Are you the type of person who remains calm in an emergency, or do you freak out and lose your mind? Do you often see stories about people who have a serious disease and think it could never happen to you? What do you think about preparing for possible emergency situations? All of these questions relate to your normalcy bias, something that you more than likely have. Understanding what this is and how it affects you is very important, for it can be dangerous if left unchecked.
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Defining the Term
Normalcy bias is a way of thinking that causes you to underestimate danger or assume it cannot happen to you. It occurs naturally and affects almost everyone. You probably have at least some normalcy bias. For example, if you smoke, you probably have been told how damaging it is to your health. You may think that all the bad health effects won’t happen to you, so you ignore the warnings and keep smoking. Another good example is during emergency weather situations where people are warned to evacuate an area. But some choose not to do so, sometimes resulting in casualties and life-threatening situations.
It is a mental state that makes you think that nothing bad has happened to you so it never will happen to you. For example, you may text and drive, and since you have never been in an accident, you may assume it won’t happen to you. You may underestimate the danger of a situation or even be overly optimistic in the face of something seriously hazardous.
It is easy to see how this can be harmful to you. This bias can leak into every part of your life and cause you not to take situations as seriously as you should. It can even paralyze you in the face of real danger, making it hard for you to react or cope.
The closest comparison to make is that it is much like the ostrich effect, which is when you hide your head and ignore what is happening simply because you don’t want to deal with it. Having this reaction can cause you to miss the opportunity to prepare for or avoid a dangerous situation.
Uncovering Your Bias
While normalcy bias may be your brain’s way of protecting you from the bad things in life, it is not a good thing. It often causes more harm than good. Because of this, you need to recognize how it affects your life. Almost everyone suffers from it with most people not even realizing it.
It is not logical or reasonable, but even the most level headed person can be affected by it. Never assume you don’t have it. Instead, look for the ways it might work in your life. Have you ever been in a situation with a clear danger or where others were in danger? Think about how you reacted. Even witnessing something horrible can cause normalcy bias to kick in.
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Once you start honestly thinking about it, you are sure to find at least a few times in your life where you felt things would be fine even though there was clear evidence to the contrary. This is your bias coming through. The first step to getting control over it is being able to recognize when it happens.
Breaking the Bias
Stopping your normalcy bias starts with recognizing that bad things happen, change occurs, and you are not immune from any of it. Get informed and pay attention. Educate yourself on possible dangers. Pay attention to warnings issued by government agencies or health professionals. Know what to do if an emergency strikes and prepare for such an occurrence with emergency kits and plans.
It won’t be an easy process to change your way of thinking. Normalcy bias provides comfort and allows you to be optimistic, even when that is not a good idea. However, you will go through a process to break this bias. You may deny that you have it, try to bargain your way through it or even get depressed or feel down. It can be tough to face the facts that the world is a dangerous place, but it has to be done.
Here is a simple step-by-step process to follow the next time you are faced with a situation where normalcy bias may come into play:
- Step one: Recognize the situation. Let’s use an example of a tornado warning being issued for your town. You probably will be alerted through an emergency broadcast that the warning has been issued. It may contain additional information about the storm and potential for a tornado to form.
- Step two: Gather information. Read the warning information provided. Look at the radar. Find out as much as you can about the warning and the potential for a tornado to actually hit your town.
- Step three: Ignore your mind trying to make you doubt the facts. This is the normalcy bias at work. Your brain will try to make you think that there is no danger. It will have you thinking about how a tornado has never hit your town or how tornadoes are rare in your area. It will try to make you ignore the warning and go about your life without preparing for the storm.
- Step four: React. This is when you should proceed to your basement or other area where you would need to be if a tornado did hit.
- Step five: Wait it out. The last step is just waiting out the storm. Wait until the warning expires and the storm passes.
Using these five steps to guide you through potentially harmful situations can help ensure you react accordingly. Eventually, it will become second nature, which is good because not all situations can be prepared for in advance.
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Can You Go Too Far?
Nobody is saying to fall into a pit of despair and never be optimistic. You can go too far trying to overcome your bias. You should not let fear rule your life. Instead, you should face facts and not ignore reality. You have to be reasonable. Look to authorities on the subject before reacting. Do your own research. Come to conclusions about a situation before you get too excited.
Also, pay attention to your instincts and do what you can to think ahead and prepare for possible things that could happen. Everyone has had a gut feeling, and they are usually right. So, listen to your gut. If something seems off, then do more research.
Do not let it take over your life. You can get obsessed to the point where you are afraid of living because it is dangerous. Just keep yourself in check. If you start going overboard, it can be as bad as not preparing at all. Find a balance between being too laissez-faire and seeing danger in every little thing.
Reasons to Overcome It
Normalcy bias can be deadly. If you ignore warnings, don’t heed advice or don’t recognize danger, then you might suffer the consequences. Regardless of what the bad situation is, the chances are good that you will not come out in the end without harm. Normalcy bias can affect your ability to react and to keep yourself safe. It is very harmful.
Consider the examples given above. In regards to smoking, if you ignore all the warnings, the chances are good that you will get a health condition related to smoking, such as heart disease or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). If you start listening to the warnings and take steps to stop smoking, you can lower your chances of getting such diseases.
When it comes to storm warnings, ignoring them could endanger your life. You could end up trapped in the storm with no way to get to safety. By listening to the warnings, you are able to adequately prepare for and avoid bad consequences when the storm hits.
It doesn’t just affect you either. For example, if you have young children, they rely on you to react appropriately to situations to keep them safe. If you are ignoring danger, then you put your kids at risk, too. Ignoring warnings about drinking and driving is another example of when your bias can hurt others.
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Even not listening to storm warnings puts others at risk because others will need to come to your rescue after the storm is over. Due to this, normalcy bias may even be considered a selfish or arrogant act. While your brain is trying to protect you, it really isn’t. It is causing you to behave in a way that endangers you and everyone around you.
Some people enjoy living life with their heads in the clouds, but it is not a smart way to do things. When you recognize normalcy bias in your life and start to do something about it, you may feel much better than you did before. It is because you now know you are ready and prepared for when something does happen. That can be a much bigger comfort than ignoring all the bad things in life.