I’m a tried-and-true expert in generating self-limiting beliefs. I call it “Learned Limitism.” For every imaginative stirring I have that something might/could happen, I have twenty dozen competing, left-brain bullying beliefs that are super-sure it won’t. Or if it can, then I’m certainly not the person to turn such a stirring into reality. One lovely thing about social neuroscience however, is that it lends credence to the notion that if someone else has been able to accomplish something, we know 1. That it can be done; and 2. That there are not only people out there with brains who can help us accomplish what we might want to aspire to, but some are even willing to help us in spite of our Can’t-Do Attitude.
The Long Unknowable Winding Road
Let’s take one small, shining example from my own life and overlay The Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience onto it. A big part of social neuroscience recognizes that other peoples’ brains can be essential in helping us with the critical unlearning process.
Beginning in my early teens I’ve wanted to be a successful writer. For some bizarre reason I thought maybe the best way to do that was to enroll as an English major at UCLA. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that path was NOT my way to become a writer. Reading Chaucer in the Olde Englishe simply failed to stoke the embers glowing faintly in my belly. Thus, when my English prof awarded my first attempts to make sense of The Canterbury Tales with D’s, it wasn’t too hard to figure out that I’d mistakenly wandered down the wrong path – spurring an important directional about-face I’d repeat many times. That prof’s brain re-organized and redirected mine.
But I kept writing and eventually I joined a writer’s group. In that group was a colleague of mine from Kara, the community agency where we had both long volunteered as grief counselors. Each week Jeannie and I would meet with several other aspirants and read each other’s work and encourage each other to hang in with our writing efforts. I got to see first-hand how Jeannie took a disciplined approach to her writing – she wrote every day; I saw how in her efforts to improve her craft, she taught writing classes; I saw how she lived simply and kept her expenses low; and I saw the struggle she had trying her damnedest to find an agent who resonated with her work. Eventually she did. And that agent sold her first book to Random House. And then Tom Hanks’ production company optioned the book. And then they made This Movie out of Jeannie’s first book. She went on to write and successfully publish several more. Along the way, being privy to her process, she reorganized my brain; she showed me what was actually doable. And what do you know, I eventually published a book of my own. But social neuroscience wasn’t done with me yet.
Mentors Make It Happen
Every June I get a small royalty check from the Buddhist publisher, Wisdom Publications, for this book: The Wisdom of Listening (currently Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,322 in Books :-)). I’ve been getting them for nearly ten years now. It was after I got the very first such check that I realized I didn’t want to be a writer who received less than ten cents on the dollar for his writing, and who was still expected to do all his own editing, cover design, promotion and marketing (all of which I had to do with The Wisdom of Listening). It soon became obvious to me that getting books designed and printed was not brain science!
In a book design and production class I once took at SUNY New Paltz it became clear even further that I could actually stop believing at least of few of my self-limiting thoughts and … become my own publisher. In Haig Shekerjian, the instructor for that class, I found someone with a “more organized brain” willing to demystify the publishing process and help me organize my brain around the possibility of not only becoming a successful writer, but a money-making publisher as well.
A Torrent of Words
And then I had the good fortune to meet Don Lamm. Don was the former CEO of academic publisher, W.W. Norton. He highlighted the strength of social neuroscience even more powerfully for me by organizing my brain around the realities of the publishing industry: somewhere between 320,000 and a million new books are published every year. Average number of sales for each book: 500-1000! Given that framework-changing info, it seems wise to drop my notion of becoming the male J. K. Rowling and realize that if I only sold more than a thousand books, I would be above average. At that point I’d have to consider myself not only a successful writer, but a successful publisher as well!
Well, I have sold more than 1000 books. Far more. And I’ve received significantly greater royalties than 10% of the cover price. So, these days it takes way more energy, learned limitism and information-distortion than my brain is capable of to try to convince myself that I’m not a successful writer.
So, that’s one personal story of the maieutic (conscious), hypnopompic (awakening) power in not believing what you think.
In closing, here’s one takeaway: Every single person reading this blog today, if you were invited to imagine and predict ahead of time the path that would lead you to where you are in your life right now (for me it might be: “becoming a successful writer”), could you do it? Social neuroscience would predict not. The human brain, together with the 7+ billion other brains on the planet are simply too complex to generate any kind of predictable, foreseeable paths, or the thinking we might secrete while walking them – even with many of us holding tight to the illusions of destiny, certainty and control. So relax. And take your brain’s thought secretions as seriously as you do the secretions from your other organs. You never know what you’re going to learn, who you’re going to meet and how each of you are going to mutually benefit your lives.
Finally, did I mention that I managed to win The Jack London Award for fiction along the writing way!? Who’da ever thunk it? Certainly not Geoffrey Chaucer!