How Our Mental Pictures Define Us
Most of us carry around an internal framework describing our existence. This is our map, if you will, of the world.
How it works. How we should behave. What the rules are. What the consequences are if we break those rules. And so on.
The thing is, all these things are just programs running in our heads. They’re nothing more complex than pictures in our minds.
The person sitting next to you will have a whole different set of pictures in their head.
These pictures can be all sorts of things:
- People are fundamentally good
- People are fundamentally bad
- People are fundamentally in it for themselves
- If I’m late I should beat myself up
- If I don’t get what I want I should beat myself up
- If people don’t behave the way I believe they should, I will disapprove of them
- I deserve to be loved
- I don’t deserve love
- I won’t love someone unless they do what I want
- I am special
- Famous people are important
- Poor people are subhuman
- Ugly people are less worthy than beautiful people
… and so on.
You can see how many of these pictures directly contradict others. You can also see how we might pick these up – from what we’re told: by the media; our peers or elders; our families. From what we experience.
The crazy thing is – whether these programs help us or not, we’ll often fight to the death to prove that “we’re right.”
In fact, a lot of the time, we’d rather be right than happy.
Yes, I realise that’s a false dichotomy, but let me explain.
In instances where these internal beliefs and programs hurt our best interests (eg “I don’t deserve to be loved”) we will look around for evidence to support this belief (“look how that guy/girl left me”) – even though our life is worse off for having this belief.
What complicates matters further is that often these beliefs directly contradict what we know intellectually to be true.
If we’re focused in our brains, we may say “Well, that’s stupid, of COURSE I deserve to be loved.”
It won’t be until maybe we’re very tired, or run down, or drunk that the truth might finally slip out – that even though rationally we know it’s wrong, deep inside we don’t honestly believe we deserve love.
This kind of thing happens all day every day.
Of course, not only do we look for evidence to support our deep beliefs (using that wonderful pattern matching device, our brain), we also start to create these beliefs in our lives – a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you believe guys always stare at your breasts, you can be damn sure you’re never going to miss a single guy checking you out – more data that proves you’re right.
If we believe, say, that women are argumentative, won’t we be expecting an argument every time we talk to someone female? And won’t this, in turn, make us more argumentative, thus creating this as truth?
A simplistic but not wholly inaccurate way of describing this would be to see our mind as a movie projector – and these pictures in our minds are projected out into the world around us.
Thus, crappy pictures = crappy life. Great pictures = great life.
As is so often the case, this is easier said than done. For a start, we’re not talking “positive self talk” – because the vast majority of these pictures happen below our level of consciousness. Most of the time we’re not even aware of what’s cycling through our heads.
How do we find these pictures?
1. Sudden mood changes are a good give away.
If we notice our mood change suddenly (usually for the worse), that’s a pretty strong sign we have some kind of program running.
Here are some typical programs, to give you an idea:
- If I’m late, I should beat myself up
- If I don’t get what I want, I should beat myself up
- If someone doesn’t behave the way I think they should, I will disapprove of them
- If I don’t get done what I think I should, I’ll beat myself up
- I should be sad if people disagree with or don’t like me
Note: beating yourself up, or disapproving of yourself – it’s all the same thing.
If you find yourself casually justifying things that actually don’t help us at all, that’s a good sign you have these mental movies running.
2. Over-reaction to events in our lives or the people around us is another clue.
This kind of thing exposes pictures like these:
- People must show me respect
- I want people to love me
- People should do what I say
- Everybody wants something from me
- People only want me for me [whatever]
- Being polite is super important
If any of these pictures are pushed against by life, it’ll upset us.
If we believe in politeness and someone is rude to us, it may feel like our world is ending. In a way it is – life is contradicting our deep beliefs about how the universe operates.
These are good hints to the following sorts of pictures:
- Life is hard
- Success is only possible through hard work
- I won’t be paid well unless I do something incredible
- Unless it’s perfect, it ain’t worth a damn
- Money is hard to come by
- Anything worth doing (or this task I’m working on) is going to be difficult
Detect a theme though? They’re all just rules. Rules we live by.
All these rules are just pictures in our head.
They’re ways that we define our reality, and thus create it.
We can think of a thousand reasons why any of these rules are “reasonable”, “understandable”, “sensible” or “obvious” while the person next to us has a similar number of justifications for the exact opposite rule.
In short? It’s all bullshit.
A wise man once said “every thought is a limitation” – and while I’m not yet at the point where I can see that clearly, I’m starting to see he may have a strong point.
Seeing these self-chosen rules, beliefs and pictures is the first step.
Dumping them all is the second. I’ll get to that in my next post.
The final, obvious step is to replace them with loving, supportive pictures. That’s the easy (and fun!) bit.