How to Get More Comfortable Being Wrong
January 9, 2019
Ever get an email with “minor” feedback from your boss–then feel instantly humiliated when you open it and see that they basically re-worded the entire assignment?
Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with receiving critique. My initial reaction is to internalize it as a personal attack and feel defensive. The reason: I hate being wrong.
I know I’m not alone—so many of us fear being wrong. It can feel embarrassing, terrifying, even devastating. We’re taught early in our lives that being right makes you adequate, worthy of praise, and recognition. And being wrong is, well, wrong. Smart people don’t get things wrong.
But the truth is, getting things wrong is part of everyone’s process. We’re all lacking knowledge or awareness in something—until we learn!
The next time you feel frustrated because you’re wrong, try these four things:
1. Give yourself permission to make mistakes
Top students often get extra stars and acknowledgment, while the students with all the red markings on their tests get deemed inadequate. As children, we internalize that people who are right are better off than those who are wrong. Thus, we go on to crave perfectionism in other aspects of our lives.
According to UC Berkeley professor Martin Covington, “the fear of failure is directly linked to your self-worth, or the belief that you are valuable as a person.” As a result, Covington says “students will put themselves through unbelievable psychological machinations in order to avoid failure and maintain the sense that they are worthy—which, as all of us who have ever dealt with the fear of failure know, can have long-term consequences.”
This ultimately creates a domino effect that can be toxic to our interactions with other people.
Instead of continuing these harmful emotional habits learned in your youth, try letting yourself make mistakes and seperate criticism from your self-worth.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes by reciting a mantra that uplifts you. In order to separate my self-worth from critique, I repeat the following to myself, “Any problem, challenge, or failure is a good thing. It does not define my ability or intelligence. Like a baby, I will get back up and try again until I succeed.”
2. Open your mind and listen to other opinions
Being right all the time is boring. The need to be right is a close-minded way of thinking. There’s always something to be learned from others. There’s a reason many successful people say they aim to be the dumbest person in the room. We learn and grow the most in spaces where there’s a knowledge gap.
Fight the urge to close yourself off to ideas you disagree with. Instead, put yourself in the other person's shoes and trying seeing things their way. It'll help you not only learn a new perspective, but also find new ways of thinking.
3. Collect yourself with a moment of self-compassion
I work in the advertising field. Like many creative fields, advertising is a field where we are constantly pushed to defend our reasoning. I deal with being wrong and making mistakes regularly. And, like many of my colleagues, I sometimes get frustrated when I’m wrong or voice an unpopular opinion.
While this feeling is something I often want to avoid, I know that if I do, I’m only hurting the creative process and myself. According to Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal: “When you make a mistake or receive critical feedback, don't panic. Think of it as an opportunity for learning, and remember that the process of ‘failing’–when you're willing to pay attention–is often what leads to the greatest successes.”
When the feeling of being wrong overwhelms me, I take a moment of self-compassion. I remind myself that all humans are unique. We’re meant to share our opinions, no matter how outlandish they are. Some of the best creative ideas came from people sharing peculiar viewpoints. Years ago, people would have never thought they’d ever fly—now, look at how normal it is to ride in an airplane.
4. Rethink your argument before you try and defend it
Being wrong can often be helpful in creating meaningful dialogue. Instead of defending an incorrect statement, try asking questions. Asking questions when you don’t understand something is better than assuming.
We’ve all had that moment in class or in a meeting when someone asks that “silly” question that we all were also secretly unsure about. I strive to be that brave person whenever I can because on the other side of being wrong is learning how to get it right.
Remember to aim for success, not perfection. Don’t give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward in life.