How Context influences my Behaviour

How Context influences Behaviour

“It is not what happens to you that matters, but how you RESPOND to
what happens to you that determines your whole life.”
~ Brian Tracy ~

According to David Hawkins, in any situation there are the conditions and there is the context. The conditions are all the objects and ‘things’ in the environment, whereas the context is about the space in which the objects exist and how all the things are relating to each other. As humans, we create the context in any situation by deriving meaning from it;
we somehow figure out what all of it means to us. This meaning then influences how we act and behave. This is basically the first law I already described in the new model that Werner Erhard (2009) has suggested: My behaviour is concomitant with how a situation occurs (shows up) for me.

By examining how things occur for me in Life, I can change the way I relate to things in Life. By assigning different meanings to the conditions, objects and things in my Life, I can change how they occur for me. When the occurring is altered, the possibilities for my actions are altered as well.

Every day, when I wake up, I have a context for how that day is going to look. I have a general idea about what I anticipate (expect) my day to be like. I have a basic estimation of how my day is going to go. It’s not something that I focus on very often, but it’s there, this subtle expectation of what this day is going to be like. I will also have a general idea about how I probably will be behaving today. This expectation of what my day will be like is determined by what I have experienced in the past, plus any new plans that I may have on how to conduct my life today. My behaviour is geared towards succeeding in making this day go the way I want it to go. If I succeed in my plans for today, I can go to sleep satisfied at the end of the day. If I don’t, cognitive dissonance will arise as reality did not confirm my expectations and I will have to re-adjust my map of the world. When I wake up the next day, I have fresh, new opportunity to anticipate, expect and estimate how Life will go for me today.

Erhard, Zaffron, Jensen and Granger (2010) call this estimation of how Life will go a ‘future that you’re living into’. This anticipated future influences our behaviour. The authors furthermore state that: “the brain generates being and action in the present to be consistent with realizing the future it predicts, that is, a past-derived future.”

So in order to alter my behaviour, I have to convince my brain that something new is going to happen in the future and not that which has happened in the past.
But before I get into that I want to make it more apparent that behaviour is directly determined by what my brain anticipates (expects) is going to happen and only optionally by what has happened in the past. Let’s look at the core idea in which behaviour is considered to be determined by past conditioning.

In classical conditioning, Pavlov’s dogs start to salivate when a bell rings not because in the past they have learned that the ring of a bell means food. They salivate as their brain is anticipating (expecting) food to be brought to them right now. Their behaviour is concomitant with a very proximate future in which they expect to receive food. It is what they are anticipating (expecting) right now that determines their behaviour, not the fact they have been conditioned in the past.
Yes, if the dogs did not learn this (bell means food) earlier, they would not have this (salivating) response, but that’s only because what is learned in the past is often a good predictor of what is expected to happen in the future.
If I want to change behaviour however, it is crucial to realize that my way of being and acting is determined by what I anticipate (expect) is going to happen next.
In a world with a lot of consistencies, it is only natural that what I expect of the future is more of the same (that I experienced in the past). The past is usually a good predictor of what will happen in the future and knowing that I will get more of what I’ve seen in the past helps me to feel safe and secure. When things happen in the way they’ve always happened I can feel like I’m in control and I trust that:
Whatever happens, I’ve dealt with it in the past and will probably be able to deal with it again now. Expecting more of the same and anticipating that I will get more of the past thus serves my need for predictability.


The anticipation and expectation of the ‘future-that-I’m-living-into’ is (like any other set of concepts) rooted in a schema.
The content for this schema is by default given by what I’ve experienced in the past. It is filled simply by repeated suggestions of what was happened up-to-now. It is however possible to fill it in with new concepts of what I want the future to be like. This is the core idea of Napoleon Hill’s classic ‘Think and Grow Rich’. Hill’s method for creating riches can be summarized roughly in the following steps:

1. Create a Definite Major Purpose (DMP) (which is simply an idea and vision of something that does not exist yet, but that I want to realize)
2. Mix Burning Desire with the Definite Major Purpose (idea and vision of what I want)
3. Repeatedly expose myself to the idea and vision by continually suggesting it and dwelling upon it to the point that it becomes an all-consuming obsession.
4. Use this auto-suggestion to convince my brain that the DMP will be realized, which will create Faith.
5. Faith and Burning Desire will ensure that I act in such a way that is consistent with me realizing the DMP.

Rewriting the future

As a human being, I am in the fortunate position that I can create new concepts and imagine a vision of myself and the world that does not yet exist. By doing so, I can fill my self-schema and future-schema by means of auto-suggestion.
If I repeatedly do so, I can convince my brain to anticipate and expect that something new will happen in the future. When my mind’s anticipation and expectation for the future changes, my behaviour changes right with it, as it is concomitant with what I expect to happen at any given time.
By rewriting my self- and future-schema, I can alter the context of my Life, even though nothing has to change in my Life’s conditions. According to Werner Erhard (2009), this context will then call me into effective action in realizing the new reality.

