcoming biases. Humans have a tendency to overestimate their abilities. In one study, 80 percent of participants rated themselves as above average drivers.

2. Break down your reasoning.

It is a gut reaction to look for evidence that supports existing beliefs. It's easy to say that you're right and justify it.

However, rather than insisting that you are right, analyze the process that you used to come to that conclusion first. Looking at your decision making process can help you understand if you're justifying existing beliefs or if you're making the best decision for the situation.

Without taking a hard look at the reasoning, you can justify anything. For example, when a new iPhone comes out, you could come up with dozens of reasons why you need to buy it. It will increase productivity. You'll be able to text faster, but is it actually worth the high price? The reality is likely that you want it because it's new and shiny, and not because you actually need it.

3. Look for cognitive friction.

Research has shown that cognitive friction, or having healthy challenges and debates with people that have an oppositional view, will produce better ideas and problem-solving. One study paired off individuals based on whether they identified as Democrat or Republican. Teams were then tasked to solve a murder mystery.

Pairs that were made up of Democrat and Republican often debated their arguments more and worked harder to come to a conclusion. As a result, they were more likely to solve the mystery than teams that were made up of people with the same political affiliation.   

Surround yourself with people that will challenge your perspective and force you to be better.

If you don't have people around you that are willing to call you out when you're wrong, you will be prone to making terrible mistakes.

Being challenged doesn't mean that you will always make the right decision, but it will give you the best chance to catch the missteps in your thinking and it will force you to explore alternate perspectives.

All humans suffer from human biases, and everyone makes mistakes. However, becoming more aware of your biases, analyzing your decision making process and surrounding yourself with people that challenge you can lead to fewer mistakes and better decisions.

Published on: Dec 27, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.