We all make mistakes, but very few of us admit them and even fewer take responsibility for them. Many like to think that we are too good—or too smart—to make mistakes and fall for the fallacy that mistakes make us weak and vulnerable. However, learning from your mistakes is what helps you grow stronger and mature into independent people. Mistakes should be recognized as opportunities for improvement and growth. If you refuse to acknowledge your mistakes and admit when you are wrong, you may be setting yourself up for a life of stagnation.
A Function of Ego
Generally, the reason you cannot admit when you are wrong is that you believe you’ve already experienced that same situation before. Thus, you assume you “know everything” there is to know about the situation. This is a function of ego.
In truth, you may feel inferior and vulnerable when you make a mistake—whether you acknowledge it or not. The reason for this is because the act of committing a mistake insults your knowledge and your experiences. We like to think we know more than we really do, and we like to believe we’ve already experienced it all.
The Setbacks of Thinking You’re Always Right—Even When You’re Not
Unfortunately, thinking you are always right means closing your mind off to new knowledge, and even creative solutions. When you make a mistake, you become so fixated on being right that you ignore the actual problem created. You become acutely stubborn.
When you “always have to be right,” you don’t just come off as know-it-alls to others, but you hamper your capacity to discover, learn, and progress in life. Essentially, you cease exploring new ideas. You don’t learn from your experiences and stop listening to others—and even stop listening to yourself.
Perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself is to admit when you are wrong—or when you don’t know if you are in the wrong or not. Individuals who take ownership of their mistakes possess intellectual humility—that is, the acknowledgment that the things you think you know or believe may be wrong. Don’t let the term confuse you, however. You don’t have to feel inferior or less than anyone to possess intellectual humility.
Intellectual humility simply means not fearing to be wrong and looking at a mistake as an opportunity to be right afterward. By re-framing mistakes as learning experiences, you make it easier for your ego to accept that although you did something wrong, there is utility in the failing.
A study led by Tenelle Porter asked high school students to rate their intellectual humility. The objective was to see if students who are open to mistakes are more motivated to learn more. Secondary objectives included determining the students’ learning strategies and if their grades reflected their openness to admitting their mistakes.
Porter found that intellectually humble students were more willing to learn and more likely to develop new strategies to check and enhance their own understanding. She also discovered that these students ended the school year with higher grades in math and were more engaged in their classes.
Intellectual Humility Can Be Learned
If you feel you don’t possess intellectual humility or are mortified by the simple thought of having it, don’t fret. There’s still hope for you!
Porter and her team wanted to see if intellectual humility could be temporarily increased or permanently developed. They found that students who read about the benefits of admitting when they’re wrong were more likely to seek help for an area of intellectual weakness. In other words, students who learned that mistakes were okay would take those lessons to heart, and act accordingly, ultimately opening themselves up to more learning.
Yes, folks, intellectual humility can be learned. Intellectual humility makes it easy for you to own up to your mistakes or admit it when you are wrong.
While intellectual humility is a new concept and requires a lot more research and understanding to set anything in stone, there is a good reason to believe that being open to making mistakes reaps a host of benefits. Admitting to your faults is never easy. However, if it can improve your ability to learn and grow as a person, perhaps acknowledging your mistakes is one of the best practices you can develop in life.