Hate to Admit When You’re Wrong? This Mental Trick Is for You
Invest in your credibility
The other day, I picked on my girlfriend because she’d missed her Spanish class twice in a row. “The way you do something is the way you do everything,” I said. “If you start ditching your optional courses, soon you’ll do the same with the main ones.”
Tina gave me her you-are-going-to-regret-this look, then articulated two sentences that knocked me down. “If that’s true, how the heck do I manage to write a master thesis and a research paper at the same time?” she said. “You know I’m ahead of both deadlines, right?” she paused. “The way I care about something isn’t the way I care about everything.”
Like a Judo master who’d turn her opponent’s weight into an advantage, Tina flipped my formulation to knock my argument down. Ippon.
Admitting you’re wrong often comes with a cocktail of negative emotions like shame, embarrassment, guilt, and a nagging feeling of stupidity. It’s no wonder we sink into denial as soon as we get that our argument doesn’t hold. “Yeah, but” I’d often say, aware that I’m digging myself a deeper hole.
Recently, however, I found a way out of that hole. It’s a mental trick I learned from Julia Galef, co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality and host of the Rationally Speaking podcast.
In her book The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t, Galef introduces a mental shift that turns to be wrong into an asset.
“Conceding an argument brings me credit,” Galef wrote. “It makes me more credible in other cases because I’d demonstrated that I don’t stick to my guns just for the sake of it. It’s like I’m investing in my future ability to be convincing.”
Losing an argument, then, becomes like buying a stock. You pay (and suffer a little bit) today but know your money’s value will appreciate over time. The expected reward looms larger than temporary frustration.
I still lose most of my arguments with my other half, but it has become easier to win the ones where I have a point. A few days ago, I complained about Tina’s nocturnal screen time. I expected the usual “I am a night owl” counter-argument, but it never came.
“You’re right,” she said. “Humans are supposed to sleep at night — not expose themselves to mini-suns and mess up their biological clocks.” She then turned off her computer and asked why the heck I was grinning.
“I just got a return on a recent investment,” I said.
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