To ensure that auto-suggestion goes on continually, it is wise to design a practice for rewriting the self-schema and the future-schema and continually work to refine it, dwell on it and fuel it with Burning Desire, which will lead to Faith and an expectation and anticipation of the realization of the new reality (the Definite Major Purpose of how I want to be and how I want the world to be). In creating a practice, I shall now turn to the second principle on which the 0.1% of influence on my behaviour is best invested.

Putting it all to Practice

“Knowledge is not the same is wisdom. Wisdom is doing.”
~ Dan Millman ~

Tony Robbins says there is a difference between ‘knowing what to do’ and actually ‘doing what you know’. In practice, I simply will not be doing what I know until I can find a way to internalize the new strategies, so that they become a habit and are a part of the automated 99.9%.
Conscious willpower has to be focused on highly specific action strategies that can become automated habits after having been executed for an extended period of time. Gollwitzer and Brandstatter (1997) state that people with implementation intentions (written plans for when, where and how to implement new goals) have a higher rate of succeeding at new goals than do people who don’t have written down their intentions for implementation. This is especially true for more challenging and difficult goals.

Therefore, the core principle in changing behaviour is to (1) consciously design action practices, (2) make written plans for their implementation and (3) then consciously doing those action practices one day at a time until (4) they have become automated habits that you don’t have to think about anymore. How to exactly go about doing this will be described in the next Part, along with several suggestions for action practices.

The next book piece drops at Monday February 13th and kicks of the fourth and final part of the Identity is Dynamic book series, it’s on the topic of Self-Change Projects

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Disidentifying with the Self-schema & Changing Behaviour

Define Life from the inside out
“Man shouldn’t ask what the meaning of his Life is,
but recognize that it is he who is asked.”
~ Viktor Frankl ~

Intuitively, when we are young we look around for guidance and feedback to find out what this whole Life thing is all about. However, after we’ve learned the basics of Life, there comes a time we can opt to bring into Life something new.
As a kid, I have to fill my self-schema with external concepts and this is fine, but as an adult I can re-examine my self-schema and start shifting to a more internally based self-schema. I can start making declarations about what I want my Life to be about and fill my self-schema with self-chosen internally based concepts like my vision, my goals, my values, my standards and my preferences. A more internally based self-schema will mean that I am less susceptible to cognitive dissonance as internal concepts are more stable; they do not fluctuate and change like external concepts do. As a result of this, I can feel more secure in myself and focus on the goals in self-change I want to realize for myself.

I am not my Self-schema

Another thing to understand about self-schemas is that the self is not the same thing as the self-schema. My self-schema is a mental representation of me and thus, it is a set of ideas ABOUT me. I do not mistake a set of concepts about me for who I am. This is basically the core idea of what Eckhart Tolle meant when he wrote:
“The philosopher Descartes believed that he had found the most fundamental truth when he made his famous statement: “I think, therefore I am.” He had, in fact, given expression to the most basic error: to equate thinking with Being and identity with thinking.”

According to Tolle’s teachings, I am not a mental story. He advises to not become attached to mental positions, thoughts or concepts. If I identify with my self-schema, I will get anxious when it is threatened. If I identify with thought, I will want to protect my opinions and prove I’m right. It’s much better to just choose thoughts and try them out.
I see how they work for me and let go of them when they no longer serve me.
I will be much better off when I just view my self-schema as a set of concepts about me rather than identifying with it. Both filling out the self-schema with internally based concepts, as well as not identifying with it and just seeing it as a set of concepts about the self will help to facilitate self-change.
An important next question arises:
If I don’t fill out my self-schema with externally suggested feedback, what do I fill my self-schema with?

Natural impulses for Action

And this brings up an interesting notion; because you may have been reading this book (or other types of books and resources) to find out how to fill out your self-schema. However, it is this tendency that needs to be avoided when forming a more internally based self-schema; for it is the self that provides the new internal concepts for this new self-schema.
I have to determine what my values, goals and preferences are for myself. And it is the same for everyone.
Sure, we can look around at other people as examples, but ultimately it comes down to ourselves to make a choice.
We have to decide for ourselves what we want to be about. Fortunately, there is an internal source I can consult when I find myself short on inspiration. There is a core inside of me that will provide me with insight into how to fill my self-schema. This core inside provides me with impulses for action; intuitive impulses for how I want to conduct my Life.
This core intuitively gets whether I am living the Life I want or if I am doing what the societal system told me I should do.
It is possible to stop paying attention to what my core tells me is a good direction for me in Life and start obeying the voices outside just to ensure my survival. It’s called, sacrificing my dreams and focusing on just getting by. It is an inauthentic way of living and creates a false Life. There is nothing wrong with this; I need this when my survival is threatened. However, when I live in a safe environment and all my needs are met in a quality way, it may prove to be more fulfilling to follow my natural impulses for action and live Life more authentically.

