It makes you feel powerful. When you’re right, it implies that someone else is wrong, which feels like you have a higher social standing than the other person. There’s a moment of elevation that happens in our minds when we feel like we’re right.
Most of the time, the facts don’t matter. We’ll throw out research and data for the sake of feeling right. It doesn’t even necessarily matter if we’re right or not just as long as we feel right.
But why is that?
The Science Behind Why Being Right Feels So Good
When you feel as though you’re right or that you’ve won an argument[i], your brain is flooded with adrenaline and dopamine[ii]. This chemical cocktail causes you to feel like you’re on top of the world. We feel in control, dominant, and powerful. That feeling becomes something we can easily become dependent on for self worth. Before we know it, we’re addicted to being right.
This is why some people poke and prod just to get a reaction out of someone. This is why people jump into an argument on social media to bicker over a point that is essentially meaningless. It’s because they’re addicted to the feeling of being right. And in a world where there are hundreds of micro moments where we can feel right on social media, we find ourselves in a digital buffet of vices that feed our addiction.
This is why the feeling of certainty can also become an addiction. Whenever we feel like what we’re doing is not 100% right or 100% certain, then we start missing our adrenaline and dopamine hits because we’re not feeling like we’re “right”. That’s when we’re likely to switch gears or change directions to find that ever-elusive high.
One study[iii] found that “a rush of dopamine accompanies fresh experiences of any kind.” Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel pleasure, and anytime we find something new or feel like we’ve won an argument, that dopamine makes us feel important and victorious.
So we switch from one fleeting moment of feeling right, certain, and confident for the next exciting moment rather than doing the hard work of digging in, pushing through conflict, and dealing with the friction of uncertainty. And we wonder why we don’t see progress in our personal and professional lives – but it’s because we’ve become addicted to chasing “right” rather than the pursuit of what’s true.
How to Overcome the Addiction to Being Right
The first step to overcome the desire to be right is to understand what’s happening in your brain. Whenever you get into an argument with someone, your body is automatically sending signals to release cortisol, which is your stress hormone. Cortisol causes your thinking, reasoning, and compassionate side of your brain to go off-line.
When this happens, you go into what you’ve probably heard referred to as “fight or flight“ mode. Your body is in “lizard brain” and its only goal is to survive. It’s in that moment that we begin the hunt for dopamine through some sort of victory. That’s why most people’s reaction to conflict is to fight.
But if you can understand and harness how your body responds to conflict, then you can start to put measures into place that keep you from doing something that damages a relationship.
For example, one of the most effective things you can do when you’re in an emotionally charged situation is to take yourself out of that situation momentarily. You have to do what could be referred to as “emotionally sobering up”.
Whenever you’re in conflict, your brain naturally becomes emotionally drunk, and it can literally feel intoxicating to attempt to shut down the other person’s argument. But now that you know what’s happening, you can take a step away, take a breath, and give yourself the space you need to make a reasonable and compassionate choice rather than fighting for a dopamine hit.
An effective way to bring your thinking brain back online is to bring yourself to the present moment. Box breathing techniques[iv] are particularly helpful to bring your mind to the present moment. You can also take notice of the objects around you or start counting your fingers and toes. The goal of this is to engage the part of your brain that thinks rationally and compassionately so your survival-mode lizard brain can take a break.
Another effective way to bring yourself out of your emotions is to simply read something that isn’t emotionally charged. Take 15 minutes and read a boring article about something you’re mildly interested in. Read part of a chapter in that book you’ve been neglecting. Count to 100 backwards while you brush your teeth. Whatever it takes, do not ruminate on the situation, and don’t formulate potential responses.
Ruminating and dwelling on conflict only feeds your brain‘s desire to be right. Then, whenever you see the person you’ve been in conflict with, all of those built-up scenarios and emotions will overflow on them (and not in the way you pictured it in your mind when you were ruminating) and you’ll be right back in the same unhealthy conflict.
Once you’ve given yourself some space and brought your thinking brain back online, start thinking empathetically. In other words, put yourself in the other person’s shoes without defaulting to putting your desires over theirs.
Think about why they’re so adamant about their position. Chances are, they have a good reason. What were their expectations that were not met? What were your expectations that weren’t met? These unmet expectations are at the heart of all of our conflict, so getting down to that will do wonders for driving healthy conversations going forward.
Next time you feel the need to be right, remember it’s probably your brain craving the comfort of another hit of dopamine. Instead of giving into the craving, give yourself room to sober up emotionally, bring yourself back to the present moment so you’re thinking rationally again, then let empathy drive your thinking going forward.
If you do these things, you’ll find that conflict actually becomes productive, the truth becomes more apparent, and everyone will be better off for it – including you.
CARE TO SHARE