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Four Big, Sweeping Generalizations that Can Hurt You

Four Big, Sweeping Generalizations that Can Hurt You
by darkpatator.

“We are more prone to generalize the bad than the good. We assume that the bad is more potent and contagious.
Eric Hoffer

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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  • Chris Mikaitis May 8, 2008, 1:59 am

    This is very self-promoting and doesn’t make much sense. This is the rant of a psychiatrist, with nothing better on his mind than to point out the flaws of others. This isn’t to say that I think you are trying to downplay anything… but up-play (I know it isn’t a word) people’s flaws…. lots of people suck at everything…. This is the “you are special” speech given by mothers to their spawn. It isn’t believable in any circumstance. There are realistic limitations in place here. Some people will never grasp calculus. With lots of training, they can get the equations down pat, and solve the problems… but to claim they can understand it fundamentally insults everyone involved. All people, independent of race or gender, are capable of understanding all concepts put before them, but to ‘assure’ people that they failing several times means that they should try harder is a bane to society. This promotes too many instances of people claiming knowledge where none exists. Sometimes, people thinking they are too dumb to understand a concept is a good thing (think general hierarchy of a given system). If everyone believed they were capable of better, the system would break down as everyone felt they had relevant input… when… they don’t. I know it’s hard… but they just don’t sometimes.

    • ALbert May 27, 2009, 11:31 pm

      Aside from being obviously pessimistic – this view adds nothing to any system. To look at the value of this position logically lets compare the effects of both positions:

      1) Positive view: People shouldnt underestimate (or generalize) themselves or others.

      – Effect: many people will move past obstacles they previously faced while some will naturally still encounter certain things they cannot surpass (e.g. calculus in the example above)

      2) Negative view: Many people can’t do a lot of things and should not delude themselves into thinking otherwise. Believing that they understand some things is insulting to others and causes problems for the whole “system”

      -Effect: Many people who might have accomplished something give up and don’t even try because they assume they are among the group that just won’t get it and will insult others and bring down the system.

      With the first view (as stated in this blog) everyone rises to their very best and the whole “system” benefits. The second view put forth by Chris causes everyone to under perform and massively reduces effectiveness in everyone.

      People don’t need to self impose limitations ,if you feel it is so certain that they will not be able to overcome their natural limitations anyway.

      P.S. I noticed that you felt your input was relevant and you chose to post it here in spite of your own philosophy. You must mean that only *other* people should pipe down and realize they will never amount to anything. Interesting.

  • Henrik Edberg May 8, 2008, 2:09 am

    Chris, thank you for your feedback.

    To me this is not about pointing out faults in other people. It’s four things that I have done myself over and over. There may be realistic limitations and everyone may not be able to do everything. But on the other hand I think that I and quite a few other people are putting some limitations on their lives that doesn’t need to be there. Limitations that may have been created by generalizations from for instance a few bad events.

    By keeping an eye on those four generalizations and using them less I think that I and others may be able move beyond those limitations.

  • Avani May 8, 2008, 1:41 pm

    Simply put, Don’t be judgemental. Remembered what I heard in Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture – “Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you.”

  • Personally I think generalizations should just be a starting point. You form a quick, initial impression and then you start gather more data about that person and refining your opinions of them as you learn more about them.

    Stanley Bronstein
    Attorney, CPA, Author, Blogger & Professional Motivational Speaker

  • Albert | UrbanMonk.Net May 8, 2008, 7:13 pm

    I agree with Henrik, I don’t see how this article is a rant, or self-promoting in any way. These generalisations are a part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and are often very painful. A recent example, a friend said something that was hurtful, and I generalised it into thinking that she was a hurtful and spiteful person. When it might have been something she said because she was going through a difficult time. I really like this article, it goes very in-depth into this often painful habit. I guess like all methods it is possible to use it the “wrong” way, and distort things even worse or make it self-serving, though.

    Albert | UrbanMonk.Net
    Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

  • kidpieces May 8, 2008, 8:54 pm

    Hi there,

    I like your 2nd point:
    2. Generalizing how other people think and feel.

    It suits what I need but I think,like Stanley said, generalization indeed is merely a starting point but whether they are right or wrong. We grow up out of it or into it depends how people accept it, depends how we presented it.

  • Anonymous Mentee May 9, 2008, 2:30 am

    Amen to all of this!

  • Generalizing is one of my biggest faults. I like to judge people and the thing is I’m usually wrong. I do it at work and even when someone is walking in front of my car at a red light. My mind seems to want to categorize everything instead of just letting it be an individual event or person.

    I’m working on seeing each moment as a separate entity, but it’s hard. At least I realize it and I’m working hard to let go of my generalizations.

    I think this was a post that took guts. Not many people are willing to write about this topic. Great job Henrik.

  • venkat May 9, 2008, 12:28 pm

    Great one Henrick.
    I am thinking of applying this.

  • venkat May 9, 2008, 12:41 pm

    I forgot to add this, here it is.

    During my primary school days I was generalized as a poor student in maths by the teacher, later on during my high school days my will and typical ability of a special teacher has made me overcome that generalization and I started to secure near scent percent in maths from then on.

    This article has definitely made me to remind this incident ..
    Thank henrick.

  • Rob May 9, 2008, 8:35 pm

    great blog, thanks. very informative.

    i’ve found that opportunities do present themselves at the oddest times and it’s key to always be open, aware and positive in order to find the full potential of you and others.

    Blog To Great!!!

  • Shaun May 15, 2008, 2:58 pm

    While the content is useful and is a good reminder on the perils of generalization, please PLEASE proofread and edit. Afterall, blogs are not a static medium.

  • Ash May 16, 2008, 7:32 pm

    Wonderful article, Henrik. Thank you so much!

  • Marisa June 3, 2008, 12:43 am

    Easier said than done though.

  • sunlite November 16, 2008, 5:23 am

    Found all the articles interesting.
    However the trend seems to be towards-Self-ish” when one is not willing to listen to others , particularly family.
    I always hear-It is my choice,it is my life ,from children to self centerd adults.
    The Law of Attraction is one such -it has wreaked havoc in my life.
    My sibling has decided to leave a wonderful supportive family in chase of love . again all I here is -MY CHOICE.
    The law of Attraction is brain washing peole .
    Please give your comments on misuse of the Law and how to tackle it.

  • sunlite November 16, 2008, 5:30 am

    Please post an article on misuse of law of attraction in relationships,so that people are aware of it.

    thank you

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