#171 - What is the Action Bias?

January 24, 2023

Learn about a common mental issue that's almost certainly making your life harder than it needs to be.

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Tony Kaizen: [00:00:00] What's up, my friend? You are listening to the Life in English podcast. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen, and today I'm going to tell you about a mental issue that is almost certainly making your life harder than it needs to be. And that issue is the "action bias".

Tony Kaizen: [00:00:20] The term "action bias" refers to our tendency to prefer action to inaction, even if there's no evidence that doing something is better than doing nothing. You know those situations when you feel helpless and you say, "Well, I can't just sit here and do nothing." That is the action bias at work.

Tony Kaizen: [00:00:38] So how does it affect us? Well, on an individual level, it causes us to waste time and energy doing things that have absolutely no positive impact on the situation. In fact, there are times when our impulsive need to act ends up making the situation worse. An example I'm sure most of us have experienced is when we're stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway. I mean, you know how it is. Every single car is going three miles per hour at most. Countless cars are trying to merge onto the freeway and every time traffic stops or someone tries to merge, some jackass feels the need to honk his horn repeatedly, as if that's somehow going to make the situation better.

Tony Kaizen: [00:01:17] The action bias compels this jackass to honk his horn because the idea of doing nothing in such a frustrating situation is unacceptable to him. He says to himself, "I bet if I just keep honking the horn, the entire freeway will part like the Red Sea, and I'll be able to drive straight home." But what usually happens is the jackass gets cut off in traffic, he honks his horn excessively, then he sees that the honking is doing nothing but by that time, he's already angry and possessed by his need to act so he furiously follows the car that cut him off until it stops. Then he gets out of his car and tries to attack the driver, for example:

Reporter: [00:01:58] "Houston police got a call shortly before 9 am. Investigators say a man was driving this white truck down Airport Boulevard near Mykawa when a red truck cut him off. They say the man in the white truck then tried to catch up to the red truck, but witnesses told police he caught up to the wrong red truck and he began following the truck. Inside that truck was a woman taking her eight-year-old son to school. When they reached the stoplight at Airport and Telephone Road, investigators say the man got out of his vehicle with a metal rod and broke the rear window of the woman's truck. They say that's when the woman in the red truck pulled out her pistol and shot the man once in the arm."

Houston Police Detective: [00:02:37] "One male victim was shot. Uh, he has been transported to the, uh, local hospital, like, in critical but stable condition. I do believe at this time he will...he is expected to survive."

Reporter: [00:02:48] "The woman was detained for questioning and investigators even asked her to reenact the incident. The alleged aggressor will survive, but officers have some advice for those angry drivers:"

Houston Police Detective: [00:02:58] "Try to just let it go. That's all I can say. Just let it go, because it's not...it's not really...it's not worth it. Not worth someone's life."

Tony Kaizen: [00:03:07] Now in modern society, doing nothing is typically seen in a negative light. For example, whenever we witness some form of social injustice, we say illogical things like, "If you remain silent and you don't take action, that means you agree with what is happening." In other words, doing something is better than doing nothing. Whenever a social cause goes viral on the internet, every company in the Western world has to create a marketing campaign and a fucking hashtag to show that they stand with whatever social group is being exploited this month.

Tony Kaizen: [00:03:40] These empty actions receive praise and applause, even though they're not having any lasting positive effect on the situation. Why? The action bias. Now, it's still unclear as to why we've developed this cognitive bias. Some people believe it was passed down by our ancestors who lived as hunter gatherers. Back then, failing to take action could literally mean dying of thirst, starvation, or predators attack. So this impulse to take action is in some way a survival tactic, depending on how you look at it. But the problem with this bias is that we don't really need it to survive as much as we did in the past.

Tony Kaizen: [00:04:19] Now, others believe our need to take action comes from our need to feel like we're in control. When we take action, it feels like we're having an impact. It feels like progress. And when we do nothing, we feel helpless and it feels like we've given up. In other words, doing something makes us feel better about ourselves than doing nothing, which further reinforces this habit of acting impulsively.

Tony Kaizen: [00:04:42] Now, some believe this bias is continuously reinforced by society. There are so many situations in which those who take action are rewarded while those who do nothing are punished. For example, if a woman is being harassed in the street, the man who steps in to protect her is a hero. And the men who sit by and watch are shameful cowards.

