Why I resist criticism (loss aversion and cognitive dissonance)

Have you ever felt like your Ego is getting in the way of being productive?

These last few days I've been feeling I might be overly resistant to criticism with regards to some new stuff I've been developing. So as an anti-dote I'm writing this blog post to remind myself why that might be.

In a nutshell, I think I tend to fall in love with my creations and let it bias my judgement.

Remember, the more effort you put into something the more attachment you feel towards it. It's a well known cognitive effect. You need to make sure you compensate for that and don't let your ego get the better of you.

Which is not to say that others are always right with regards to their criticism, BUT at least they're thinking about it clearly. No bias because they're not as invested as I am and there is no threat to their self image/ego.

As usual I went to Wikipedia to procrastinate research the issue. A couple of related articles I found:

  1. Loss aversion

Once we have committed a lot of time or energy to a cause, it is nearly impossible to convince us that it is unworthy" The real question is "How bad do your losses have to be before you change course?

  1. Cognitive Dissonance

The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing them.

(e.g., if you spend hours working on something it has to be worth it)

A powerful cause of dissonance is an idea in conflict with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as "I am a good person" or "I made the right decision". The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one's choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would reduce dissonance and make the person feel better. Dissonance can also lead to confirmation bias, the denial of disconfirming evidence, and other ego defense mechanisms.

Does this ever happen to you too? What do you do to compensate?

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Rasmus Schøler's picture

Hi Liraz,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas, inspiring as always.

As a scientific researcher I find this topic to be very pertinent. Both regarding "not realizing that you are spending too much time on something / going in the wrong direction" and perhaps even more critical "not realizing that your beliefs are wrong because it contradicts something you have previously stated" and thus not being able to see/interpret the new evidence.  

The first step to compensate for this is to be aware of the tricks that our subconsciousness plays us - so thank you for reminding me :-)

Jeremy Davis's picture

Great thought to ponder. A couple of thoughts that your post provoked for me:

Firstly, when I studied at Uni I often found that putting down an essay for a few days after finishing it and prior to handing it in (if I was ever organised enough - which wasn't often) was great to get a 'fresh eye' over it. I would often find poor formatting/layout, clumsy grammar and typos in a piece of work that I had read hundreds of times (and previously missed these issues everytime). I know it's not quite the same, but perhaps there are enough similarities for that sort of rest & reflection to be useful in coding too. (I wish I was more of a programmer and I could give you an informed opinion on that).

Also whilst I think feedback from others is generally (even mostly) useful, it's not always. Firstly, whilst they are not ego-invested in your idea and methods, they are no doubt ego-invested in their own and that may be clouding their judgement of your stuff. Also, they may not be able to understand or see your greater vision; ie the big picture.

From what I've seen from you guys is that you often develop stuff incrementally. So whilst the products are generally fully functional, they are not as such completed but 'works-in-progress' (the beauty of modular design seems to lend itself to this sort of production). The point I'm trying to make is that a critic may be looking at a particular project as it stands, rather than appreciating it as a self contained module that is part of a bigger plan.

@Rasmus - your comments in regard to the similar scenario with scentific endevour are quite enlightening. I think you are very right. Ahhh the human ego, if only we could turn it off sometimes... :)

Ilya Vassilevsky's picture

Well, this is really easy for me. Everything I work on is awesome and whoever criticizes that is retarded!

Jonas Hjalmar Blom's picture

I bring some knowledge and learning from positive psychology while facing loss aversion. First of all, I think that you have to be honest to yourself and also a bit mindful and thinking about your thinking, "is this what I am thinking, really rational and relevant?". Second, one need to accept that bad feelings affects you when you have to face bad news, that is how life is. An attempt to avoid the feeling won't help you, rather accept it and provoke some good feelings instead, which is the third step. For example, see what you can learn from this episode, which will help you to note the tendency earlier next time. Because it will happen again, we're all humans!


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