Authentic Self-Expression

 The challenge in changing human behaviour is that for the most time, I operate on auto-pilot. I like to think of myself as a conscious human being and I like to believe that I’m the one calling the shots in choosing my behaviour. The reality of the situation is that most (let’s say 99.9 %) of my behaviour is a result of past conditioning and learned habits. Most of the time, I just act intuitively in the moment and my brain backwards rationalizes why I acted in the way that I did. If you find that you’re disagreeing with what I just wrote, it’s your brain deceiving you into believing that you’re actually totally in control of your behaviour. I’m sorry, you’re just not. Most of our behaviours are automatic and our willpower and ability to consciously direct our actions is very, very small.
Because of this, I have to be strategic and smart in how I utilize that 0.1 % of influence on my behaviour I do have.
It would be an ineffective approach to simply gather information about how to live Life effectively and then to expect from myself that I would apply it all in my behaviours.
This simply does not work, because we can’t remember and recall all that information in the moments that we need it. When we are in the moment, we act and respond based on intuition and reflexes and all those handy tips we learned about ‘how we should act and behave’ go out the door. And then later, as we reflect on our actions, we beat ourselves up over not applying those new things that we learned.

The key to changing behaviour is thus; to utilize (leverage) that 0.1% of influence (control) that we do have. In ending this Part (III), I will pose two principles on which I find that my 0.1% of influence is best invested. These are:
•  Working on the context of my Life
•  Creating new habits by means of Self-Change Projects

The next book piece drops Friday February 10th and it’s about

the influence of context on my behaviour

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Setting High Standards & the Actual and Ideal Self

Accepting Responsibility
“The starting point of maturity is the realization that no one is coming to the rescue. Everything you are or ever will be is entirely up to you.”
~ Brian Tracy ~

If I want to make a change, I will have to accept personal responsibility for making that happen. Second, if I want to make a change I have to CHANGE MY BEHAVIOR. This is absolutely crucial because to create different results and conditions in Life, I have to change my actions. The key question thus becomes: How can I change my behaviour?

Explaining versus Declaring

Werner Erhard (2009) suggests that the current model of the social sciences is one of explaining behaviour. He refers to this as the ‘in-there/out-there’ model as it explains behaviour by either external conditions or internal traits of a person.
I already established that explaining behaviour in terms of external conditions diffuses responsibility and the same can be said about internal traits, as most people ascribe these to either genetic or environmental factors. The challenge with this model is that does not directly address how I can change my behaviour, it is more focused on explaining why ‘what is’ is the way that it is. This model is about taking an inventory of the status quo (current conditions) and finding an explanation for why things are the way they are as-of-now. The model explains current conditions in terms of past events or circumstances.
The explanations that this model produces help me feel safe and secure; they serve my need for predictability. These explanations can also keep me stuck in behaving in old ways, by staying with the safe and predictable.
For this reason, Werner Erhard (2009) suggests a new model for human behaviour, which focuses more directly on changing behaviour, rather than explaining it. This model is described in-depth in the ‘Three Laws of Performance’ by Zaffron and Logan (2009).
In this book, the authors state that performance is a correlate with how the world occurs for people and how people occur for themselves. Second, they state that both how the world occurs for people and how people occur for themselves is rooted in language. Thirdly, they state that people’s occurring may be altered, by shifting the way they use language. When the occurring is altered, performance is altered as well. The shift in the use of language is from one in which performance is explained to one in which declarations about performance are made. Language that explains performance is always focused on the past, whereas declarations are definite statements that refer to how I am going to live my Life from this point forward. An example would be when Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. At that moment, she made a declaration. She didn’t explain her having to sit in the back of the bus; she made declaration that she wasn’t going to move there.

I will integrate the new model Werner Erhard (2009) poses with various concepts about which I’ve written thru-out this book:

My behaviour is concomitant with my paradigm (worldview) and self-schema. Changing my behaviour requires changing my self-schema and this implies challenge and stress.
If I am already under too much challenge and stress in my Life, self-change will not occur for me as an authentic possibility.
In order for self-change to occur as an authentic possibility, I will have to reduce the challenge and stress levels in my Life.
This can be achieved by processing and completing past hurts, ridding myself of addictions and taking care of my own needs in a quality way. Doing this will restore my health, integrity, self-esteem and desire for exploration and adventure.
With these improvements, I will get hungry and eager for self-change, as I will get reference experiences (confirming evidence) that self-change is fun, not scary.
When self-change occurs to me as fun, I can now explore what is possible.
This allows me to design a vision of the future of how I want things to be and to make a declaration for making it a reality.