Tony Kaizen: [00:05:05] Students who participate in class are often favored by their teachers and get better grades, while the quiet ones often get ignored and left behind. In society, you're seen as a loser if you never do anything with your life. We applaud those who do. We praise people's accomplishments. We chant their names and we give them lifetime achievement awards. This only further reinforces the idea that the way to get respect, praise, and admiration is by doing something, especially if you're a man.

Tony Kaizen: [00:05:39] A man who does nothing is called a bum. He has no utility and therefore he has no value in society. And once we internalize this illogical idea, we allow it to influence all of our decisions. We're motivated by our fear of being a loser or losing control of the situation. We feel the need to take action at times when doing nothing is probably the best choice.

Tony Kaizen: [00:06:02] In episode 94 of this podcast, I posed the question, "How long are you going to watch?" And I was implying that you must take action; you must participate in the game of life. But the reality is, my idea of a good life may be different from yours. I mean, who's to say that you have to do something with your life? Some people are content with observing. Some people are content with staying still. And whether that's good or bad is really up for them to decide.

Tony Kaizen: [00:06:32] So in summary, the true origin of this cognitive bias is still a mystery, but it seems that it's part nature and part nurture like many human behaviors. But you might be sitting there asking yourself, "Why should I care? Why does this matter?" Well, we typically equate action with productivity, and productivity is also something we tend to value very highly. However, doing nothing can often be better and more productive than doing something.

Tony Kaizen: [00:07:00] Now, let's go back to the example of the traffic jam. You're in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway, right? You're going three miles per hour and you still got 30 miles to go. You can do the math on that one. So naturally, you start to get frustrated and you decide to get off at the next exit so you can take a faster route home.

Tony Kaizen: [00:07:20] But that decision quickly backfires when you realize that there's more traffic on the city streets than there was on the highway. You end up making more stops, more turns, and driving a longer distance just to get home. And all of that means you used more gas, which means you spent more money. So logic tells us that staying on the highway is more efficient, but getting off the highway makes us feel better.

Tony Kaizen: [00:07:45] When we sit in traffic, we feel like we're getting nowhere. We feel helpless amidst the endless sea of automobiles that won't just get out of our way. But when we get off the highway, we can drive at a regular speed. We're not stuck in the same spot for minutes at a time. We feel like we're taking the situation into our own hands and having a positive impact.

Tony Kaizen: [00:08:07] But the most productive thing to do is actually nothing at all. The most logical thing to do in rush hour traffic is to accept the fact that you cannot outsmart rush hour traffic. So you should care about cognitive biases like these because being aware of them enables us to make more productive decisions that are based on logic instead of impulsive feelings. In other words, we can train ourselves to do what makes sense and not just what feels good in the moment.

Tony Kaizen: [00:08:35] And there are many times when we don't know exactly what to do. And our automatic response to that feeling of indecision is often to take action without even considering the possibility that it would be better to do nothing. This affects us on a personal and societal level alike. Whether you're in traffic, at school, or at work, the action bias will be present.

Tony Kaizen: [00:08:57] You will find it in government buildings where public policies are made. You will find it in doctors' offices where diagnoses are given. You will find it in investment firms where money is put at risk. And we don't know exactly how this bias was developed, but it seems clear that we as a society continue to reinforce it by rewarding those who take action and punishing those who don't.

Tony Kaizen: [00:09:18] If we're not careful, this cognitive bias can land us in some very senseless, unproductive situations simply because we feel incapable of sitting back and letting things happen. Our desperate need for control could be the very thing that causes us to lose it. We've got to be more cognizant of our faulty logic so we can begin to overcome it and make more productive and efficient decisions. But developing this skill is a longterm process that requires us to cultivate an incredible level of self-control. And there's no easy way to do this.

Tony Kaizen: [00:09:51] In my experience, you simply got to pay much more attention to your impulsive feelings and then get in the habit of pausing and taking a moment to really think about what you're feeling in that moment. Before you can decide what you're going to do about your feelings, it's best to understand where the feelings are coming from, or in other words, why you feel the way you do. You tend to do things based on the way you feel. So if you never understand why you feel the way you do, you will never understand why you do the things you do. You understand?

Tony Kaizen: [00:10:27] I want you to imagine a scenario with me: Imagine walking down the street and seeing a man slap himself in the face repeatedly. Slap, slap, slap. Again and again. And naturally, this confuses you so you walk up to him and you ask, "Why are you doing that?" And the man pauses for a second. And he looks at you with a straight face and says, "I don't know."

