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The Benefits of Being Wrong


A common fear I think we all share from growing up is taking a test. The fear, uncertainty and doubt creeping in to us while we wait for the test to be handed out. The feeling that that one thing we can't quite remember will of course be asked on the test. The winding paths of irrationality we weave in our minds of how not getting the perfect score on this test will spell certain doom for the rest of our lives. Sound familiar?

“The world dread nothing so much as being convinced of their errors.” William Hazlitt

I’m sure we’ve all been there at one point in our life. While fear of the unknown and fear for our general well-being can at times be healthy I’ve come to think that what these situations taught us the most was the fear of being wrong. That fear can stay with us through most of our lives, and if left unchecked, keep us from growing as individuals and keep us locked into our ways of thinking. Through letting go of our need to always be right, or our fear of being wrong, we can open ourselves up for new experiences, to the ability to change our minds and grow as individuals and to take risks that before we would have only talked about in passing.

For many years I held on to a belief that I would love to have two things in life: #1 A pill to allow me to not have to sleep and #2 Another pill that would allow me to not have to eat. The idea being that whenever I wanted to sleep or eat I could simply not take the pill for the day. At the time sleeping and eating were nuisances in my life and mere biological requirements that didn’t improve my life, but rather, got in the way of getting things done or doing things I enjoy.

After years of having this approach to life, many bouts of exhaustion and wild fluctuations in health I started to learn the value of sleeping and eating and eventually realized the error in my ways. I started eating better, making sure I was getting rest, found ways to de-stress and prioritized maintaining balance as best I could in my life. At first I was focused on all of the great benefits these changes had brought to my life but eventually I learned the most important lesson which was that my ability to admit I was wrong when things weren’t working is what ultimately allowed me to grow as a person and improve my life. The same can be said for so many other aspects of our lives. Having an argument with someone? You can’t always be right. Taking a firm stance on an issue or problem and not seeing the progress you want? Maybe you need to alter your approach.

“The secret to being wrong isn't to avoid being wrong! The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn't fatal.” Seth Godin

Aside from changes in personal habits, there are many other benefits to being wrong. Here’s just a few:

1. It can reduce your stress level.

In my experience a lot of the stress we put on ourselves is self-inflicted and in the case of wanting to never be wrong this is almost entirely true. It’s an unreasonable expectation that we would never be wrong or that everything we do is right the first time. This isn’t to say don’t worry at all and it’s ok to mess up all the time but freeing ourselves from an unreasonable, and usually voluntary, expectation can allow us to focus more on the task at hand and less on the theoretical implications of doing something wrong. The reduced stress can even lead to making less mistakes because you’re better able to focus.

As a quick example when I was in college I was lucky enough to have a job offer before my last quarter had started. So long as I passed and graduated the job was mine. The stress of needing perfect grades was gone. As a result I was more focused on the work than the grades and actually ended up getting a 4.0 GPA my last quarter - go figure. It’s incredible what reducing an expectation can do - so long as you still have a goal.

2. It can improve your relationships.

I see people get in arguments all the time in the workplace, out in public, between friends and family, you name it, where one person utterly refuses to budge from their stance even though it seems they’ve been proven wrong. Why is this? It can create strain in your relationships, it can stall projects or decisions, it can strain emotions and all kinds of other negative things. Why put yourself or anyone else through that? It’s far better to admit it and move on than stall. Part of this, I think, is because people are overly harsh to those who are wrong and who wants to be ridiculed or teased? I know I don’t. The other side of this coin is to remember that when someone is wrong it’s ok. Don’t dwell on it. Just move on to something more important.

3. It can increase your self-confidence.

Being able to admit you’re at fault  about something takes a very strong person. And with that a person who is more comfortable in their own skin and able to take on more challenges in life. It also can help you be more understanding when someone else makes a mistake. We’re all human, and mistakes are going to happen, but with your own boost in self-confidence this will allow you to take on more challenges, to work towards your goals and to do so in face of the uncertainty that goes along with doing something new. It’s a tough thing to work towards something you want, especially when you’re uncertain of the outcome, but a person who is comfortable with this fact is far more likely to succeed.

Just remember, simply being able to admit you’re wrong isn’t enough. The last, but sometimes most important and difficult part of the equation, is to learn from the mistake and find a way to not only remember you were wrong about something but to change your behavior so it doesn’t happen again in the future. Without this critical step progress is next to impossible. Had I just admitted that eating and sleeping better are good for my overall health but not found ways to change it wouldn’t have had near the same impact on my life. Action is the hardest but most important step and can lead to so many new experiences for us in our lives. So what can you admit to and move on from? And most importantly, what are you going to do differently?

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with something original. (TED, February 2006)” Ken Robinson

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