We are born (for the purposes of this conversation) a blank screen. As we grow, the stories written on our screen are a result of what we see, hear and experience. Some are inspirational and supportive; open ended stories that allow for exploration and interpretation. Some are scribbled tales of mis-perception, limitation, rigidity and prejudice. The authors of these stories reward us in word and deed, confirming we are on the right track. And so these stories, written by parents, peers and experiences, role models and mentors, culture and popular media shape how we react to life.
How much of what we download is of value and how much is not? In this technological paradise we are bombarded daily by a barrage of opinion and advice. The filters through which we perceive and navigate life are a result of this ongoing “marketing campaign”.
What happens when the strategies you have learned fail to deliver the outcome you expect?
Do you feel betrayed, confused and demoralized? How the hell, when I’ve done everything by the book, could things turn out so horribly wrong?
But which book? Let’s look at relationships for example. Surely once we meet and fall in love with the mate of our dreams, happiness and harmony just follows automatically? That after all is what many role models, novels, songs, movies and cultural beliefs lead us to expect. But as most of us know happy-ever-after can be pretty illusive. Sometimes it feels more like being catapulted into purgatory.
Then when it doesn’t work out for the third, fourth or fifth time, we start to assume that either there are a lot of flawed “products” for sale, or that we are lacking some essential ingredient.
What we do know is that this game sucks and we’re left wondering whether it’s worth the effort.
A similar process can happen when you’re seeking success, financial freedom or health and wellbeing. We identify what it is we want. We acquire what we are told are the necessary knowledge and skills. We launch ourselves into manifesting this desire with absolute confidence. We think positive, put in the work, apply the rules we’ve learned—and wait for the goods to be delivered to our door, as expected.
Only they aren’t…. In fact sometimes it looks more like all the neighborhood dogs took a dump on your doorstep instead! Where’s that blissful love affair; that soaring success; that awesome wealth, perfect health or happiness?
What went wrong with my order! And whoever or whatever is to blame is going to pay for this we yell.
Like children, when our expectations aren’t met we tend to react in anger. Making the opposing party do what we know is right becomes supremely important. It’s logical isn’t it? Since what we have been taught to believe is proof that we are right—the other party must be wrong. And the more we feed our sense of being wronged the wider it spreads. This is how we develop generalized prejudices—against those of another gender, socio-economic level, culture or institution.
And the more this myth is fed the more real it becomes and the more impossible to re-assess; to look at the bigger picture; to entertain the idea that maybe both sides have a point; to take circumstantial and historical evidence into account; to find out what drives the behavior. It prevents us from fully understanding or building bridges. We are too invested in our right/wrong, guilty/innocent, rich/poor, pro/anti stand. In short, it’s just like a preschooler’s playground fight! We even form alliances just as we did back then who’s on my team? Our team is against your team.
But holding onto blame doesn’t come cheap. Pride, righteousness and defensiveness are very energy expensive emotions. They’re exhausting and high maintenance—and they prevent us from questioning and learning.
Much of what we learned about how relationships, or businesses, or money, or health was in fact wrong? What if our belief system has been polluted by hand-me-down myths and misconceptions? Above all what if this polarized thinking that is so rife in western culture is the problem?
Focusing exclusively on one extreme or the other prevents us from seeing the bigger picture; from seeing things in context. It gives us a distorted view of reality—and our reactions are then based on that distortion.
What if our beliefs are the problem?
What if we question the premises we are basing our lives on? What if we reframe our view of life? Wouldn’t it allow us an infinitely broader vision, provide a multitude of problem resolution tools we don’t have access to now; and wouldn’t it help us build bridges, instead of spark conflicts?
Western society’s emphasis on “failure” has a lot to answer for. We are so terrified of admitting “failure” that we avoid being “wrong” at all costs—which condemns us to a very limited field of vision and understanding—and unnecessary stress. What if the words “failure” and “wrong” don’t actually exist?
Here are some examples of how our bodies and minds are biologically designed to misperceive reality, no matter how smart or accomplished we are:
- “There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.” – Robert Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1923
- “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” – Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
- “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” – Bill Gates, 1981
- “The super computer is technologically impossible. It would take all of the water that flows over Niagara Falls to cool the heat generated by the number of vacuum tubes required.” – Professor of Electrical Engineering, New York University
- ”This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us”. – Western Union internal memo, 1876.
- “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible” – Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895
- “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value” – Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre , France .
- “Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy” – Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.
- “The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon,” – Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.
Let’s face it – human beings are prone to being psychologically partially sighted!
Worse still, we are convinced we have perfect vision.
Although it takes courage, and can sometimes lead to a (temporary) sense of loss and disillusionment, don’t be afraid to challenge long-held beliefs. Question the validity of your favorite ideas. Question your formulas and rigid assumptions about relationships, business, financial management, health or happiness; about life itself and the way the world works. Run everything through these criteria:
Does what I believe about this support or sabotage the outcome I desire?
In short, question and calibrate those absolutes. Find the confidence and balance that allows you to comfortably and productively examine other perspectives, without trading off your core values. Sometimes you have to step outside of the person you think you are and be the person you aspire to be. We cannot be both comfortable and courageous. Courage doesn’t cohabit with comfort. So why not let curiosity lead the way?
You will notice an interesting thing start to happen – the frequency and intensity of confrontations, problems and stress in your life will decrease. I guarantee it!