The greatest misconception we have about life is that it’s binary. We have a natural tendency to view ourselves and others as attractive or plain, intelligent or naive, compassionate or ruthless, witty or dull, or a myriad other such evaluations.
These categorizations often have dramatic effects on a person’s behavior especially those who may be more toward the rarely confident end of the confidence spectrum. A vivid example that comes to mind is when I arrived at the library a few minutes before it opened.
It was cold outside and there was another car in the lot when I arrived. Shortly after I got there, the person in the other car got out and went to the library doors and waited. I knew from prior experience that the doors opened to a heated lobby which was separated from the library by a metal gate. When I got to the door, I asked the lady if the doors were locked. She said “I don’t know I didn’t try.” When I opened the door for her she said “My dad always said ‘A lot of hair, but no brains.’”
This woman was living with her father’s judgment some 40+ years after her youth. My question to you is “What perceptions have you embraced and are they serving you well?”
The reality is that each and everyone of us has embraced perceptions of ourselves that don’t serve us well. I’m not exempt any more than the rest of you.
The good news is that we all have the ability to overcome this tendency and the solution is simple…although it does require some work in the early stages.
Spectral nature of life
Life is spectral and situational. The spectrum runs from rarely to consistently and depends on the situation we’re facing. I often receive comments on how calm I remain even in seemingly dire situations, yet if the father of the woman at the library would have been present, I would have railed vehemently at his denigrating, debilitating statement. I have no patience for those who demean others.
While I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, I have to rein in my natural tendency to accept what reaffirms my thinking. Today it takes little effort to do this because I’ve been doing it for some 30+ years, but in the beginning it required a conscious shift in my thinking.
We are all witty at times, it happens so automatically we don’t even recognize it for what it is, consequently these memories aren’t vivid in our memories. At other times, when we’re left speechless, we feel dull. Unfortunately, painful memories seem to have a longer shelf life than the ones in which we shine which is why we often embrace negative impressions more than positive ones. In other words, we feel dull.
Dispelling the misconception
As I mentioned earlier, dispelling the misconception is fairly simple, but it does require effort…conscious, consistent effort until it becomes second nature. My experience is that great strides are seen in as little as one week, with each successive week making your new way of thinking increasingly automatic. Here’s the process.
When you find yourself, or others, labeling you, pause and ask yourself:
- Which spectrum is involved in this judgment? Is this judgment related to attractiveness, wit, intelligence or emotions like compassion, anger, procrastination?”
- How frequently do I act this way? Is it a universal response or only in certain situations?
- Is this where I want to be on the spectrum? In other words, “Does it serve me and others well to continue this behavior?”
- How do I want to react in these situations?
Once you’ve identified where you want to be on the spectrum and what you need to do to get there, memorialize your thoughts so that you can review them shortly after you rise and again just prior to going to bed. Continue this practice for a minimum of a week, preferably until you find that you’re acting in accordance with this new way thinking so naturally that it seems automatic. You’ll be amazed at how quickly this happens.
My goal is writing this blog is two fold:
- To get you to stop categorizing yourself.
- To help you identify where you are on any given spectrum and overcome any natural tendencies that don’t serve you well.
For our kids
When you see kids self-categorizing in ways that are denigrating or debilitating, or embracing others’ negative perceptions, help them see that everything in life is a spectrum that runs from rarely to consistently on whatever spectrum they’re facing.
Help them understand that it’s a natural human tendency to see the negative more readily than the positive because negative emotions tend to be longer-lasting than the positive. In other words, when things go as expected we rarely have any memory of them, but when they don’t go as expected they live vividly in our memories.
It also helps to allow your kids to see your vulnerabilities, where you are on these spectra and how you intend to move more to the ‘consistently’ end of the spectrum for positive behaviors and the ‘rarely’ end for debilitating behaviors. You’ll save your kids a lot of heartache when you help them overcome life’s greatest misconception.
I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your thoughts in a comment.
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