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1,200 years before Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.” St. Augustine said, “Fallor ergo sum” which means “I err, therefore I am.”
Being wrong is a huge part of human nature. But humans don’t like being wrong. We have a strong desire to be right and we have a strong fear of being wrong. We dread it and we avoid it as much as we can.
This makes sense because we all know there are consequences to being wrong. Being wrong causes mistakes in all areas of our life. It can cost us our job, our livelihood, our health, our confidence, our reputation, our relationships and even lives.
Mistakes in our job could result in consequences such as losing our job or worse consequences like jail time or sentencing an innocent man to prison for work in law enforcement or accidentally killing or injuring someone for work in medicine or construction.
And realizing we’re wrong doesn’t feel good at all. It’s flat out painful. Being wrong can make us feel humiliated, alienated, shameful, insecure, vulnerable, unsettled and bewildered. Even worse is that we can hurt and humiliate other people when we’re wrong.
We associate wrongness with evil, insanity, ignorance and stupidity. Nobody wants to be associated with that.
When we’re right, though, it feels so good. This is especially true if we were right while someone found out they were wrong considering the difficulty of withholding the urge to say, “See? I told you so.” It’s very satisfying.
While being wrong can cause harm and we should strive to avoid mistakes, it’s unavoidable. We as humans are or can be incredibly flawed, biased, illogical, naïve, and unreasonable. Wikipedia lists that we have 185 cognitive biases and psychologists have identified about 50 cognitive distortions.
What causes even more harm, however, is when we aren’t open to the possibility of being wrong.
The feeling of realizing we’re wrong is painful, but we should not avoid it.
Our ability and willingness to feel and experience uncomfortable and painful emotions directly correlates with our growth and success. This includes the experience of realizing we’re wrong and all of the emotions involved.
Being right may feel good, but it’s empty. It’s boring. It’s flat. It’s static.
How boring would life be if we were always right? Satisfying, sure, but boring.
Being wrong is a call to adventure. It awakens us. It’s transformative. It makes us experience life. We learn to connect with others more as well as with our deepest selves. Being wrong can be revelatory and epiphanic. Being wrong is an opportunity.
Kathryn Schultz’s book Being Wrong: Adventures In the Margin of Error advocates that we should all embrace and be open to being wrong. Doubt is a skill we should all work on and error is the foundation of wisdom, knowledge and advancement.
Embracing and being open to being wrong improves our relationships, makes us mentally healthier, smarter and more creative, makes life more fun, and lessens our likelihood of being wrong. It makes us better people.
The Psychology of Our Beliefs
We like to think that our beliefs already reflect reality perfectly.
We think we have the beliefs we do because we’re right. That we came to having our beliefs because we’re smart and came to those conclusion from our own thinking and proper research. This is usually not the case.
We usually don’t consider that we have the beliefs we have mostly because of our upbringing, our parents, our communities, our personal experiences, and who got to us first with specific information. Rarely do we think to consider that we may be wrong about our beliefs.
We tend to share the same beliefs as our social circles, communities, and friends. We don’t like to challenge these beliefs that we share with others because of our need for belonging. We don’t want to be ostracized or ridiculed by our communities so our need for belonging is stronger than our desire for truth.
We want to look good to the people around us – those who share the beliefs we already do.
We underestimate the influence of our communities, our favorite celebrities, and our favorite public figures such as political commentators, thought leaders and social influencers.
The more alike you are to someone, the more likely you are to agree with them, listen to their point of view and share the same beliefs as them, regardless of whether they’re right or wrong. The opposite goes for the more unalike you are to someone.
We are also more likely to agree with someone based on how they communicate with us, regardless of whether they are right or wrong.
We tend to identify with many of our beliefs and knowledge. You can see this with religious beliefs and with political beliefs especially. This makes it hard to change our minds when it’s proven that our beliefs and knowledge are false or limited.
