Have you set a resolution this year? Many of us have started sharing our resolutions on social media. To be more active, read more books, travel more… you know the drill.

I enjoy reading everyone’s resolutions, because it fills me with motivation and inspiration. However, I personally have never really made resolutions. Not because I don’t have areas I would like to improve in. Because I don’t like to depend on a time of the year to better myself. When I get the urge to change something or do something better, I’d prefer start then and there.

I thought I’d share with you where my mind is at the moment. What I’m working to try and improve about myself, and maybe I can inspire someone else. My inspiration at the moment comes from a recent read, which I would highly recommend; The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson. Elliot Aronson is a social psychologist and in his book he discusses how our minds work in social situations. How we rationalise things, how we decide if we like someone or not, and how we get into cognitive dissonance.

Self-Justification

My goal this year is to approach situations with a more rational and open mind. I’ve found myself intrigued by how our emotions and biases can get in the way of us thinking clearly. It happens to us without even noticing, and it impacts how to build relationships and approach the world around us. Let me tell you a story as an example.

You're talking to your friend and they tell you about this person you're about to meet, let's call him Frank. Your friend had a bad encounter with Frank and tells you to avoid him, that he's stubborn and stand-offish. Later, Frank approaches you in a friendly manner and tries to start up a conversation, however, you, on the basis of your friends warning, are keeping your distance and responding with short sentences. Frank senses the distance you are creating and becomes distant himself, is much less friendly, and tries the end the conversation sooner. You were right to be so distant, he isn't very nice.

Do you see where I’m going with this story? If you hadn’t been distant – would Frank have turned distant? Our biases and assumptions are projected on to other people, and we treat them in a way which causes them to behave in the very demeanour that we don’t like. But what if you had entered that conversation with an open mind? What if you gave Frank the benefit of the doubt? I mean you don’t even know the guy – would things have ended on better terms?

In our minds, we all believe we are good people, and therefore we will accept justification from any source as to why we might have acted less than good. In the above scenario, as mentioned, Franks behaviour at the end of the conversation justified why you weren’t being a nice person.

Rationale

This is the same type of rationale that happens when someone has a prejudice. If based on prejudice a person is treating someone with disdain, the person that the prejudice is against is unlikely to act nice in return, and that behaviour is further justified.

Human beings aren’t rational animals; we’re rationalizing animals who want to appear reasonable to ourselves. ~ Elliot Aronson

Opening our minds up to try and see when this might be happening, what biases might be coming into play in our decisions, and if we have any strong emotions which might influence our behaviour can help us to slowly try and prevent this self-justification for poor behaviour.

“Self-justification, therefore, is not only about protecting high self-esteem; it’s also about protecting low self-esteem if that is how a person sees himself.” ~ Elliot Aronson

I won’t call this a goal for myself, because I think it’s something that is never really “achieved” – it’s self-development that requires consistent effort, and the ability to analyse our behaviour without justifying every poor decision, and instead learning from it so that we can be better in future.

I hope you enjoyed this read, please let me know what your thoughts are in the comments.

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