If you think back to the Middle Ages and compare what we know now to what we thought we knew then, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that we weren’t terribly smart. That most of what we thought we knew about the world was patently wrong.
It seems obvious to us now that the earth revolves around the sun (and not the other way around), that sperm doesn’t contain tiny people inside them (I kid you not), and that cats aren’t doing the devil’s work (and that we don’t have to go around executing them).
If you think back to when you were a kid or a teenager or the idiot you were one year ago – you’ll probably come to a similar conclusion. You’ll look back and laugh thinking, “I can’t believe I actually thought that!”
Hopefully, as you’ve gotten a little older you’ve come to realise that you still don’t know very much. But crucially, you know you don’t know very much. You know that the more you know the more you know you don’t know.
Hopefully you’ve come to see that we never gain a complete picture or arrive at an absolute truth for ourselves or the world around us – rather, we only ever become a little less wrong. We simply chip away at our rock-place beliefs and find slightly firmer ground to stand on over time.
And I’m fairly certain (although I could be wrong) that this is the right approach to life.
Not to think in terms of being right, but in terms of trying to be a little less wrong than the person we were yesterday. That way it won’t bother you as much when you are. That way you’re more willing to challenge your beliefs in order to come to a greater understanding.
I think it’s helpful to think of life like an experiment where:
- Our beliefs are hypotheses.
- Our actions and behaviours are experiments.
- Our emotions and thought patterns are data.
We can go about making experiments based on our new hypotheses and comparing that data to our original beliefs/previous experiments. Then we can integrate the results into our overall understanding about ourselves and the world we live in.
I believe this approach works well because you’re not starting with an old belief and trying to validate it. You’re starting with the experiment – being open to the experience – and then interpreting the results in order to gain a clearer picture. This allows your beliefs to evolve and grow over time.
The problem with asserting that our original hypothesis must be right is you end up locking yourself into a career or marriage that isn’t. You don’t allow yourself the flexibility to adapt over time. Your need to be right prevents you from growing.
We often think the reason we don’t change our lives is because we’re afraid of failure, but it’s more than that. We’re afraid of confronting the fact we might be wrong. We’re afraid of confronting our beliefs. If I change careers I’ll be confronted with the false belief that I’m not capable of doing something else. So I refrain.
The problem with this is we end up sacrificing our longer term happiness for shorter term comfort. Over the long run this is extremely costly. Choosing comfort now leads to greater unhappiness later on. Choosing discomfort now, on the other hand, leads to a greater understanding of oneself later on.
That’s why I suggest you ask yourself what you were wrong about today? What have you always been wrong about? (It’s best to assume most things.) Then think up ways to experiment and test any new hypotheses you come up with the following day.
I’m confident that if you do, you’ll find you definitely are wrong. I’m confident that you’ll find you’re wrong the following day too. In fact, I’m confident that you’ll find you’re wrong in some way, shape or form, everyday for the rest of your life.
But that’s ok. Because I’m also confident you’ll see your life improve immeasurably. You’ll see it’s only by being wrong that our life does improve. You’ll see that life really is a series of trials and errors.
Those who are brave enough to keep falling flat on their faces, who are brave enough to keep making a fool of themselves, will end up living the best of lives. At the end of it all – just like those who, several hundred years from now, will look back at the way we live our lives and laugh – you’ll look back and laugh about how stupid you were.
But, you’ll also be proud of the fact that you were always willing to be wrong – that you were always willing to fall flat on your face. You’ll smile and realise that although you never arrived at any absolute truth for yourself or the world at large – you had a bloody good time trying.
You’ll realise that this was, at least, the right way to live.
You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com
You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com
Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot