When Knowledge isn’t Power

I love that sweet feeling of a fresh new insight.  For example, after a challenging period of self reflection, I came to realize that underlying my “Nice Guy” persona was really a sense of loneliness and a desperate attempt to try and get people to like me.  After facing this with a radical sense of honesty came that illuminating  insight that allowed me to see myself, my history, and my choices in a whole new light.  It was as though new possibilities of action just unfolded almost automatically.  I stopped apologizing for things that I was not responsible for.  I stopped pretending that I was “just fine” when really I wasn’t.  I stopped trying so hard to get everyone to like me.  It was wonderful – a whole new way of being.  But eventually things weren’t going so smoothly and easily.  For example, I would find myself agreeing to do something I didn’t want to do, just because I wanted to avoid the hassle of saying “no”.  And yeah, into my mind pops the thought – there’s my “Nice Guy” pattern again, I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m doing it anyway!  What’s my problem?  It seems that every new learning, every new insight, eventually stagnates.   And that’s what I’m here to talk to you about today.

The mind (and especially my mind it seems!) just loves to know stuff.  It’s just like sitting in an elementary school classroom, my hand stretched eagerly into the air, waving at the teacher – “I know I know I know!”  And so it is with life’s lessons.  Eventually, after pounding my head against the same wall repeatedly, I find the proper way through the door and all is well!  My eager little know-it-all furiously starts memorizing the “right” answer, saying “I’ll never do that again because now I know the answer!”  Then, when an old pattern comes back and I find myself pounding my poor head against that very same wall, my inner know-it-all has turned into a cruel little tyrant, “Come on, you know better!”  I won’t go any further into it now, but boy, he sure does know how to lay on the criticism.  Then my mind ends up going in circles.  It’s like, if I “get it,” then what’s the problem?  Why am I still doing it?  My mind doesn’t seem like it can find and answer no matter how many circles it goes in.

The problem is that the the mind, for all it’s wonders, is actually quite limited – at least the logical/rational part of it is.  (By the way, this is supported scientifically by everything from behavioral economics studies that demonstrate predictably irrational choices to neurological cases demonstrating decision impairment when the amygdala – emotional brain – is disconnected from the frontal cortex – logical brain.)   This part of our mind works by looking for patterns, making generalizations, and then summing them up in convenient new beliefs or thoughts about what is right/wrong, better/worse, etc.  These thoughts and beliefs are meant to support us in actually taking action that meets some need or other we have as human beings.  Instead many of us often buy into the delusion that merely having the “right answer” is all we’re supposed to do – like regurgitating a bunch of facts on a school test.  The key is to unplug from this delusion and recognize that the value of a rule, a belief, or idea is not in its correctness or accuracy, but in the benefit it brings through its practical application.

Anyone involved with the personal growth and development game for long enough comes face-to-face with the experience of once fresh insights going stagnant and what to do about it.  I’ll admit to you that this is something that I find challenging on an ongoing basis.  I’ll share with you some tips I use:

  1. First of all, you’ve got to recognize when you’re struggling against yourself, spinning your mind in circles, and judging yourself for not doing what you supposedly know you’re supposed to be doing.  Relax, take a deep breath, and just create some space inside yourself around this.  To help with this, I remind myself how my inner know-it-all just wants to be liked and having the right answers seemed like the best way to do that when I was just a little boy.
  2. Identify those judgments and gently forgive yourself for judging yourself for not living up whatever it is you think you’re supposed to be living up to.
  3. Recognize the positive underlying intention of your ideas about what you should be doing – what needs does it serve?  Ask yourself, what other courses of action could you take right now to meet those needs?
  4. Open your heart and your mind to the possibility that whatever rule you were beating yourself up with might not actually apply in this situation – and that might be exactly why you’re not following it! Ask yourself what is it you might be avoiding or unwilling to face?  What new insight or lesson might be available?

Please apply this and let me know how it goes for you!  I’d love to hear your feeedback and any insights or alternative strategies you may have for this type of situation!

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