Our beliefs give us security and safety and grounding in how we view the world around us and ourselves. When we come across beliefs that differ from our own, it threatens the security of our worldview as well as our identity.
Scientists found that when we are faced with statements that differ from our beliefs, especially political beliefs, regions in the brain that are associated with identity and being threatened light up. We respond to intellectual threats in the same way we respond to physical threats.
We experience denial because sometimes facing and accepting facts and reality is too painful and uncomfortable for us.
Most of us also make quick judgments about people, ideas and the world around us. Making judgments is simple and easy. We like to simplify a lot of things.
We tend to trust our feelings very strongly even if there is no data or knowledge behind our feelings about our beliefs. Many of us call this our intuition or our gut feelings. We say, “I just know. I just have a feeling.”
We don’t like not knowing or uncertainty. Think about how many times you’ve heard how we are currently in uncertain times due to the pandemic. I believe I’ve even said it. The fact is there is never any certainty. There never was certainty before. The future is not certain. It can be predictable, but it is certainly not certain.
Let’s consider the popularity of body language. We want to know for certain what people are thinking and feeling and whether they are telling the truth or not. We do this by basing it on people’s external movements indicating what’s going on internally and often treating this as fact.
The truth is, while we may sometimes get an idea, we will never really know for certain what people are thinking and feeling unless they tell us honestly. Even then, it’s limited. We will never know the extent unless we were to live in their skin.
When it comes to the things we don’t know, we like to assume and draw our own conclusions and judgments based on what we already know.
Perception is often greater than any truth. Collective perception can be even more powerful than any truth. Our beliefs dictate our behaviors and actions. The beliefs of others affect us also regardless of the truth behind their beliefs.
We underestimate the complexities of the world, human nature and psychology. We vastly underestimate what we don’t know.
We can see this a lot with simplistic basic general advice or quotes in self-help that are actually not helpful at all.
Even everyday things that are seemingly basic are a lot more complex and complicated than they seem such as toilets and zippers. When people believe they know more than they actually do is an effect called the illusion of explanatory depth and it’s incredibly common.
Our memory is also incredibly faulty. This is why eyewitness testimony is not very reliable.
We actually also tend to not remember when we’re wrong which makes us more likely to repeat the same mistakes.
Realizing we are wrong also involves change. The problem is most of are averse to change especially when it comes to changing our identity and beliefs. It’s not only hard and uncomfortable, but most of us just aren’t open to it. Most have no problem with wanting material success despite the process being hard and uncomfortable though.
When we realize we are wrong, we often have to change our deeply-held convictions and beliefs about ourselves and the world, especially with religious and political beliefs. And oftentimes changing our beliefs also means changing our habits and behaviors.
Those who are highly resistant to change are less likely to be open to the possibility of being wrong.
Our difficulties in being wrong and changing our minds is not only caused by our cognition and psychology, but also by our relationship to wrongness at an individual level and cultural level.
We need to change our relationship with wrongness.
Our Relationship With Wrongness
Our individual relationship to being wrong usually stems from childhood, based on how we were treated when we were wrong and made mistakes.
As a child, when we were wrong, our parents or teachers may have treated us as though we were wrong as a person. Being wrong made us bad. This negatively affects our relationship to being wrong when it comes to our sense of self.
We learned to associate being wrong with being bad and wrong as a person. Even being evil.
In school, we are taught that the way to get good grades and make it in life is to not makes mistakes or to makes them as little as possible. The problem is that we learn from making mistakes.
This made many of us turn into perfectionists and overachievers with anxiety and emotional instability.
It also contributed to the belief that those who are wrong and make mistakes are stupid and ignorant. We believe that if we make mistakes then that makes us stupid.
Those with very inner fragility do whatever they can to protect their self-image from being stupid or bad so they refuse to admit when they were wrong and made mistakes because of the fear of being wrong and thus seeing themselves as stupid or bad.