Setting High Standards for Living

When self-esteem is restored, I will naturally feel like I deserve the best Life has to offer.
I will want to set a higher standard for living for myself. According to Tony Robbins, raising your standards is one of the most important keys to success. Raising my standards starts with making sure my needs are met in a high quality manner. This means that I will not settle for less than the best in terms of taking care of my basic needs.
By creating new standards and focusing on living up to these standards, I notice that my attention shifts towards more internally based concepts for my self-schema. Just like my goals and my values, my standards are an internally based concept. By setting higher standards for myself, I am already changing my self-schema to be more internally-based. The focus is on valuing the self first (taking care of myself and having my needs met) and taking other people into consideration second. This may sound like a selfish notion and it is. The truth is that you can’t help another person out, when you don’t have your own Life sorted. In airplane emergency instructional video’s they always state:
“When cabin pressure drops, please put on your own oxygen mask first, before aiding your children in putting on theirs.”
It’s the same idea. We have to take good care of ourselves, before we can help another out.

Actual versus Ideal self

Raising my standards, setting new goals and changing my self-schema will involve challenge, tension and uncertainty in the form of cognitive dissonance. Current reality does not correspond yet with the new internally based concepts (new goals and standards for living) in my self-schema. Fortunately, I have more space available for the stress that this challenge, tension and uncertainty may bring. As I’ve completed past hurts and brought down stress levels in my Life, these new challenges do not overwhelm me, but add a healthy level of excitement and adventure to my Life. The discrepancy between my Actual Self (the self I am now) and my Ideal Self (the self I aspire to be) makes Life inspiring and creates an exciting anticipation for what the future has to offer.

“Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension:
The tension between what one already has achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap of what one is and what one wants to become.
Such a tension is inherent in a human being and is  therefore
indispensable to mental wellbeing. We should not be hesitant about
challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfil.
It is only then when we evoke his will to meaning from its state of latency. I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium, or as it is called in biology, homeostasis, that is, a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.
What man needs is not homeostasis, but what I call ‘no dynamics’, that is, the
existential dynamics in a polar field of tension, where one pole is represented
by a meaning that is to be fulfilled and the other by the man who has to fulfil it.”
~ Viktor Frankl ~

The ‘gap between what one is and what one wants to become’ is the gap between the Actual and the Ideal self and this gap creates cognitive dissonance. This is the ‘certain degree of tension’ Frankl talks about in the above quote. How one fills in his/her ideal self is entirely up to the individual. It is the answer to this question: How do I want to be? What higher version of self do I aspire to evolve and grow into?

Some people might be completely fine and just want to be exactly as they are now. More often than not, these people are simply already challenged enough by just living their Life in and of itself. Just to ‘get-by’ and survive is stressful enough, adding any extra goals or vision regarding their Ideal self would create too much tension and overload them, so they don’t bother with it too much. I think this is why some people simply are not into self-help and personal growth type materials, because they perceive it as just more work in an already stressful Life.

That’s why it is so key to complete past hurt, remove all sources of (dis)stress in my Life and get my needs met in a quality way. The less I am burdened by past pain and slowed down by stressors in my Life, the more cognitive dissonance I can handle from an aspiring Ideal self. In other words, I will have more capacity to take on bigger challenges.

The next book piece drops at Wednesday February 8th on the topic of new ways of relating to the Self-schema and builds towards how to effectively change behavior

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Obedience, Social Hierarchy & Blaming the Externals

Obedience to the system

There is another payoff for having my self-schema filled out by external suggestion (other people): It alleviates me of personal responsibility. If I just live my Life according to the ‘basic/generic ways to live Life according to society’, I can trust that the societal system will take care of me. As long as I do what the system wants, I can rest assured that the system will take good care of me. When I go to my physician’s office, and do as he says, I can make a trade-off: I will do what he says, and in exchange for that he’ll take good care of my health.

The reality is that it’s just so easy to be obedient to what the societal system wants us to do and not have to carry the burden of being responsible and personally accountable for many areas of our Life. Obviously we have to be able to have faith in the expertise of other people and we can’t educate ourselves on everything, but it can be very empowering to explore areas of Life in which I have diffused responsibility by simply trusting the system to take good care of me.

Herd Behaviour

This concept is clearly demonstrated in the field of nutrition. Millions of people, worldwide, today, are eating a high-carb diet filled with ground-up birdseeds (grains), rapeseed oils and way too much sugar, simply because they trusted nutritional advisors to take care of their eating habits. The currently distributed guidelines on nutrition were based on false information and driven by an economic agenda, yet people blindly trust the system. Most people don’t want to take a risk by stepping out of the herd mentality and they just blindly follow what other people suggest they should do, without examining and trying out things for themselves.

