Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Summary
  1. The authors describe some of the self-justification mechanisms people often use to help them navigate the world. While they may help avoid psychological discomfort, they can lead to painful errors, bad decisions and not learning from one’s mistakes
Key Takeaways
  1. Once proven wrong, people tend to even more voraciously protect their point of view or, if they do admit they were wrong, the responsibility for it falls to someone else
  2. Self justification is so powerful and insidious because it allows people to save face, have a clear conscience, helps to convince themselves that they did everything they could, and, often, what they did was in fact it was the right thing to do. We justify the small or big things so that we can keep doing them without having to change our behavior or see ourselves as bad people or hypocrites
  3. Self justification can help us psychologically but it won’t help us change bad habits or confront reality
  4. Cognitive dissonance is a prime motivator for self justification. People very rarely can face their mistakes and change their minds. It is easier to change their memory or pass on blame to someone or something external
  5. If we have to do something painful or embarrassing we will most likely become more attached to the group, outcome, idea, etc. (i.e., hazing ties people psychologically to the group and the more painful/embarrassing the more they associate)
  6. Everyone has blind spots and they’re so dangerous because they convince us we don’t have blind spots but all others do
  7. It is vital to surround yourself with people who have different views, who are willing to disagree with you, and to study and focus on disconfirming evidence so that you do not fall into the confirmation bias trap and only see things or spend time with people who agree with you
  8. Our memories are extremely flimsy and vulnerable to manipulation or simple fabrication. This is important to remember as many of our life narratives, relationships, etc. are based on memories which very likely aren’t totally accurate and in some cases totally made up
  9. Imagination inflation – the more you imagine something the more confident you become and the more details you add to these memories or images
  10. Repetition slowly chips away at people’s skepticism and is why it is so often used by salesmen and other people tying to persuade you
  11. The victim mindset is often used as it gives people someone or something to blame. Making them feel better and externalize responsibility
  12. Happy partners give each other the benefit of the doubt. Ascribing bad moods to their situation rather than character and thoughtful actions as genuine rather than trying to cover something up. 5:1 positive to negative interactions is the minimum for happy relationships
  13. Shame, mocking, and contempt are the final indications of failing relationships
  14. Owning up to mistakes and apologizing is often the best thing we can do and in fact often gains us favor and standing in the eyes of others. It is of course difficult to admit fault but even more insidious is the fact that we often don’t recognize that we even need to apologize because our self justification is operating at a near sub-conscious level
What I got out of it
  1. Self justification, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and the slow and gradual giving in and laxing of morals can have disastrous results on our learning and decision-making over time. We probably can never get rid of them completely, but we can be aware of them and how they might creep up in our lives.