This is a repost from 4/20/2016. I recently just re-listened to Mistakes Were Made(But Not By Me). This book is so fascinating. As I look back at my own family transition and the struggles of current families, this book is entirely relevant. It is not uncommon for parents to have conflict with each other related to making lifestyle changes to how they raise their children. It is easier to stick with comfort than it is to make change, especially when change requires admitting mistakes were made. Although my husband and I are comfortable with our current lifestyle choices, that doesn't mean we didn't have struggle. In fact, I think the act of both of us reading and listening to this book allowed for some pretty dramatic changes in our relationship that continues to support us today in doing difficult work in communicating with each other in a productive manner. I went back to this blog to re-read and see if I feel any differently or have anything to add. The main thing is that this may become a book that I recommend all parents and couples read together as they embark on making lifestyle changes. We are all human and it is important to understand when working towards change and betterment of your self and family. Much of this blog is still pertinent and consistent with where I continue to be in my life personally and professionally, so I really haven't changed much. Cheers to all and I hope this book brings you some guidance in how to proceed in making lifestyle changes even in the face of what appears to be resistance from your partner or children. The more you understand yourself personally the better off everyone is around you.
Let me begin by saying, this isn’t going to be a blog where I give you a resolution to your problem. I am still working it out for myself. It is also a bit longer than normal but I hope you stay awake long enough to read it. I believe this may be my most important blog yet…..
Let’s start with a few definitions taken from Wikipedia.org:
Paleo Diet – “Nutritional practice based on foods presumed to be available to paleolithic humans which means exclusion of dairy, grains, sugar, legumes, processed oils, salt, alcohol or coffee as a means to improve your health status.” (Practically speaking the Paleo Diet is a starting platform to optimize nutrient density and avoid nutrient deficiency, which may or may not include gray area items in their best form depending on your health state and lifestyle. That is wholefoods, traditional omnivore naturally gluten-free- this is my opinion :) )
Cognitive Dissonance – “Mental stress or discomfort experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to beliefs or ideas or values or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs or ideas or values.”
Self-Justification – “A description how, when a person encounters cognitive dissonance, or a situation in which a person’s behavior is inconsistent with their beliefs, that a person tends to justify the behavior and deny any negative feedback associated with the behavior.”
Human Nature – “Refers to the distinguishing characteristics (including ways of thinking, feeling and acting), which humans tend to have naturally, independently of the influence of culture. Human nature can be regarded as both a source of norms of conduct or ways of life, as well as presenting obstacles or constraints on living a good life.”
Now that some of the technicality is out of the way, let me share a few stories with you.
About a month ago, I had an appointment for my son at the orthodontist on a day that normally the kids take the bus home from school. In my habit of driving directly home after work, I realized that I needed to pick the kids up from school. I quickly looked up into my rear view mirror and side view mirror (I think anyways) and then quickly cut across 2 lanes of traffic in order to make my turn to school. Immediately, horns were blaring. Turns out there was a motorcycle in my “blind-spot” that I nearly collided with. Oh My! That was a near miss. I was grateful no body was hurt by my mistake. In the end, this motorcycle ended up following me to school. He was angry and felt that he needed to confront me in case I didn’t realize what had happened. I got out of my car and he immediately started explaining how I nearly killed him and should pay closer attention. When he stopped, I said genuinely, “ I am very sorry and I am glad you are ok.” And guess what he said……
That was it.
I nearly killed this man by accident in a moment and I simply apologized and he was…grateful. Isn’t that amazing? I made a mistake, I owned it, I didn’t make any excuses to explain it away or get mad at him for following me or…or…or….Best of all is that I learned from that mistake. I have since made a better effort to evaluate my “blind spot” when changing lanes. I moved the kid’s car seats around so my “blind spot” wasn’t as big. And I have consciously focused on avoiding my phone while driving so I am less distracted.
My cognitive dissonance related to the conflict of my inappropriate lane change could have resulted in my personal self-justification response about how motorcycles shouldn’t be on the road because they are too hard to see so this event was his fault, not mine. Or even, what does this man know about how hard it is to keep track of three kids when he probably doesn’t have any? Do you see the problem? This type of self-justification would have absolved my own self of any responsibility when the fact is it was my fault. It would have been a tragedy if I didn’t respond with an apology and a lesson learned.
Here is another story. About 3 years ago, I read Robb Wolf's book “The Paleo Solution”. It felt like a slap in the face as he reviewed the current research and physiological consequences with eating a Western Diet, which includes refined and processed grains and sugars and trans fatty acids. My cognitive dissonant self-justification went something like this: I love sugar, bread and food. How could this be true? No doctor had ever mentioned this? If it were true then it means I am making my kids sick and preparing their bodies for illness now and in the future and they are normal. I can’t believe this! It must be unhealthy! This way of eating is much too hard to live!
Yet, how did I make the lifestyle changes to improve my health and my family yet so many others resist?
A few things happened at that time. First I acknowledged that I had made a mistake in how I ate and fed my kids. I cried. I had some resentment towards Paleo. And then I ripped the band-aid off and started eating and feeding my kids better because the science and physiology made sense. In no world, Paleolithic or not, is the pasta more nutritious than an apple. See, this was not a conflict I had to resolve. Whole food is better for you than processed food. You know this. I know this. We all know this.