Herd mentality can become very dangerous, as we have seen in many wars.
Blind obedience and compliance with social norms can have devastating consequences; World War II Holocaust being one example of this, where normal, decent people are willing to do cruel things to other human beings just because some megalomaniac created an absolutely retarded social norm. Think about the consequences and risk of defying that social norm as a German soldier. Imagine being a Nazi and defying an order to execute Jewish people in a concentration camp. Defying an order would mean having to answer to a higher general and who knows what would happen to me when my fellow men decide to reject me from the in-group.
People stop taking personal responsibility for their actions and rationalize to themselves:
“I’m not killing these people. Mister Megalomaniac Leader is killing these people.
I’m just following orders.”
We’ve also seen what lengths obedient people can go to in Stanley Milgrams experiments on diffusion of responsibility and obedience.

Social Hierarchy

Working hard and being obedient (compliant) will not ensure that I will be rewarded by the system. In the current system, a lot of folks rely on dominance, being authoritative, bossing people around and gravitating towards power positions simply because they feel they deserve to be there. In the Netherlands, we have a saying:
“The bold and brutal possess half the world.”
It is unfortunate, but it is reality. In today’s society we have all these beautiful ideals about freedom and equality, but in reality, there are a lot of differences between people in terms of socio-economic classes and the challenge is that a part of us likes it that way. A part of me is invested in the competition aspect of making sure I get the highest rank as possible within the social hierarchy. This is my primitive instinct to secure as much resources (food, money, social support) for myself within the tribe. The problem with this primitive instinct is that it is outdated; it was necessary in an environment where resources were scarce. In today’s society, we no longer need to get to the top to get all the resources we need to meet our needs; we can generate enough to get everyone’s needs met in a quality way. But in order to get to such a place, I first need to realize that there is enough to go around and I need to stop being so concerned with looking good. Also, I should stop expecting the system to take care of my needs and start taking responsibility for getting my needs met in a quality way.

Blaming the externals

People like to blame externals for things in their Life they are dissatisfied with. The list for blaming externals is endless:
“I can’t get ahead, the economy is bad.”
“I can’t learn something, I have learning disabilities.”
“I can’t change my behaviour, my habits are too ingrained.”
“I can’t possibly be happy in life, someone convinced me that I have a mood disorder.”
“I can never love again, someone crushed my heart.”
“I can’t quit drinking, I have a genetic predisposition.”
“I can’t make any money, the system is corrupt.”

As I described in Part I, this diffuses responsibility, but also makes me feel out of control and incapable of making a change. This tendency is directly contingent upon having the social system handle and take care of things for me, rather than taking personal responsibility for making my Life work.
The hallmark of this is the recently started “Occupy”-movement. People have become so desperate, that they just go sit in the streets and do nothing and protest, hoping that ‘the system’ will change. Sorry, folks, if you do nothing, nothing is going to happen.
I think Gandhi put it best: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

No one cares, really

The reality of it is that the social system does not give a fuck whether or not my needs are met. This is not because society is careless, but because society is not an entity, it can’t have regard for every single person in the social system.
When it comes down to it, every person is focused on him/herself, just like I am. If I wait for someone external to me to take care of my needs in a quality way, I may end up waiting a long, long time. A large part of why I may not meet my needs in a quality way is because I have simply become accustomed (habituated) to how my needs are currently met.
If I survive, that’s good enough. It may not occur to me that there is a higher quality of living. When I am busy living and getting by (when just being alive is challenging enough as it is), I may not even be aware of the fact that my needs are not met in a quality way.

The next book piece drops on Monday February 6th on the topic of the Actual and the Ideal Self and setting High Standards

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External Suggestion, Instant Gratification and Self-esteem

 External suggestion

As a kid, I learn about the world by listening to the people around me: my parents, peers and caretakers. I have to listen to them, simply because I hardly know anything about Life. In order to learn about Life, I listen to what they have to teach me and I trust that they will teach me the right stuff. Being naïve and gullible is a necessity, as I can’t think for myself properly yet. As a result of this, my self-schema is filled out for me by the people around me and the way I process, label and interpret the world is purely the result of external conditioning. As I grow older, I can start to rely on myself more in order to determine my own views on Life. The time to build my own identity (to evaluate and redefine my self-schema) is adolescence. At this point, I want to be more independent and make my own choices in Life. It is the final developmental stage of childhood and branches into adulthood. There is a shift that takes place from accepting external suggestions to determine what my Life is about for myself (from the inside out).
Regardless of my age, external suggestion will probably always have an influence. The tendency is however, that as I grow older, I’m determining what my Life is about more and more by myself (based upon internally driven choices, rather than external suggestion).

