Issue 3 of Responsibility syndrome
Now that you know that being overly responsible isn’t doing you any favors, why not just stop doing it?
There are two main reasons why it’s hard to start letting go, even when we understand that our behavior probably isn’t sustainable in the long run. Today we will have a look at the first reason, something called “confirmation bias”. Tomorrow we will look at the second one (fear of losing control.
Reason number 1: Your assumptions about how things work mean that you selectively take in information that sustains the belief that the world will fall apart if you don’t keep up your performance.
As humans, we have filters for what type of information we choose to take in. We pay attention to and notice things that are consistent with what we already believe to be true (= confirmation bias). Other information is ignored or deemed less useful or important.
This filtering can form the basis of our personal, inner truths, or what psychologists call core beliefs. A core belief can consist of assumptions about ourselves, the surrounding world and relationships. For example: “if I don’t do everything perfectly I will be excluded”, “I’m a fraud, and I will be found out if I don’t work extra hard”, “others can’t help me”, or “everything hinges on me”.
Due to the confirmation bias (i.e. our tendency to selectively filter information), you will only remember the times when being overly responsible was necessary and led to positive consequences.
Of course, you will also remember the (probably quite few) times when what you fear (and try to avoid through being overly responsible) actually happens: when your boss is disappointed with a less-than-perfect assignment, you give a poor presentation after not having had time to prepare, a lunch at work gets awkward when no one comes up with a topic, your group of friends see each other less often when you stop inviting everyone to activities, and so on.
In short, the confirmation bias makes you stack up evidence that suggests you have no other choice than to continue in your old ways. Unless, of course, you can stop and think about your fundamental assumptions and how they affect your filter. That provides an opening to change.
Write down what you think would happen in a few different situations if you were less responsible than you are today. Think about how difficult it would be to not take on that responsibility, and rate your estimated discomfort on a scale from 1 - 10 (where 10 stands for the highest possible discomfort).
- My children would be wearing mismatched and sometimes slightly dirty clothes at preschool (discomfort 6)
- Some of my coworkers would feel left out at lunch if I stopped trying to include them in all conversations (discomfort 4)
- We would hand in our project after the deadline if I didn’t hurry my team on (discomfort 8)
- Our recycling containers at home would overflow if I didn’t go to the recycling station every other day (discomfort 2)
Save this list for tomorrow, when you will use it to construct a behavioral experiment.