Tony Kaizen: [00:10:56] That's what you look like when you allow yourself to be controlled by impulsive feeling instead of using a logical thought process to make decisions. You look like the guy on the street corner who's slapping himself for no reason, unable to figure out why his face hurts so fucking much. But once you realize you're slapping yourself and you stop to think about why you're doing it, you might realize that deep down, you just want to see yourself in pain so you impulsively do these stupid things that you subconsciously know will only bring you more pain.

Tony Kaizen: [00:11:27] Now, with this newfound knowledge, you could begin to monitor your feelings with a more educated eye and start to notice what triggers those impulsive feelings. Once you identify the triggers, you can begin to remove them from your life or at least develop a better, more logical response to those triggers. One that's actually productive and in your best interest, as opposed to one that just feels good in the moment.

Tony Kaizen: [00:11:52] And the point is not to favor doing nothing over doing something. I'm not saying we should glorify inaction. I'm saying that we should develop the habit of pausing to think before we act on impulse. There are times when decisive action is necessary, but there are also many times when doing nothing is absolutely the best choice. And the only way we can learn to identify these situations is by paying closer attention to the motives behind our actions and even more importantly, the possible outcomes.

Tony Kaizen: [00:12:25] I want to thank you for your time and attention, my friend. I really hope this episode is giving you something interesting to think about. And you already know, this is the Life in English podcast. I am your host, Tony Kaizen, and I'll talk to you soon. Peace!

[END OF EPISODE]

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Tony Kaizen: [00:00:00] What's up, my friend? You are listening to the Life in English podcast. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen, and today I'm going to tell you about a mental issue that is almost certainly making your life harder than it needs to be. And that issue is the "action bias".

Tony Kaizen: [00:00:20] The term "action bias" refers to our tendency to prefer action to inaction, even if there's no evidence that doing something is better than doing nothing. You know those situations when you feel helpless and you say, "Well, I can't just sit here and do nothing." That is the action bias at work.

Tony Kaizen: [00:00:38] So how does it affect us? Well, on an individual level, it causes us to waste time and energy doing things that have absolutely no positive impact on the situation. In fact, there are times when our impulsive need to act ends up making the situation worse. An example I'm sure most of us have experienced is when we're stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway. I mean, you know how it is. Every single car is going three miles per hour at most. Countless cars are trying to merge onto the freeway and every time traffic stops or someone tries to merge, some jackass feels the need to honk his horn repeatedly, as if that's somehow going to make the situation better.

Tony Kaizen: [00:01:17] The action bias compels this jackass to honk his horn because the idea of doing nothing in such a frustrating situation is unacceptable to him. He says to himself, "I bet if I just keep honking the horn, the entire freeway will part like the Red Sea, and I'll be able to drive straight home." But what usually happens is the jackass gets cut off in traffic, he honks his horn excessively, then he sees that the honking is doing nothing but by that time, he's already angry and possessed by his need to act so he furiously follows the car that cut him off until it stops. Then he gets out of his car and tries to attack the driver, for example:

Reporter: [00:01:58] "Houston police got a call shortly before 9 am. Investigators say a man was driving this white truck down Airport Boulevard near Mykawa when a red truck cut him off. They say the man in the white truck then tried to catch up to the red truck, but witnesses told police he caught up to the wrong red truck and he began following the truck. Inside that truck was a woman taking her eight-year-old son to school. When they reached the stoplight at Airport and Telephone Road, investigators say the man got out of his vehicle with a metal rod and broke the rear window of the woman's truck. They say that's when the woman in the red truck pulled out her pistol and shot the man once in the arm."

Houston Police Detective: [00:02:37] "One male victim was shot. Uh, he has been transported to the, uh, local hospital, like, in critical but stable condition. I do believe at this time he will...he is expected to survive."

Reporter: [00:02:48] "The woman was detained for questioning and investigators even asked her to reenact the incident. The alleged aggressor will survive, but officers have some advice for those angry drivers:"

Houston Police Detective: [00:02:58] "Try to just let it go. That's all I can say. Just let it go, because it's not...it's not really...it's not worth it. Not worth someone's life."

Tony Kaizen: [00:03:07] Now in modern society, doing nothing is typically seen in a negative light. For example, whenever we witness some form of social injustice, we say illogical things like, "If you remain silent and you don't take action, that means you agree with what is happening." In other words, doing something is better than doing nothing. Whenever a social cause goes viral on the internet, every company in the Western world has to create a marketing campaign and a fucking hashtag to show that they stand with whatever social group is being exploited this month.

