Our self-talk can impose serious limitations on our lives when we state an opinion as a fact and when we use this as inarguable justification for our action or inaction.
Let’s say Laura is mulling over her financial situation. Her health insurance premiums as a freelance writer are eating up her monthly income, but she doesn’t want to get a full-time job because she’ll have to write about topics she hates all the time, and she’ll never be able to write about things she enjoys.
If I were to sift through her mental conversation, these look like factual statements to me:
Laura’s health insurance costs are x, which represents 35% of her income.
Laura wants to pay less for her health insurance.
A full-time job is one possible option for accessing lower-cost health insurance.
These, however, are untested assumptions, not facts:
A full-time job will require her to only write about topics she hates.
A full-time job will prevent her from writing about things she enjoys.
Now, I’m not even advocating that Laura run out and get a full-time job. What I am advocating is that Laura–and I myself, and all of us–look at our untested assumptions, particularly when they are having a direct impact on how we act or don’t act.
Our assumptions and biases set up blind spots in our lives. If Laura is determined that all full-time positions represent misery, is it possible that she is subconsciously filtering out information to the contrary, such as job listings and other career opportunities that could be enjoyable?
Consider this passage from Amy E. Herman’s book Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life:
The process of sorting out the pertinent or important from the inordinate amount of information received by our senses is quick, involuntary, and, scientists believe, somewhat unconscious. The brain scans information received from our environment until something captures our attention; only then is it uploaded into our consciousness. Since our capacity for attention is finite, only a relatively small amount of input is ‘realized.’ Information that is not categorized passes through the brain unassimilated; it exists, but we don’t perceive it.
What is one of the ways that our brain creates a shortcut when sifting out what’s important and what’s not? Through our biases.
In the words of Anaïs Nin, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”
Seeing With New Eyes
Later in the book, Herman outlines a simple three-step process for addressing the biases that each and every one of us has.
- Start by becoming aware of your biases and work on releasing the unhelpful ones.
We all have biases. If you are a human being, you have them. With that in mind, all of us can benefit from looking at what our individual biases are. You don’t have to share them with other people; this can be a private process, so no shame, no blame. Just honest, compassionate self-reflection.
Once you’ve identified a bias, ask yourself the following questions (taken directly from Herman’s book):
Are my prejudices or my way of viewing things limiting how I listen to and communicate with others? Are my biases helpful or harmful to me and my success?
If they are limiting or harmful, work to release them. Simply being aware of our biases can go a long way in this department, and then it’s a matter of recognizing when they crop up in daily life and consciously choosing to explore other ways of seeing the situation.
If you find your “all full-time jobs are utter shit” bias rearing its head, pause and look at the situation from another angle. Try asking yourself: What are some positive things about this job opportunity? Pretend that you’re trying to convince someone else that this job is a good opportunity for them–what reasons would you provide?
If this proves too difficult, remove yourself from the situation or otherwise create distance to lessen the effect your biases are exerting. For example, perhaps you ask a friend to read the job description and describe, from their perspective, what they see as the possible pros and cons. Or take a break and do something else. Come back in a few hours and see if you view things differently. Hire a career coach who can provide more objectivity. Book a session with a therapist.
2. “Don’t mistake biases for facts; instead use them to find facts.”
As Herman reminds us, “Our biases are not verified facts. They are feelings and experiences that make us want to believe something, but they aren’t enough to create a conclusion.” (emphasis mine)
A great way to do this is to simply turn your bias into a question. Turn “This full-time job would prevent me from writing on topics I enjoy” into “Would this full-time job prevent me from writing on topics I enjoy?” From here, you now have options. You can go on an interview and ask for examples of topics you’d be asked to write on (in other words, you can test your assumption in the real world, not just in your head), you can set aside time outside of work to write in your journal or on a blog about on topics you love, etc.
A bias is a closed door. Turning it into a question opens the door and invites us to see things we otherwise would have missed. It expands our horizons and broadens our choices and opportunities.
3. Get feedback from others.
Most of us need help pointing out our biases. We’re so used to seeing things one way, it’s hard to conceive that another way exists. Run your conclusion past someone else and truly listen to their feedback. For example, if Laura were to tell me, “I can’t get a full-time job because I’ll never be able to write on topics I enjoy,” well, let’s just say we’d be able to have a lively debate on that one!
To effectively observe, perceive, and communicate factual truths, we must be able to account for our biases and, in many cases, overcome them. And thankfully, science shows that we can with simple awareness and conscious replacement…The human brain is malleable. We can change our perceptions, make new neural connections, and train it to think differently.
Your words, mental and vocal, are powerful. In witchcraft, they are the makings of spells. What magic are you weaving with your words? Is it a magic of expansion and creativity or one of constriction and limitations?
The choice is yours.