Being wrong won’t kill you

Last time I wrote about our tendency to want to be right. Another way that “being right” shows up in our lives is when we try to avoid being wrong. If we can’t be right we definitely want to make sure we aren’t wrong. It might look like avoiding trying new things so we don’t look bad, not speaking up in a meeting because we may be incorrect, or even just not suggesting where we should all go to dinner in case the place isn’t very good.

This touches on the concept of Type I and Type II errors. If we’re cavemen and there’s a rustling in the bushes, it could be a rabbit or it could be a tiger. If our default thought is “Danger!” then we stay away from the bush. If we are wrong – a Type II error – then we missed out on a tasty meal but we make it to the next day. If instead we think “Dinner!” and go after it and we are wrong – a Type I error – then we are removed from the gene pool. We evolved to  prioritize safety and avoid taking chances.

While we don’t generally worry about literal tigers, our tendency to prioritize safety  shows up all the time. We don’t ask someone to lunch, we don’t start a conversation about problems in a relationship, we keep our heads down. The big killer is that we don’t notice we are doing it! We simply live as if avoiding danger is the natural thing to do, but real life simply isn’t that dangerous most of the time. No one dies of embarrassment. On the flip side, very rarely do things get better without new action.

It’s natural to be scared of rejection or of making a mistake. That’s hardwired into our limbic system. But you’re more than your reflexes and automatic thoughts. You can choose to be bold, or brave, or authentic, or confident. We get to choose who we are in each moment. By noticing that your fear is unfounded (there is no tiger), you can step out of the avoidance and be the person you want to be.