We have to look for traits and actions that confirm our value, not a negative self-image.
I have a friend who has an irrational belief that cars with license plates from a certain state are all operated by terrible drivers. Over the course of a day, he’ll see hundreds of vehicles equipped with the offensive plates and each time he sees one make a bad driving decision, it validates his opinion of all drivers from the state. Of course, the huge majority of the vehicles he sees with these plates are driving safely and courteously. But those are ignored. They don’t validate his opinion. Only the tiny minority of poor drivers are considered. This is confirmation bias at work.
Of course, it’s easy to see how such thinking is illogical and irrational. But most of us do it all the time. For example, in a marriage, one partner may insist that they do the dishes all the time and the other insists that isn’t true. When the first does a load of dishes it confirms their belief. When the other sees a sink full of dirty dishes it confirms their belief. The second doesn’t recognize when the sink is empty and the first may not being do the dishes all that often.
Confirmation bias can be even more sinister when we use it to undermine our ability or achievement and reinforce a negative self-image. I can accomplish a lot of things over the course of a day, but if I don’t do something that I considered very important, I sometimes consider myself lazy or useless. How backwards!
In my case, I should consider the day a success. I just have a little work leftover for tomorrow. The same is true for you. You failed, you aren’t a failure. You answered a question wrong, you’re not dumb. You made a bad decision, you’re not incapable of making good decisions. Often, people will consider the small errors as confirmation of their negative self-image.
When pressed, my friend will acknowledge the ridiculousness of his opinion. When he drives, if he makes a conscious effort to recognize the good drivers his opinion changes. Drivers from that certain state are just as capable and efficient as drivers from his own state. We have to go through the same exercise.
Recognizing the reality of things and changing a negative self-image takes effort. You have to step back and take stock of your victories, no matter how small they are. Don’t blind yourself to them; don’t let just the failures, the missed opportunities or the bad choices confirm an illogical, irrational self-image. You must consciously look for the good.
The opinion you have of yourself is what will make the difference between achieving success as you define it, or ultimate failure. When you catch yourself exercising a negative confirmation bias about yourself, make a concerted effort to consider a few actions or traits that confirm the opposite. You have value, even if it doesn’t immediately jump to the surface of your consciousness. Sometimes, it just takes a little thought to convince yourself of it. Just like seeing the good drivers, over time that effort will help reinforce a positive self-image.