A lot of people have gone farther than they thought they could because someone else thought they could. – Anonymous
By now, most of my readers are familiar with this author’s metaphor of the “snowman.” It is my representation that all human endeavor flows from one’s unique set of “operative beliefs.” We hold concepts about ourselves, others and the world in general. Those ideas dictate our actions and, ultimately, generate positive or negative feelings and emotions based upon those behavioral choices. Self-understanding involves the fearless exploration of those operative thoughts.
Today, this missive does not seek to identify and consider those beliefs but to contemplate their sources, their origins. Where exactly did those beliefs come from? When did we acquire them? Who authored them? And, most importantly, what it is their impact upon our daily life?
At the risk of simplistic thinking, let’s consider those ideas, our operative beliefs, as falling into one of two categories:
1. Thoughts and beliefs that serve me well.
2. Beliefs and ideas that limit, harm, or narrow me in some way.
To consider the latter category first, let’s use prejudicial thinking. Prejudice is defined as, “judging without requisite information to form a rational opinion or belief.” Prejudice limits me. It keeps me from enjoying and learning from certain individuals because they are a different shade of pigment, hold to another religion, or are from a different part of the world. Prejudice robs me of an opportunity for enrichment, growth, and knowledge.
On the other hand, we have certain beliefs and attitudes that advance our lives. For example, an encouraging teacher or mentor whom we had come to trust may have delivered the message, “You are talented in this area.” or “You can do this.” Their affirming message allowed us to overcome our natural fear of the unfamiliar and venture into areas of progress and success.
Who are these people who blessed (or discouraged) us? A parent or grandparent? A teacher or professor? A mentor from the beginning of our work life? Perhaps our benediction flowed not from a personal contact, but rather from a fictional character that inspired us to be a better person. How many school-aged teens were motivated by Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) to transcend racial bigotry to pursue a career in the law or human services? Thank you, Harper Lee!
So who is the origin of your operative beliefs? If those thoughts do not serve you, it is time to release those thoughts and perhaps avoid those who first implanted them.
But let’s be positive today! Let’s consider our mentors and sources of inspiration. Martin Seligman, a founder and proponent of Positive Psychology, suggests this simple exercise.
1. Consider the source of this positive influence
2. Write a letter to that person or source
3. When possible, deliver it directly to that individual
4. If direct delivery not possible, do the writing anyway. The act itself will have a positive effect on you.
Who are we, and how did we get here? (Reminder: This is a positive exercise. We have already released the negative influences). Follow the above four steps.
It’s time for gratitude and thanks.
What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments but what you have woven into the lives of others. – Pericles