I ask every person I interview “If money was not an issue, how would you spend your life?” Almost everyone answers, traveling! As human beings, we love travel. Studies show that we are more optimistic about our work after travel and we improve social connections and communication skills1. Among other things, traveling alone can boost confidence, provide a greater peace of mind and bring you more in touch with yourself2.
On a recent expedition, I had several realizations of my own. Among them, five reasons why we love to travel!
Your Dreams Are Out There
I’ve traveled a lot in the past. When I landed in Denver, Co. the other day, I was so relieved that the mountains were all still there! Sounds crazy, but there’s a metaphor here. Traveling and having this experience reminded me, that our (your) dreams are still out there. And just like the mountains that I don’t experience everyday, my (your) dreams are an achievable experience as well.
You know, your dreams – the things that you’re working on day in day out with that day job and all the stress!
When you have changes of scenery to this degree, you’re reminded there is wonder outside of your normal experience.
Anything is still possible.
You Get To Know Yourself, Again
If you’re traveling alone, you get a lot of uninterrupted time with your thoughts. When you’ve got the mental space, this can be liberating. You reset your purposes and intentions, grieve and heal from recent stresses. The opportunity to think deeply about the meaning of the most recent events in your life is afforded. You have the chance to recalibrate.
Likely, there was a time when you were in a similar mental space. This initial experience enabled you to identify the hopes and dreams that drove you in the first place. Traveling alone can get you to that place once again. It can help you you take stock and adapt to the current landscape of life.
It Changes You
The openness dimension of our personality is one of the Big Five Personality traits researchers use to differentiate our personalities. A study from 2013 reports that especially when traveling in a foreign country, your level of openness can increase3. This adaptation can reduce your tendency to be emotionally reactive in your daily life, and thus your stress level decreased.
Your perception changes. Your world doesn’t seem as unmanageable. Something transcendent happens.
Travel makes you healthier. Women and men who don’t take an annual vacation are more likely to die. And men who don’t vacation are 30% more likely to get heart disease8.
For god sakes, go on vacation!
It’s Who We Are
It is widely believed that for 99% of human history, we’ve been nomadic. There weren’t villages, cities or towns. We were born to move around the globe5. The longing to do so is in our DNA. As a matter of fact, gene DRD4-7R is called the wanderlust gene. It is correlated with high levels of curiosity and restlessness6. This particular gene is present in 20% of the population7. So you have a one in five chance at being a natural nomad. No matter, it is in our very souls, the desire to travel.
It’ll Make You Smarter and More Creative
There are many different theories on how human beings learn. From behaviorism to situated learning theory, they all seem to have their own versions of building blocks. You can’t learn one concept without having some knowledge of a related or adjacent concept. Traveling increases your experience, which can in turn increase your library of concepts. You’re more worldly, smarter.
Experiences traveling increase the depth of thought and the need to make connections between dissimilar concepts. This process is often the genesis of creativity8.
Traveling is a wonderful thing. A sense of adventure can always shake up the mundane. I love traveling. Whether by car or train, plane or on foot, I was born to be on the move.
Our beliefs about politics are personal. We don’t like to discuss our beliefs as a measure of self-protection. Often, for good reason. Here are some things to keep in mind about politics and our interactions with other humans.
In civilized company, it’s something we’re not to discuss. It’s divisive, personal and uncomfortable. Yet, it’s implied and assumed in almost everything we do. From the car you drive to your feelings on vaccinations and face masks. It is widely assumed these feelings are related to your political positions. People are more afraid now in 2020 to share political beliefs compared to in 201714.
Drive a Toyota?
Your a Democrat.
Why can’t you believe in universal healthcare and also be republican? Why can’t you support the second amendment and also believe that Obama was the best president of all time? My gut feeling is that you can and many do. Many (and perhaps most) of us may have feelings similar to this. Feelings that don’t allow us to neatly fit into any one category.
The psychology that drives our political persuasion is a complicated proposition. The divides caused in our current societal climate make it relevant to each of our daily lives.
It has long been noted that discussing politics should not take place in civilized company. A recent study from the University College London found that the more differing viewpoints are shared, the more each of us remain cemented in our viewpoint. Further, sharing differing viewpoints causes us to pass judgement on the other1. This may give rise to bias blindspot. This is the belief that we are less biased than the rest of the general population2. The more we discuss politics, the more we become blind to whether our own ideas are well developed or not. By extension, less open to other’s ideas.
