The Why #85 Why do I get every red light when I’m running late?

4 min readMay 2, 2024


Dan Monheit 2nd May 2024

Question by David, Rye

Every. Damn. Light.
Every. Damn. Time.

It’s like the universe knows and conspires against you. ‘What’s that? Oh, you want to get to your yoga class in a relaxed, zen-like state even though you left home 11 minutes later than you knew you needed to? Ha! We’ll see about that…’.

And red lights are just the start of it. As you know too well Dave, it’s only when you’re running really late for something really important that the slow drivers, removalist trucks in one way streets and painfully overpaid ‘stop/start lollipop people’ all come out to play.

Perhaps you were a terrible person in a previous life. Maybe there’s a divine plan that sees your tardiness result in a chance meeting with the love of your life. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s something behavioural at play…

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias describes our tendency to seek out and upweight information that supports our existing beliefs, while undervaluing, discrediting, ignoring or avoiding information that runs counter. The more emotional or deeply held the belief, the more susceptible to Confirmation Bias we seem to be.

Psychologist Drew Westen saw the 2004 US Presidential Election as the perfect time to put Confirmation Bias to the test. Westen gathered 30 men who described themselves as ‘strong republicans’ (Bush supporters) and another 30 who considered themselves ‘strong democrats’ (Kerry supporters). All participants were asked to assess a set of statements from both presidential candidates that were self contradicting, hypocritical or at the very least, in poor taste.

To the surprise of nobody, Westen found that those in favour of Bush were as critical of Kerry as Kerry fans were of Bush. At the same time, neither side let the comments change their beliefs about their own preferred candidate.

All of which brings us back to your preferred candidate, which I assume is a series of radiant green lights. Unfortunately, your belief that ‘you always get red lights when you’re in a hurry’ is what’s making you notice it every time you do. Meanwhile, you sail through those greens and yellows without a second thought. Same goes for the reds when you’ve got plenty of time to spare.

For Challenger Brands, it’s all but guaranteed that people will already have some preconceived perception about who you are or what you stand for. Instead of battling uphill trying to change peoples’ minds, look for ways to lean in, dial up and overcommit to what they already believe is true.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why we feel under qualified for a job despite meeting 9 out of 10 requirements here.



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Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about Confirmation Bas in episode 6 of the Bad Decisions podcast.

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