Tony Kaizen: [00:03:40] These empty actions receive praise and applause, even though they're not having any lasting positive effect on the situation. Why? The action bias. Now, it's still unclear as to why we've developed this cognitive bias. Some people believe it was passed down by our ancestors who lived as hunter gatherers. Back then, failing to take action could literally mean dying of thirst, starvation, or predators attack. So this impulse to take action is in some way a survival tactic, depending on how you look at it. But the problem with this bias is that we don't really need it to survive as much as we did in the past.

Tony Kaizen: [00:04:19] Now, others believe our need to take action comes from our need to feel like we're in control. When we take action, it feels like we're having an impact. It feels like progress. And when we do nothing, we feel helpless and it feels like we've given up. In other words, doing something makes us feel better about ourselves than doing nothing, which further reinforces this habit of acting impulsively.

Tony Kaizen: [00:04:42] Now, some believe this bias is continuously reinforced by society. There are so many situations in which those who take action are rewarded while those who do nothing are punished. For example, if a woman is being harassed in the street, the man who steps in to protect her is a hero. And the men who sit by and watch are shameful cowards.

Tony Kaizen: [00:05:05] Students who participate in class are often favored by their teachers and get better grades, while the quiet ones often get ignored and left behind. In society, you're seen as a loser if you never do anything with your life. We applaud those who do. We praise people's accomplishments. We chant their names and we give them lifetime achievement awards. This only further reinforces the idea that the way to get respect, praise, and admiration is by doing something, especially if you're a man.

Tony Kaizen: [00:05:39] A man who does nothing is called a bum. He has no utility and therefore he has no value in society. And once we internalize this illogical idea, we allow it to influence all of our decisions. We're motivated by our fear of being a loser or losing control of the situation. We feel the need to take action at times when doing nothing is probably the best choice.

Tony Kaizen: [00:06:02] In episode 94 of this podcast, I posed the question, "How long are you going to watch?" And I was implying that you must take action; you must participate in the game of life. But the reality is, my idea of a good life may be different from yours. I mean, who's to say that you have to do something with your life? Some people are content with observing. Some people are content with staying still. And whether that's good or bad is really up for them to decide.

Tony Kaizen: [00:06:32] So in summary, the true origin of this cognitive bias is still a mystery, but it seems that it's part nature and part nurture like many human behaviors. But you might be sitting there asking yourself, "Why should I care? Why does this matter?" Well, we typically equate action with productivity, and productivity is also something we tend to value very highly. However, doing nothing can often be better and more productive than doing something.

Tony Kaizen: [00:07:00] Now, let's go back to the example of the traffic jam. You're in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway, right? You're going three miles per hour and you still got 30 miles to go. You can do the math on that one. So naturally, you start to get frustrated and you decide to get off at the next exit so you can take a faster route home.

Tony Kaizen: [00:07:20] But that decision quickly backfires when you realize that there's more traffic on the city streets than there was on the highway. You end up making more stops, more turns, and driving a longer distance just to get home. And all of that means you used more gas, which means you spent more money. So logic tells us that staying on the highway is more efficient, but getting off the highway makes us feel better.

Tony Kaizen: [00:07:45] When we sit in traffic, we feel like we're getting nowhere. We feel helpless amidst the endless sea of automobiles that won't just get out of our way. But when we get off the highway, we can drive at a regular speed. We're not stuck in the same spot for minutes at a time. We feel like we're taking the situation into our own hands and having a positive impact.

Tony Kaizen: [00:08:07] But the most productive thing to do is actually nothing at all. The most logical thing to do in rush hour traffic is to accept the fact that you cannot outsmart rush hour traffic. So you should care about cognitive biases like these because being aware of them enables us to make more productive decisions that are based on logic instead of impulsive feelings. In other words, we can train ourselves to do what makes sense and not just what feels good in the moment.

Tony Kaizen: [00:08:35] And there are many times when we don't know exactly what to do. And our automatic response to that feeling of indecision is often to take action without even considering the possibility that it would be better to do nothing. This affects us on a personal and societal level alike. Whether you're in traffic, at school, or at work, the action bias will be present.

Tony Kaizen: [00:08:57] You will find it in government buildings where public policies are made. You will find it in doctors' offices where diagnoses are given. You will find it in investment firms where money is put at risk. And we don't know exactly how this bias was developed, but it seems clear that we as a society continue to reinforce it by rewarding those who take action and punishing those who don't.