We also associate wrongness with insanity as well or altered states such as being high or drunk. We fear that if we are wrong, then we can’t trust our mental faculties and our judgments. This is a scary thought. We even associate it with physical impairment – being blind.
Our relationship with wrongness not only affects us at an individualistic mental and emotional level. It affects us at a societal and cultural level.
Not only do we prefer to be certain, we tend to find other people’s certainty attractive.
We are more trusting of those who are just confident in their knowledge and act highly assured without question.
We mistake confidence for a sign that they are right. We let ultraconfident people and those who appear and act as if they have all the answers lead us.
Too much confidence should actually be cause for question and caution. Overconfidence is positively correlated with inaccuracy of judgement and sometimes lack of knowledge. This is especially true for future forecasts. This is called the overconfidence effect.
As a culture, we place more importance and value on being right, certainty and confidence. Those who are confident, bold and loud also tend to get more attention as well as those who think fast and shallow. We think they are wise and right just because they always have an answer and something to say.
We don’t give much attention to those who are more humble, curious, open, cautious, thoughtful, reflective, pensive, and complex who think slowly and deeply.
What gets attention is not what’s right, but what’s loud, flamboyant, controversial and makes noise. They may sound smart, but it doesn’t mean they are.
We also tend to be more distrusting of those who are uncertain, don’t have an answer or those who change their minds.
We believe someone who changed their mind is easily swayed, weak, and can’t be trusted with their judgments if they were wrong before while someone who is convicted in their beliefs has strong values so they therefore must be right.
Sometimes we also consider someone “brave” and “strong” when they are unapologetic and firm with their beliefs. Our culture doesn’t value reform, redemption and repentance as much as we should.
In some countries and cultures, being wrong and failure due to errors is highly frowned upon in some cultures and countries. In some places, individuals and families are ostracized from having a business fail or getting into debt.
Certainty is historically associated with violence. Being wrong or challenging the “truth” that many in power were certain about meant a death sentence.
When it comes to intelligence, we tend to think intelligence is people who know a lot of information and knowledge. As a culture, we think of those who don’t know very much as stupid.
However, many scientists, writers and philosophers throughout time have attributed intelligence to the ability of being able to change your mind, curiosity and being open to learn and unlearn. All of these things involve being wrong.
Unfortunately, many people are not open to the idea of being wrong because they just want to be right. They only want to prove themselves right. They don’t want the truth. They don’t want to learn. They just want to be right.
This closes our minds to learning and new information. It also prevents us from understanding one another and having close and healthy relationships.
Here are some reasons why we should be open to being wrong and embracing it.
Why We Should Embrace Being Wrong
Being open to being wrong reduces error
While we embrace being wrong, we should of course do whatever we can to avoid being wrong.
So why should we embrace being wrong and develop our skill of doubt?
We tend to think that making mistakes and failures lead us further away from the truth and success. This is actually not the case.
Paradoxically, when we are open to being wrong we move closer to the truth and actually being right. If you want to avoid mistakes, you have to realize that they are inevitable.
Instead of trying to avoid being wrong, we should instead avoid certainty.
Many businesses fail when they are not open to seeing error and believe that everything they are doing is the best thing they can and should be doing.
Industries that embrace mistakes as inevitable are better able to anticipate mistakes, prevent them, and respond appropriately when preventative measure fail. They also save money, maintain their reputations and avoid endangering lives.
Experience and expertise does not diminish the likelihood of being wrong either. Especially if this experience and expertise leads to overconfidence.
As I wrote earlier, mistakes are a part of being human. They are always going to happen. They happen to the best of us.
There is no point in life or amount of success, money, knowledge, achievement that can prevent mistakes or where they stop happening.
Some would argue that the farther we go in life, the more responsibilities we have, the more problems we will have. As the popular phrase goes, “More money, more problems.”
Facts change – the importance of unlearning
One of the reasons why we should be open to being wrong is because facts change. A fact today may be proven wrong tomorrow or in time.
