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Stop trying to prove yourself right

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Stop trying to prove yourself right

Scott Miker

We all like to be right and dislike being wrong. It is human nature to want to be able to make decisions and then look back and feel as though we made the correct decision.

Because of this, we tend to have a bias towards our own opinions and the decisions that we make. We inherently think we are right more often than we actually are. In addition, there is a lot of grey between right and wrong but we miss that when we get too caught up in trying to be right.

It may sound like a recipe for improvement but it isn’t. What happens is that we rely on hindsight to find the factors that support us being right and disregard those that show we were wrong.

How many people do you know who always have to be right? They will argue and argue in order to try and convince anyone willing to listen why they were right and everyone else was wrong.

Instead of this focus on having to be right, a better way to improve is to shift our perspective a bit.

In Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke, the poker champion says, “When we move away from a world where there are only two opposing and discrete boxes that decisions can be put in – right or wrong – we start living in the continuum between the extremes. Making better decisions stops being about wrong or right but about calibrating among all the shades of grey.”

This is where true improvement lies. We can start to see the various shades of grey. We can see elements of our decision that seemed right at the time but once we learned a bit more realized it wasn’t the best decision.

We can also avoid the hindsight bias that comes when we try to prove a previous decision right. We don’t let the lucky break that followed a decision somehow convince us that the decision was right and we should always make a similar decision in a similar situation.

Instead we can start to dissect the decision. Was it made in the heat of a situation? Were we able to take a step back to learn more but ignored that and instead opted for the rash move? Did we make a good decision based on the information at hand, but hit some unexpected and improbable variation that caused us to fail?

Systems thinking can be a great help here because it will help us to see many sides to the situation. If we can calm our ego and look at the situation as objectively as possible, we will likely see faults in how we made the decision. We will also see aspects that we did well.

Then we can start to focus on improving our decision-making. We can work to change those aspects that we determined were shortsighted. We can change the way we form an opinion in our mind to first stop and try to see the full scope. We can seek others expert advice or look for past instances to gain more insight.

But it all starts with the ability to calm down our ego and the need to always be right. By trying to always prove yourself right you will miss all of the ways you can improve and instead always just look for points that justify the decision you made.

Because we are talking about complicated systems of life, we can always find some point to make that aligns with our decision. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the right decision.

If you are interested in improving your ability to make decisions, especially in the face of risk and uncertainty, then I highly recommend Duke’s book, Thinking in Bets.