Because of this fact, it can be useful to examine what kind of external suggestions and conditioning my parents, peers, caretakers and surroundings have taught me.
As a grown-up, I can take a fresh look at those things they have taught me and see whether I still think they are useful. The common tendency is to say: “No, those were MY OWN ideas, I thought about all of this myself. I was the one who figured this stuff all out.”
This is simply not true. It’s wiser to examine the beliefs and ideas you’ve been taught and see whether or not they are helpful and appropriate. If they are not, they can easily be replaced by better fitting concepts and beliefs about myself and about the world.
Let’s examine a couple forms of externally suggested ideas, beliefs, norms and values that are present in today’s society.

Instant Gratification

In today’s society, money is the token that is exchanged for things we value. Because of this, profitability and selling has become the only requirement for businesses to run and for any person to employ himself. As long as something sells and makes a profit (and as long as a business is legal), it survives and may even thrive.
So profitability and being able to sell have become the top priority. The highest value is:
Can we make a monetary profit by conducting this business?
This is an open door for exploiting and misleading people.
People have a natural tendency to seek for the quickest and most simple solution to any problem. This is an evolutionary advantage when you want to secure resources in the wild.
By nature, we seek to be as efficient as possible and don’t waste our time and energy on long-term strategies, when a short-term strategy is available and can produce the same result. It’s called instant gratification and it’s a good tendency to observe in oneself.
Advertisement plays into this directly. Good advertisement is taking a need that human beings have and associating it successfully with a certain product, brand or service.

Equating results with the Self

Off course, business people are not to blame for this, they just want to get buck (make money). The more they can get people to associate basic human needs and positive emotions with their brand or product, the more they can sell (which means more profit). And people fall for it because it seems easy, it’s really the consumers that are to blame, not the business people. In reality, meeting human needs and having positive emotionality takes a bit more work than just buying a product or service. In the meantime, there is a main theme that is being conditioned by this instant gratification driven type of consumer behaviour. That is: What I am worth is determined by what I got, how good I look and how well I’m doing, not who I am as a person.

This conditioning makes the experience of positive emotions and self-esteem a direct result of acquiring external status symbols (like money, a nice car, cool clothes and fame, praise and approval from other people). If I buy into these societal values, it means that I will constantly be chasing more status tokens, feeling good for a while when I get them, but never feeling fully satisfied. Every time I attain something that is external to myself (be it a product, a new house, a new education, a new friend or partner), I think to myself:
“This is going to solve my problems, take care of my needs and make me feel great about myself and my Life.”

Unfortunately, these expectations never get realized and I start seeking for the next thing that will finally make my Life work and make me feel complete.
Owen Cook (2007) once stated: “The best consumer is one walking around with a hole in his/her self-esteem.”

If I have unresolved hurts from the past and I am unaware of these because I’m in self-deception and denial about them, it would not occur to me go do some work on the hurts and instead I will go compulsively act out my short-term mood altering addictive behaviours. I will go buy those new stylish clothes, so I look cool. I will go get that big car so that my neighbour will be jealous. I will go seek out the latest information course about how to solve my Life’s problems. I will go do 10 hours of intense cardio exercise to show how much of an athlete I am. I will go buy and take those pills, which the doctor prescribed to me and told me that was going to fix me.
I will go seek a new co-dependent relationship with a guy/gal that will finally make me feel loved and complete. I will go work for 10 hours a day, so that my co-workers and boss will be impressed. Or perhaps I should just grab another beer.

“Why don’t you just get a needle and jab it in your arm,
at least it won’t be absurd.”
~ Pook ~

Shaky Sense of Self-worth

By buying into these mood altering addictions, I can’t help but like myself less. Also, my own sense of self-worth and confidence becomes intimately linked with how I stack up in terms of how good I look (in terms of status tokens like possessions, approval, etc.).
As I stated before, external conditions can change at any time, and when my sense of self-worth is invested in these, I will constantly walk around anxious that they may fall away. This is often seen in celebrities that achieve a lot of fame. They can’t handle all the approval that’s flooding their way and it becomes an addiction. It is not uncommon for them to then cross-over into other types of mood altering addictions (like drugs).