I once read a story about a student describing their experience on the first day of a medical class. The professor of the class went to front of the classroom, picked up a textbook and slammed it down in front of the students. He stated that 50% of what’s in this textbook is wrong, but he has no idea what’s wrong yet so he has to teach everything.
What the professor was teaching his students was that a lot of the things you learn in your life both inside and outside the classroom will be false or will one day be proven to be false. He was urging his students to be open to new information that disproves old information.
One of the biggest reasons for the advancement of science during The Scientific Revolution was the revelation that science evolves by being proven wrong. Scientists gravitate toward falsification. They seek to disprove their theories and beliefs.
The Pessimistic Meta-Induction from the History of Science is a theory that states that all of today’s scientific theories will eventually be proven wrong. But this not only goes for science, it goes for everything else as well.
Closer to reality is what is called the half life of facts which is the amount of time it takes for facts and knowledge in a field to expire or decay. Facts and knowledge become outdated in the sense that they are either proven wrong or improved upon.
Nothing lasts forever, not even facts. Change is the only certain constant. Even when it comes to facts.
Keep in mind that there is also nothing we know 100%. For example, you may think that you know the alphabet 100%. Right? Since you know your ABCs. Well, do you know when the alphabet was created? Do you know the name of the dot on top of the lowercase letter i? Do you know how long it takes the average child to learn? I could go on. It’s unlikely that you know all these things and more about the alphabet. The same goes for the vast amount of things, people, places and subjects there are.
Even if we are right about something, we are still limited in what we know. We may be right, but we may disagree with someone who is also right.
No matter how much we know, we only know a small portion of all there is to know. The amount of information is growing rapidly and the rate of growth is continuously speeding up.
The Dunning-Kruger effect shows us that we tend to overestimate our knowledge, skills and ability.
We tend to have the highest confidence about our knowledge and skills when we know the least.
We read skim one article on a topic, watch one video or listen to one podcast episode and think we know enough about the topic at hand.
When we learn more, our confidence bubble pops and we recognize our ignorance. Confidence can, unfortunately, keep us from learning more when we think we already know enough.
Embracing being wrong improves our relationships
Some of our biggest and most memorable mistakes happen in the area of relationships. We regret not staying in a relationship or we regret staying for too long. We believe that our partner would never cheat on us or leave us or mistreat or disrespect only to find out that they do. Or we make the mistake of doing or saying something hurtful.
Embracing being wrong can improve our relationships both present and future in many different ways.
You’ve probably heard the sayings about choosing between being right or being happy and kind. When we open ourselves up to the possibility of being wrong, we become open to healthy communication, understanding the other person and empathy.
Many people fight and argue for the right to be right.
When we consider the possibility of being wrong, we learn to listen. We become open to learning not only for ourselves, but to understand our partner, friend, or any fellow human being. We treat others with more thoughtfulness and kindness. Instead of dismissing others for being wrong as being ignorant, stupid, insane or evil, we consider that they may be right and we ourselves may be wrong or limited in our worldview.
Mistakes also make us likable. People like other people who are authentic, open, and imperfect. People who make mistakes and are open about them are relatable. When we are open about our mistakes, we actually attract people who will accept us despite our mistakes and people who are more kind, understanding and empathetic instead of judgmental, harsh, and narcissistic people.
Meanwhile, those who appear to be know-it-alls can come across as irritating, condescending and arrogant. When we close ourselves off to being wrong, we are more likely to treat others poorly and hurt or humiliate them.
When we open ourselves up to the possibility of being wrong, we also make better decisions in our relationships with regards to choosing to stay or ending a relationship. We become less likely to suffer from the sunk cost effect which makes us continue unhappy relationships and friendships. We don’t want to be wrong about this person, relationship or friendship because of all the time, energy, money and commitment we’ve already put in.
