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Learning How to Be Wrong

The Doe Team

by The Doe Team

| May 17, 2022

It is the most primitive part of our brain that drives our ego’s need to be right. But at what cost?

Would you rather be happy, or would you rather be right?

In most arguments, it’s safe to say each side believes they are the purveyor of all that is truthful and right. It’s where the passion and conviction in our arguments comes from. Often, neither side is taking a moment to pause, contemplate what the other person is saying and truly consider whether both sides might be right—or, heaven forbid, they might actually be wrong.

There is an inherent human need to be right. No one likes to be proven wrong because there is often a sense of shame and embarrassment that comes along with the idea that your ideas and beliefs are incorrect.

From banal arguments about taking out the trash and whose turn it is to pay for drinks to heated arguments about politics and religion, there is an embedded duty to be the right one.

This driving force to win any and all arguments ensures that no one learns anything, no one is nurturing relationships and no one is happy.

Let’s be honest, if it turns out you were right, did winning that argument truly make you happy? How can you actually learn from these discussions and use being wrong as an opportunity for personal growth?1 (6)

Why Are People So Invested in Being Right?

It is the most primitive parts of our brain that drive our ego’s need to be right. For some, it turns every discussion into a “me versus you” mentality and it’s a survival of the fittest. It’s why the heartbeat and breath tend to quicken during more heated debates with another person. Your body is in fight-or-flight mode, working to prove why you are the stronger, smarter person in the group.

To be wrong is tantamount to losing a battle of dominance. Therefore, the response to feeling challenged is not based on reason but on the ego.

The degree to which you respond to someone challenging your beliefs depends on where you are in your journey of developing emotional intelligence. The higher your EQ, the more capable you become of actively listening to others and being fully present in a conversation, as opposed to focusing on “being right.”

“People who always need to be right tend to have fragile egos,” therapist Karyl McBride, Ph.D., tells Men’s Health, adding that they often use it as a coping mechanism to deal with insecurity.

One way to consider whether you are one of those people is to ask yourself why you have the driving need to always be right. The alternative can lead to personal growth, stronger and healthier relationships with others and an improved sense of sel2 (7)

Learning From Mistakes: Being Wrong Can Lead to Growth

Instead of being that person who always has to be right, think about the long-term costs of taking that attitude in life. It limits your growth as a human being; you’re missing out on important life lessons; and, perhaps most important, you’re risking your relationships with those around you. 

Instead of holding fast to being right, consider that being wrong or being open to alternate ideas can lead to growth opportunities. 

Being wrong is inevitable, just as failure and challenges are inevitable. They are part of life. Instead of fighting them, what would happen if you embraced the idea of being wrong, of learning new things and accepting failure and challenges as part of developing into a richer, more colorful version of yourself? 

Mistakes can help you gain knowledge, as long you are willing to take the time to learn from them. There are important lessons about what works, what doesn’t work and how others think when you stop to consider what went wrong or how you were wrong in your thinking.

Being wrong can help you learn how to be emotionally resilient, how to be flexible and approach life with a growth mindset. Rather than stopping at failure, you can pick up where you left off and keep going. Persistence is an important lesson to learn in life, and one that makes us wiser, stronger and braver to take on anything life throws your way.

Never being wrong means you’ll miss out on the important lessons about who you are as a person—your strengths and your weaknesses. Being wrong and making mistakes help you overcome your own internal challenges, which can also mean internal peace and happiness for yourself. 

As poet James Joyce said, mistakes are “the portals of discovery.”3 (5)

How to Get Comfortable With Making Mistakes

There is a growing body of research that has found you can rewire how your brain responds to making mistakes and being wrong. Instead of falling into a shame spiral or an anxiety-inducing rabbit hole, you can learn to embrace, or at least get more comfortable with, making mistakes.

The key is self-compassion. Self-compassion allows you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, which then can help you view your mistakes more objectively and realistically. It means that rather than dwelling on mistakes and beating yourself up over being wrong, you accept that you are human and will make mistakes as you go through life.

Mistakes will happen. You will be wrong about some things. Buckling down on being right isn’t going to change those things. But it may alienate you from those around you and perhaps make you a little less happy with your own life.

Instead, what if you tried the following tactics for learning from failure:

  • Recognize that different ideas can exist at the same time. Someone may have a different perspective than you do, and that’s alright. Accepting that differing viewpoints can coexist is growth. 
  • Allow yourself to let one go without having to get on your soapbox and impart some verbal sense into the other person. It doesn’t mean you have to take their side. It means you can just let it go. 
  • Everyone has opinions, so accept that you won’t change every single opinion that you don’t agree with. 
  • Be open to hearing the other side. Inhumane or immoral viewpoints notwithstanding, it’s OK to hear someone out. Maybe you’ll learn something new. 
  • Allow yourself the space to change your opinion. Shocking, I know. But what if you learn something that fundamentally changes your understanding of something? You are still you; you’ve just learned something new.

Above all, give yourself grace. Learning how to be wrong is a practice, and one that may not be easy to adopt right away. The more you focus on embracing mistakes, the stronger you will become, both in mind and spirit.

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