So, this old adage seems to hold.
You Believe More of What You Already Know
The concept of motivated reasoning is ever present in our discussion of politics. Motivated Reasoning is the bias to make a decision based on what we already know3. For example, if an individual does not believe racism towards African Americans to be an endemic problem in our society, they may be more likely not accept the ideas inspiring the Black Lives Matter movement.
Are You Good at Math?
The concept of numeracy refers to your ability to reason and apply numerical concepts. Research has show that the greater your ability in this area, the more susceptible you are to letting politics skew your reasoning5. For example, if you are shown data that a product is likely cause health problems, you are far more likely to ignore this fact in regards to a solution in a political context than without.
Further studies suggest a cure for this phenomenon. Scientific curiosity. The more scientifically curious we are, the less likely we are to be swayed into partisan thinking regardless of political affiliation or bias6. Folks who are scientifically curious are more likely to seek out information that challenges their group’s ideas. Paradoxically, the higher the level of numeracy the more likely you are to be politically biased.
Politics Can Hurt
Studies show that having a deeply held belief challenged can truly hurt us emotionally7. Scientists believe this is due to our own personal identities feeling threatened.
Liberal ideas bloom from a prioritization of equality, fairness, and protection of the vulnerable. Conservative ideas often favor in-group loyalty, moral purity, and respect for authority5. These are deeply personal ideas. We may find these concepts as intertwined in our own personal identities. Arguing that one concept should be valued above the others can be disturbing to many of us.
You Don’t Know How To Argue
The moral rhetoric of conservatism and liberalism doesn’t seem to be able to sway the other side. A study done in 20158 finds arguments that win us over are not those that will change the hearts and minds of our counterparts in opposition5. The logic finds its fault in that we are more easily swayed by those who already believe 98% of what we believe9,10. Only 9% of liberals and 8% of the conservatives in the study made arguments reflecting the others’ moral principles5,7. Instead, they argued their own moral ideas. The ideas that support why they believe what they believe. Trying to persuade others using the supporting ideas defining our beliefs is not a recommended strategy in bringing others around to our views.
Research also shows that we are more flexible than we think once the feelings of personal attack are removed. In a study, participants received false feedback regarding their political attitudes. For example, the participants’ views were summarized incorrectly often taking the opposite position in political stances. The positions were followed up on later the same day and the following week. Their attitudes were shown to have moved significantly in the direction of the incorrect feedback11.
Often during the election cycle, there is cultural discourse around what could happen if one candidate doesn’t win and visa versa. That is because it works! This is especially true in the context of politics. In one study, it was reported that when white voters were reminded that minorities would be the majority someday, they were more likely to vote for Trump12.
We regress to tribalism when we feel fear13. It becomes in-group/out-group. Who is in our tribe and who do we have to protect ourselves from? As a candidate, President Trump is famously quoted, declaring “Real power is – I don’t even want to use the word – fear.” 15
So What Now?
Politics are deeply personal to many of us. It is a difficult experience to have a family member or close friend be in opposition to our most cherished and passionate beliefs. With the knowledge outlined here, we can do the following:
1. Don’t Discuss Politics
I won’t discuss politics with my family or friends until after the election. For the most part, its divisive and there is judgement that harms the relationship. We feel personally attacked if our beliefs are questioned.
The more we argue to change the other, the more we stay the same.
I don’t believe my family and friends are bad people, stupid or ignorant for what they believe or who they vote for. My experience is different than theirs. In the spirit of our frontal lobes, I want to preserve the relationship. We’re smart enough to do that, aren’t we?
Facts don’t win hearts and minds.
2. Continuously Question Your Beliefs
Many things that I (and I suspect you) believed ten years ago, I no longer believe. This is due to a continuous questioning and searching for what is really important. Be scientifically curious! You’ll end up believing more of what you know, so continue to upload!
Catch yourself if you buy too much into the “Kool Aid” of one side or the other.
If someone close to you wants to discuss, listen. Try to get to what they are really saying. Why do they prioritize one value or one set of values over another?
