Book Review: Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me)

Last Updated Apr 15, 2011 10:30 AM EDT

Have you ever met someone who would argue their point nonstop, even when it was painfully obvious he or she was wrong? It turns out we're simply wired that way.

Writing in their book Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me), social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson explain: "Most people, when directly confronted with proof that they are wrong, do not change their point of view or course of action but justify it even more tenaciously. Politicians, of course, offer the most visible, and often tragic, examples of this practice ... We even stay in an unhappy relationships or merely one that is going nowhere because, after all, we invested so much time it making it work."

Tavris and Aronson explain: "Self-justification has costs and benefits. By itself it's not necessarily a bad thing. It lets us sleep at night. Without it we would prolong the awful pangs of embarrassment. We would torture ourselves with regret over the road not taken or over how badly we navigated the road we did take. We would agonize in the aftermath of almost every decision... Yet mindless self-justification, like quicksand, can draw us deeper into disaster. It blocks our ability to even see our errors, let alone correct them. It distorts reality, keeping us from getting all the information we need and assessing issues clearly."

Unfortunately, admitting mistakes is a difficult hurdle for many. A great example of this behavioral problem is 20th century British politician Lord Molson's clever insight into his own behavior: "I will look at any additional evidence to confirm the opinion to which I have already come."

This book provides tremendous insights into how we turn the blinders on when confronted that we're wrong, especially when it pertains to something we believe very strongly.

I highly recommend reading this book, and not just for help with avoiding repeating investing mistakes. This book can help with mistakes in all areas of life. While we can apply the lessons in the book nearly across the board, tomorrow we'll look at the impact this has on investing.

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    Larry Swedroe is director of research for The BAM Alliance. He has authored or co-authored 13 books, including his most recent, Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett. His opinions and comments expressed on this site are his own and may not accurately reflect those of the firm.

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