by: Steve Gillman
Personal power comes not just from money or position. It isn’t just about how much you can affect the people and things around you. It starts and ends with how much you learn about yourself. It isn’t about a narcissistic self knowledge, but a deeper understanding of how your body and brain functions.
You can more effectively use a computer when you know how it works. In the same way, you can more effectively use your own brain, body, and other tools when you understand them better. Our big stumbling block to learning more about ourselves, however is our tendency to rationalize. Do you think you know why you do what you do? Consider the following true story.
Jack was hypnotized by his therapist. During the trance state, he was given the post-hypnotic instruction to get up and put on his coat whenever the doctor touched his nose. Later, once out of the trance, Jack and the doctor talked. At some point during the conversation, the doctor scratched his nose, and Jack immediately stood up and put on his coat.
The doctor asked him why, and Jack said “Oh, I thought we were finished,” and he took off the coat. Later, the doctor touched his nose again, and Jack immediately stood up and put on his coat. “It’s getting cold in here,” he explained, more to himself than to the doctor. By the third time this happened, it was getting more difficult for Jack to explain his behavior, yet he still tried to.
This scenario is not really unique to hypnosis. We often just assume we know what goes into our decisions and actions. Just like poor Jack, we feel compelled to explain ourselves, and even to believe our own explanations. This isn’t self knowledge, but self explanation, or rationalization. It is one the most common of human habits. It also prevents the full development of our personal power.
How does this habit of rationalization begin? Think back to childhood. Suppose you threw a book at your brother, and your mother asked “Why did you do that!?” What would your likely response be? “I don’t know.” This would be the truth, of course, but also entirely unacceptable.
Aren’t children expected to have a better “explanation?” The best psychologists may not understand a child’s action with certainty, yet a five-year-old is expected to do just that – and in the next five seconds! He may not understand, but he learns quickly how to explain himself.
This pressure to explain makes it understandable why by adulthood, we rarely say “I don’t know” when asked about our behavior. We simply create an explanation. Isn’t this a potential problem if we want true self knowledge? How easily can we learn the true causes of our behavior if we already have our explanations?
Say I Don’t Know
A better approach? Say “I don’t know.” It may help to follow this with “Maybe it’s because of…” and let the explanations spill out, but don’t be too quick to accept any of them. It really isn’t always necessary to explain.
Suppose you are avoiding a certain person. If you really don’t know why you are avoiding him, isn’t it better to leave the question open than to accept a false explanation based on a habit of self-justification and rationalization? Leave questions unanswered, and you may someday have a better understanding. A quick answer may mean a quick stop in your thinking, and less self knowledge. Waiting and watching for more evidence may tell you something useful about yourself.
Start saying, “I don’t know” more often. Isn’t it better to learn to accept your ignorance, and then keep observing yourself? Don’t let self-explanation get in the way of of self knowledge. Learning more rather than explaining more is the path to personal power.