A strange anxiety hangs in the background of my psychology this year. If you’re like me, when the summer fades a fog moves in. I’m less engaged, tired. There’s a loss of hope and inspiration. I want to sleep all the time.
Older now, I have an anxiety about this state and these feelings. The things I’ve tried in the past during these periods didn’t seem to help. As fall rapidly approaches, I need a gameplan.
How do we defeat SAD?!
In the following we’ll discuss The 4 Things You Should do NOW to help prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is it?
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, is a form of depression most commonly occurring in Fall and Winter. Indicators of SAD include depressed feelings, losing interest in activities once enjoyed, low energy, trouble sleeping, irritation or thoughts of death and/or suicide1.
In particular, SAD symptoms may include oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain, fatigue and low energy. Additionally, overating and loss of interest in sex and physical touch is also common under this condition3. SAD is five times more likely in females2.A less common version of SAD occurs in spring/summer months1. It is believed that 5% of the US population suffer from SAD. Interestingly, the further one is from the equator, the more likely they may suffer from SAD3. The reason for this brings us to the cause.
The days are growing shorter and this means less light. Light’s impact on our little human brains can’t be understated. Light impacts our production of serotonin, the mood hormone3. Without light, less serotonin is produced and our mood is decreased. In fact, serotonin reduces depression and anxiety, heals physical wounds and maintains bone health4.
Darkness causes us to produce melatonin, which causes us to be sleepy. On a larger scale, melatonin controls our sleep cycle. Light, conversely, causes the pineal gland to stop production5. This change screws up our sleeping patterns or circadian rhythm. Lack of sleep is tied to just about every health issue from diabetes to heart health and of course, mental health6. Sleep is so impactful on health, even a small adjustment. During the “spring ahead” phase of daylight saving time, research has shown a 25% increase in heart attacks the day after losing one hour of sleep. Also, strokes, fatigue, headaches and car accidents are more frequent. Conversely, the fall back causes night to fall soon and so, depression diagnosis spike 7.
The 4 Things You Should do NOW (the “Gets”)
1. Get Lit!
Treat the cause: lack of light. Light therapy boxes are designed to substitute sunlight during the darker parts of the year. Just thirty minutes a day with a light box (preferably first thing in the morning) has benefitted 85% of SAD cases in clinical settings3 . Doctors recommend a lightbox with a rating of 10,000 lux. The light should be 16-24 inches from your face8. You can purchase one of these a many retailers for $20-100 on the low end.
2. Get Down with D! Vitamin D, that is!
There is a link between vitamin D and serotonin production9. Patients diagnosed with SAD often have low levels of vitamin D3. Of course the other way that we produce vitamin D is through sunlight. Lightboxes and tanning beds can produce vitamin D in the body. However, doctors warn against the potential danger of cancer in certain uses10.
Eat food high in vitamin D such as salmon, crimini mushrooms, fortified yogurt and orange juice and eggs11. Or take a vitamin D supplement. Most of us need about 600 IU (international units) per day or about 400 MG (conversion IU X .67 = 600 X .67= 402)12.
3. Get Physical
Even a walk for 30 to 60 minutes can help produce serotonin and other chemicals in the brain that will help with SAD. Rhythmic exercises moving both your arms and legs (IE running or martial arts) are best13. Aerobic exercise has been shown to raise serotonin levels for hours after a workout and improve sleep quality14.
4. Get Together
While experiencing seasonal affective disorder, it may be difficult to get motivated to be social. However, the benefits of a standing social engagement (IE a group or club) are many. Take a yoga class or schedule a coffee date. The effect is described as a a “one-two punch”. First, you get the boost of looking forward to the activity and then you get the benefit of the activity itself15! Fill your calendar with these types of activities to avoid falling into the SAD trap of isolation.
As we get into fall, these 4 “GETS” will become even more important. So Get Lit! Get Down With D! Get Physical! And Get Together!
As an undergrad majoring in psychology, I was moved and inspired by the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory. Often referred to as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI, this personality test is perhaps the most controversial of its kind. Critics claim the science supporting MBTI doesn’t add up. On the other hand, those who do believe in its utility often do so in the extreme.
