October 7, 2014

Your brain is foiling your plans!

If you’ve ever been late to an appointment, distracted from finishing an important task, or lamented your ever-growing to-do list, you know how difficult it is to make a plan and stick to it. It’s not your fault and you’re not alone! In fact, your subconscious brain activity is responsible for your foiled plans. People have a whole host of “biases” hard-wired into their psychology that make everyday judgments difficult. Still, with the right planning skills, you (and your children!) can conquer these biases in academia, extracurriculars, and at home! Here are five of the many biases that get in the way of your best-laid plans:40

  1. Illusion of Control: This one is exactly what it sounds like! We overestimate the amount of control we have over our impulses, decisions, and events in our lives. So, we neglect the extent to which events outside our control will affect our plans.
  2. Optimism Bias: We think we are less likely to experience a negative event than others. So, we feel justified in saying, “I won’t get into a car accident, because I’m a safe driver.” In reality, negative events happen to everyone equally.
  3. Time-Saving Bias:When time is limited, or in excess, we don’t properly adjust the speed of our behavior. For example, if it takes an hour to get ready, but you have two hours available, you’ll often be late because you do everything too slowly.
  4. Planning Fallacy: Overall, we almost always underestimate how long it will take to complete a task, even familiar tasks and durations. Studies suggest we also underestimate costs and risks of future actions, while overestimating benefits.
  5. Bias Blind Spot: Finally, we have a bias that keeps us from noticing our biases! We often see ourselves as better than the average, which leads to two major effects: A boost in self esteem, and the expectation of being less vulnerable to biases!

With all these biases stacked against you or your child, it can be hard to imagine an effective way to plan. Still—there are strategies that can combat biases and get your planning back on track.

  1. Making a note, list, or chart is the number one way to combat biases. Have your child write down the time it took to read 20 pages of dense reading. The next time they read the same amount, they will have a realistic time estimate on hand. Try recording important information using whiteboard calendars, google docs, or this useful app!
  2. Actively block out time to achieve goals. While you help your child write out his schedule, add some “buffer time.” You know you are biased, so overestimate the amount of time each task takes; then, when unforeseen obstacles arise, you’ll be ready!
  3. Schedule breaks intentionally. When you work on a project, you tend to neglect the influences of hunger, fatigue, and distractions. If you make time for breaks, these “unforeseen” events won’t cut into your scheduled work time.
  4. Reinforce study skills with executive function tutoring programs that emphasize planning and organization. Then, the skills you foster at home can blossom into a sophisticated mastery of scheduling.

Your brain may be biased, but you’ve got a plan for that!