Getting approval and validation from other people can become an addiction. This quest for social acceptance can become a real hindrance to me living my Life the way I want to and it can also negatively impact how I feel about myself. When I am very concerned about gaining other people’s approval, the way I feel will become dependent on gaining other people’s validation.
In this way, I will only feel good about myself when other people approve of me:

“For people who erroneously identify with their ego as who they are,
how they feel will only be as good as the feedback they get.
Their state and the way they feel is a product of what people project onto them.
They are always fighting an uphill battle to keep everyone happy.”
~ Alex Treasure ~


Real self-esteem, which comes from the inside, is characterized by valuing the self and this means: taking great care of myself.
It includes not allowing anyone to hurt, abuse or take advantage of me. It includes making sure that my needs get met. It involves being compassionate towards myself and healing any wounds or hurts that I may have. It means eliminating habits that are self-limiting and destructive (like any mood altering compulsive addictions I may have).
The reality is that when self-esteem issues are not dealt with, it is highly unlikely that I will go after what I want. And if I were to receive what I want, I’d find a way to sabotage it, as me getting what I want is inconsistent with my own sense of self-esteem and level of deservedness.

“People don’t get what they want. People don’t get what they need.
People get what they truly feel they deserve.”
~ David Shade ~ 

When hurts to self-esteem are not dealt with, this shows up in a lack of deservedness.
I will meekly wait in the hopes of receiving what I want, rather than confidently taking it. Sometimes people may even seek out and stay in relationships that are abusive to them, because they feel they deserve it.

The truth is, that in any experience I have, there is always a Self that is experiencing. When that self doesn’t feel good about itself, there is no experience in Life that I can truly enjoy.
Let’s examine a couple more ways that my need to look good may be holding me back in bringing about self-change. 

Not investing all efforts in order
to minimize failure

In a casino, you can either play relentlessly (place all your chips) or you can play it safe. If you play it safe, your chances for loss are lower, but your chances for winning are lower as well. In psychology, this is called Conservation of Resources theory (Hobfoll, 1989).
It refers to the idea that people with a lot of resources risk investing what they have while the people with few resources hold onto what they have. As a general rule, the more people invest resources, the more they gain (win) resources. As a result of this, those with plenty of resources can increase their amount of resources, while those with little stagnate because they invest too little. Another way of saying this is playing to not lose (the resources that you have). By focusing on avoiding loss, it is that much harder to actually win and gain more resources.

In a social context, self-enhancement and looking good plays largely into this. People like to set low goals and not work too hard to make a change, because that way, the chances of failure are much smaller. Attempting a hard goal involves risking failure and thus looking bad and losing approval if anyone happens to notice. By ‘playing a small game in life’ (in the words of Werner Erhard) I can save face and avoid failing. It also means that I won’t get disappointed if I set a hard goal and fail to accomplish it. Playing it safe has a lot of secondary payoffs.

Social pressure for a static identity

Going along with the crowd means that I won’t stand out. To stand out from the rest and be an unique individual implies that people will take notice. Being like everyone else helps me to go unnoticed; it’s a way to avoid uncertainty about how I will be judged. This can be a very strong motive for me to stay the way I currently am. If I were to change there is the question of whether or not people will accept the new (changed) me?
People that stay the same don’t like to see other people change. It messes with their cognitive dissonance. If I change, then the people around me have to re-adjust their mental schemas about me in order to alleviate their cognitive dissonance. Furthermore, they would also have to examine and re-evaluate their concepts and beliefs about change itself. It would be much more convenient if I would just stay the same. Again, this goes mostly for people whose lives are already challenging enough as it is. Also, people like to relate to others, to have other people verify (agree with) what they already believe.
This results in a social pressure for staying the same and thus, creates a static identity for most people.

The kick-down-the-next-man syndrome

Furthermore, people also like to self-enhance. I like to compare myself with others and see how I’m better than them. If someone else excels more than I do, I can’t feel superior. People do not like it when someone else excels when they do not. This is also referred to as the crabs-in-a-bucket syndrome, because crabs in a bucket pull each other back into the bucket when one is close to escaping the bucket.

“If you put crabs in a barrel to ensure your survival, you’re gonna end up
pulling down niggas to look just like you.”
~ Jay-Z ~

It sounds harsh, but it’s what we like to do when someone else is getting ahead, while we are the ones that want to get ahead. It’s almost like when someone excels too far out of the pack, we view it as a violation to the rest of the pack. Instead of admiring that person, taking a closer look at them and learning from them and also being thankful for the opportunity of showing what is possible, we would rather hate on them and call them back to where the pack is at. This may seem a bit far out, but I think it’s why Jesus was nailed to the cross; the rest of the pack simply wasn’t ready for what he had to share.