Upon first taking the test, I was revealed as an INTJ. Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging. According to the book, Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsy, this was less than 2% of the population! At that point in my life, I truly felt alien to my fellow humans. The test proved my feeling, I was rare! It also gave a sense of normalcy to my experiences and thoughts. Among other things, it reported that I couldn’t stand small talk! Wow! I was reading my fortune!
Many other aspects of the INTJ type seemed to illustrated my personality. The way I chose mates, patterns of thought, the way I physically held myself…. I was amazed. I suddenly became the guy who was giving this test out to people at parties.
Also, taking the test many times throughout the years, I always was revealed to be the same type, INTJ. And so, the test appeared to be reliable. I gave it to girlfriends, friends, family members and strangers. I wanted to know them, of course. But more importantly, I used the test to explain myself.
INTJ’s live in their heads, have a hard time with intimacy and may not check in with you for years. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
This was a helpful tool, it explained the abstract way I express love. I did this by vulnerability and sharing deep…thoughts. Not feelings, exactly. But thoughts on feelings.
Nonetheless, the MBTI has had a great impact on my life.
Today, the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory is somewhat controversial and ignored in the psychology field. Take a free version of it HERE. Or the official version HERE, for $50!
This is your ultimate guide to the MBTI.
What Does it Measure?
The MBTI evaluates four dimensions.
First, Introversion vs. Extraversion. (I vs. E)
Introversion is described as getting “energy from [one’s]…inner world”. Extraverted people are excited around others and like to excite others by talking and relating.
Next, Sensory vs. Intuitive (S vs. N).
This is really about how you take in and process information. Sensory leaning folks tend to simply believe what they see or hear. Intuitive folks tend to try to make some meaning out of the things they see or hear.
Third, Thinking vs Feeling (T vs F).
This, not as simple as it seems on its face, refers to decision making. Thinkers consider facts and ideas whereas Feelers tend to consider people and their feelings.
Finally, Perceiving vs. Judging (P vs. J) describes how you present yourself outwardly.
Perceivers are spontaneous and adaptable, whereas ‘Judgers’ are more structured and organized6.
You are asked a series of questions measuring which end of the four (4) sliding scales you end up on. Then, based on these results, you get a 4 letter designation. I, if you are more Introverted than Extraverted, S if you are more Sensory vs Intuitive and so on.
From these distinctions, the 4 letters reveal your ‘type’. Your personality is described from your type.
One of the cornerstones of standardized test is reliability. Essentially, a reliable test should measure the same things, the same way each time. If those measurements are applied consistently, the same results should be provided. Researchers have found that 50% of those who take the MBTI get a different result when retaking the test five weeks later3,13. Professor of Psychology, (University of Pennsylvania) Adam Grant, says the test is not reliable, valid, independent or comprehensive1. Critics also report the test is widely embraced because it leaves out the negative. It celebrates personality without qualifying it into good or bad3.
The MBTI was influenced by Carl Jung’s archetypes. Some researchers refer to it as the “Jungian Horoscope”10. The mother/daughter team that forged the inception of the MBTI had no specific training in psychology. Rather, they were enamoured by the idea of understanding and classifying personality in types. Associate Professor at Oxford University, Merve Emre, reports a similar story to the one I reported. She came across the test and upon taking it, felt “seen” for the first time. She wanted to use this language of personality. Through careful study, she eventually became a skeptic. Emre believes that personality is not fixed. Instead, the MBTI is based on the “fantasy” of human “characters” having a “knowable interior”2.
The psychology field virtually overlooks the MBTI completely. There is effectively no scholarly published research on the test. It has been ignored by the scholarly journals. Instead much research focuses on the Five-Factor Model, based on current research driven ideas about personality8.
Meyers-Briggs Die Hards
In several places there are stories of people discovering their MBTI type and it being very eye opening to them. This includes Jennifer Fayard, PhD and writer for Psychology Today7. Professor Emre, Oxford University, reports that the test is “a portal to an elaborate practice of talking and thinking about who you are.”2 On the question of validity, the Myers-Briggs company claims that the source of much of the criticism is from very old studies. Since the publications of these studies, the company has continued to do its own research and improved the test.
