THE BLOG

Is Being Right Getting in the Way of Your Success?

06/13/2011 08:05 am ET | Updated Aug 13, 2011

Have you noticed how obsessed with being right we seem to have become? How about you? Are you obsessed with being right, or at least appearing to be right when confronted with differing points of view? If so, you may be in the awkward situation of arguing for your own limitations.

In last week's article about what's holding you back in life, I focused on the role excuses play in holding us back. Excuses for not moving forward abound, many of which seem so rational, so logical that they seem beyond reproach. Over these many months, I have offered a number of thoughts about steps you can take to improve your situation -- not perfect solutions, but simple steps toward incremental improvement. While many have expressed appreciation for these micro steps, others prefer to argue that they won't work and/or that the circumstances are overwhelming. I agree that things are pretty screwed up and yet, if you are going to make some lemonade from these lemons, it may well come down to what you choose to do in the face of adversity.

Given the sorry state of our economy and the political gridlock in Washington, it's pretty easy for people to argue that there's next to no hope of improving because of the (choose your favorite demon: the banks, the politicians, the greedy capitalists, the socialists, etc.). While I may write future articles about the disabling effects of greed and the pursuit of power, for now, the focus has less to do with whom to blame and more about what you can do about improving your circumstances in spite of external conditions.

Last week, one of my regular critics wrote, "I like my excuses. They're unique and I spend a lot of time coming up with them, so I don't see the point in throwing away that investment." I really do appreciate this witty comment from CryptoKnight. While this may have been written somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it's pretty close to my point about the lengths we will go to appear right. We could translate his comment into something like this: "I like being right. My opinions are right, and I have spent a lot of time coming up with them, so I'm not about to give them up without a fight."

Have you noticed how much time and energy people expend trying to be right? We seem to spend more time arguing with each other, trying to prove our position, than we do trying to understand what the other person may be saying and how it might work. When was the last time you said to someone, "That's very different from how I see things. Can you say some more about how that works?"

This kind of inquiry becomes especially important when confronted with the kinds of challenges you may be facing in today's economy. If you're someone you expends more time and energy defending your point of view about why you're stuck than you do trying to understand the options being presented, you may well be your own worst enemy. While all kinds of us are affected by these trying times, some people seem to be able to get up off the ground and start making improvements anyway.

If you want to achieve something greater in your life, if you want to move to your next level of improvement, you will undoubtedly need to do something different in your life. We all know that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. That may seem obvious in many ways, yet when it comes to actually changing behavior, you may find yourself reluctant to change your behavior, especially if that means giving up a point of view or belief about how life works.

If you recognize the basic logic here, then it may seem obvious that doing something different, or at least doing something differently, may be required in order to change your circumstances, in order to improve. It may also seem obvious that doing something different may also require you to think differently, or even to learn something new.

Where this gets a bit sticky is that doing something different, learning something new, may also require that you let go of what you previously believed to be the right way to do things. You may have spent considerable time building up arguments for why your current condition is the fault of someone else. Or you may have invested a lot of energy in why a different approach is wrong. If so, then you wind up with what my mentor calls "perfect reasons" for not moving forward. It's easy to have perfect reasons for why you can't improve, and Lord knows we have plenty of culprits out there right about now.

The challenge, however, is that if you are going to overcome what's holding you back, then you not only need to let go of your excuses, but you may also may need to let go of what you previously held to be true -- in other words, you may need to let go of your arguments about being right.

In my business consulting, I have seen how the need to be right can interfere with the ability of organizations to succeed. People can make impassioned arguments about why their strategy or decision is the right one, and then hold stubbornly to the argument regardless of how circumstances work out. Even when the data show otherwise, people can keep on arguing for how right they are.

The same thing holds true in working with individuals on how to improve the quality of their personal lives. For some reason, people can readily dismiss any idea that doesn't seem "right" to them. The really interesting part of this tendency to dismiss is that people can refuse to even try something different because they "know better." It's as though having formed their own thoughts on the matter, they come across as saying, essentially, "Don't confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up."

Like CryptoKnight said, "I like my excuses. They're unique and I spend a lot of time coming up with them, so I don't see the point in throwing away that investment."

Do you like your excuses for not moving forward? Would you rather be right, or would you rather invest in your improvement? If you would rather improve, then perhaps you will need to embrace thoughts or ideas that you have not yet experienced -- not ideas you have thought about and discarded, but ideas you have not yet tested in real life.

So, what do you want out of life and why? What ideas for self-improvement have you dismissed? Could it be that the only real impediment to improving lies in your own thinking?

I'd love to hear from you, so please leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell@russellbishop.com.

If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life, and on how you can take a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, download a free chapter from Russell's new book, "Workarounds That Work."

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about his work by visiting his website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact him by email at Russell@russellbishop.com.