I once dated someone who I realized was emotionally abusive with anger issues. Looking back, there were no red flags in the beginning that I can think of, not even during our first argument. My biggest mistake was not that I was mistaken about his character, but that after it was clearly revealed to me that he had serious problems with anger as well as other issues that neither he was willing to fix nor was I willing to compromise and settle for, instead of deciding to leave then and there, I stayed for another 8 months.
I didn’t want to believe that I wrong about this man, this relationship. I regret not the fact that I started the relationship since I couldn’t have known, but I do regret that I stayed for so long knowing about his character.
If I would’ve been more open to being wrong, it’s likely that I wouldn’t have wasted so much of my time and left sooner.
Our ability to admit and acknowledge our mistakes is correlated to strong mental and emotional health
The inability to experience regret is one of the diagnostic traits of sociopaths. It’s also common among people who experience certain kinds of brain damage.
Narcissists tend to believe that they don’t make any mistakes. They have difficulty taking blame and responsibility, admitting fault and apologizing. When they make mistakes, they tend to blame everyone and everything else besides themselves.
This is because of a deep insecurity that narcissists feel the need to hide behind an inflated, superior ego that can never be wrong or make mistakes. What’s more important to them is protecting their reputation and image at all costs.
Those who are more psychologically resilient and have a strong sense of self are more likely to face up to their own errors.
Being able to answer “I don’t know” to questions is also an indicator to good cognitive health.
We become smarter
Being open to being wrong is being open to learning.
Just like science, we advance and learn most when we prove ourselves wrong. When we change our beliefs and expand our worldview.
Most of us just like to prove ourselves right when we seek information or research on something that we already have an opinion or belief about. This is called confirmation bias which is the tendency to seek out information that confirms our beliefs rather than seek information that challenges our beliefs.
We prefer information that makes us feel good rather than information that makes us uncomfortable and think hard.
We are more intelligent and wise when we realize and consider our limitations. True intelligence knows its limits.
We should not just be aware of what we know, but of what we don’t know. And of course what we could be wrong about.
Certainty is the death of wonder, curiosity and learning.
We creates fairer and freer societies
When a society values certainty over truth and refuses to admit mistakes, it can be disastrous.
At its extreme, certainty can result in massive violence and death such as in the case of the Salem witch trials, the holocaust, and religious violence. Socrates was sentenced to death and Galileo was arrested for agreeing with Copernicus that the Earth revolved around the sun because of the need for certainty.
It also restricts our freedom. Harmful people rise to power whose beliefs aren’t freely challenged. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are limited. People are murdered, sent to prison, or exiled for having certain beliefs that don’t conform to the “truth”.
Justice is also flawed. This also happens with wrongful convictions. When courts, justice, and legal systems refuse to acknowledge errors that result in innocent people being imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, those people stay imprisoned longer and can even be sentenced to death.
Certainty resists freedom, justice, and progress.
The beauty of being wrong
When we were children, my sister and I enjoyed listening to Buttons by The Pussycat Dolls. My younger sister was convinced that the lyrics said hoosen up my buttons instead of loosen up my buttons. Given the adult nature of the song and her being a child, it makes sense that she would believe this. I, of course, being the wiser and older sister by two years knew that she was wrong, that the lyrics said loosen. However, she was so confident and certain that it said hoosen that I even started to question the lyrics myself. It was surely a satisfying moment for me when I was able to prove to her what the lyrics actually said and it’s a fond memory that we still laugh at today.
Being wrong can be funny. Our mistakes can make for great stories. They makes us laugh and connect with others when we share them. We find humor when others get it wrong because it’s relatable.
Being wrong can be entertaining. When it comes to our stories and entertainment, we love being wrong. We love the unexpected. Plot twists and surprises are exciting. We love seeing things go wrong in a story or a character doing things wrong and coming out a hero despite the wrongness that happens. Without our ability to suspend belief, we would not be able to enjoy fiction and stories.
The characters in books, movies and TV shows are not likable, relatable or interesting if they are perfect and always right about everything.
Our stories reflect our life. That’s the beauty of it.
