The hidden folly of seeking to prove others wrong

So the dangers lurk, like a snake in the grass. Or a crocodile in the wetlands, submerged, waiting for some naive or careless creature to act unknowingly.

And so it can be, for those who are motivated to prove others wrong. Counter-intuitively, they are more likely to fail to achieve what they so desire. This applies to athletes, for coaches, for business-people, parents, performers, surgeons, in fact, anyone who operates in an elite or demanding environment and seeks to achieve optimum and elite performance, under pressure, with the incentive of substantial rewards, emotionally charged outcomes and a burning desire to win or succeed.

To examine this scenario, let’s consider human behaviour in terms of the brain’s three significant functional areas. These include the (1) hind brain or reptilian brain, the (2) limbic system or emotional mid-brain and the (3) “smart brain” or neocortex. The number 1 system manages unconscious processes and keeps us alive. It works together with the number 2 system at times of threat and great stress to activate the body’s behavioural responses including fight, flight and freeze. The number 3 system is associated with awareness and attention, problem solving, language, decision making and abstract thought. It’s the “icing on the cake”, and develops last.

To achieve the best outcomes in our life, to thrive and succeed, and not simply survive, we need all three systems working in an integrated manner. However, when we become anxious, or distracted by a threat, the number 2 system tends to dominate our psyche as our number 3 system can be somewhat side-lined. Under stress, emotionally intelligent people work intentionally to re-engage their mindful capacities of the number 3 system and so ‘think’ their way through a tricky situation.

However, anything that unduly creates anxiety, including ego-protection activities, interferes with these mindful or emotionally intelligent endeavours. Thus, we may become less task or process focused at such times, as the anxiety distracts our attention and creates discomfort in our body.

So, to “the hidden folly of seeking to prove others wrong”.  Simply, it creates unnecessary anxiety. It may get us to the finals as an athlete. More so if we are part of a team, where others can compensate if we experience decrements in performance under pressure (choking). It may get us through medical school or other extended personal objectives. However, in the moment of winning a game, winning a gold medal, or saving a life by the road-side or in surgery, anxiety can well up, interfering with our high-order processing, and creating a failure scenario. It might be a life-or-death moment, it might involve prize-money, becoming famous or a boost to self-esteem. Regardless, in the big moments, we do not want anxiety to rear its ugly head and destroy our task-focused attention. Potentially, we did not seize the moment, we missed the moment.

Don’t do it to prove other people wrong! Do it, because it brings fun, the consequences are helpful to a constructive life and it can bring joy into yours and others lives. Do it for the best of reasons, where our higher-order self integrates all brain functions in that special moment, rather than a primal response, even if only momentarily, which switches our consciousness to survival mode, triggered by anxiety.

And day-to-day folks, its just not supportive to your mental health. Enjoy your life!

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