Tony Kaizen: [00:09:18] If we're not careful, this cognitive bias can land us in some very senseless, unproductive situations simply because we feel incapable of sitting back and letting things happen. Our desperate need for control could be the very thing that causes us to lose it. We've got to be more cognizant of our faulty logic so we can begin to overcome it and make more productive and efficient decisions. But developing this skill is a longterm process that requires us to cultivate an incredible level of self-control. And there's no easy way to do this.

Tony Kaizen: [00:09:51] In my experience, you simply got to pay much more attention to your impulsive feelings and then get in the habit of pausing and taking a moment to really think about what you're feeling in that moment. Before you can decide what you're going to do about your feelings, it's best to understand where the feelings are coming from, or in other words, why you feel the way you do. You tend to do things based on the way you feel. So if you never understand why you feel the way you do, you will never understand why you do the things you do. You understand?

Tony Kaizen: [00:10:27] I want you to imagine a scenario with me: Imagine walking down the street and seeing a man slap himself in the face repeatedly. Slap, slap, slap. Again and again. And naturally, this confuses you so you walk up to him and you ask, "Why are you doing that?" And the man pauses for a second. And he looks at you with a straight face and says, "I don't know."

Tony Kaizen: [00:10:56] That's what you look like when you allow yourself to be controlled by impulsive feeling instead of using a logical thought process to make decisions. You look like the guy on the street corner who's slapping himself for no reason, unable to figure out why his face hurts so fucking much. But once you realize you're slapping yourself and you stop to think about why you're doing it, you might realize that deep down, you just want to see yourself in pain so you impulsively do these stupid things that you subconsciously know will only bring you more pain.

Tony Kaizen: [00:11:27] Now, with this newfound knowledge, you could begin to monitor your feelings with a more educated eye and start to notice what triggers those impulsive feelings. Once you identify the triggers, you can begin to remove them from your life or at least develop a better, more logical response to those triggers. One that's actually productive and in your best interest, as opposed to one that just feels good in the moment.

Tony Kaizen: [00:11:52] And the point is not to favor doing nothing over doing something. I'm not saying we should glorify inaction. I'm saying that we should develop the habit of pausing to think before we act on impulse. There are times when decisive action is necessary, but there are also many times when doing nothing is absolutely the best choice. And the only way we can learn to identify these situations is by paying closer attention to the motives behind our actions and even more importantly, the possible outcomes.

Tony Kaizen: [00:12:25] I want to thank you for your time and attention, my friend. I really hope this episode is giving you something interesting to think about. And you already know, this is the Life in English podcast. I am your host, Tony Kaizen, and I'll talk to you soon. Peace!

[END OF EPISODE]

Writing prompts

  • How does the Action Bias affect your daily life?
  • What are some things you'd like to 'do' with your life?
  • What do you do to keep yourself occupied in rush hour traffic?
Key Vocabulary & Grammar Guide
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Key Vocabulary Guide

Transcript

Tony Kaizen: [00:00:00] What's up, my friend? You are listening to the Life in English podcast. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen, and today I'm going to tell you about a mental issue that is almost certainly making your life harder than it needs to be. And that issue is the "action bias".

Tony Kaizen: [00:00:20] The term "action bias" refers to our tendency to prefer action to inaction, even if there's no evidence that doing something is better than doing nothing. You know those situations when you feel helpless and you say, "Well, I can't just sit here and do nothing." That is the action bias at work.

Tony Kaizen: [00:00:38] So how does it affect us? Well, on an individual level, it causes us to waste time and energy doing things that have absolutely no positive impact on the situation. In fact, there are times when our impulsive need to act ends up making the situation worse. An example I'm sure most of us have experienced is when we're stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway. I mean, you know how it is. Every single car is going three miles per hour at most. Countless cars are trying to merge onto the freeway and every time traffic stops or someone tries to merge, some jackass feels the need to honk his horn repeatedly, as if that's somehow going to make the situation better.