The MBTI does not predict job performance. However, it does seem to be predictive of the satisfaction experienced in the professional role. In example, those who test a P (perceiving) are thirteen times more likely to be a Rhode Scholar5. So there is some predictive value to the “test”.
The MBTI is the most popular personality test in the world. It is more relatable than modern versions of personality assessments. IE The Enneagram or the Big Five15.
The nature of identity and personality is messy. It’s very human. Dr. Emre sums it up well in the following:
The Power Of Relatable
So two women, before the true dawn of the field of psychology, begin to measure person-related traits. The traits should be predictive of personality. This mother/daughter team create the most popular personality test in history, and it remains so long after they are gone.
The MBTI is much more relatable. It is easier to view yourself as introverted or extraverted, as opposed to mentally framing your level of agreeableness. Then, to further simplify, with MBTI you are assigned letters representing your results: IE INTJ, ENTP etc. These designations (16 combinations) have been given names by several different authors and researchers. Consequently, the translation from the four letter designation to one word title like teacher, make it much easier to connect the results to reality. The Enneagram, for comparison, simply relates that you are “Type 2”. You can easily look this up, but the phrase “type 2” doesn’t reveal anything about your personality.
David Keirsey, Author of Please Understand Me II, provided an enhanced framework with which to look into MBTI.
In the graphic to your left, the names of each type designation made it even more relatable while also building on the Myers-Briggs foundational research.
The Most Celebrated Personality Test of All Time
While the critics are many, the MBTI is the most popular personality test of all time. And again, if it’s not as scientifically savvy as what is expected, it serves as a starting point and useful framework to self-discovery. One of the most entertaining pieces of MBTI culture is the describing of MBTI types by using characters from popular culture, movies, video games or TV. All of this brings the MBTI into our lives and culture, connecting to us in powerful way.
In sum, the MBTI is a great place to start as a tool for self-discovery. While the scientific and diagnostic elements are not observed by the scientific community (and perhaps rightly so), the value is the framework and insight into personality. It also is useful in providing the language to express internal processes and experiences that may not have been possible without it.
Case Study: ME
In the early 2000’s, I discovered the MBTI through Keirsey’s book. I was certainly inspired by the thought that I wasn’t “broken”. My personality was out there, it was studied. The idea behind the book was incredible: please understand where I am coming from. Without this idea, I would be left with Catholic school’s teaching of good vs evil to understand human behavior. The MBTI seeded in me the belief that diplomacy was a useful in dealing with humanity. I took the test several times and always got the same results: INTJ, the MASTERMIND. I loved this name. While it did a lot to explain in neutral terms many of my behaviors, there are some things it didn’t quite connect with.
While I apparently had the outward appearance of confidence (which did rear its head from time to time), I often suffered from severe anxiety and fear of judgement from others. I wanted nothing more than for that explanation of confidence to be true. Yet, it often wasn’t. While the personality test describes me as one who is analytical, I used this ability to a neurotic end. I replayed social situations, fantasies and other things. I was obsessive. It provided a foundation in which to think about my personality as well as described traits to strive for. Conversely, it also gave me excuses to not attempt improvement.
Recently, I took the test again. This is the first time I received another designation: ENTJ. Of course, still similar, I am far more extraverted than I was in my youth. This has shown itself in the changing of the I to E. This time, with this knowledge, I’ll be sure not to let it become an excuse or an explanation. Instead, the good reported in my MBTI results will be a goal to improve and maintain. The not-so-good will be areas where I’ll focus improvement efforts. This is the ultimate way to use the MBTI: to begin self-discovery, be proud of who you are and to assist in developing a plan to improve on your shortcomings.
In my early twenties, disgusted by my lack of progress in life, I disassembled and threw away my bed. I wouldn’t allow myself a bed to sleep in until I made something of myself.
Maybe a little over the top?
Yeah. I agree.
I decided I would build myself a loft bed. And so, I got pen and paper and drew up the plans. Measured the room, measured the wood and cut.
Now, I don’t have a “handyman gene” in my body. I can’t build stuff. But my bed turned out pretty darn good. There was enough room underneath for my desk and dresser. It was cool.
The learning piece however, was that something happens when you put pen to paper and plan! The power of thinking before you take action is often key to success.
Planning with good old-fashioned pen and paper has many benefits. The following are 5 perks of personal planning on paper.
