In Western culture, there is an urban myth that you can get a wart from touching a frog. If that were the case, my frog-catching son would be constantly covered in warts! So, I know from personal experience this isn’t true. It makes me wonder, however, is how did I learn this cautionary tale as a “truth”, passed on by past generations, despite the fact it’s not based in reality? In fact, I can’t even remember when and where I learned this myth, but I believed it into adulthood, or at the very least, I didn’t question it.
Isn’t this true of so many beliefs? We believe something to be the case even though we can’t remember when we first learned this fact, or even if we did, the person we learned it from has “always known it” so we can’t place the origins. So, in the workplace, when one of those beliefs is more harmful than helpful, such as that a particular colleague or supervisor is incompetent or unethical or mean, can we even place the origins to that belief, and how often do we question if that belief is still warranted? Within ourselves, those beliefs can be about the strengths and skills we’re lacking – what we’re not good at.
When beliefs are this set, we’re able to notice the “evidence” that reinforce that belief to be true rather than believe evidence to the contrary. So too when it comes to beliefs about ourselves. Chris Argryis coined the selection of what we observe of things that fit our beliefs as the “reflective loop”.
If we tell ourselves we’re not good at math, we focus on times when it’s hard, finding evidence for our belief; we ignore the times when we find some modules easier, explain this away with it being “an easy part of the course”. We put less effort into it because it’s “too hard” and we feel our time is best focused on other subjects. It becomes what psychologists call a self-fulfilling prophecy; an originally false understanding of a situation becomes true because this belief evokes a new behaviour reinforcing it. Our belief is reinforced over and over again, to the point we find ourselves with fewer choices of what career we can go into because we don’t have the math prerequisites, and justify this with assuming we wouldn’t do well if we would have to take a subject we were not good at. But what started this belief in the first place? It’s astounding how deeply rooted some of our beliefs about ourselves can become so early in our life, and not even be able to trace it back to when we first began believing it.
This is consistent with “confirmation bias”—another phenomenon with ample evidence to support it. It basically suggests that human beings have natural tendency to seek evidence to support what they believe and ignore (not purposefully but automatically) all evidence that may challenge their thinking.
What if you decided you were going to take a good hard look at what you are “not good at” or skills you “lacked”. What if you were going to consider them a myth – that in fact you did already have a degree of skill, talent or ability already. In other words, it’s not that you don’t have the skill or talent, it might be that you haven’t nurtured it as much as other skills and talents.
Of course we must always select from this vast world of experiences and stimuli what you wish to focus on. I am not suggesting you should try to become good at everything, and that all skills and talents are on the list of those to acquire. However, if there is something you need to reach your goals or are passionate about, consider, just for a while, that the myth you are not good at it is false, and you are going to find a way to prove it!
Good luck in debunking your myths and please share your post of how you have done just that!