How to Respond Quickly When Your World is Changing.

Stop Letting Normalcy Bias Hold You Back

Normalcy Bias: When Adapting with Change Just Won’t Do

On February 2, 1933, a leading newspaper for German Jews published an editorial comforting people that Hitler and the Nazis wouldn’t carry out their threats against the Jewish communities. They assumed that their current rights couldn’t be lost after they’d had them for so long, encouraging people to put faith in those protections that they’d come to know and trust:

Denial: Stop Lying to Yourself

“Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it,” Tyrion Lannister warned in A Game of Thrones. It’s difficult to acknowledge facts that don’t align to our current thinking. As flat-earthers, anti-vaccers, and climate change deniers have all learned, it’s much easier to just ignore those facts that threaten the way you currently see the world.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Deliberation: Make a Good Decision Quickly

“Deliberation, n.: The act of examining one’s bread to determine which side it is buttered on.” — Ambrose Bierce

The main function of normalcy bias is quite simple — it’s to make life easier on us. If things stay the same, our current views aren’t threatened. And if our views aren’t threatened, then we don’t need to make the hard decision to change.

In every difficult moment ask yourself, ‘What is a hard choice and what is an easy choice?’ and you will know instantly what is right.”

Which is easy to say and less easy to do. After all, they’re hard choices for a reason. And the whole point is to come through this quickly, especially in a crisis.

  • Consider whether your decision would be consistent if it was a major event or a minor one. We tend to make exceptions for minor events yet it’s the minor events that add up to define our long-term standards.
  • Consider that you’re making this decision as a long-term rule instead of one-time instance. When we associate today’s decision with long-term behaviors and impacts, we’re more likely to act responsibly.

Decisive Moment: Don’t be a Donkey

“There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” — John F. Kennedy

When asked for what advice he’d impart to his 30-year-old self, Derek Sivers said, “Don’t be a donkey.” He was referring to the parable of Buridan’s donkey, which, upon finding himself an equal distance between a pile of hay and a bucket of water, is unable to choose and ultimately dies of both thirst and starvation.

Enemy of the Status Quo.

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