Monday, June 22, 2020

Are You a Prisoner of Your Beliefs?

The pandemic standstill is giving us surplus time to think. We need leisure time to plumb the caverns of our minds. Idling about recently, I recalled a talk I once had with a friend who was an accomplished academic.  I was describing to her how fond I am of a certain type of filbert paint brush. She broke in with a sigh, and said: “I’ve always wanted to paint.”  “What’s stopping you?” I asked.

She looked up at me, almost surprised, and said: “That never occurred to me.  My Ph.D. is in political science.  That’s what I’m good at.”  I laughed, and said, “How do you know you won’t be good at painting?”  My question seemed to confuse her.  Her parents drilled it into her that to be a success in life you have to be good at one thing.  She absorbed the belief that she could excel in one thing alone.  I suggested to her that her belief was unnecessarily confining.  Her imagination of what was possible was controlling the way she lived and perceived the world. 

It was anything but useful to be carrying about such a loaded idea. I could only imagine the sack of self-limiting ideas so many of us end up lugging around.  I couldn’t shake my friend’s false assumption about her own abilities.  She had turned one of her beliefs into a prison from which she was unable to escape. She would never try her hand at making an artwork, though I hope I’m wrong about that prediction.

I’m confident that most of us are laboring under beliefs that are working against us.  —and as well against other people.  Now and then it’s probably a good idea to review some of the beliefs we take for granted.   Might be a good exercise to examine some of the stationary furniture of our mental life.  Are we in the grip of assumptions and beliefs that need to be poked and palpated—tested for their vital signs?  Challenged for their truth and usefulness.

Are we operating with a minimally optimizing worldview?  You have to ask this question of yourself.  Our beliefs and assumptions are far more powerful than we realize, and it’s easy to end up the puppets of our own unexamined beliefs.

 A little effort at self-observation can make a difference. Try to catch, isolate, and observe some idea, belief, or attitude, and notice how it helps and hinders you or others.  Locate, identify the noxious belief and then dismantle it. This can be a liberating experience.   I think it’s amazing—a kind of credible miracle—that by patient self-scrutiny the mind can free itself from stereotypical behaviors and beliefs we drag around that impede the full range of our potentials.

For a review of some major miracles of the mind:

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