Without our ability for wrongness, there would be no art either. There would be no creativity or imagination. If everything we created were to reflect reality, be perfect and “right”, there would be little to create. We would be no more than computers.
Our concept of beauty would likely not exist without the existence of human error. There would be no uniqueness, no differentiation between each other.
Being wrong makes life interesting. Making mistakes is fun. It gives us life experience that we otherwise wouldn’t have had.
Things that are not based on facts and reality such as our beliefs in conspiracy theories, the paranormal and other metaphysical and esoteric concepts can be entertaining, humorous, creative, and even cause us to consider and think more deeply.
There is a certain beauty and humanness to being wrong. It’s what can make us driven and passionate and hopeful and “blissful” despite conflicting reality. It’s what makes us believe in ourselves despite our past track record. Our beliefs keep us going and give us faith in things that we can’t prove or be truly certain about.
How many times have we thought something was going to happen in our lives and something else happened instead? At the moment, we were devastated, but now in hindsight, we’re happier it turned out to be that way. We’re happy we were wrong about many things. Being wrong surprised us and in turn gave us more experience, bigger opportunities, and greater character.
Reacting to Others’ Wrongness
There will be many people who will read this and think they need to let others know how they should be open to being wrong instead of looking at themselves and their ability (or lack thereof) to be open to being wrong.
Many of us practice doubt and skepticism when it comes to others and their beliefs especially when the beliefs are different from our own, but rarely do we practice this with ourselves. Very few of us actually challenge our own beliefs. Even when we like to believe we do, confirmation bias tells us that we are often looking for information that proves us right and confirms our beliefs rather than trying to disprove our beliefs.
Of course, we will experience times when we are faced with someone else who really is wrong or limited in their beliefs as we likely have many time before.
We tend to treat others who makes mistakes and are wrong differently than we do when we make mistakes and realize we were wrong. We are harsher when it comes to judging others’ mistakes and wrongness, but more forgiving of our own mistakes.
Once after my family went out for lunch to meet some of our stepdad’s family, we were in the parking lot chatting and taking pictures. A lady and what appeared to be her mother walked out to their car. My sister and I watched the mother accidentally try to get into the wrong car and we laughed it off along with them. The lady starts a casual conversation and says, “Oh, you should’ve seen it! The other day, a black man got in the back of my car, I looked back at him and when he realized he was in the wrong car, he puts his hands up and says, ‘Oh! I sorry! I sorry!” So I told him, ‘Yeah. Get out.'” There was a degree of indignation in her voice when she told us this story.
The woman did not extend the same treatment she gave her mother who nearly made the same mistake to the man who accidentally got in her car knowing that it was by mistake. A man who was very much unalike her and her mother.
When you think someone else is wrong and you’re right or you know that you’re right, treat them how you wish you would be treated when you’re wrong. The same goes for if they make a mistake. If you made the same mistake, how would you want to be treated? If you think that you would never make the same mistake, consider the differences between you and that person.
When we see someone as ignorant, stupid, insane or evil because they’re wrong, we tend to treat them terribly. As tempting as it may be, don’t shame or ridicule them.
“Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.” – Haruki Murakami
Treat them with humanity because it’s a human thing to be wrong.
They are also more likely to agree with us based on how we communicate. You’re less likely to agree with someone if they insult you, regardless of whether they’re right or wrong.
Of course, if this person is engaging in toxic behavior such as gaslighting or insulting, there’s nothing wrong with limiting or ending your interaction with them in a healthy way.
The best we can do is to practice radical acceptance as they are that they are not going to change their beliefs or open their minds to our point of view.
So what are some ways we can embrace and be open to being wrong?
How We Can Embrace Being Wrong
Assume we are wrong
We should go against our natural inclination to assume that we’re right and sometimes assume that we’re wrong.
Openness to wrongness requires vulnerability. It requires strength and courage.
There are things that you may be wrong about, you just don’t know it because you think you’re right. Sometimes assuming that you may be wrong, opens you up to discovering and realizing when you are wrong.
