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“We are more prone to generalize the bad than the good. We assume that the bad is more potent and contagious.“
Making sweeping generalisations can be hurtful to your image of yourself and of the world. It can create imagined barriers inside and outside of you. Barriers that are holding you back from doing what you want and achieving the success you’d like.
Here are four such big generalizations that many of us have made. By keeping them in mind you can start to stay more conscious and avoid falling back into old behaviour patterns. And find a more empowering and accurate perspective of the world.
If you think you are not using these generalizations in your life I suggest taking a closer look at some of your thoughts and assumptions about yourself and the world. Who knows, perhaps you’ll be surprised. Maybe you discover that things aren’t as you thought they were.
1. Generalizing yourself.
You may tell yourself: “I’m this and that person just because I’ve done this. Or failed at that.”
Just because you’ve failed with your 30 day challenge to exercise each day (damn it… :)) doesn’t mean that you can’t be a person who succeeds with that. Just because you failed an exam a couple of times or didn’t get those jobs doesn’t mean that is who you are.
And just because you weren’t that good at something in fifth grade doesn’t mean that it is the person you are now or that you couldn’t become good at that thing now.
You may find that parts of your self-image that you thought were accurate are just based on a few things that you did or that happened to you in the past.
When you examine those beliefs you may realize that they aren’t really that well-grounded as you had imagined.
They are more like a house of cards rather than a house made of bricks.
Just because you’ve failed a few times or made a few mistakes doesn’t mean that you are such a person. It is just stuff that happened.
You can try again and it will be easier to both get started and succeed if you throw away such negative generalizing labels of who you are. Or at least recognize that these are just labels in you mind rather than reality. Because then you will be able to keep your focus more on what you are doing instead of the past. And you’ll reduce self-sabotaging behaviour that comes from feeling that you not worthy of succeeding or whatever you are doing not fitting into your image of yourself.
You are not your generalized story or a few bad things that happened to you. And if you like then you are not some memories that you find a pattern between. The pattern is in your head and isn’t something that is stopping you from doing what you want now. You create your life and image of yourself right now.
2. Generalizing how other people think and feel.
Maybe you have a blog and you have few critics. Maybe a few people in the real world don’t get along that well with you. They may not like you. It’s important to not those people dictate how you view what others think of you. Or let those few people drag your belief in yourself down into the mud.
Remember that the most vocal people are often critical and negative. The people that like you might not say much or just give you a compliment once in a while.
I’m not saying that valid criticism isn’t something you should take seriously. But that you shouldn’t make a too big business of a few people that you don’t see eye to eye with.
3. Generalizing because of one trait, talent or skill.
If someone has a trait, talent or skill that makes them stand out in a positive way then it’s sometimes easy to slip into the trap of assuming that they stand out in a positive way in many other areas too. This may not be the case.
This kind of generalizing is sometimes called the Halo-effect. It also works in reverse where a negative thing about someone may lead people to think that this person is has many poor traits.
This may have an effect on someone’s self-image. Through social feedback – people around someone treating them in a certain way based on this trait etc. – this person’s sense of him- or herself may be influenced in certain way. For instance, a person who people think looks like the way how they imagine a leader may be treated like a leader.
One problem with this effect is that one may see more of an fantasy image rather than the real, more complex person behind that image. But people are just people, no matter who they are.
Another problem is when someone like a good engineer is promoted to being the manager because s/he is a good engineer. Just because s/he’s a good engineer doesn’t mean that person will be a good leader since those two positions demand different things. And so you wind up with a not so good boss.
4. Generalizing because of one event or action.
I’ve mentioned this a few times before. But I think it is good point to remind yourself about over and over. To help yourself to not take everything so personal and to avoid creating unnecessary conflicts, problems and negative feelings in your life.
Basically, the point is that what other people say about you or to you is often more of a reflection of them rather than you. Maybe they are having a bad day, week or year. Maybe their pet was run over. Maybe they are having a conflict with a family member or friend. You don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives. But since we tend to be a bit self-centred we may interpret what someone is saying as being about us. This can also be useful to keep in mind when you reflect on generalization # 2.
Also, it’s often said that it’s important to make a good first impression. When you meet someone for the first time they tend to form a concept of who you are based on how you behave but also based on previous experiences with people that may look, talk and act like you.
On the other hand, you and I tend to do the same thing. This can hold you back from really getting to know someone. And such a thing can be good to keep in mind to help you see another side of someone than the one you noticed the first time you meet the person. This can help you form a more complex, deeper and accurate impression and understanding of how someone really is.
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