When I taught math at the University of San Francisco, I’ll never forget Susie. She approached me after the first day of class to inform me that she was a “C student” in math; always had been, always would be. When I asked why, she said that the highest grade she had ever gotten in math was a C. I told her that I knew of some excellent tutors, and if she worked with them, I bet they could raise her grade to a B, or maybe even an A. So, she met with one of them at the library twice a week.
When she received an A on the first midterm, she stared at it uncomprehendingly and exclaimed “This is a mistake!” When I assured her that it was not a mistake, she stared at it even longer. After a while, a smile crossed her face, she looked back at me, and said, “Do you know what this means, Mr. Campbell?” “What?” I excitedly responded. “This means that if I flunk the next test, I can still maintain my “C!”
“But, Susie!” I exclaimed. “But why not get an A on every test?”
“Oh, I can’t,” she declared, “I’m a C student,” and that’s exactly what happened. She flunked the next test and got a C in the course.
When she received that first A, I sat down with her and asked, “Susie, what would you have done if you had flunked this first test?” “Oh,” said Susie, “I would have studied like mad to get an A on the next test to maintain my C.” “Great!” I exclaimed. “Now, why not just get an A on every test?”
“Oh, I can’t.” repeated Susie. “I’m a C student.”
Elementary school principals have learned that when they must deal with extremely disruptive and troubled students, they cannot complement them when their behavior significantly approves. The reason: they will invariably return to the old behavior. Their minds are simply making sure that their behavior lines up with how they see themselves. Psychologists call this “maintaining sanity”.
Can you see why we shoot ourselves in the foot?
Susie and many troubled students are a reflection of the observations of Robert Cooper in his wonderful book Get Out of Your Own Way. He observes that millions of people get thin(ner) and then gain all the weight back and more. Others become the number one performer. Then, trophy in hand, begin to decline. In addition, an alarming percentage of lottery winners lose all the money that they have won.
Why is this? Because Susie’s mind did not believe in herself to be an A student, or Mr. Cooper’s people as thin, or the lottery winners as rich. So, its job is to make sure that it flunks that test, gains that weight back, and loses that money.
It is the reason that when you lose your keys, you could be looking right at them without ever seeing them. Finally, someone else shows you that they were in front of you all the time. “If they were any closer they would have bit ya!” Why did not you see them? Because when you tell yourself, “I have lost my keys,” the brain says, “Okay!” and makes sure you do not see them.
Isn’t that amazing?
This phenomenon is an example of the famous principle of Norbert Wiener, the founding father of the computer. He coined the phrase: GIGO, which simply means Garbage In, Garbage Out.” And we accept so much garbage in our lives: criticism from other people, in addition to the things we tell ourselves; such as I’m too fat, or too thin, or not attractive, or horrible at math. We need to realize that our minds except that garbage without question. It is a very literal mechanism.
Henry Ford said, “Whether you believe you can…or can’t, you’re usually right!”
But it does not stop there. Your mind not only accepts the garbage, it then acts upon that garbage as if it were true. So, we gain the weight back, we undermine our relationships, we throw away our money.
A “new way of thinking” is to simply realize that your brain accepts and acts on everything you tell it. So, when you make your next mistake today, rather than exclaiming, “how could I have been so stupid” (which your brain accepts without question), simply say “I’m not stupid. I simply made a mistake like everyone else in the world has either already made today, or will be making before the day ends. The next time I’ll do it differently.”
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Steven R. Campbell, MSIS
Mr. Campbell is an award-winning author, speaker and mentor to individuals and organizations. Known as “the Brain Whisperer,” he teaches how your mind can be your greatest adversary and, when understood, can be transformed into your greatest friend and ally. He wants to help shift the mindset of Chopsticks Alley readers. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Zoology from San Diego State University and a Masters in Information Systems from the University of San Francisco and has been exploring and teaching the discoveries of cognitive psychology in various universities and colleges for over 25 years.