Proofing Your Life

If you work in an office environment, you’re likely aware of a curious phenomenon when people try to proofread their own work.  Some people can do it effectively.  Others can’t.

The psychologists among us explain that people in the latter class, when creating their work, see a flawless, excellent product in their heads and assume that that is what they are keyboarding.  Then, even though typing mistakes get made and everyone’s writing could use some editing, when they try to proofread their eyes don’t communicate reality back to their brains.  Instead, they skip over the grammatical errors, misspellings, and typos, think of what they intended to write rather than what actually appears on paper, and see an immaculate piece of work.

Life as a whole seems to be that way, too.  Some people have a sense of self-awareness that allows them to proof their lives just like they would proof a memo at the office.  They see where they have made mistakes and gone astray and worked to make corrections.  In fact, some people are so proficient at personal proofreading that they can do it in real time, self-editing their statements as they are being made and modifying their behavior as it is occurring.  It’s fascinating to watch these people internally debate about word choices and weigh one approach against the other before making their decision.

But then there are those who seem to be utterly incapable of self-proofreading.  They’ve decided on a course of action and they’re going to stick with it, oblivious to the verbal cues and physical reactions of the people around them that say they’re on the wrong path.  It’s as if the some internal buzzing in their brains interferes with the basic sense of self-awareness that keeps humans from walking into heavy traffic or jumping into a shark tank.  These people may not think they’re infallible — not quite — but they believe that they’ve thought things through and considered all of the options, they’ve rationalized their ultimate decision, and they just can’t see any other way.  And when unexpected or bad things happen, they’re blamed on rotten luck, or bias, or unfairness.  Sometimes only catastrophe can cause them to finally deviate from their chosen course and realize that maybe the problem can be found in the mirror.

The older I’ve gotten, the more I think proofreading is a really valuable skill.

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Looking In The Mirror, And Hearing Your Own Voice

I have a weakness for learning about human psychology.  How do humans think?  What approaches are more and less likely to cause the listener (or reader, for that matter) to have the intended reaction?  I think it is fascinating stuff.

One reason the results of psychological studies and experiments are so interesting is that it’s easy to translate the information to your own experience.  It’s like looking in a mirror.  It’s impossible not to consider how you match up with the results.  It’s nice when they indicate that your modus operandi is sound — but it’s hard to take when the data reveals that your approach is hopelessly wrong.

We all look in the mirror countless times a day, but often we don’t really recognize how we are perceived by others.  It’s like the shock you felt when you first heard your own recorded voice and realized it didn’t sound to others like it sounds in your own head.

How do you react when you see someone unintentionally do something that is completely off-putting, counterproductive, or inflammatory?  I always wonder how the person could be so clueless — and I find it unnerving because I realize that I also could be blundering through life, deeply offending people I’m actually trying to impress or persuade.

We’d all be better off if we spent more time studying the human condition.