Confirmation bias, also known as ‘myside bias’, is a curious feature of human thinking that’s important to be aware of especially if you’re beginning hypnotherapy, or indeed any type of therapy.
While we all like to think that our beliefs are rational, logical and objective, the truth is that we all have a natural tendency to seek out and focus on information that confirms our preconceptions and existing beliefs and ignore, or discount, information that goes against this.
Research demonstrates that people tend to give excessive value to information that supports their beliefs
Perhaps because it’s easier to see how information supports a position than it is to see how it may count against it. One example is the smoker who is adamant that smoking isn’t harmful to their health. This smoker will tell you of their auntie who lived to her 90’s despite smoking her whole adult life, and of a friend who died of lung cancer yet never smoked. They ignore or discount all the other evidence that clearly indicates that smoking causes cancer.
Another typical example is someone who believes he or she is a failure
On a particular day they get up on time, shower, dress, get to work safely and on time, but during the course of the morning their supervisor points out a major mistake they’ve made. This becomes confirmation of their belief “I’m a failure”, while the success of getting to work safely, on time, looking presentable and other work completed successfully during the course of the morning, is all completely discounted.
So how is this relevant to hypnotherapy?
A while ago I worked with a man who had sleep problems – every week he came to see me he told me he still wasn’t sleeping well, despite the fact that his sleep diary indicated he was only waking twice in the night instead of 4-5 times, and that he was sleeping for longer periods. However he was fixated on what was staying the same – he still wasn’t getting the 7 hours sleep a night he wanted – instead of noticing differences. This confirmed his belief “I’m a poor sleeper”.
When beginning a course of therapy I encourage you to be aware of confirmation bias and actively seek out evidence of change, however small. Start to focus your attention on what’s different, rather than what’s staying the same. For example, if you’re receiving therapy for pain management – is your pain a 5, rather than 7/10? Is it a throbbing pain, rather than a cutting pain? Do you have longer periods between flare ups? Focusing on difference, rather than sameness, will give you confidence, faith and belief in the process, more motivation and the excitement of knowing that change is possible, and this will drive further change. Keeping a diary can really help with this – as we do have a tendency to forget, or discount, progress.