6 tools to reduce your addiction to

being right

We all do it don’t we (or is it just me?).  We constantly make judgments and sometimes our opinions, interpretations, and views become unassailable truths in our minds.  Our brains are amazing in making choices and prioritising what we focus on but don’t always help us to see a different point of view. Our brain insulates neural pathways that we use frequently so that a particular thinking process speeds up.  To survive, we need to make choices about how we act, what we choose to do or not to do, what our beliefs are, and what we agree with and disagree with.  That’s a really necessary and important skill for living and thriving.

BUT (and it’s a pretty big BUT in my view) this has a downside.  We can end up convinced we are right, judging or dismissing others’ views. At an extreme to polarised positions where we no can longer engage with another perspective.  Instead of being curious and open, we are quick to judge, dismiss, reject, resist and be defensive. I know I catch myself doing this (usually after it has just happened!).  With so much uncertainty and fear around, are our brains caught in (unconsciously) protecting ourselves and looking after our sense of safety?

Right now, we are seeing that in spades.  The US election, Brexit, and now you’ve only got to look at the ferocity of different responses to Megan and Harry’s interview with Oprah. This splitting could destroy our sense of connection and community with each other. At 17 in General Studies education, we took a trip to the trendy Watershed (a dock building converted to a media space) in the centre of Bristol.  We were asked to choose an article, find it in different newspapers, and compare the articles.  I was shocked by the radically different stories and perspectives that were printed in black and white.  It left me with a deep caution about assuming what I read and hear is right. And don’t get me wrong, I still get hooked on being right.

Are our brains really keeping us safe though? It’s a reflex to be defensive and it has a positive intention but it’s not helping us.  At worst it feels like societal self-harm. A fearful retreat into old patterns of tribal behaviour which create an in-group and an out-group; us and them; good and bad.

We risk losing our capacity to engage in dialogue and conversation with a sense of curiosity and willingness to listen to other perspectives.   I am a linguist and I notice these words.  “Dia” in dialogue contains the idea of two-way, and “con” in conversation comes from with; two-way conversations with others.  That’s so hard when so much is on social media.  How on earth do you have any kind of dialogue with 280 characters on Twitter?

Watching the programme “the Social Dilemma” on Netflix recently left me keenly aware of how social media is speeding up and exaggerating this human tendency. We need to question and be mindful about mass communication.

I love learning and am an inveterate squirrel and curator of resources and tools. I’ve been on the lookout for resources and ways to be more open, more curious, see different views. Here’s my latest shortlist.

  1. Get to know more about how your brain works. It’s not your fault that you think you’re right. It’s a survival mechanism that helps us cope with the world around us. No wonder at a time of great uncertainty and overwhelmed by such information we’re more addicted to being right.  Here Judith Glaser shares the neuroscience of how your brain gets hooked on being right.
  2. Develop your capacity to stay curious and see other perspectives. A wonderful guided meditation called Just Like Me helps you to see more of what connects us as humans rather than seeing difference. Available on the Insight Timer App.
  3. See past the bubbles social media creates. It feeds and reinforces our view to the point that our views get so far apart we can no longer meet. See the Social Dilemma a 90-minute documentary film on Netflix
  4. Build your flexibility in taking different standpoints in discussions. Bill Isaacs’ article Accessing Genuine Dialogue sets out a simple frame to help us engage in different ways.
  5. Actively explore different perspectives and what might be driving them. In this TED talk, Jonathan Haidt unpicks the moral roots of liberals and conservatives and shows how both are valuable for society
  6. Find people with divergent views and get curious – find out what drives their thinking and why (rather than jumping to judgment or wanting to prove them wrong). Not easy and Elizabeth Lesser gives us an inkling of how here.

I’d love to hear your reactions and the resources and tools you have found that help you, please do get in touch. Oh, and if you have the magic answer on 140 characters on Twitter – do tell!