Monday, March 4, 2013

Art of Manliness - The Importance of Owning Up to Mistakes

This is an excellent post from Brett and Kate McKay at The Art of Manliness on the importance of admitting our mistakes and how to do it. One of the best ways in the world to strengthen a relationship, in my opinion, whether it's friendship or romantic, is to be able to say, "I was wrong. I'm sorry."

Quoting Tavris and Aronson (authors of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts), they conclude we must, “learn to see mistakes not as terrible personal failings to be denied or justified, but as inevitable aspects of life that help us grow, and grow up.” Sounds right to me.

Here is the first half of the article, follow the links to see the "how to" portion on taking responsibility for our mistakes.

Personal Responsibility 102: The Importance of Owning Up to Your Mistakes and How to Do It

by BRETT and KATE MCKAY on FEBRUARY 19, 2013

Yesterday we discussed the cognitive blind spots our brains generate that can make it difficult for us to honestly assess our actions and determine our responsibility for those actions and their consequences. We discovered the way in which our brains are inclined to flatter and shield our egos from blame when we make mistakes.

Despite how difficult it is to counter the mechanisms of our ego defense system, the task is not wholly insurmountable. Every man who wishes to take on the mantle of manhood must make the effort. In doing so, you will find that striving to take responsibility for your life and ownership of your mistakes is incredibly worthwhile for many reasons:

Allows you to make better decisions. Self-justifications distort reality. The more you use them, the more you create an alternate universe for yourself. This leads to a decreased ability to make good choices, as the information you’re using to do so is warped. This can keep you from the people and pursuits that could have been good for you – if only you had been able to see them clearly for what they were. For example, that professor who was “out to get you” might have become an incredible mentor, if you had seen his criticism as a desire to help, rather than an attack.

Most dangerously, one self-justification begets another, setting off a domino effect that sends you more and more off track. Once you justify one decision, you’re deeper into it, and to get rid the dissonance you’ll feel worrying if was the right choice, you’ll make a decision that digs you even further into it. And the cycle continues. For example if you bully a kid at school, you’ll then feel some dissonance in the aftermath for hurting someone (no one likes to think of themselves as cruel), so you’ll justify that decision by saying the kid is an annoying crybaby who deserved it. The more you dwell on those justifications, the more convinced of them you’ll become, and the more you’ll feel like bullying him again.

Keeps little problems from turning into big ones. Related to the point above, if you can own up to a mistake as soon as you make it and do your best to correct it or make it right, you can prevent it from turning into a huge problem that’s going to be difficult to solve. A snowballed mistake may torpedo various aspects of your relationships and career before you can get yourself out from under it.

Allows you to learn from your mistakes. Simple — you can’t learn from your mistakes if you can’t acknowledge you’ve made them! And if you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’re destined to repeat them. That’s a recipe for quickly going nowhere in life.

Engenders the respect of others. We often hide our mistakes from other people because we worry they will think less of us once they’ve seen that we’ve messed up. But, frankly acknowledging your mistakes, apologizing for them, and then earnestly working to make things right almost always has the opposite effect – people respect you for it. There might still be consequences, of course, but people will appreciate your honesty. If they use your confession as a way to belittle and use you, those are probably not the kind of people you want to work/live with anyway. It’s actually when you hide your mistakes, and they’re found out anyway, that people lose their respect and their trust in you.

Strengthens relationships. Self-justification is a cold, hard relationship killer, as it causes us to build a case of total blame against the other person when things are going poorly between you.

There are two ways to explain mistakes: the person did what they did because of the situation, or, because of who they are. We use the former explanation with ourselves — “I forgot her birthday because I have so much on my mind right now.” We tend to use the second explanation on others — “She forgot my birthday because she’s so self-centered.” We don’t critique theirbehavior, but their character – they don’t do bad stuff, they are bad. This kind of blanket condemnation is called a global label. The person is stupid, crazy, useless, selfish, immature, bitchy, evil, lazy, etc. They’re a failed human being.

Global labels are almost never accurate, but your brain finds them very satisfying to develop and spew. They allow you to see your partner as deliberately hurting you — as intentionally sinking the relationship. It’s their fault, and you’re the victim, so you feel entitled to punish and attack them.

Once you give someone a global label – “She’s self-centered” – you focus on gathering evidence to confirm your conclusion, and overlook all evidence to the contrary. Velcro and Teflon. You keep mulling over how she forgot your birthday, but don’t think about how just yesterday she canceled plans with her friends to stay home and help you finish a paper. As you strengthen your “case” against her, you’re filled with self-righteous indignation, which allows you to go on the attack. Then, when you see you’ve hurt her, dissonance arises (again nobody likes to think of themselves as mean or heartless), so you gather more evidence to justify your attacks as well-deserved. And on it goes. When the global label becomes firmly entrenched, you come to see the person as hopelessly flawed and unable to change (“You’re just like your father!”), which leads to you feeling contempt for them, one of the death knells of a relationship.

Conversely, being able to admit fault, being able to acknowledge one’s role in the current health of the relationship, and having empathy for why your partner might do what she does from time to time without being hopelessly flawed (just like you!), leads to strong, healthy relationships.

The Bottom Line: Owning up to our mistakes allows us to take responsibility for our lives. If we can’t accurately perceive who we are, how we behave (and how others behave towards us), and how our behavior affects others and our own lives, life will always feel like something that’s happening to us, rather than something we are in control of. Men with an internal locus of control – those who believe they can shape life through their own decisions and actions — are more confident, more likely to seek learning and be leaders, more disciplined, and better able to deal with stress and challenges. Men with an external locus of control, on the other hand, believe the course of their life is determined by luck and other people, and see themselves as victims. They are prone to problems with both their physical and mental health, and often plagued by stress, anxiety, and depression. When they make mistakes, they are apt to think, “Why is this happening to me?”

Men with an internal locus of control are achievement-oriented and more likely to find academic and professional success. Instead of remaining in a childish mindset, they grow into mature manhood. Instead of seeing themselves as the victim and blaming others for their failures, they learn from their mistakes and use them as stepping stones to getting stronger and moving ahead.
Read the second half of this article.

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