A few days ago I read a fascinating cover story in Fast Company magazine on Peter Thiel. Peter is a billionaire investor who co-founded PayPal, which was sold to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Since then he was one of the early investors in Facebook; he later invested in LinkedIn, Spotify, SpaceX and Airbnb. He obviously has a knack for determining what makes a successful company.
So when I found out he had written a book, Zero to One, I ordered it immediately and read it in one day.
I learned a lot about what it takes to grow a successful company, which I intend to apply to my own company. One of the things that has stuck with me is a question he asks whenever he interviews someone for a job: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”
I liked that question because I have so many answers to it. There are so many things that I think are true about human beings that few people agree on. In fact, I disagree with much that conventional wisdom holds about human behavior.
For example, here are a few common wisdoms that I totally disagree with:
- Fear of rejection is inherent in human nature
- Worrying about what others think of you is inherent in human nature
- Making mistakes and failure is bad
- Everyone is afraid of failure
- Making change is difficult
- Change is scary
- People resist change
- Negative emotions—such as anxiety, anger, upset, disappointment, frustration—are inevitable
- Stress is inevitable; there are some events that are inherently stressful
- Everyone fears conflict
Do you think any of these statements are true? Let me explain why most people think these statements are true and why every one of these commonly held “truths” is false.
Why people think these “common wisdoms” are true
Most people think these ten statements are the truth, in other words, this is the way people really are. Why do most people believe them? The answer is simple: Because most people act that way most of the time. If most people act this way and/or react emotionally this way most of the time, then the statements must be true.
But there is a significant difference between the fact that something does happen most of the time and the conclusion that, therefore, it must happen all the time.
Most people could act and react emotionally a certain way most of the time because the actions and emotional reactions are inherent in human nature. Another possibility is that they have beliefs or conditionings that drive such behavior. If beliefs and (sometimes conditionings) are the cause, then eliminating the beliefs (and conditionings) that drive the behavior and reactions would stop the behavior and reactions. I contend that this explains almost all of the behaviors and emotional reactions that people think are part of human nature.
Fear of rejection and a concern with
the opinions of others
Most people do fear rejection, but that fear is not inherent in human nature. The fear is the result of several beliefs that most people form in childhood, which is why the fear is so common.
Can you see that if you believed, I’m not good enough, and then concluded that What makes me good enough is having people think well of me, your sense of self-worth would be based on what others thought of you? Rejection, for you, would be experienced as not being okay or good enough. As a result you would fear rejection and would do or say whatever you needed to do or say to make sure you were accepted and well thought of by others. See this blog post for a more detailed explanation on why most children form the second of these two beliefs.
So the fear of rejection and the concern with the opinions of others are incredibly common because they are caused by beliefs that are held by most people, but they are not inherent in human nature. Eliminate these two and a few other related beliefs and the fear of rejection will cease and an obsessive concern with the opinions of other will stop.
Making mistakes and failure is bad
Based on our experience at the Lefkoe Institute after working with over 14,000 clients, the belief that mistakes and failures are bad is one of the most common beliefs people have. But are they really bad or do most people just think they are bad because of their childhood experiences? I contend the latter is true.
Why is this belief so common? Well, let’s take a look at how it was formed. Most parents never take parenting classes on learning how to be an effective parent and most parents bring their own “baggage” with them to the job of parenting. Moreover, most parents have unreasonable expectations for their children. For example, most parents expect toddlers to come when called, sit still, not make too much noise, and do what they are told to do. All of these things are virtually impossible for a toddler.
How do parents respond when their expectations are not met? In the best of cases with mild annoyance and frustration—in the worst of cases with physical abuse. The reaction of most parents is in-between these two extremes. Most parents get angry and repeat the phrases that have become clichés in our society: “How many times do I have to tell you?” “Don’t you ever listen?” “Why can’t you do what I tell you?” “What’s wrong with you?”
What meaning does a four-to-six-year-old give to his parents’ response? I’m not doing what my parents want. I don’t seem to be able to give them what they want. I’m making mistakes and failing. And because mom and dad are angry, that must be bad.
Despite the fact that most people think mistakes and failures are bad, it isn’t really true. Any given mistake or failure might be bad. A surgeon making a mistake could result in the patient’s death. An airplane engine’s failure could kill all the passengers. But mistakes and failures as such are not bad.
Any time you try something new you are bound to make some mistakes. Innovation—doing something you’ve never done before—inevitably leads to lots of mistakes. Innovators do not consider “mistakes and failures” to be bad; they consider them to be learning opportunities.
Everyone is afraid of failure
Most people really are afraid of failure, but like the other behaviors and emotional reactions I’ve already discussed, that fact does not prove it is inherent in human nature. Beliefs underlie this fear also.
This fear is caused by several beliefs, especially Mistakes and failure are bad and If I make a mistake or failure I’ll be rejected.
We’ve seen literally hundreds of people stop having this fear when these two and a few other relevant beliefs were eliminated.