Books are a great, non-threatening way to challenge your beliefs. There is no fear or possibility of looking dumb like there is in an argument. There is no risk of being judged with a book. Reading a book is like having a conversation with the author. Be open and engage with it. Make sure to fully understand the message before coming to a conclusion.
Choose books that you wouldn’t normally read. Read books that are written by or are about people who are different than you. The more perspectives you learn, the more wisdom you acquire.
Awareness is key to realizing when we’re wrong and make mistakes. Having awareness gives us a more realistic image of ourselves. Awareness opens us up to our strengths, weaknesses, and limitations.
We are also more likely to learn from our mistakes earlier and faster.
We pay closer attention so we are more likely to remember and look into those mistakes.
Work cultures that have an openness about making mistakes without harsh consequences are more likely to avoid more error. Employees don’t fear making mistakes and bringing attention to them quicker to better solve problems.
When we become aware of mistakes, we can then become aware of solutions.
Awareness is the root and beginning of change, growth, progress and love.
Take risks and put yourself out there
Although it may be a bit cliché, a good way to embrace error is to engage in healthy risk taking. Put yourself out there.
Ramit Sethi advises to document your failures by have a fail list as a way to push yourself to put yourself out there. If you’re not failing enough and making mistakes, you’re not putting yourself out there.
When I took an improv class, we celebrated mistakes. When someone made a mistake, everyone clapped and cheered. This was because people hold back when they fear making mistakes, especially in front of others.
So don’t just document your mistakes, celebrate your wrongs and failures. See them as progress, experience and character enhancement.
Avoid quick, judgmental and simplistic thinking
This kind of thinking is not helpful for anyone. It’s dismissive, undermining and unrealistic. Remember not to underestimate complexity. We may think we have the answers and think that what applies to us will apply to everything and everyone, but we may not be right.
Some examples include:
“Just work harder.”
“Just do it.”
“Fat people are just lazy.”
“Just be positive.”
“We should all just love each other.”
Be openly expressive of uncertainty in your speech
Speak with more open expressions of uncertainty.
“I might be wrong, but…”
“Maybe I’m off, but…”
“I’m not entirely sure, but…”
“I’m only guessing, but…”
“It’s a possibility.” “There’s a chance.”
“To the best of my knowledge…”
This type of speech is more common among women as men tend to speak in more absolutes and with more certainty than women do.
It’s not only useful to open yourself to learning, but it’s disarming to other people.
Get comfortable with saying “I don’t know”
Being able to say “I don’t know” is a good indicator for strong mental health. We become aware, realistic, and open to learning when we normalize saying, “I don’t know.”
Avoid the need to have an answer, theory, and explanation for everything.
Avoid certainty and choose curiosity instead
Certainty is the death of learning, creativity and healthy communication and relationships.
Curiosity feeds learning, creativity, healthy communication and acceptance.
Certainty is closed and limited. It’s a wall. Curiosity is open and limitless.
Instead of making quick, dismissive judgments, ask questions. Get curious and be open to learning.
Learn how to think critically
Learn to laugh at yourself
Realize our mistakes makes life more fun, interesting and pleasurable. Have fun with your mistakes. Let them make for good stories. Learn to laugh at your mistakes. Be open and share your mistakes. You may help others learn to accept and laugh at theirs as well.
Don’t separate yourself from your mistakes
Sometimes when we realize the mistakes from our past and we change your minds and behaviors, we say things like, “that wasn’t me” or we refer to our past mistaken self as “that person.”
Learn not to detach yourself from your past self. Just like we shouldn’t separate ourselves from history to learn about humanity and how we can prevent future mistakes, we shouldn’t separate our past selves from our current selves.
Our past self made us who we are today.
We should instead take ownership of all parts of our identity both past and present. Instead of “that wasn’t me,” we should say “that was me.” It takes courage to accept that part of ourselves that we realize was wrong and made mistakes.