Tony Kaizen: [00:01:17] The action bias compels this jackass to honk his horn because the idea of doing nothing in such a frustrating situation is unacceptable to him. He says to himself, "I bet if I just keep honking the horn, the entire freeway will part like the Red Sea, and I'll be able to drive straight home." But what usually happens is the jackass gets cut off in traffic, he honks his horn excessively, then he sees that the honking is doing nothing but by that time, he's already angry and possessed by his need to act so he furiously follows the car that cut him off until it stops. Then he gets out of his car and tries to attack the driver, for example:

Reporter: [00:01:58] "Houston police got a call shortly before 9 am. Investigators say a man was driving this white truck down Airport Boulevard near Mykawa when a red truck cut him off. They say the man in the white truck then tried to catch up to the red truck, but witnesses told police he caught up to the wrong red truck and he began following the truck. Inside that truck was a woman taking her eight-year-old son to school. When they reached the stoplight at Airport and Telephone Road, investigators say the man got out of his vehicle with a metal rod and broke the rear window of the woman's truck. They say that's when the woman in the red truck pulled out her pistol and shot the man once in the arm."

Houston Police Detective: [00:02:37] "One male victim was shot. Uh, he has been transported to the, uh, local hospital, like, in critical but stable condition. I do believe at this time he will...he is expected to survive."

Reporter: [00:02:48] "The woman was detained for questioning and investigators even asked her to reenact the incident. The alleged aggressor will survive, but officers have some advice for those angry drivers:"

Houston Police Detective: [00:02:58] "Try to just let it go. That's all I can say. Just let it go, because it's not...it's not really...it's not worth it. Not worth someone's life."

Tony Kaizen: [00:03:07] Now in modern society, doing nothing is typically seen in a negative light. For example, whenever we witness some form of social injustice, we say illogical things like, "If you remain silent and you don't take action, that means you agree with what is happening." In other words, doing something is better than doing nothing. Whenever a social cause goes viral on the internet, every company in the Western world has to create a marketing campaign and a fucking hashtag to show that they stand with whatever social group is being exploited this month.

Tony Kaizen: [00:03:40] These empty actions receive praise and applause, even though they're not having any lasting positive effect on the situation. Why? The action bias. Now, it's still unclear as to why we've developed this cognitive bias. Some people believe it was passed down by our ancestors who lived as hunter gatherers. Back then, failing to take action could literally mean dying of thirst, starvation, or predators attack. So this impulse to take action is in some way a survival tactic, depending on how you look at it. But the problem with this bias is that we don't really need it to survive as much as we did in the past.

Tony Kaizen: [00:04:19] Now, others believe our need to take action comes from our need to feel like we're in control. When we take action, it feels like we're having an impact. It feels like progress. And when we do nothing, we feel helpless and it feels like we've given up. In other words, doing something makes us feel better about ourselves than doing nothing, which further reinforces this habit of acting impulsively.

Tony Kaizen: [00:04:42] Now, some believe this bias is continuously reinforced by society. There are so many situations in which those who take action are rewarded while those who do nothing are punished. For example, if a woman is being harassed in the street, the man who steps in to protect her is a hero. And the men who sit by and watch are shameful cowards.

Tony Kaizen: [00:05:05] Students who participate in class are often favored by their teachers and get better grades, while the quiet ones often get ignored and left behind. In society, you're seen as a loser if you never do anything with your life. We applaud those who do. We praise people's accomplishments. We chant their names and we give them lifetime achievement awards. This only further reinforces the idea that the way to get respect, praise, and admiration is by doing something, especially if you're a man.

Tony Kaizen: [00:05:39] A man who does nothing is called a bum. He has no utility and therefore he has no value in society. And once we internalize this illogical idea, we allow it to influence all of our decisions. We're motivated by our fear of being a loser or losing control of the situation. We feel the need to take action at times when doing nothing is probably the best choice.

Tony Kaizen: [00:06:02] In episode 94 of this podcast, I posed the question, "How long are you going to watch?" And I was implying that you must take action; you must participate in the game of life. But the reality is, my idea of a good life may be different from yours. I mean, who's to say that you have to do something with your life? Some people are content with observing. Some people are content with staying still. And whether that's good or bad is really up for them to decide.

Tony Kaizen: [00:06:32] So in summary, the true origin of this cognitive bias is still a mystery, but it seems that it's part nature and part nurture like many human behaviors. But you might be sitting there asking yourself, "Why should I care? Why does this matter?" Well, we typically equate action with productivity, and productivity is also something we tend to value very highly. However, doing nothing can often be better and more productive than doing something.

Tony Kaizen: [00:07:00] Now, let's go back to the example of the traffic jam. You're in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway, right? You're going three miles per hour and you still got 30 miles to go. You can do the math on that one. So naturally, you start to get frustrated and you decide to get off at the next exit so you can take a faster route home.

