Seven Lessons to Avoid Being Stubborn

Who was the greatest scientist? Albert Einstein may well be the answer. Who was the greatest inventor? Thomas Edison would be a strong candidate. Both men were epitomes of their fields. But they were not infallible. Let’s talk about Einstein first.

One of Einstein’s 1905 papers laid the first foundation of quantum physics. However, it was Dane Neils Bohr and his disciples who formulated the related mathematical equations during 1920s. Despite being one of its pioneers, the concepts presented by Bohr & Co. seemed surreal to Einstein himself; he insisted on the existence of objective nature of reality while the newly proposed quantum theory suggested the subtle and ephemeral existence of objects such as electrons.

The disagreement between Einstein and Bohr ignited an interesting academic rivalry between the two scientists that continued for more than a decade. A series of arguments and counterarguments succeeded through lectures, articles, and letters between the duo. In the end, Einstein— with a bitter taste in his mouth—had to concede that the new theory, while seemingly absurd, had no contradiction and was a giant leap towards understanding the nature of physical world.

While Einstein did concede his opinions over the quantum theory, Edison was a bit more inflexible.   Despite owning more than 1000 patents, Thomas Edison lost the “War of Currents” against Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse. After inventing and successfully marketing his most famous invention— the light bulb— the next challenge for Edison was to make electric power as viable as his bulbs.

Edison’s own power system ran on Direct Current or DC which had a significant drawback: DC power plants, having immense losses due to low voltage, couldn’t supply power beyond a one mile radius — there was a large gap in supplying power to everyone.

George Westinghouse, Edison’s competitor, took this void as an opportunity and joined hands with Nikola Tesla—another brilliant inventor, but someone whom once Edison had allegedly mistreated as an employee. Together they went on to bring about an alternative: Alternating Current or AC power distribution system, which depended on high voltages, and had the potential to fill the gap left by DC power. However, Edison remained adamant that it was not a workable solution. 

By the time Edison found his judgment fallacious, it was too late. His company had already installed more than one hundred DC systems and to change now to AC was out of question. As Westinghouse took more and more business, Edison was fast losing out. So much so that by 1892, Edison himself had to announce his retirement from his own company.

In both these episodes, the two greats remained persistent with their views. Persistence or perseverance is a desirable attribute but sometimes it exceeds logic, where it turns into stubbornness. Being stubborn is a negative trait which, in extreme cases, can border on stupidity and can lead to disasters. Below seven lessons will help you identify and avoid being stubborn.

Lesson One: Difference Between Persistence and Stubbornness

Persistence is the ability to pursue your goals with a positive, open mindset. Persistence or perseverance is an essential attribute towards success. However, when your persistence exceeds the boundaries of logic and reason, this becomes stubbornness. When you become stubborn, you start neglecting other alternatives or opportunities. Stubbornness is a negative state of mind which, when engulfs your senses, disables you to receive and perceive any unbiased opinion. There is a fine line between being persistent and being stubborn; watch out for crossing that line.

Lesson Two: Anyone Can be Wrong

Einstein is often called the ultimate genius; Edison, in his heyday, was called “the Wizard of Menlo Park”. But they were proven wrong in some of their views.  If a scientific genius and an inventive wizard could be wrong, why can’t you or me? Keep reminding yourself that you can be wrong. There is nothing wrong with being wrong. Rather, by accepting your imperfections, you can open pathways for further improvement and growth.

Lesson Three: Be a Good Listener

Try to be a good listener. Do not listen to respond, instead listen to understand. Do not interrupt while others are speaking. Make gestures and facial expressions to let the speaker know that you are paying attention. As a general rule, if you can repeat what the speaker has said, you are a good listener. Remember, good listeners are good learners, as they are not stubborn in their views and are open to alternative opinions.

Lesson Four: Reflect on Your Mistakes Daily

We are all humans; and as human beings, we make mistakes. You do it, I do it—there is no exception. It would be worthwhile to take some time out for reflecting on your day-to-day matters and review if you made any mistakes during the day. This habit of self-reflection will help you melt your obstinacy and be less stubborn. 

Lesson Five: Be Patient with Yourself

If you happen to be a stubborn person by nature, changing your personality won’t be an overnight transformation. It will take time. Be patient and give yourself time. You may mess things up e.g., yielding when you actually need to take the reins, and exhibiting overcontrol when you should let it go. Forgive yourself after each fault and move on; that is how you learn and improve.

Lesson Six: Don’t Jump to Conclusions

How many times your judgments have proven to be wrong? If you say, your judgment has never been wrong, you are a stubborn person already. We all make mistakes in our judgments. It happens to all of us, every day. Instead of being adamant despite being wrong, admit your mistakes.

Every now and then, analyse your past; the times when you jumped to a conclusion, and it proved to be a mistake subsequently. Reminding yourself of your mistaken opinions and consequent losses will help you avoid jumping to conclusions, and in turn, avoid being stubborn in your viewpoints.

Lesson Seven: Keep Your Ego Aside

While making your opinion about anything, don’t lose sight of your end goal. What do you want to achieve at the end? Don’t let your ego and biases overshadow your objectives. Let me finish by reminding you the story when Steve Jobs joined hands with Bill Gates— his archrival— in order to save the drowning ship of Apple. Keep your ego aside, keep moving forward.

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