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Identifying Blind Spots and Self-Sabotaging Behaviors

Why we repeat our key mistakes.

We all fail thousands of times in small and large ways. However, we don’t make thousands of different mistakes--we make a handful of similar errors and we repeat them in endless variety. This happens because we all have our individual blind spots and thinking errors and it is those that usually trip us up in life.

But if we only have a few characteristic errors, why don’t we correct them?

Most of us would like to correct our mistakes, as we are not purposefully sabotaging our goals. However, in order to correct a mistake, we first have to see it as such and recognize the element that went awry. The problem is we do not see the real mistake because we have competing ideas about what the "problem" was that directed our attention away from our characteristic errors and toward other culprits such as "luck," "timing," and other external causes, or we focus on justifications and explanations that do not promote further inquiry such as, “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be” or “I'll just have to try harder next time” (when we should try going about things differently). This is the definition of a "blind spot."

Many of us are unaware that we have these kinds of blind spots. Even when we do recognize their theoretical existence, the reason we struggle to correct them, despite the grief they cause us, is that we are indeed blind to them. These kinds of errors in thinking and self-sabotaging behaviors simply do not register as such in our minds when we perform them.

Another reason we have a hard time identifying cognitive errors is that doing so requires us to dive into our failures and disappointments and examine them like a detective searching for a key clue at a crime scene—which, given we are both the perpetrator and the victim, makes for an emotionally unpleasant task for sure. That said, as unappealing as it is to spend time and effort analyzing painful, embarrassing, and disappointing experiences, if we could figure out what was making us stuck or how we contributed to a negative outcome, we can then figure out how to avoid that kind of key error going forward. By doing so, we can correct not just one negative outcome but many.


Now, a new book by popular PT blogger Dr. Alice Boyes titled The Healthy Mind Toolkit: Simple Strategies to Get Out of Your Own Way and Enjoy Your Life (Tarcher/Perigee, 2018) aims to do just that. A hybrid book/workbook, The Healthy Mind Toolkit provides questionnaires and self-assessment tools to help readers catch and correct self-sabotaging behaviors, thinking errors, stuck points, and self-defeating habits. Addressing both our personal and work lives, Boyes covers areas such as relationships, financial decisions, and a large array of other domains of daily living in which habitual cognitive errors typically manifest.

Using a science-based approach (there is an extensive reference section), The Healthy Mind Toolkit breaks down complicated concepts into easy-to-understand and easy-to-implement explanations and suggestions so readers understand how to correct the behavior as well as gain insight into why they were doing it, to begin with. For example, when discussing the confirmation bias—which asserts we are far more likely to notice evidence that confirms our initial assumptions than ones that contradict them—Boyes uses examples from parenting (you make an assumption about your child’s personality and then ignore contradicting evidence, thus pigeon-holing them), medicine (doctors can become attached to their initial diagnosis even when contradicting evidence is present and thus miss the real problem), or finance (you fall in love with a house and decide to buy it even if the inspection finds reasons for concerns—and end up with a money pit).

Recognizing the complexity of human behavior, Boyes also acknowledges that really beneficial traits can also have a downside (e.g., being very detail-oriented can be useful in certain jobs and lead to time management issues in others, or that giving up too quickly is problematic but so is persisting for too long). The book’s most active ingredient—the solutions—are well-explained and laid out in clear, easy-to-understand, and implement steps.

However, readers should be cautioned that despite the user-friendliness of the book, changing any habit, especially one that involves our default and ingrained way of thinking, requires commitment, emotional effort, and persistence. In other words, The Healthy Mind Toolkit is just that—a toolkit—it can help you get out of your own way but you have to take it seriously and make the emotional effort and commitment to confront your previous errors if you want to get the result you want.

Copyright 2018 Guy Winch

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