Am I wrong? Am I right? Is there another option?
As humans, we so desperately want not to be wrong. We’re just wired that way. You see, our amygdala, the more primitive part of our brain, has pretty much one job: keeping us alive. And that part of our brain evolved in a time where making mistakes definitely threatened our survival.
By the way, many of our primitive instincts evolved the same way, so it’s pretty much instinctual for us to avoid making mistakes. And it’s been reinforced by parents, teachers, adults, bosses and a whole bunch of other authority figures who have trained us on the importance of not making mistakes, because they have the same instincts.
We learn to believe that when we make mistakes, we are wrong. We do not want to be seen as wrong. There’s a lot of social pressure not to be wrong, but that’s nothing compared to the amount of internal pressure we put on ourselves.
So, what do we do if someone thinks we’re wrong? We defend ourselves! Logically, it would seem the only way to defend ourselves is to prove that we are right. Wouldn’t it?
And what do we do if we are faced with a decision? We agonize over making the right decision because if we don’t get it right, that must mean we got it wrong. Doesn’t it?
Even if we know that we won’t really die if we get something wrong or make a mistake, we are afraid of being caught, being embarrassed, being shamed, maybe even punished or some other dire consequence…all of which kind of feels like dying to our poor amygdala. We get stuck inside this live or die struggle and reduce everything down to black or white options. (And you know what I say about black or white thinking!)
It’s non-stop drama and microdrama. What’s the result? Drama trauma. Seriously. We respond as if we’ve experienced real trauma, even though it’s all been inside our own head. (Okay, isn’t that where most of our trauma resides anyway?)
Is there an alternative? I know you’re guessing yes, because why else would I have chosen this topic. And you’re right! Did you just feel that little endorphin hit you got for being right? That’s just another way the brain reinforces this stuff to train you!
The first thing to do is to interrupt the spiral pattern. Stop. Breathe. Remind yourself that this isn’t life and death. Then redirect. The quickest way I know to redirect is to ask myself an open-ended question, such as
- What’s a blue, pink, yellow option? (pick a color, any color that isn’t black or white)
- How is this absolutely hysterical? This is one of my favorites, because I think humor is an awesome way to create another perspective.
- How is the wrong answer actually correct (or vice versa)?
- What if I’m just experimenting, not deciding?
- What are the true consequences of this decision? (or any variation on the reality check “what’s the worst thing that can happen”)
- What if I don’t really need to defend myself? (What?!? It’s really okay if I’m wrong?)
You know, it is also perfectly fine to make mistakes. We actually learn more from our mistakes anyway. We don’t really need the drama nor the trauma!
In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!
Send me an email if you’d like to talk: firstname.lastname@example.org