The Lies We Believe About Ourselves

by Leroy on March 17th, 2023. Last updated March 19th, 2023.

Over time I have become aware of the power of certain repeated statements. The statements are usually innocuous like "I'm a picky eater" or "I don't like country music". Over time context builds around these statements as you tell them to yourself and others. This context becomes a source of truth even if outright false. This becomes a problem over time when you rely on an array of these "truths" to navigate life. Reassessing these statements can open doors of life previously closed because you believed a small, white lie about yourself.

I've had this realization for a long time, but haven't had a reason to textualize it until recently. I happened upon a blog post entitled "I'm a very slow thinker" which is a statement I resonated with wholly. My thoughts take a while to put into place and so for a long time I thought I was a slow thinker. I don't think that's true anymore. In fact, it's possible this statement was never true. It was the repetition of the statement, through talking with others and myself (in my mind), that made the statement true.

The statement "slow thinker" has no bearing on the speed of thoughts whatsoever. Labeling Stephen Hawking as a "slow thinker" doesn't mean anything. When he was alive the label would not have made him think slower. But labelling yourself as a slow thinker has all sorts of meaning to you even if it doesn't affect the speed of your thoughts. You now believe you are a slow thinker because you tell yourself and others. Your beliefs are the source of truth for everything you do. Telling others this "truth" about yourself only reinforces its faulty validity.

There are all sorts of these mind-traps out there. If one was running late, they might say "I don't have time." But if one was consistently late, they might say, "I"m just a late person" and others will adjust to that by planning around the late person. A person at dinner might say "I'm a picky eater" and be given a plate of bland food. A stressed business-man may mutter "I don't have the time" and miss his child's recital. I didn't respond in a critical discussion at work today because "I'm a slower thinker."

The problem with thoughts like these is that they are statements made in the past. This is the main issue with government laws and policies -- they are statements made now to produce a solution later. The problem is that readdressing those same statements later requires all the same effort as drafting up those statements in the first place, now years ago. But individuals are not mired in government bureaucracy and regulatory processes with themselves. We can change ourselves however we see fit with only a little bit of patience, discipline, and observation of our thoughts. I'll give you an example.

I thought I was a very slow thinker, but I've changed. When I was younger I played a lot of board games with friends. Whenever we played games that required players to come up with an answer quickly, I was always the last to answer. Because of this, I became a "slow thinker" by first telling myself, and then others, this "fact". It wasn't until much later -- years later -- that I realized I wasn't a slow thinker at all. I found myself playing similar board games with friends and realized I had many great answers to choose from in my head, but none of them were "right" or "correct", so I would run out of time trying to refine them. This is familiar territory for me -- I faced similar feelings when I first learned to wrestle. It's common for new wrestlers to freeze-up and not know which move to attempt or do next. Through wrestling practice and drills I trained my body to act appropriately and deftly, but never have I practiced my words in such a manner. If I cared to improve my "word picking ability" I could certainly play a lot of brain-teaser games or perhaps join a debate club. If I cared to improve that specific aspect of myself, I know now what to even improve.

I'm not a "slow thinker" anymore. Sure, a different label may apply, but that's the point. Perhaps "I'm a picky eater" becomes "I don't like cantaloupes" and "I don't have time" becomes "I don't have time for that". Revisiting these "truths" may open your available experiences with yourself and others.