Normalcy Bias

Normalcy Bias

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“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” -John C. Maxwell

“Just take any step, whether small or large. And then another and repeat day after day. It may take months, maybe years, but the path to success will become clear” -Aaron Ross

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” – Steve Jobs

“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster” – Elon Musk

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change” -Albert Einstein

“What’s dangerous is not to evolve.”-Jeff Bezos

“Don’t let rejection create self-doubt. The founder of Starbucks was turned down by 217 of the 242 investors he initially spoke with.” -Elizabeth Galbut

“Every day the clock resets. Your wins don’t matter. Your failures don’t matter. Don’t stress on what was, fight for what could be. “-Sean Higgins

“Change before you have to.” -Jack Welch

“There is nothing permanent except change.” -Heraclitus

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new” -Socrates

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We are, have been in situations which we know are detrimental to us but we usually wait for the pain to set in before we make any change. Unfortunately, the changes we make might come too late and might even cost us the loss of our lives and personal property.

This is a plague that affects us all no matter what station we are in in life. We might neglect a health, spiritual, financial or relationship issue that comes to hit us down the road. You have heard of the phrase ‘kicking the can down the road’.

We tend to ignore issues that are critically important to us if there is no pain in the short and medium term. There will always come a time when we will have to bear the consequences of ignoring attending to these issues promptly.

Truly ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. Let’s always aim to revisit our priorities regularly and ensure we attend to the key issues in time.

The Normalcy Bias

Most of us have heard about the boiling frog metaphor. It says that if we place a frog in cold water and boil the water slowly it will not notice the water temperature changes until it’s too late. But if it’s thrown in a boiling pot it will jump out immediately.

Normalcy bias is that slow boiling pot of water. It’s a cognitive bias that is related directly to habits and culture. We tend to get comfortable in our day to day routines, habits and culture. This also involves adjusting ourselves to our immediate external environment. We create a comfort zone and safe bubble of existence.

There are subtle changes that keep on taking place in our internal and external environment that we do not notice. This is the insidious effect of the normalcy bias in our lives.

I will cite examples below that will trigger our chain of thought about normalcy bias and it’s detrimental effects.

Gas Cooker Burner

I had an interesting conversation with a close friend and neighbor to my sister who I had not seen in quite a while. He runs a Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) supply business that also sets up gas cooking infrastructure at client sites.

Some of his best clients are schools. Most schools and other tertiary institutions in East Africa still rely on biomass products for their energy needs. These are dried logs of wood and branches that form the primary source of fuel for cooking.

Other sources of energy such as electricity and gas are regarded as too costly to cover cooking energy needs. This has contributed to massive deforestation in the East African landscape as schools consume massive quantities of biomass fuel together with the majority of households in the rural and urban areas.

My friend’s company is one of the companies changing this dynamic. He has demonstrated to his clients the efficiency and use of gas cookers vs the traditional methods of cooking.  He has showcased the cost savings and cleanliness of gas.  He has registered success after success as clients transition to gas usage.

One day he encountered a problem client who claimed their gas cooking equipment was not functional. The consumption of gas at this client site was higher than the normal benchmark. My friend volunteered to address the issue.

He suspected the issue was down to the cleanliness and maintenance of the gas burners and the cooking equipment.

He carried out a through cleanup of the gas burners of the cookers and the cooking utensils. He found out the gas burners had not been cleaned for quite some time. The outside layer of the cooking utensils were covered in soot as they had transitioned from firewood to gas cooking without addressing the buildup of soot at the bottom of the utensils.

After this clean up was conducted the gas usage of the institution dramatically went down. It just required a shift in the day to day routines of the catering staff at the institution to include a periodic clean up of the gas burner and utensils.

This should spark some thought in us. What poor routines and habits are we holding onto that are affecting us like the dirty gas burners?


Spiritual Neglect

What is right? What is wrong? How do morals and ethics affect us? Modern society is grappling with this dilemma as most of their citizens have cast aside traditional values and norms which have acted as the basic building block and guiding pillar for societies over time.

Religion and spirituality has an important role to play in society. It answers the why and purpose of our lives. Neglecting and casting aside spirituality, societal norms built over the ages has had a detrimental effect on society.

