Remembering to Get Back on Track

Sometimes we stumble across something that’s “invisibly obvious,” something we’ve overlooked even though it’s sitting right in front of us. Then we have one of those Duh-OH! moments – “Why did I never realize this before?”

I had one of those Duh-OHs recently, thinking about the way people tend toward self-perpetuation instead of self-correction. In particular, people perpetuate their own beliefs about politics and religion. Even if they have only a rudimentary understanding of these topics, they may block out anything that challenges their opinions. (See, for example, “When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions,” http://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf.)

Like many religious and psychological professionals, I have studied and taught various strategies for shifting from self-perpetuation to self-improvement. But I wish I had emphasized what now seems like an obvious idea: Establish the expectation that all of us will learn and practice specific strategies for self-correction.

Many cultural expectations are widely shared. With few exceptions, most people expect to graduate from high school or college, find gainful employment, live on their own, establish a stable love relationship, plan for retirement, and take care of their health. But we could also try to establish the cultural expectation that virtually everyone will practice self-correction techniques. This blog entry is a tiny step toward this goal.

In a recent workshop on values, participants were asked to make a new list of Ten Commandments for Twenty-First Century Living. This was one of mine:

Seek a path that brings you fulfillment and makes the world a better place. Know that you will often wander away from this path. Learn the habit of sensing when and where you are off track and putting yourself back on course.

If you do not have specific ways of noticing when you are off course, and specific ways of getting back on track, and if you do not practice these strategies regularly, you are killing the person you might otherwise become.

So how does this apply to you? What are the most important clues that warn you when you’ve lost your way? And what are your most effective strategies for self-correction?

I’ll develop this theme further in my next entry.

Roger Christan Schriner

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2 thoughts on “Remembering to Get Back on Track

  1. I like to set myself personal targets that help me to keep on track. One of them is to be gentle and calm when talking to others (about anything, but it especially applies to emotionally laden topics). What I aim to do if this doesn’t happen is to recognise it at the time, apologise and say “Sorry, I didn’t say that in a helpful way, can we rewind the conversation and do it better?” This usually makes the other person laugh (which improves the mood of the conversation) and so we then replay the conversation, with me using a more relaxed tone of voice, talking more slowly and politely, and rephrasing things in a less dogmatic way. This should then create an alternative neural pathway in the brain, training myself to create new habits. Just saying you did something wrong isn’t enough to change those habits of a lifetime, you need to actually DO it. Do try it!

  2. Re: “apologise and say “Sorry, I didn’t say that in a helpful way, can we rewind the conversation and do it better?” This usually makes the other person laugh”
    Great approach. And it’s such a relief to share a laugh in the middle of a potentially stressful discussion. Laughter is a wonderful unifier.

    Roger Schriner

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