As humans, we all want our ideas and wishes of what should happen fulfilled. However, this can lead us to engage in something called wishful thinking — believing that something is true simply because we want it to be true.
Too much of it can quickly get you stuck in an idealistic mindset and, more often than not, ends up sabotaging your decision-making process. As such, it is important to understand how it works and why exactly it’s harmful.
What is Wishful Thinking?
Wishful thinking is a cognitive bias whereby someone bases their beliefs, or perceptions of the world, on their wishes.
In other words, a person believes that something is true or will happen, not because it falls in line with rationality and facts, but because it is desirable to them.
Being a type of bias — an innate and systematic error in thinking — it can affect people from all walks of life and in all types of situations.
This also relates to a logical fallacy known as the ought-is fallacy.
As the name suggests, it occurs when someone argues that is something is true (or untrue) simply because they want it to be so.
For example: “Of course aliens exist! It would be really boring if there was no other life in the universe except us.”
How It Harms Your Decision-Making
As mentioned above, wishful thinking is not based on real evidence and rational reasoning — it’s not based on how things are in reality. Consequently, problems are likely to follow when one starts acting according to it.
As an example, if someone’s relationship is experiencing troublesome times, they may choose to ignore the problem because they want to keep believing that “you are a couple that doesn’t fight”. As a result, the problem only compounds the more they dismiss it.
Contrary to the person’s thinking, wishful thinking will in fact keep them from achieving desirable results.
Part of the harm with wishful thinking is that creates a confirmation bias: You will seek and recall information that confirms your existing beliefs and wishes and are less likely to question yourself.
For instance, if a research scientist wants to believe that his or her own theory is correct, they may unknowingly cherry-pick information that is in favor of it while rejecting evidence that isn’t.
Such reasoning will cause you to view reality through a single lens of your own choosing and, since reality doesn’t bend to the wishes of an individual, that is bad for any kind of decision-making.
The conclusion? Although having hopes and dreams can be an excellent thing, we should often try and look at the situation we are in from an objective point of view. If most of the evidence points to one direction, we should accept that it is the most likely outcome — even if we don’t like it. As a result, we’ll be able to make more sound decisions and reap the benefits that will inevitably follow.