Tony Kaizen: [00:07:20] But that decision quickly backfires when you realize that there's more traffic on the city streets than there was on the highway. You end up making more stops, more turns, and driving a longer distance just to get home. And all of that means you used more gas, which means you spent more money. So logic tells us that staying on the highway is more efficient, but getting off the highway makes us feel better.

Tony Kaizen: [00:07:45] When we sit in traffic, we feel like we're getting nowhere. We feel helpless amidst the endless sea of automobiles that won't just get out of our way. But when we get off the highway, we can drive at a regular speed. We're not stuck in the same spot for minutes at a time. We feel like we're taking the situation into our own hands and having a positive impact.

Tony Kaizen: [00:08:07] But the most productive thing to do is actually nothing at all. The most logical thing to do in rush hour traffic is to accept the fact that you cannot outsmart rush hour traffic. So you should care about cognitive biases like these because being aware of them enables us to make more productive decisions that are based on logic instead of impulsive feelings. In other words, we can train ourselves to do what makes sense and not just what feels good in the moment.

Tony Kaizen: [00:08:35] And there are many times when we don't know exactly what to do. And our automatic response to that feeling of indecision is often to take action without even considering the possibility that it would be better to do nothing. This affects us on a personal and societal level alike. Whether you're in traffic, at school, or at work, the action bias will be present.

Tony Kaizen: [00:08:57] You will find it in government buildings where public policies are made. You will find it in doctors' offices where diagnoses are given. You will find it in investment firms where money is put at risk. And we don't know exactly how this bias was developed, but it seems clear that we as a society continue to reinforce it by rewarding those who take action and punishing those who don't.

Tony Kaizen: [00:09:18] If we're not careful, this cognitive bias can land us in some very senseless, unproductive situations simply because we feel incapable of sitting back and letting things happen. Our desperate need for control could be the very thing that causes us to lose it. We've got to be more cognizant of our faulty logic so we can begin to overcome it and make more productive and efficient decisions. But developing this skill is a longterm process that requires us to cultivate an incredible level of self-control. And there's no easy way to do this.

Tony Kaizen: [00:09:51] In my experience, you simply got to pay much more attention to your impulsive feelings and then get in the habit of pausing and taking a moment to really think about what you're feeling in that moment. Before you can decide what you're going to do about your feelings, it's best to understand where the feelings are coming from, or in other words, why you feel the way you do. You tend to do things based on the way you feel. So if you never understand why you feel the way you do, you will never understand why you do the things you do. You understand?

Tony Kaizen: [00:10:27] I want you to imagine a scenario with me: Imagine walking down the street and seeing a man slap himself in the face repeatedly. Slap, slap, slap. Again and again. And naturally, this confuses you so you walk up to him and you ask, "Why are you doing that?" And the man pauses for a second. And he looks at you with a straight face and says, "I don't know."

Tony Kaizen: [00:10:56] That's what you look like when you allow yourself to be controlled by impulsive feeling instead of using a logical thought process to make decisions. You look like the guy on the street corner who's slapping himself for no reason, unable to figure out why his face hurts so fucking much. But once you realize you're slapping yourself and you stop to think about why you're doing it, you might realize that deep down, you just want to see yourself in pain so you impulsively do these stupid things that you subconsciously know will only bring you more pain.

Tony Kaizen: [00:11:27] Now, with this newfound knowledge, you could begin to monitor your feelings with a more educated eye and start to notice what triggers those impulsive feelings. Once you identify the triggers, you can begin to remove them from your life or at least develop a better, more logical response to those triggers. One that's actually productive and in your best interest, as opposed to one that just feels good in the moment.

Tony Kaizen: [00:11:52] And the point is not to favor doing nothing over doing something. I'm not saying we should glorify inaction. I'm saying that we should develop the habit of pausing to think before we act on impulse. There are times when decisive action is necessary, but there are also many times when doing nothing is absolutely the best choice. And the only way we can learn to identify these situations is by paying closer attention to the motives behind our actions and even more importantly, the possible outcomes.

Tony Kaizen: [00:12:25] I want to thank you for your time and attention, my friend. I really hope this episode is giving you something interesting to think about. And you already know, this is the Life in English podcast. I am your host, Tony Kaizen, and I'll talk to you soon. Peace!

[END OF EPISODE]

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