Maybe the biggest “mistake” I had to accept was that my allopathic training alone in physical therapy did not educate me on the importance of food on our musculoskeletal system. This lack of education potentially harmed past patients because I didn’t pay attention to nutrition. I even encouraged unnecessary medication use. Many people in leadership positions like medical doctors are the most at risk of self-justification related to the cognitive dissonance. I don’t envy that. BUT I admire my husband, an orthopedic surgeon, for changing his life, changing how he cares for his patients despite past errors because he now knows better. What he does better than me, is he has been aware of the human nature of cognitive dissonance even without knowing what it was called. He doesn’t waste his energy to try to change people who aren’t seeking change. He saves it for those that are ready and requesting it.
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” – John Heywood proverb.
My father has often said this to me.
I have made a few more mistakes recently related to my efforts to “help” people
1. I thought it would be easy to run a business because I was passionate and good at what I do.
2. I assumed everyone just needed the information, that his or her choices were simply based on ignorance. They didn’t know better. And I needed to share the information with them whether they asked for it or not.
Well, I was wrong. I am not prepared to run a business that allows me to regularly pay my bills and myself without giving up something at home without a solid plan. Maybe all I need to learn is more PATIENCE in running a business and take my own advice to remove, replace, restore....bit by bit. It just takes time. I have a good goal, helping people, and I just need to focus on that.
More importantly, I need to further evaluate my own cognitive dissonance and self-justification habits in order to help others. I have tried to lead you somewhere that some of you don’t want to go. I can't make you drink the water if you aren't thirsty or don't want any water right? If I am totally honest, the inability of people to admit a mistake and learn from it makes me simply…. ANGRY. And I don’t like being angry.
Really, in the end, there have been times where my effort to share information about the error of another’s ways only secures their self-justification even further into the unhealthy habits. In a way, my ignorance of human nature is actually making some people sicker. That was not my intention and a mistake I made, but it’s human nature.
A dear friend asked me, "What's the feels beneath the feels?"
What is the feeling that is driving the anger.....I think it is disappointment. I am dissapointed in myself for having too high expectations of myself and the people around me. To expect anyone to be anything but human is only going to set us all up for disappointment.
In the book "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)" about why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts, Tavris and Aronson do an amazing job at describing this problem of human nature.
“Human beings may not be eager to change, but we have the ability to change, and the fact that many of our self-protective delusions and blind spots are built into the way the brain works is no justification for not trying.” – Tavris and Aronson
See, we all have a “blind spot”…that’s why you have to look for them so you don’t kill the motorcyclist. Our brain is designed to defend our beliefs and lifestyle (paleo or not) which is fine, but we must learn to adapt….every day.
Why is paleo (or anything new) bad for you?
Because it means you have to admit you made a mistake.
Why you won’t try it?
Because it means you have to admit you made a mistake.
Here is the thing…. Self-justification is human nature. We are all fallible, even research from the best researchers. If you need a randomized controlled double blind study to resolve your dissonance related to paleo recommendations, then it will NEVER happen. That is an impossible study to do. And even if that trial was done, you likely would find another reason. And you have now self-justified your current lifestyle habits so that you may never change them. Apparently the further you move away from the initial decision, the harder it is to change and the more likely you will justify your behavior.
I recently posted the Environment Working Group (EWG) new Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list. The EWG is a non-profit organization trying to support public health in analyzing public data and sharing information to the public related to pesticide and dangerous chemical exposure. A brilliant person even poked holes in EWG strategies of analyzing the data (with merit of course) so that they don’t feel badly not buying organic; a perfect example of cognitive dissonance being resolved with self-justification. The big Ag industry is now mounting an attack on EWG. I guess we should have only been surprised if they didn't.
I continue to try to remain unbiased and objective but evaluating published research. Even as I believe and support the paleo movement, it too is fallible. There is a huge overtone that allopathic medicine and pharmaceutical companies are at fault for our current health crisis. I ask, is that really true? Or is it cognitive dissonance and self-justification of many individuals that has driven the crisis? Or is it that self-justification has perpetuated the inability to listen to reasonable science despite imperfection?
See, everyone is fallible. Nothing is perfect. It is impossible. But if you find yourself working hard to justify your behavior to prove you aren’t wrong or that you are right or …or…or…then I encourage you to pause and evaluate yourself.
“A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
As his most benevolent teachers.”
-Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching
I have been lucky to have many people in my life who graciously support my endeavors and me. Yet, maybe what I need is a few more people to help point out my faults so that I can learn more about myself in order to adapt to help those that want help and accept those that don’t. The joy I have helping someone else reach their health goals is what this business is about. That continues to include pointing out when cognitive dissonance arises, even my own. I will continue to empower others to understand their own human nature as I continue to understand my own humanity. It's at the source of the problem where change is even possible.
We are all human: fallible yet capable of change.
I will leave you with this final quote from the movie Zootopia's theme song "Try Everything" by Shakira:
"Birds don't just fly
They fall down and get up
Nobody learns without getting it wrong"
Remove Replace Restore
Remove excessive self-justification.
Replace with an open mind. Accept and learn from your mistakes. Apologize if needed, don’t justify.
Reach out for help if you need. I am happy to offer such a service, you just need to ask.
Restore a healthy lifestyle.
Eat Well. Move Well. Sleep Well. Soar On.
PS - A few people that I have come across that have acknowledged that mistakes have been made and are learning from those mistakes are Allan Savory, Dr. Terry Wahl's MD, Dr. Kelly Brogan MD, Jessica Drummond PT, Dr. David Perlmutter MD, Dr. Bennet Omalu MD...and many others.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.