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How Emotionally Intelligent People Use the ‘Rule of Rethinking’ to Think Like Scientists


Recently, my wife and I got into a disagreement. It wasn’t about anything consequential, but it was a passionate conversation. At one point, my wife demonstrated that she knew much more about this subject that I did, and that I was making some assumptions that simply weren’t true.

 “I’m sorry,” my wife said. “Are you ok?”

Of course, my wife hadn’t done anything wrong. To the contrary, she was right. My ego had simply taken a hit. And while I realized that intellectually that my wife was right, I wasn’t ready to accept it emotionally. 

The question now was: How could I get past those hurt feelings and move forward? 

Enter, the “rule of rethinking.”

The rule of rethinking is based on principles of emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions. Let’s break down how this rule can help you to manage your feelings, adopt a growth mindset, and think more like a scientist.

(If you find value in the “rule of rethinking,” you might be interested in my full emotional intelligence course — which includes 20 more rules that help you develop your emotional intelligence. Check out the full course here.)

How the rule of rethinking helps you think, learn, and grow

The rule of re-thinking is simple:

When you’re presented with information that is different from what you believe, you resist the urge to immediately dismiss it. Instead, you force yourself to listen carefully; then, you examine the new idea in the light of available evidence.

The rule of rethinking is valuable because, first, we all get emotionally attached to our beliefs. And second, everyone hates to be wrong. These are just two reasons why we vehemently defend our opinions, even when we haven’t taken the time to analyze or properly vet those opinions.

“I think too many of us spend too much time thinking like preachers, prosecutors, and politicians,” psychologist Adam Grant, author of Think Again, said in an interview. “When we’re in preacher mode, we’re convinced we’re right; when we’re in prosecutor mode, we’re trying to prove someone else wrong; and when we’re in politician mode, we’re trying to win the approval of our audience. Each of these mental modes can stand in the way of ‘thinking again.’”

Grant recommends that instead, you learn to think like a scientist.

“Thinking like a scientist does not mean you need to own a telescope or a microscope,” he says. “It just means that you favor humility over pride and curiosity over conviction…You don’t let your ideas become your identity. You look for reasons why you might be wrong, not just reasons why you must be right.”

This is important because, well, we’re all wrong sometimes. And typically the bigger the matter we’re wrong about, the much longer it takes to accept we’re wrong. By adopting the rule of rethinking, you help to keep your feelings in check so that you can learn from others. This helps you to adopt a growth mindset, the ability to continue learning and growing, which can lead you to become more right, more often.

So, how do you get better at accepting when you’re wrong? 

The key: You must learn to detach yourself emotionally from your ideas…which is about as easy as it sounds. I recommend a two-step process:

First, ask yourself the following questions:

Why do I feel so strongly about what I believe? Do I know all the facts? How might my emotions be influencing what I believe? Might I be remembering something wrong? Do I believe something because I want it to be true? Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?

When you take time to think through questions like these, you focus on listening and learning. You will see things more rationally. And in many cases, it will help you change your mind.

Even if you don’t change your mind, following this first step will earn the respect of the person you’re dealing with–because they see you’re truly listening to them, and not dismissing what they have to say.

But this doesn’t change the fact that we all hate to be wrong. So, how can you manage your ego once we realize we didn’t know a topic as well as we thought?

That brings us to the second step, which requires you to practice reciting a single sentence. We can say it together, three times for emphasis:

Sometimes, I’m wrong. Sometimes, I’m wrong. Sometimes, I’m wrong.

The more you get into this habit, the more you’ll realize that adjusting your viewpoint in the light of new evidence isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a sign of intelligence and growth.

So, the next time you’re faced with an alternative viewpoint (or even a bruised ego), remember the rule of rethinking: Resist the urge to dismiss that viewpoint, listen carefully, and think like a scientist.

Because recognizing that sometimes you’re wrong helps you to become right, more often.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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