1. Planning Sorts It All Out
What is it you’re trying to do?
When you accept there are only so many hours in the day and that you won’t be able to do it all, you’re forced to choose what you’ll spend your time doing. You are forced to face that certain tasks just don’t serve us in the pursuit of our goals.
The simple act of writing down our goals has great impact. In the act of writing, you identify what is important to you. Implied here, is that you are also noting what is not important to you by not writing it. You’re filtering what is and isn’t important1.
You are 42% more likely to achieve your goal if you write it down2. There is a level of accountability and clarity achieved by this simple act.
By handwriting your goal as part of a plan, you are deciding on a direction. If you decided to go west, you cannot also go east, for example. You are narrowing your focus.
Emily Balcetis, psychologist from NYU, believes that simply rearranging the way that we see things visually, changes the way we perceive them. And further, by narrowing our focus, we can achieve more3.
Narrowing focus leads to a greater likelihood of achieving what’s important.
2. Planning Reduces Anxiety, Stress and Fear
Writing a simple to-do list can reduce anxiety and give structure to what needs accomplished4.
The Zeignarnik Effect refers to the mind’s inability to let go of tasks until they are complete. Often the impact is raised anxiety. The simple act of writing it down helps ease this effect5. Just making a plan to get our tasks done can reduce anxiety6.
3. People Who Paper Plan Achieve More
Those who write clear, specific goals become oriented towards that goal. The act of setting a goal sets you in motion towards that goal. Handwriting your goal with specificity increases the likelihood of achievement by 1.2 to 1.4 times8.
Writing helps with a neurological process called encoding. Encoding is the process that determines what will be a long-term memory and what wont. Writing goals down helps them become encoded as long-term memories8.
In a famous Harvard Business study from the 50’s, the 3% of the class who had written goals and a plan to support the goal earned more than ten times the other 97% of the class9.
4. Planning Provides a Competitive Advantage
Most people don’t plan.
As a result, a shocking 92% of people don’t achieve their goals! For a variety of reasons, this is true. Planning enhances the likelihood of achieving goals where others are less likely to follow through10.
5. Planning on Paper is Better for Your Brain
Putting pen to paper to write stimulates neural activity in the brain. The effect is similar to that of meditation11. Writing down the plan can take your brain out of reaction mode and put it in long term thinking mode, lessening the release of stress hormones12.
Relatedly, stress reduces our ability to make informed plans14.
The act of setting goals changes the neural pathways in the brain, optimizing to achieve. The stronger the emotional energy associated with the goal, the more quickly our brains will change to accomodate achievement. In other words, the more you want it, the more your brain sets you up to get it13.
I use and recommend a planner called the #ThisIsMyEra Planner. It is a 90 day planner, totally customizable. Start with your vision of what Your Era should look like. Fill out your master goal list. Break them down into S.M.A.R.T. goals. Then, there is a monthly view, a weekly view and a daily view. Also, a system for daily gratitude and review.
Belief is “the ability to combine histories and experiences with imagination, to think beyond the here and now”1. Our minds are meaning machines. And so it’s pursuit is to find (or create) the meaning of everything. Further, what we consider our reality is a function of what we believe, not visa versa. Throughout human history, people have been either castigated or commended for their beliefs. If you were cast out of the “tribe”, this equated a death sentence. Consequently, our beliefs have evolved to be relevant and important to our lives. Often feeling like a matter of life and death.
And so, these are the four things you need to know about your beliefs.
1. Your Beliefs Are Strongly Influenced By Your Tribe
The feedback that you received as a child strongly influenced what you believe about yourself5. Our caregivers essentially provided initial beliefs regarding ourselves6. It’s fair to point out that with this initial piece of learning, that we also began the process of belief by taking on others’ beliefs about us. Also, we also began to make decisions about others based on the way we were treated by them. If we were loved and nurtured, then we are likely to have the belief that people are loving and nurturing5.
At times, we have beliefs only to ensure that we are accepted in our tribes. James Clear writes “The people who are most likely to change our minds are the ones we agree with on 98 percent of topics”3. In other words, the people we’re closest to influence us the most. Often referred to as Social Proximity Effect6, we mirror those who we spend the most time with7. This is true with beliefs as well. Asking someone to change their minds on a core belief is akin to asking they change tribes3. A difficult proposition indeed.
