Avoiding the trap of ideas

Humans are complicated beings. We construct elaborate mental models and belief systems about the world around us. This is how humans have come to be so successful, and it’s why you’re reading this blog right now instead of scavenging for food and avoiding predators, but it can also be a problem.

If a bee finds that there’s no pollen in a flower, it tries another one. If a lab rat can’t find the cheese in a maze it keeps looking.

But people aren’t like that. When we encounter a problem we stop to think. Sometimes that’s a good idea. We think of a solution to the problem. But often it just ends in tears. That’s because certain types of explanations tend to suggest themselves:

  • This is too hard.
  • I can’t do this.
  • I’m not clever enough.
  • I’m not brave enough.
  • I’m a loser.

Occasionally this kind of explanation may be true. Or there may be some other good reason why we failed. But often the answer is much simpler. In the words of nineties band Chumbawamba:

I get knocked down. But I get up again.

You’re never gonna keep me down (ooh).

And nine times out of ten it really is that simple.

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