The Importance of Dumb Mistakes

For all of the supposed liberating power of digital devices, (users) might as well be wearing ankle monitors. Technological connectedness has made it much harder for (college students) to make mistakes and learn from them.

Today’s students live their lives so publicly — through the technology we provide them without training — that much simpler errors than mine earn them the wrath of the entire internet.

I got driven downtown in handcuffs for spray-painting “Corporate Deathburgers” across a McDonald’s.

If a Williams student spray-painted “Corporate Deathburgers” on a local building today (not that they ever would), it wouldn’t be hard to imagine someone posting the security footage online. Then the outraged calls and emails and tweets would pour in, demanding that the college disavow Deathburger values. I’d be writing news releases explaining that at Williams we take Deathburgers very seriously. There would be op-eds about the Deathburger problem on American campuses today. And the video would live on: another student weighed down by the detritus of his or her online life.

Thirty years ago, college students could have tried out radical ideas (in the student newspaper). But readership would have been largely restricted to campus, and the paper would have been in circulation for only a day or two. In this climate, there is little room for students to experiment and screw up.

My worry is that we’ve become unwilling to tolerate innocent mistakes — either that or we have drastically shrunk our vision of innocence.

In my own life I made bad choices that went far beyond spray paint. I flunked out of college and at various points narrowly dodged jail time. When I think back to those mistakes, I’m horrified and chastened. I feel fortunate to have survived, to have had the privilege to make amends.

Jim Reische writing in the New York Times

Admitting You are Wrong

Cognitive dissonance is what we feel when the self-concept — I’m smart, I’m kind, I’m convinced this belief is true — is threatened by evidence that we did something that wasn’t smart, that we did something that hurt another person, that the belief isn’t true. To reduce dissonance, we have to modify the self-concept or accept the evidence. Guess which route people prefer?

We cling to old ways of doing things, even when new ways are better and healthier and smarter. We cling to self-defeating beliefs long past their shelf life. And we make our partners, co-workers, parents and kids really, really mad at us.

 Carol Tavris quotes in the New York Times and co-author of the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

Testosterone makes men less likely to realize when they're wrong

Higher levels of testosterone increase the tendency in men to rely on their intuitive judgments and reduce cognitive reflection -- a decision-making process by which a person stops to consider whether their gut reaction to something makes sense. 

Researchers found that men given doses of testosterone performed more poorly on a test designed to measure cognitive reflection than a group given a placebo. The testosterone group also "gave incorrect answers more quickly, and correct answers more slowly than the placebo group," the authors write.

Caltech's Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics and T&C Chen Center for Social and Decision Neuroscience Leadership Chair (says) "The testosterone is either inhibiting the process of mentally checking your work or increasing the intuitive feeling that 'I'm definitely right.'"

The research will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Read the full story in Science Daily


Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock, is the signal that things are moving into transition. At such times, we need to consider whether the old view or belief may not have been an enchantment cast on us in the past to keep us from seeing deeper into ourselves and others than we were ready to. For the whole idea of disenchantment is that reality has many layers, none “wrong” but each appropriate to a particular phase of intellectual and spiritual development. The disenchantment experience is the signal that they time has come to look below the surface of what has been thought to be so. It is the sign that you are ready to see and understand more now.

Lacking that perspective on such experiences, however, we often miss the point and simply become” disillusioned.” The disenchanted person recognized the old view as sufficient in its time, but insufficient now.

On the other hand, the disillusioned person simply rejects the embodiment of the earlier view; she finds a new husband or he gets a new boss, but both leave unchanged the old enchanted view of relationships. The disenchanted person moves on, but the disillusioned person stops and goes through the play again with new actors. Such a person is on a perpetual quest for a real friend, a true mate, and a trustworthy leader. The quest only goes around in circles, and treal movement and real development are arrested.

William Bridges, Transitions

Irritation with Others Mistakes

The imperative person has very idealistic expectations. Only the best is acceptable. Frailties, common to our humaness, are despise. The result is a strong tendency to look up on anything less than ideal with disdain. That's why imperative people often admit, “I get irritated when other people make mistakes.” or “I tend to do an important job myself because someone might not do it right.” Or “I get impatient when other people can't understand what needs to be done.”

So, clutching onto our high ideals, we tend to hold ourselves above others. False superiority is felt. Condemnation is communicated. Annoyance is a constant companion. Relationships suffer. (All the while), the impaired person must cling to correctness.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

Worry that Past Failures will Repeat

Worry about the repetition of past problems is not a sign of healthy thinking. True, it indicates a desire to be rid of the possible plenty of repeated pain, but inevitably it represents its own brand of pain. The individual has clearly specified what must - and what must not - be part of his life, but the mind is so obsessed with preventing old problems that satisfaction is not recognized in present situations. The imperative person is a prisoner of the past.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

Going in Circles

Remember the TV show where one of the characters got lost in the woods, only to discover he was going around in circles?! Of course you do, because it’s a storyline that’s been overused on TV. You are sure to have seen it play out (probably more than once). As it turns out, that scenario is not far off the mark. When people get lost, they really do tend to walk in circles.

Here’s what German researchers discovered: Volunteers who could not see the sun or moon, often walked for hours in circles, sometimes circles as small as 20 yards across. Some of the participants were so convinced they were walking in a straight line, they didn’t believe the researchers until they were shown proof.

Errors in our internal radar accumulate until we are literally walking in circles and going no where. What made the difference were external signposts. Landmarks like the sun or moon, completely changed the result.

One of the researchers offers this advice: “Don’t trust your senses. You might think you are walking in a straight line when you’re not.”

Isn’t that how life is? We know people who trust their own senses and have no external guideposts to keep their lives on track. They believe they are marching forward but all the while they are going no where in life. Sadly, they repeat the same mistakes, not realizing they’re reacting in the same way to the same kind of situation. On the other, people who really get somewhere in life, not only carefully chose their landmarks, they are willing to listen to their life-anchors.

Stephen Goforth

Brain damaged decision-making

We humans make all the same mistakes, over and over again. It's how we are wired.. To neurophysiologists, who research cognitive functions, the emotionally driven appear to suffer from cognitive deficits that mimic certain types of brain injuries. Not just partisan political junkies, but ardent sports fans, the devout, even hobbyists. Anyone with an intense emotional interest in a subject loses the ability to observe it objectively: You selectively perceive events. You ignore data and facts that disagree with your main philosophy. Even your memory works to fool you, as you selectively retain what you believe in, and subtly mask any memories that might conflict.

Barry Ritholtz writing in the Washington Post