2. What You Believe Determines Your Reality…Not The Other Way Around
This idea is true culturally. For almost one hundred years it was said that a human being could not run a mile in four minutes. That is, until 1954 when Roger Maris did just that. Since then, more than one thousand others have completed this feat. Time did not change, nor did the devices or units we used to measure human running speed. However, what did change was the belief that it could be done8. Consequently, many have changed their beliefs regarding the four minute mile.
Our core beliefs are often considered in making decisions in our lives. Because of this, it is important that the quality of our beliefs will cause us to “run a four-minute mile”. That they will inspire our success. But all to often, our beliefs are self-limiting.
I am not attractive enough
I want great relationships as long as I don’t get hurt
“X” is wrong with me, I don’t deserve love9
Dr. Bobby Hoffman provides a good framework to think about how powerful beliefs drive our perceptions.
First, control. People who believe that they are in control of their lives are more accountable for their own success and failures. They feel they have the ability to orchestrate their lives, relationships and career.
Second, competency can determine the likelihood of performing on tests and completing tasks. Task avoidance, on the other hand, is tied to a feeling of incompetence.
Third, value. The value that we believe is derived from completing a task will often direct our behavior to complete the task.
Goal orientation is the fourth self-belief that drives our perceptions. The more goal oriented we are (especially when we get to the top of this “scale” to Mastery Performer), the more likely we are to try varying strategies to achieve goals and monitor our progress.
And finally, epistemology or the belief about the acquisition, application and usefulness of knowledge determines how we perceive knowledge, information and problem solving in general10.
Research has found time and time again, that what we believe about an outcome influences the outcome11.
3. There Are Things That You Believe, That Are Simply Untrue
Climate change is a political hoax.
The Earth is flat.
Brain cells can’t regenerate. T
here were three wise men.
Caffeine dehydrates you.
Adam and Eve ate an apple.
What do all of these statements have in common? They are all commonly held false beliefs.
Perhaps most interestingly, even in the face of evidence, we tend to hold on to false beliefs. If we believe that we know a lot about a topic, our level of curiosity lowers. Therefore, we don’t explore the idea any further and it “sticks”12. Confirmation Bias posits that we tend to discount ideas that contradict what we already believe13. I put some effort into ensuring that in the list of “false beliefs” listed above, there were examples that would ruffle feathers. That’s your confirmation bias at work.
Some 25% of Americans report being superstitious. Superstition is most commonly described as recognizing, fearing or celebrating “co-occurring, non-related events.”14 Many times superstitions can become self-fulfilling prophecies. In a study completed in China, students born during the year of the Dragon were examined. Chinese astrology points to those born the year of the dragon being “destined for good fortune and greatness.” The study found that due to this belief by the children’s parents, the parents behavior changed in ways that caused the children’s performance in school to be enhanced. The parents expected more of their children, spoke with their teachers more than other students and more often incentivised performance15.
4. We Can Change Our Beliefs And Other’s…But Not How You Think
When I was young, my girlfriend’s father provided an old adage: “When you’re young, if you’re not liberal you don’t have a heart. When you’re old, if your not conservative you don’t have a brain.” Well, ladies and gentlemen, I was the tin man and am now the flighty scarecrow.
We can change what we believe. Implicit in the definition of belief is experience and history. Much has happened to change those things in my life. Experience will change conceptions. These changes will alter our beliefs. We are a process.
Harvard Professor John Sharp recommends the following:
Be the editor of your life story. If life’s not manifesting what you want, change the script. Make the decision to change.
Divergence Point. Where does your story break from the reality? Identify. Start here.
Is the story you’re telling yourself really true? Is it too negative? Does it hide bad habits? What does it conceal? Is there a blindspot?
Think Self-Appreciation vs Self-Deprecation. You’re beliefs are intertwined with your identity. It takes time. Be patient with you.
Ditch the Old Story. “Cut away what no longer serves you.”16
You are not your beliefs. Although tightly tied with identity, belief is continually changing in us. C.S. Lewis was famously an atheist turned Christian. Vader comes back from the dark side, in the end. Even to yourself, be kind first and right later3.