How do you see yourself, and how would you describe it?
Until I read this book, I’ve seen myself as a rational, reasonable human being, most of the decisions I made were the best judgements I could give given the situation I was in. Of course I made mistakes, and there’re some “would have’s” but most of the people would’ve done the same. I act like as a humble person everyday but I do know deep down there’s a arrogant aspect of myself, and I’m fine with that.
This book just helps me to uncover those events I consciously or subconsciously self-justified as “I’m right”, it could be perfectly described as:
When we explain our own behavior, self-justification allows us to flatter ourselves: We give ourselves credit for our good actions but let the situation excuse the bad ones.
The book explores self-justification through the territories of family, marriage, memory, therapy, law, prejudice, conflict and war. It helps us to preserve our beliefs, confidence, self-esteem and self-image, but also could get us into big trouble in all these areas.
You may or may not be aware of it, but it’s happening everywhere. Like when you take a super cheap economic flight you would speak to yourself, “look at how much money I’ve saved, this is definitely worth the pain and inconvenience”, and once you get the chance to take on first class, “look at the service and comfortable seat, this is definitely worth the extra money to enjoy a good journey”.
There’re some fascinating writings and stories in the book, how politicians could ever speak like a silly person, how the law enforcement is flawed, how even professionals reject obvious evidences and still claim they’re right, how convenient memory is and could be tweaked to support our version of self-image, how perpetrator and victims interpret to same event, and how a person who seems perfectly normal could ever firmly truly believe he’s abducted by an alien and even have children with them.
Here I’d like to pick up a few topics and add some of my takeaways.
You may have heard the quote: “We are the choices we make”, that’s indeed the truth but itself fails to reveal a compound effect of decision making. It’s as if we we gain 1 point when we do one thing good, and -1 when we do something wrong, but it’s not that flat.
This book introduces this new concept of pyramid, a pyramid of choice. At the very beginning, we’re all at the top of a pyramid, and then we face a situation in which both choices have each benefits and costs, like cheating or not cheating in an important life-changing exam. Then you make a decision with an implicit side-effect: you’ve justified it. Next time when you encounter the same situation, you’re highly possible to repeat the same action you made before, otherwise how would you explain the last action? Admit you’re wrong now?
Whenever you make a seemingly just one-time decision, you’re actually starting a process of entrapment — action, justification, further action — that increases your intensity and commitment and may end up taking you far from your original intentions or principles. So each time, remind yourself: how do you want to step down the pyramid or just want to be slid down to nowhere near your initial goal. Once you slide down you would fight yourself so hard to climb up.
This also reminds me of the hot news: FBI tries to force Apple into a backdoored iOS for “just this one time, we swear!”. Cook tells them no way. Apple is refusing to do so because that means to create a “master key” that could unlock any iPhone and no one could guarantee to do no evil.
Comparing the technology news to psychology may sounds absurd but I can’t help thinking, does it also mean whenever we use the excuse “just this one time I swear” to indulge ourselves, we’re indeed trying to forge a “evil master key” that leads to a dark path we definitely don’t want to go in the first place.
The big question is, again, would you like to step down the pyramid, firmly, towards who you really want to be, or just slide down with some crappy excuses to nowhere near your original destination?
The structure of book is Chapter 1~7 to explain in very details of self-justification in various areas, and then Chapter 8, the last chapter to give you some advice you can take once you’re aware of the wrongs and want to make it right. Maybe it’s constructed exactly this way to prevent people from hunting “quick-fixes”, but if you’re suffering extreme regret of actions you’ve taken, and eager find a way to cope with the scar on the soul, I recommend you to pick up this chapter first.
The book says there’re 3 stages in the act.
People can’t just skip the Act 2 to true redemption. It says “Active, self-reflective struggle to see the silver lining is a key ingredient of maturity.”
The guidelines I summaries is:
In our private relationships, we are on our own, and that calls for some self-awareness. Once we understand how and when we need to reduce dissonance, we can become more vigilant about the process and often nip it in the bud, catching ourselves before we slide too far down the pyramid. By looking at our actions critically and dispassionately, as if we were observing someone else, we stand a chance of breaking out of the cycle of action, followed by self-justification, followed by more committed action. We can learn to put a little space between what we feel and how we respond, insert a moment of reflection, and think about whether we really want to buy that canoe in January, really want to send good money after bad, really want to hold on to an opinion that is unfettered by facts.
Because most of us are not automatically self-correcting and because our blind spots keep us from knowing when we need to be, external procedures must be in place to correct the errors that human beings will inevitably make and reduce the chances of future ones.
Something we did can be separated from who we are and who we want to be. Our past selves need not be a blueprint for our future selves.
The road to redemption starts with the understanding that who we are includes what we have done but also transcends it, and the vehicle for transcending it is self-compassion.
Getting to true self-compassion is a process; it does not happen overnight. It does not mean forgetting the harm or error, as in “Ah, well, I’m basically a good, kind person, so I’ll treat myself gently and move on.” No; you might be a good, kind person but you are one who committed a grievously harmful act. That’s part of you now, of who you are. But it need not be all of you. It need not define you—unless you keep justifying that act mindlessly.
At last, as the book says, the most dangerous thing is not you make a mistake and find an excuse to escape from it, it’s the terrible thing you committed and are still being blind about it. I was that person, and I’m feeling extremely thankful for this book to make me open my eyes and reflect on past events.
I confess, I was wrong, I’m sorry.
"Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Have you ever felt both overworked and underutilized? Have you ever found yourself majoring in minor activities? Do you ever feel busy but not productive?"
This book is about answers to these questions. The key messages and takeaways for me are:
Here is a great video reviewing this book, and actually I started reading it because of this video. To be honest I think it might be arguably better than the book itself. If you don’t have enough time, just check out the video, should take you less than 25 minutes.
Part I: Essence: What is the core mind-set of an Essentialist?
Part II: Explore: How can we discern the trivial many from the vital few?
Part III: Eliminate: How can we cut out the trial many?
Part IV: Execute: How can we make doing the vital few things almost effortless?
The first part, the "What" part, is really great. All the problems introduced there are so real, I could map literary everything to my real life. Very inspirational.
But sadly the following chapters, the "how" part, are less compelling to me. I agree with the general idea, it’s just the examples and evidences are not convincing enough.
Overall it’s a good book, I’d rate it 4 out of 5. It does give me positive energies and courages to improve my life, makes me pause to think about the past, which choices were made by “default”(others) and which were made by “design”(me), makes me think twice before purchase any non-essential items, makes me observe my bad habits & routines and fix them, makes me pursue less but better.
p.s. I didn't title this post as "Book Review", as I realized the word "review" is too big for me, makes me want to cover every aspect of the book, pros and corns, scan every note and highlight I made during the reading, that is overwhelming and will simplify stops me from writing. “Done is better than perfect”, indeed, the essential thing for me is to write this post and share my findings!