I have two seemingly conflicting beliefs. The first is that whenever possible, it is best to know the truth. By default I think that we sometimes avoid the truth, and we sometimes avoid giving the truth. In almost every case, though, having a clear picture of the truth will allow you to operate more correctly. At the same time, I also believe that holding certain beliefs will benefit you whether they're true or not.
One such belief is that anything is possible. Even in the face of seemingly impossible tasks, I like to believe that maybe I can do it. It's a little bit insane for me to believe that a two-man team of Todd and me can compete against WordPress and Tumblr, but I really believe that we can. Now that we've built something that people really like it's not so crazy, but it was really crazy when we first started. When I got into pickup, I had to believe that I could go from being extremely introverted and awkward to extroverted and sociable. There was little evidence to support that possibility.
I say that these two ideas seem to conflict because I believe that they are actually quite compatible. When looking at the history of others, as well as my own history, I've noticed that we consistently underestimate what we are capable of. Our idea of an honest look at our capabilities is actually further from the real truth than is the assumption that we can do everything.
Rounding up to the nearest 'everything' is not only more accurate than our best critical assessment, it's also much more valuable. The cost of being wrong is usually illusory. If you think that you can become a master violinist, act like it, and turn out to be wrong, you'll still make more progress than if you believe that the ceiling on your ability is lower. At the same time, the cost of incorrectly capping expectations is to provide an artificial ceiling on your achievement. I'm not sure I've ever seen someone progress further than they believed they could.
Believing you can do things that don't seem realistic is a self-supporting belief. You go on faith for a while, and then you actually do exceed a more "realistic" view of your capabilities. That proves to your brain that, at least sometimes, believing that you can do anything is closer to the truth than your best self-assessment. The next time you act on a mix of faith and tentative optimism. Go through enough of these successes and your realistic assessment starts creeping up to believing you can do anything, and the belief becomes easy to support.
Could you become a great artist? Could you start an successful company? Could you date someone amazing? Could you change that crippling bad habit you've lived with forever? Could you give up a lifestyle you're unhappy with and switch to a new one? If self doubt has been holding you back, my suggestion is to try on the belief of "Maybe I Can", and act accordingly. Personally, I believe that you can do just about anything.
EDIT: The meetup is on THURSDAY at 7:15pm at Casa De Luz on Toomey Road in Austin, TX. I accidentally scheduled posts out of order!
Great post Tynan. I really think people underestimate both themselves and others. I totally agree that it's better to believe you can do anything, even if this turns out to be somewhat wrong. At least, at the end of the road, you'll have gotten much more done.
I think it's the same with languages, for example. If you start with the belief that learning a language is way too hard and that you weren't born with the "language gene," chances are this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Building yourself a psychological barrier holding you back from your full potential doesn't bring any benefits!
I think people are way too conservative when they try to estimate what they can or can't do.
I think the three main reasons for that are:
1. Immediate circle of people who surround them. People tend to look at the results of those who are around them and assume that these results are pretty much all there is. E.g. when you are a girl and you are used to all girls around you doing 10 push-ups, you see 20 push-ups as impressive, 30 as very hard, and 40-50 out of your reach, however if all girls around you did 20 push-ups, your perceptions of the difficulty level of 30, 40, or 50 push-ups would change accordingly.
2. Misinterpreting statistics and averages. People tend to look at statistics that say that most people who try to do a particular thing fail (true in many fields) and then conclude that if they will try to do a particular thing they will also most likely fail. The problem with that is that these statistics only show failure/success ratio, but don't show the reasons behind failures and successes, and hence create a false impression that they are largely beyond our control. Steve Pavlina has a good article on that, What are the odds of becoming a black belt?, where he explains this using the analogy of getting a black belt: most people never get a black belt because they quit too soon, however, if you put in enough work and time, then it's very reasonable to expect to become a black belt. Also, failure/success ratios are also highly affected by people quitting after they first failure, because if you fail your first black belt exam, but keep pushing, it's reasonable to expect that you will sooner or later pass the exam, whether on your 2nd try or on your 10th try.
3. Misinterpreting lack of a visible talent for inability to master the subject, e.g. many people who have never shown a talent for physical exercise assume that they can't learn parkour. I know it sounds cheesy, but usually it's the case that anyone can learn almost anything to an advanced level if they put in enough time and effort into it, no matter what their initial ability in that field was. Naturally talented people learn faster, meanwhile not naturally talented people learn slower, but everyone can get to a certain skill level in most cases. You simply have to be willing to put in the time.
