Why do we usually make up a meaning for events that have no inherent meaning? And how does that automatic, unconscious meaning-making process create problems for us?
Why we need to create meaning
As a human being, your survival is conditional—it is not guaranteed. In other words, there are some things that help insure your survival and some things that threaten your survival. As a very young child, having loving, caring parents makes us feel our survival is insured; having parents who do not love or care about us (or who we feel do not love or care about us) makes us feel our survival is threatened. As an adult having someone on a dark street stick a gun in your face and demand your money makes you feel as if your survival is threatened.
Human beings seem to have a hard-wired “meaning making” mechanism that judges almost everything: conducive to my survival or inimical to my survival—for me or against me. One of the first words that children learn, and then repeat incessantly, is “why.” We need to understand what is happening and why so we can better judge the effect it might have on our lives.
The need to discover an event’s probable impact on us leads us to look for the meaning in events that have no inherent meaning. As I’ve explained in earlier posts and as is clear to anyone who has eliminated at least one belief using the Lefkoe Belief Process, no event has an inherent meaning because any event could have a multitude of meanings and you can’t ever draw any conclusions, for sure, from any event. Meaning exists only in the mind, not in the world.
For example, if parents get angry when their children didn’t meet their expectations, most children will assign such behavior the meaning that they aren’t good enough. In fact, however, the fact that parents are angry at their child tells you nothing for certain about their child. As a result, you can’t know anything for certain about a child from the fact that his parents frequently got angry at him. In other words, the events involving the parents and children have no inherent meaning.
We create two different types of meaning
There are two fundamental types of meaning we give to events:
The first type is the meaning we give to a pattern of events, such as mom and dad being busy a lot of the time (leading to: I’m not important) or mom and dad arguing a lot and getting divorced (leading to: Relationships don’t work). These meanings become beliefs, which are generalized statements about ourselves, people and life that stay with us forever unless we find some way to eliminate the belief. Such beliefs are often variations of “I am …, or “People are …, or “Life is ….” Beliefs are statements about reality that we feel are “the truth,” thereby determining our behavior.
The second type is the meaning we give to specific events, both external (events in the world) or internal (such as thoughts, feelings, memories, physical sensations, etc.). These meanings last only as long as our focus on an event lasts. Like beliefs, such meanings are created unconsciously and automatically. The meaning we give this type of event determines how it “occurs” for us. Most of us most of the time never distinguish between actual events and how the events occur to us. We think the latter is real and therefore we deal with the “occurring” as if it is the actual reality.
In other words, if a friend walks into a room and doesn’t speak to us, and this event occurs to us as: my friend doesn’t like me, it seems to us as if the reality is my friend doesn’t like me. At which point we deal with this person as if he really doesn’t like me, when all we know for sure is that when he walked into the room he did not talk to us. In other words, because we usually don’t distinguish between an event and the meaning we give the event, we deal with the meaning as if it is what actually happened.
Ultimately, both types of meanings (beliefs and our occurrings) get substituted for reality in our mind and we don’t deal with what really is. In other words, we think our beliefs and occurrings are “the truth.”
Getting rid of these meanings
When you eliminate beliefs, you create new possibilities in your life because “your reality” has changed. The filters through which you view reality are gone. Barriers to action, such as procrastination and anxiety, have been permanently eliminated.
When you dissolve the meaning/occurring you give events moment by moment, you are better able to deal with the situation (if it needs dealing with) because you are clear on the difference between the event to be dealt with and the meaning that exists only in your mind. So you are able to see more possibilities for solving a problem. Moreover, because meaningless events cannot cause feelings, most of our negative emotions, such as anxiety and anger, come from the meaning you give events. By dissolving the meaning, you simultaneously dissolve the negative feelings.
Dissolve beliefs and occurrings by making a distinction
As I pointed out in an earlier blog post, we think our beliefs and the meaning we give events moment by moment are true because of a distinction we failed to make earlier, namely between the event(s) and the meaning we assign the event(s). Therefore, the way to eliminate or dissolve beliefs and current meanings is to make the distinction we did not make earlier. When we are able to make that distinction, the belief and the current meaning/occurring disappear.
When people are told they can eliminate beliefs, some respond: But won’t that force me to do things that might be dangerous, for example, if I eliminate the belief life is dangerous, won’t that make me oblivious to some real dangers. The answer is no. Eliminating beliefs does not make you do anything. It only offers new possibilities, from which you can freely choose.
A similar thing happens when I tell people that they can learn to stop giving meaning to events. One person asked: Won’t that lead to people becoming sociopaths? What he meant was: if your have no feelings, won’t you stop caring about other people? Won’t you lose all sense of morality? Again, the answer is no.
Not giving an arbitrary meaning to moment-to-moment events does not affect your values at all. You can still value human life and have a desire to alleviate the suffering of others.
In addition, you do not need meaning to get you to take action. If you lose your job, you don’t need to assume it means that you will not be able to pay your bills, that you will lose your home, that you will never get another job, etc. in order to start looking for a new job. In fact, you will be better able to create strategies for finding a new job if you are not overwhelmed with the fear that would result from such occurrings.
How can I decide what to do without any meaning?
But if nature built a meaning-making mechanism into us because we need to know if what we encounter in reality is conducive to or threatens our survival, how will we be able to survive if we stop making meaning?
There is a significant difference between making reasonable assumptions that we know are assumptions and that we continually check for accuracy, and unknowingly giving meaning to an event and then thinking that the way the event occurred to us is what actually happened. We can never be better off by being blind to what actually is.
Automatic meaning-making might be useful in a world where real danger lurks beneath every bush, where a saber-tooth tiger might jump out at you at any moment. In such a world, we need to automatically give meaning to events and respond without conscious thought. We are better being safe than sorry and assuming the worst will probably save our lives at some point.
But we no longer live in a world where we need automatic, unconscious meaning. In virtually every situation we have the time to carefully think about events and consciously determine their most likely meaning—all the while realizing that our consciously-created meanings are provisional and need to be checked for usefulness from time to time. We know they are our best guesses at that time and do not mistake them for the truth.
In today’s modern world, thinking your beliefs and occurrings are “the truth” can never be useful. So eliminate your limiting beliefs and learn how to stop automatically giving meaning to current events. You’ll be surprised at how much happier and more successful you will become.
What do you think about our biological need to create meaning and how not giving meaning to events enables us to have a better life? I’d love to read your comments and questions.
If you haven’t yet eliminated at least one of your limiting self-esteem beliefs using the Lefkoe Belief Process, go to http://www.recreateyourlife.com/free where you can eliminate one negative belief free.
For information about eliminating 23 of the most common limiting beliefs and conditionings, which cause eight of the most common problems in our lives, and get a separate video of the WAIR? Process, please check out: http://recreateyourlife.com/naturalconfidence.
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copyright ©2011 Morty Lefkoe