Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Eliot Aronson

This month’s Great Read is a classic by social psychologists and researchers Carol Tavris and Eliot Aronson, who present a readable, direct, and often uncomfortable(!) explanation of cognitive dissonance – which is our human tendency to hold onto flawed ideas or behaviors even when all of the data suggest that we’re dead wrong. Tavris and Aronson also help us understand why we can usually identify cognitive dissonance in others, yet rarely see it in ourselves.

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) can help you break out from under the crushing weight of your certainty, understand how to behave when you realize you were wrong, deal responsibly with the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, and learn to laugh at the ways your brain and your memory try to make you the hero of every possible story:

When we make mistakes, cling to outdated attitudes, or mistreat other people, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so, unconsciously, we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right — a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong. This book offers a fascinating explanation of self-justification — how it works, the damage it can cause, and how we can overcome it.

It’s okay to be wrong when you have the skills you need to make amends and watch your behavior more intelligently.

Note: for those of you who have studied The Language of Emotions, the healing emotion that is required in episodes of cognitive dissonance is shame, but Tavris and Aronson don’t mention it at all. Fascinating!

You can learn more or order Mistakes Were Made here.

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