Societal cohesion is normally built on shared values and norms. Man is a social creature and without the supporting pillars of a robust social network we falter. From the early days of man, they realized working together in groups was more efficient than working alone as an individual.

Groups prospered and the individual withered and faded over the long run. One of the key pillars that brought harmony and cohesion in society was having a common spiritual foundation. It also installed basic rules and order in society that worked over the ages.

Choosing to neglect this aspect in our lives in this modern day and age will have its consequences. A rudderless, amoral and unethical society is no different than living in the jungle. Religion tempers man’s extreme behavior and acts as a check on our wildest impulses.

Normalization of the disregard of religion will have deep consequences for society down the road. The effects are already playing out with corruption running unchecked. There is no control for unethical behavior as our worst vices come to play.

Applying this to our individual lives our worst moments in life will always come upon us when we allow pride, greed and vanity to take over our senses. This affects our day to day relationships and also wreaks havoc on communities across the board.



Another great example of the normalcy bias in the Finance area is inflation. Inflation is the silent killer and cancer of our financial health in the long run. The majority of human beings survive on fixed incomes in the form of salaries and fixed pensions.

Very few of us have other sources of income. Variable income sources are not the cup of tea for most people we prefer secure and determined pay checks at the end of the week or month. We have low risk thresholds to tolerate the ebbs and flows of running a business.

Unfortunately, the worst hit individuals under any dire financial circumstances are the fixed income earners in the long run. Inflation usually outpaces fixed income increases in the long run. Few companies adjust salaries to cater for inflationary impact in the economy.

Post COVID inflation has brought this fact to roost home in many homes all over the world. Many individuals are living on credit, pay check to pay check as inflation bites home. This is the effect of the normalcy bias.

Inflation is a slow and sure way to bring devastation and ruin to most individuals. We usually do not notice its effects until it’s too late.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Drug and alcohol addiction is an incremental habit or behavior that always starts small and snowballs into major issues and problems in our lives.

When you read the sad stories of drug and alcohol addiction it usually starts with peer pressure and then becomes part and parcel of the normal routine of an individual. Normalcy sets in and the habit only gets worse over time.

This is why environments matter. Don’t expect not to get influenced by your immediate environment in the long run. The ghettos and inner cities all over the world have the worst rates of drug and alcohol abuse.

The individuals grow up seeing their peers and parents abuse drugs and alcohol. It’s a normal part of their day-to-day routine and eventually they get caught up in the insidious habit as well. This is one of the detrimental effects of normalcy in our lives.

Car Service and respect of Traffic Regulations

Living in the developing world I get to see the harm caused by lack of a maintenance culture in the environment. This permeates all levels of society whereby maintenance of all things mechanical is a problem across the board.

Car maintenance is one of the aspects that is not adhered to strictly and the repercussions are fatal. The lack of respect of traffic law regulations and total disregard of traffic rules causes mayhem in many African roads and cities.

The death toll caused by accidents is terrible but due to normalcy bias conditioning most of the citizens have come to accept it as part of their normal day to day conditions of life. Their perception has grown to accept low standards and this has harmed them directly.


Corruption is a disease that affects all societies and once allowed to thrive and grow in society it kills all initiative, drive and meritocracy in society. If you want to affect all standards and kill a society allow corruption in all its forms to go unchecked and you will end up with a society in chaos and mayhem.

It’s no coincidence that the countries ranked with the lowest standards of living and hellish conditions in the world also rank among the most corrupt countries in the world. Lack of respect for the rule of law and set regulations can only lead to disaster down the road.

The cost of doing business in societies that are mired in corruption is way higher in all aspects.  Paying rent seekers raises the cost of all business transactions. You cannot get anything accomplished without paying bribes and greasing the wheels of the bureaucratic machine.

Once this is part and parcel of a country’s culture you witness the effect on the infrastructure, run down judicial systems, run down health facilities. The society is at the clutches of the maxim of ‘survival of the fittest’. Standards are non-existent and it’s the law of the jungle in operation.

Health Checks and Exercise

The majority of people do not have health insurance in developing countries. It is an expensive undertaking and is treated as a luxury by most individuals. Those in the developed world have health insurance but the cost of medical care is also prohibitive in these countries.