Making change is difficult
Most people do think that change is difficult because most people have found it difficult to make fundamental changes in their lives. When trying to stop procrastination, when trying to get rid of the negative thoughts that seem to intrude on our thoughts at the most inopportune times, and when attempting to overcome the fear of public speaking lead to failure most of the time—it is reasonable to conclude that change is difficult. Many people think: Just look at the evidence; change obviously is difficult.
But here’s the real question: Is change necessarily difficult or is it difficult to change your behavior without first unlearning the beliefs that determine what you do and don’t do? I contend that change would be relatively easy if the beliefs driving a particular behavior were eliminated first. We have helped literally thousands of people make fundamental changes very easily.
For example, many people procrastinate and have worked very hard at stopping that behavior. Imagine that you believed I’m not capable or competent, mistakes and failure are bad, and what makes me good enough is going things perfectly. Can you see that you would want to put off doing anything you are not absolutely confident you could do perfectly?
With these beliefs you would think you probably would make some mistakes and likely fail in what you needed to do, at the same time that your sense of self-worth is dependent on doing things perfectly. That conflict would result in you not wanting to take action; in other words, you would procrastinate and would have a hard time stopping that behavior. Not because change is difficult, but because you have certain beliefs driving your behavior.
On the other hand, once you unlearned these and other relevant beliefs, there would be nothing stopping you from taking action and changing your behavior would be easy, as literally hundreds of clients have told us when their procrastination stopped.
This same principle applies with other behaviors that people want to change and find difficult to change.
Change is scary
There are a lot of beliefs responsible for change being experienced as scary; just a few of them include: mistakes and failure are bad and if I make a mistake or fail I’ll be rejected. If you held these two beliefs, then you wouldn’t want to try something new because you might make a mistake or fail. You would think the safest thing to do is continue with whatever you had been doing.
Other beliefs that cause this fear of change are beliefs about one’s ability, including I’m not good enough, I’m not capable, I’m not competent, and I’m inadequate.
People resist change
Some people resist change because of the beliefs that make change scary. When change stops being scary, they stop resisting change. But there is another reason so many people appear to resist change. In fact, people do resist something, but it’s not change. Let’s take a look and see what it is.
Let’s look at a situation that comes up frequently in relationships. Imagine that you have a relationship with someone who yells at people whenever they don’t do what she thinks they ought to be doing. Perhaps you have told this person that you don’t like her yelling at you and you think it is inappropriate for her to yell at others. The response might be, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” But her behavior continues despite this admission.
What if she had the belief: Yelling is the only way to get people to listen and do what I want? If she had this belief and if she wanted to get someone to do something and they weren’t doing it, she would be predisposed to yell to get results. She thinks yelling is the right thing to do to get the results she wants.
So if yelling is the right thing to do, then not yelling is the wrong thing to do. The “yeller” doesn’t resist change; she resists doing what, for her, is wrong. Change the belief and the behavior will change naturally and effortlessly.
The logic of arguments for change is useless if the change involves people doing something inconsistent with their beliefs. They will continue to resist doing something they think is wrong.
The next time you think someone is resisting change, ask yourself: What must they believe that has them think their current behavior is right and what you are suggesting is wrong?
Negative emotions and the stress that accompanies them are inevitable
As was the case with the earlier common wisdoms, almost everyone does experience negative emotions frequently and the stress that comes from them. And, again, that experience is not the result of human nature. It is the result of the meaning we give to events.
We are hard-wired to give meaning to events as they occur, moment to moment. Those meanings are created automatically and unconsciously in our brain and seem to be attached to many of our perceptions. Those meanings are the source of virtually all of our negative emotions.
For example, someone not doing something we asked them to them do usually means to us that they don’t care about us. That makes us upset. Or the boss calls us into her office and that means to us that we are in trouble. That makes us afraid. Or someone cuts us off in traffic and we give it the meaning, they are deliberately trying to “get us.” That makes us angry.
But as I’ve explained in earlier posts, events don’t have inherent meaning; all meaning is in our mind. It is possible to learn how to dissolve meaning, thereby stopping all negative emotions and the stress that results from them.
Everyone fears conflict
Many people do not fear conflict; some people actually look forward to it and in some cases actually create it. But it is true that a great many people do fear conflict and the source of that fear is two beliefs and two stimulus conditionings.
The beliefs are: Anger is dangerous and conflict is dangerous. If you held either of these two beliefs you would fear conflict.
You also can be conditioned to have certain emotions, including fear. And the stimuli that can be conditioned include anger and conflict. So whenever those two stimuli appear or even when you think they might appear, you would be conditioned to feel fear.
I’ve explained on several occasions how stimulus conditioning happens and how you can de-condition such stimuli
Things are not always what they seem
There are a great many things about human beings that seem to be inherent in human nature and aren’t. Thinking they are human nature precludes us from being able to change them. Realizing they are the result of beliefs, conditionings, and the meaning we attribute to meaningless events enables us to make profound changes in our behavior and emotional reactions. And that will significantly improve the quality of our lives.
Thanks for reading my blog. Please post your questions or comments on which behaviors and emotional reactions are and are not human nature. Disagreement is as welcome as agreement. Your comments add value for thousands of readers. I love to read them all and I will respond to as many as I can.
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Copyright © 2014 Morty Lefkoe