There are things that we can't do (for example, as a 23 year old without any previous training in gymnastics, I'm not very likely to win the Olympic gold medal in gymnastics in this lifetime), but those comprise a small portion of things that we assume that we can't do, since we could achieve most things that we deem impossible if we would put in enough time and effort.I like the Chinese saying "Those who consider something to be impossible should not interrupt those who are doing it".
By default I think that we sometimes avoid the truth, and we sometimes avoid giving the truth.
Yea, sometimes felt this way.. I like this post :)
It took me 31 years until I started to believe that. And since then I've tried a lot of things, and have only been successful at some of them. But even those "unsuccessful" attempts turned into something as if my belief guided me to the perfect outcome that would leave me with something valuable and strengthen the idea that I can do anything.
Interesting you decided to write about this because I watched a video from RSD a couple weeks ago about selecting your blind spots. There's a lot of things such as the nature of the universe where we're simply left to guess what is true.
I think that in those cases it's best to just pick whatever belief system will give you the best results. Deluding yourself for your own good should never be frowned upon.
Tynan, I randomly clicked on your Steve Pavlina blog post. Do you still believe in psychics? Any thoughts on exploring that?
Reading that post, I'm sort of surprised that I said I believed in psychics. I do remember leaving and being pretty shocked at all of her stories, though.
After that meeting a friend did one of her readings and recorded it, so I got to listen to it impartially. I thought that her advice was spot-on and that she very quickly "understood" my friend and empathized with him, but I didn't hear anything that would make me believe she was psychic. The interesting part was that he did feel as though she was psychic, I think.
I believe that she is very empathetic, great at reading people, and offers good advice, but not that she has supernatural powers (or that such powers exist).
Tynan, You have momentum right now. There are times when everything goes your way, like rolling a ball down hill. And, when things are not going your way, it seems like nothing you can do to turn them around quickly.
It may seem like that, but I don't actually believe it's ever true. Momentum is self-created, just by taking small steps in the right direction.
I'm looking at it like this, you have a lot of people subscribing and reading your blog. You don't control what "people" do, what they like, what their loyalties are. You have a product that is popular right now, and appears to be growing, and you keep doing small steps in the right direction. You are seeing growth from all that you are doing. You have no way to control how many people like it or like you. I like you a lot. I feel like I know you.
Last night I was watching a program on TV. The program was about Michael Jackson's music sales. Did you know Michael Jackson's sales are better since he has been dead than when he was alive. The executor of his estate was asked, "What are you doing to make this happen?". He replied, "Nothing, People have just got into his music again. I hope it stays this way."
My point is MJ hasn't done any "small steps" since he has been dead. And, the show producer pointed out that things could have easily turned out the other way where people viewed MJ as a sicko child predator.
In poker, you make money whenever your opponent plays differently than he would if he knew what cards you have. When you do the same, you lose money. In other words, whenever you act in a way that you wouldn't if you knew the truth, you're making a mistake.
The same could be said for a lot of life. The more of the truth you face and accept, the better off you're going to be. Sometimes it's hard to hear the truth and sometimes it's even harder to accept it, but we're always better off when we do. This is one of the reasons my good friends and I always give each other harsh criticism: it helps us see and accept the truth.
There's one counterpoint to this idea that I'll suggest: sometimes you're better off intentionally believing things that aren't true, even when you know they aren't true. This is a special sort of of belief, though, because you know that it's not completely accurate, but you decide to act as though it is, and to truly try to feel as though it is.
I'll give you a few examples that I hold:
I started reading a book entitled You Are Not Your Brain written by Jeffrey Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding. The authors specialize in a field of study called neuroplasticity, which is when neural pathways change in the brain due to changes in behavior or the environment, for better or worse. In their book, they claim that we can direct these changes as opposed to having them change against our will.
They use the example of a woman who suffered from a stroke and her journey through rehabilitation and recovery. Parts of her brain shut down as a consequence of that event, but through effort, she was able to regain certain functions that were ultimately assigned to other active parts of her brain. She used her behavior and her environment to recover from otherwise tragic circumstances. She was persuaded that by making the changes necessary, she could reverse the damage.
The word "persuaded" is important because it comes up whenever Jesus talks about faith. You see, faith is being persuaded and convicted by truth. Sometimes, when Jesus healed someone, he would tell them that their faith made them well. And other times he would tell the people that he healed to go and sin no more. So, there's an element of belief and another of action. Remember that time Jesus couldn't heal anyone in a town that had so little faith? (It's in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew.)
So, how do neuroplasticity and Jesus go together?
As I read this new book and when I reflect on the gospels, I see Jesus directing more than doing. I see him teaching, conducting, and persuading. He's showing people that they can be restored, but they have to do two things: