I am a big golfer, and I like to say that golf is a microcosm of life. Sometimes you hit a great shot, but get a bad break, and the ball ends up in an undesirable location. Other times, you hit a poor shot but get a good break, or as we would say on the course you “get away with one”. Most of the time, the result follows the process: hit a good shot, get a good outcome, or hit a bad shot, get a bad outcome.
What is interesting about the game though, is when the round is over, golfers tend to remember the bad breaks, but forget about the good ones! We remember the short putt we missed but don’t remember the long one we made. We remember the ball that bounced into the water but forget about the one that bounced onto the green. At the end of the round, we can always find a few reasons for why our score should have been better than it was and many times attribute that to bad breaks!
Why is that?
There is a psychological term called self-serving bias that helps explain this phenomenon. Self-serving bias explains the human tendency to take credit for good results but blame outside forces for bad results. It is important that we are aware of this bias so that we can protect against.
Think about the last time you had a bad quarter, fell short of a goal, or had to let go of an employee. To what did you attribute those failures? How about the last time you had a record quarter, blew past a goal, or promoted a start employee, to what did you attribute those successes? If we aren’t carefully monitoring our thoughts, we might start to shy away from taking responsibility for the failures and continue to spiral down the same feedback loop.
Daniel Kahneman is considered the ‘father’ of behavioral economics and spent decades studying human behaviors such as self-serving bias. He had an interesting answer when he was asked whether his expertise made him less susceptible to falling in the traps of these biases, “Not at all… And furthermore, I have to confess, I’m also very overconfident. Even that I haven’t learned. It’s hard to get rid of those things.”
So next time you encounter a failure, be intentional about seeking out ownership for the situation. If you train in that feedback loop, you will develop habits to combat self-serving bias. You may also be able to only remember your good breaks after your next round of golf!
Garry North, CFP®