The only way to avoid incurring health costs is to ensure we maintain good diets, exercise appropriately and get health checks done in time. Unfortunately, most of us do not adhere to good diets, exercise or have health checks.

We have adopted sedentary lifestyles that have led to the rise of three major killer diseases worldwide. Diabetes, Cancer and high blood pressure. These diseases can be considered afflictions of the modern-day society. With the introduction of computers, tablets and mobile phones this has had a direct effect on the mobility of most individuals. Convenience has been brought to the fingertips of many individuals and we do not need to exert a lot of physical effort to cover our basic needs.

Early man was a hunter and gatherer. Man walked over long distances each and every day to gather basic necessities and eke a living. With nature’s brutal harsh reality this resulted in survival of the fittest. The strongest and fittest survived over the millennia.

This has changed in modern society whereby we rely on our brains and communication to carry out over 80% of our activities and tasks. Physical activity has been relegated to the minimum and only performed if necessary for most individuals.

Our health has suffered us a direct consequence of this aspect. I have personally witnessed the degradation of the health of loved ones as they avoided adhering to a strict diet and exercise. Not following the right health protocols can be devastating on health and financial aspects.

Countering the Normalcy Bias

Strategy/Risk/Disaster Planning

Major blue-chip companies carry out strategy, risk and disaster planning. They discuss how they plan to get more business and in the same vein how to control and mitigate risks. They do this as daily, weekly and monthly tasks.

We have to pick a leaf from these companies and also carry out our own personal strategy, risk and disaster planning and mitigation exercises. Do a personal inventory of the potential risks you will face as an individual and family in the future

This inventory which can touch the key areas of spiritual, health, finances, skills and networks should be at the forefront of any goals and planning exercises for your family. The goal is to reduce risk and mitigate it before it occurs

The OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) a strategic and tactical framework formulated by John Boyd a former Colonel in the US Airforce comes to play here. We need to continuously observe our environment and make quick adjustments to it before we get overwhelmed in the short and long run.

We need to be open to feedback and be an Open System rather than a closed system. Champions thrive on feedback. Get a personal coach or mentor. They see our weaknesses and strengths and will warn us where we are getting off track.

Insurance is a key aspect of risk planning. Insurance cover and plans are vital to the essential core of risk and disaster planning. Plan for worst case scenarios and also plan on how to achieve your dreams. This is been realistic as life is full of ups and downs.

Skilling and the Process of Continuous Improvement

Learning new skills, improving existing skills, always humbles us and makes us aware we do not know all there is to know out there. This humbling experience forces us to raise our awareness about our immediate environment. This assists us counter laziness and inertia that set in once we get comfortable in our current skill set mode.

Endeavor to learn something new during the new year.  This can mean also improving our existing set of skills. Don’t give up on your self but persist and learn.

We have heard of parents and grandparents going back to class. What should stop you from achieving your goals in the education and skills realm if you put your mind and heart in it.

The secret to the Japanese miracle and those of great companies like Toyota is constant and continuous improvement. Winners never stop learning champions always know what got them there is not enough to make them stay at the top.  They have to keep on improving and learning constantly.

Personal Standards

Do we copy our personal standards from our immediate environment, or do we set our own high standards modelling the best standards across the board?

When an individual, family or community accept low standards and mediocrity as the norm the consequences are there to behold in the long run. We need to set high personal standards to counter the normalcy bias in everyday life.

Without a set of personal standards and values we will always falter along the way. Model the great and aim for the sky.


What do you consider normal in your day to day routine but needs a total shake up. We have cobwebs gathering somewhere in our personal routines. The key aim is to ensure we are aware of what is going on in the priority areas in our lives.

Change starts small but keep on diligently improving all aspects of our lives.



Who moved my cheese – Dr Spencer Johnson

Atomic habits- James Clear

Out of Your Comfort Zone: Breaking Boundaries for a Life Beyond Limits – Emma Mardlin

The Power of Habit:  Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg

12 Rules for Life:  An Antidote to Chaos – Jordan B. Peterson

The Toyota Kaizen Continuum: A Practical Guide to Implementing Lean – John Stewart


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