Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong – TED Video

What does it feel like to be wrong? The answer will probably surprise you.

Another fantastic TED video, this one by Kathryn Schulz and the topic is “On being wrong.”

How does it feel — emotionally — how does it feel to be wrong? Dreadful. Thumbs down. Embarrassing. Okay, wonderful, great. Dreadful, thumbs down, embarrassing — thank you, these are great answers, but they’re answers to a different question. You guys are answering the question: How does it feel to realize you’re wrong? (Laughter) Realizing you’re wrong can feel like all of that and a lot of other things, right? I mean it can be devastating, it can be revelatory, it can actually be quite funny… But just being wrong doesn’t feel like anything.

I’ll give you an analogy. Do you remember that Loony Tunes cartoon where there’s this pathetic coyote who’s always chasing and never catching a roadrunner? In pretty much every episode of this cartoon, there’s a moment where the coyote is chasing the roadrunner and the roadrunner runs off a cliff, which is fine — he’s a bird, he can fly. But the thing is, the coyote runs off the cliff right after him. And what’s funny — at least if you’re six years old — is that the coyote’s totally fine too. He just keeps running — right up until the moment that he looks down and realizes that he’s in mid-air. That’s when he falls. When we’re wrong about something — not when we realize it, but before that — we’re like that coyote after he’s gone off the cliff and before he looks down. You know, we’re already wrong, we’re already in trouble, but we feel like we’re on solid ground. So I should actually correct something I said a moment ago. It does feel like something to be wrong; it feels like being right.

That resonated with me. Mistakes only feel like mistakes when we realize them to be mistakes. Until the error is realized and accepted by us we feel like we are correct. We can roll through years of life after a mistake is made before the light goes on and we change direction.

Emotions are handy. There’s a very good reason why a human being will feel confident after they make a decision. ANY decision that is made that does not injure us IS an effective action because we did not get injured. It feels wrong to make the decision to do something that we know will injure us. The spontaneous emotion (feeling wrong) tells us that there is a pattern in the immediate environment that matches something from the past in a particular way. In the absence of both an emotional response and a logical reason not to do something, we feel nothing, which is to say we feel correct.

Experts in an area understand this more than most because very often they feel the errors before they can identify them. When coaching movement, seasoned trainers will tell you what the issue is with a client before they can tell you how they know. When you ask them about this many will say that they got a feeling about the imbalance or recruitment issue and then noticed the symptoms.

Sadly though, this doesn’t just apply to work. It applies to ALL areas of life. Everything that feels right does so ONLY because you didn’t get hurt before. But this is a very low quality way of moving through life as it only helps us avoid situations that were injurious. Things that are an aggravation, cause us to remain average, or simply don’t work for us anymore don’t feel wrong because they aren’t hurting us enough to register that way.