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3 Ways to Avoid Bad Decisions

2. Include the inconsistent.

Key points

  • People are motivated to focus on positive attributes and ideas to boost self-esteem but often avoid an honest and balanced look at things.
  • This avoidance can make them more confident and attractive in the short term, leaving them blind to mistakes and problems later.
  • By including negative and new information, with a focus on the whole truth, their lives and relationships can get better.

How well we understand ourselves can impact our personal decisions and interpersonal relationships. Unfortunately, taking an honest and accurate look at ourselves and our situation is not always easy. Sometimes, we get stuck obsessing over things we already know, overlooking new information. Other times, we are tempted to avoid negative information to maintain our self-esteem. Nevertheless, when we only look at consistent or positive things, we bias our self-understanding.

In turn, that bias can create blind spots, leaving us open to bad decisions and relationship problems. Therefore, learning where our self-understanding can go off-track and the steps to do it right is essential for long-term success in life and love. Fortunately, more than 30 years of research have identified those problems and solutions.

Research on Self-Evaluation

A set of experiments on self-evaluation processes was conducted by Sedikides (1993) three decades ago. In those experiments, participants were asked to choose from different categories of information in order to evaluate themselves. That information varied in terms of being positive or negative and in terms of how important it was to the individual's identity. The goal of providing those choices was to see how often participants used three different self-evaluation strategies:

  • Self-enhancement. Focusing on maintaining a positive and confident self-image by choosing positive information and avoiding negative information.
  • Self-verification. Focusing on remaining certain about a current self-image by choosing information confirming existing beliefs and avoiding anything new or different.
  • Self-assessment. Focusing on finding out what is accurate and true by choosing the most important information, even if it is negative or inconsistent with current beliefs.

Across six experiments, Sedikides (1993) found that individuals most often choose self-enhancement, followed by self-verification. Thus, when faced with a choice about what information to consider, people usually focus on the positive stuff only and avoid anything negative—which boosts their self-esteem.

If negativity cannot be dodged, they try to focus on the negative information they already know, preserving their identity and avoiding feelings of loss. Therefore, they generally shield themselves from new and negative information, which might highlight blind spots and problems, to keep a false "rosy picture" of their situation.

Pros and Cons of Self-Enhancement

Those initial findings led to years of research and hundreds of studies on self-enhancement. Thus, in 2019, a meta-analytic review of 299 of those studies was conducted by Dufner, Gebauer, Sedikides, and Denissen. Through that review, the team comprehensively explored the potential impact of unrealistically positive self-views on personal and interpersonal adjustment over time.

Initially, the results for self-enhancement seemed encouraging. According to themselves and others, those with unrealistically positive self-views were better psychologically adjusted. They also had higher life satisfaction and less depression. Overall, it seems people are motivated to self-enhance because it has psychological benefits for them personally.

Nevertheless, maintaining an unrealistically positive self-view had more mixed results on interpersonal relationships. While false confidence had a positive impact on strangers, the effect disappeared as people became more acquainted. Furthermore, when self-enhancement was focused on boosting feelings of personal agency (competence, dominance, and drive), it had a negative impact on relationships over time. Essentially, spending effort on enhancing the self can come at the cost of maintaining relationships with others. Thus, while self-enhancement can be charming to start, it can erode relationships in the long term, especially when it is competitive and dominant.

Steps for Better Assessment and Understanding

Given the above, we are often tempted to see things in an unrealistically positive way because fantasy makes life seem more satisfying. In reality, though, problems may go unnoticed, especially in relationships. Eventually, the self-enhancement bias can come crashing down as problems from the real world assert themselves. That leaves folks with only two choices. They can double down on the denial, remaining blind to the problems. Or, they can lean into a more accurate self-assessment of themselves and their situation by following the steps below:

  1. Balance the negative and positive. Most blind spots come from trying to maintain an unrealistically positive picture of our world or, more accurately, avoiding feelings of negativity and loss. This is unsurprising, given that folks are generally loss averse and scramble to avoid it. Unfortunately, that leaves them open to being influenced by scarcity and romantic partners playing hard to get. So, the first step toward accurate self-assessment is creating a more balanced outlook by being open to positive and negative information. Specifically, what are your strengths and weaknesses, and what opportunities and threats do you face?
  2. Include the inconsistent. The second place people tend to get stuck in is their need for self-verification, leading to a bias for the status quo. That leaves them open to being influenced by consistency techniques and sunk costs in relationships. Nevertheless, just because something has been going along a certain way for a long time does not necessarily mean it is a good thing to continue. So, in addition to considering both positive and negative information, it is important to reflect on both old and new information as well. Specifically, what have you believed or done in the past, how has that worked out (good and bad), and what might you believe or do differently in the future?
  3. Take your time. Finally, people tend to rush and make quick evaluations. Instead, for good decision-making, take some time, gather the facts, and stay open to possibilities. Combined with the above steps, that will keep you away from basic biases and blind spots. It will also help you focus on specifics and truth rather than being easily persuaded by superficial things. Facing the full reality of a situation may be uncomfortable at first. The clear picture will help you make better decisions and create more satisfying relationships in the long run.

© 2023 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.

Facebook image: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock


Dufner, M., Gebauer, J. E., Sedikides, C., & Denissen, J. J. (2019). Self-enhancement and psychological adjustment: A meta-analytic review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 23(1), 48-72.

Sedikides, C. (1993). Assessment, enhancement, and verification determinants of the self-evaluation process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(2), 317.

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