Many strongly emphasize forgiveness, especially in spiritual and self-help communities. We give much less attention to apology.
What can do the most damage when it comes to being wrong is not being wrong itself, but denial and refusing to admit being wrong. That is what causes the most consequences. It’s the difference between a wrongful conviction for 1 year and one that lasts 10 years.
Regardless of the gravity of our mistakes, there is still always the opportunity to realize and say, “I was wrong.” It is always an option to face the truth and our wrongness or to stay in ignorance and denial. Albeit not an easy one.
We also help mend relationships and help those we hurt heal emotionally. It prevents further pain and problems from the lack of our apologies.
Evidence shows that doctors and hospitals that openly disclose and apologize for errors are less likely to get sued than those who don’t. Statistics also show that 40% of victims of medical error state that an explanation and apology would have prevented them from taking legal action.
When we apologize, we are owning our mistakes and taking responsibility for them. While of course, it’s important to take other factors into play, avoid making excuses, deflecting, justifying, engaging in blame, or the wrong buts (“I was wrong, but”).
When we hold onto our rightness, we hold onto a false sense of security that destroys our self-esteem and our relationships. Apology grows our integrity and our character.
Be okay with being wrong. We need to realize that being wrong doesn’t made us bad nor does it make us stupid. Being wrong is a normal and natural part of the human experience.
Practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness when you make mistakes.
Embrace the regret and remorse you feel. Don’t fight it. Experience it.
When you face your mistakes with acceptance, you are less likely to make them again.
Don’t avoid the feeling of regret
Regret is the ability to acknowledge mistakes and wish we had done differently. It means we learned from our mistakes.
Telling ourselves that we shouldn’t have regrets is insensitive especially to the mistakes we made in terms of hurting other people, even if unintentional.
While regret may feel bad, we shouldn’t avoid feeling it just because it’s painful. Feeling regret doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a better person.
Regret is a part of owning and embracing our wrongness.
Take celebrity and expert advice with a grain of salt
Many of us are incredibly trusting of celebrities and leaders. We think that because they are rich, successful and famous that they have all the answers, that they are right and we should follow their advice. After all, we want to be like them. Why shouldn’t we?
Well, they could be wrong and their advice may be unhelpful for us.
The Halo Effect is a cognitive bias that makes us trust someone in one area just because they are an expert in another area.
An example of this was when Gwyneth Paltrow came out with a Netflix series and company called The Goop Lab. People started listening to health advice from this celebrity and buying products that were based in pseudoscience.
Just because someone is famous, right, smart, knowledgeable and successful in one area or about one thing doesn’t mean they are right about other areas or things. Money and business advice may not be very helpful coming from a celebrity who had plenty of money, fame and resources to begin with.
We don’t consider that advice that worked for specific circumstances such as in the past, a different industry or with knowing certain people may not work for our own unique situation.
Be skeptical and suspicious of celebrity experts and those who are sharing opinions in areas of expertise other than their own.
Being wrong was a fear I had to overcome when I started this blog. I knew that I would be blogging about self improvement and psychology that could potentially be wrong. Very wrong. I could possibly give advice that is simplistic and unhelpful at best or advice that is harmful at worst.
I learned that it’s completely okay to be wrong. As long as I am always seeking truth and doing whatever I can to find it, as well as openly correcting, realizing and changing my mind when I’m wrong.
Our want to hold onto being right is limiting. We are letting fear hold us back when we hold onto certainty. Stepping into embracing being wrong is stepping out of our comfort zone in a way that will expand it more than anything else.
The world has complexities and secrets and mysteries and things that we will never understand, experience or grasp from our tiny, limited worldview. This is a beautiful and amazing thing.
Embracing error is realizing our humanness and in turn making ourselves more humane. We begin to understand not only ourselves better, but our fellow human beings.
When we realize that we’re wrong, it shouldn’t remind us that we did something bad. It should remind us that we can do better.