3 Reasons You Don’t Realize You’re Getting Sidetracked When You Are

Over-confidence, over-comparing, and over-focus. Are you ready to be so over it all?

3 Reasons You Don’t Realize You’re Getting Sidetracked When You Are

Does the following remind you of anyone?


“Most people want to behave in ways that are consistent with their self-image as competent, effective, and honest human beings,” Francesca Gino tells Forbes. “Yet, even when they are fully committed to acting according to their best intentions, they often reach outcomes that bear little resemblance to their initial goals.”

Gino, a Harvard Business School professor, studies the gap between intentions and actions. Her Sidetracked is a book-length investigation of the behavioral disconnects that its title implies. She’s been doing a round of publicity interviews following the book’s release–let’s go through a few of them to better understand why we get so, well, sidetracked.

“Our views of how capable and competent we are as individuals are often overly positive.”

Strangely, it seems that we humans are both under-confident and over-confident. As we discussed last week, people are more racist, less popular, and worse at multitasking than they think.

Because of this, Gino tells Forbes, people rely too heavily on their own information and too little on others’ opinions and perspectives. You can prevent that myopia by being more mindful of the information you’re acting on–like by meditating, perhaps.

“On a wide range of dimensions, from how trustworthy we are to how good looking others find us to be, we often compare ourselves to our peers to evaluate where we stand.”

When we make decisions, Gino says, we’re driven “by the bitter feelings resulting from where we stand in comparisons to others.” This leads to irrational behavior, she tells Scientific American: like you might be against hiring somebody that has a skillset similar to your own because you find her threatening, or you don’t take a job because people there would be making more money than you. Like a good reptile, you want those resources for yourself.

“We often focus too narrowly on the decision at hand and our own views about it.”

This, Gino tells Forbes, is a myopia that blinds us to the full context of the decisions, especially other people’s roles in it. She uses the example of negotiating a deal on a deadline: Your plan is to get a good deal, that’s for sure, but if that’s your only focus, you might hide the information about your time constraints.


“In your own eyes,” Gino says, “it is a weakness, so why would you tell about it to the other side?” Because, she explains, the deadline is a shared constraint. If you tell the other guy about the deadline, that could lead to quicker concessions–and a better deal. To sidestep that habit, Gino says you should zoom out: taken in the full context of the players and the factors for any decision, rather than just your goals. In this way, you can train your empathy skills–and find the co-investment in the decision.

How to Not Get Sidetracked

[Hat tip: 99u.]

[Image: Flickr user Bill Selak]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.