The next book piece drops at Friday February 3rd on the topic of Obedience, Social Hierarchy and Blaming externals

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Internally and Externally based Self-schema’s

Internal or External Self-schema

Concepts in the self-schema may refer to things internal or external to the self. Examples of things internal to the self are my values, my goals, my views and my preferences. Examples of concepts external to the self are my possessions, my friends and my reputation. Off course, the approval and validation I get from other people is also external.
Tolle (2005) talks about identity enhancers, which are external objects that people may use to self-enhance. By associating ourselves with positive feedback or objects in reality, we can feel better about ourselves (for example, I may self-enhance, by acquiring a lot of money and fame). The downside of doing this is that our self-schema is filled in with external concepts.
Being situated external, these conditions are more prone to change, increasing our chances for cognitive dissonance. Things that are external to me are less stable; they are more affected by the winds of change. Also, they are not within my direct control. When externals change, it means that my self-schema is no longer consistent with reality and this produces the tension of cognitive dissonance.
Unfortunately, most people give little thought to what fills their self-schema. They sort of take ‘who they are’ as a given and don’t really investigate what is in their self-schema.

Rigid or flexible beliefs

In today’s society there is a sort of ‘I am who I am’-mentality in the culture. Identity is formed sort-of randomly thru childhood and adolescence and once people reach adulthood, they don’t give much thought to what is in their self-schema. This passive attitude keeps people acting predictable and is convenient. People know what to expect from one another and no one has to go thru the hassle of examining how they are being, think about how they would like to be, set goals for change and figure out ways to change. It results in a rigidly set self-schema that resists change, because change involves investment of time and energy. If Life is challenging enough as it is, any additional work on self-change is simply too much. Resignation to the ‘who I am as-of-now’ is much more convenient and easy. Any idea that challenges the ‘I am who I am’-mentality is better left out of conscious attention. This is why some people have an open mind towards self-change, while others do not. Flexibility of beliefs is influenced by open-mindedness.
If I am stressed out already (by past hurts) and can’t afford to spend additional energy I would rather stick to keeping my attention narrow, my beliefs and self-schema unchanged, and my world as predictable and safe as possible.
The ultimate form of rigidity of beliefs is thinking that my ideas and what I believe are what is real; it’s when I say: THIS IS HOW IT IS. In reality, all ideas and beliefs are just perspectives that approximate reality, they are mental maps that refer to reality, but are just abstract symbols and are not the real thing.

“Thinking about right now, figuring it out, perceiving it, arguing, reading about
or believing anything about right now –
none of these produce any certainty about living.”
~ Werner Erhard ~

One of the presuppositions of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is that ‘the map is not the territory’ (Bavister & Vickers, 2010). The map of concepts we have in our minds is not reality. It is a set of ideas about reality. Our maps of reality get revised with new facts from reality, in order to be able to make the most accurate assumptions and predictions about the world. It is never possible to create a perfect map or schema. Because of this, it is important to remain flexible with holding concepts, beliefs and schemas.


Self-limiting beliefs

Besides basing my self-schema on external concepts, there are other ways my self-schema can be impaired. For example, I can also hold beliefs about myself that are based on judgments or false information, rather than reality. Any ideas concerning learning, skills and abilities usually fall into this category.
For instance, someone’s ‘skill level’ on any given subject is determined by social comparison. A score on a test has no meaning, unless there is a reference group of other people to compare it to. The data that are collected by any measure or test are coming a 100% exclusively from arbitrary standards created by the human mind AND they exist exclusively as compared to how the rest of the population scores on it.

If a researcher makes one measurement with one subject, he has no idea whether this is a high, low or intermediate score. It is only in the context of social comparison that he can arrive at such judgments.

In reality, no such things exist, but if you analyse reality by social comparison and judgments, and you believe that these ideas are the real thing, they become true in your experience.

What do you think the REAL CONSEQUENCES are if you repeatedly tell a kid that he is ‘low’ in intelligence and he believes it is true because of his/her innocence and naivety?

How do you think this kid will react emotionally to a statement like that? How do you think the belief systems and self-concept of this kid will develop as a result of this?
How do you think teachers, peers and parents will behave towards this kid?

These types of suggestions are based on judgments about performance. Having a belief about being bad at certain activities is completely useless.
It is irrelevant, because developing skills and abilities are learning processes.
Having a belief about being bad at certain skills can only hinder me in learning the skill.
It is a waste of time to look on the score board and evaluate how I’m doing during an activity, as my attention should be engaged in doing the task at hand.

I think the biggest challenge in facing these self-limiting tendencies is that they all depend so largely on my need to self-enhance, my need to look good and fit in with society at large. Human beings are tribal people; we have evolved to survive in groups. Not being accepted in the tribe meant death in the early days. Nowadays, we still depend on gaining approval, building relationships and co-operating with others. As a result of this, my identity can become enmeshed within the social system around me. For the remainder of this part,
I will describe how the social system around me will fill in my self-schema by default (if I stay passive). After that, I will share how it is possible to regain a more self-determined self-schema by establishing healthy boundaries between the self, other people and society at large, as well as exercising the degree of conscious and deliberate control I have over my own behaviour.

The next book piece drops at Wednesday February 1st on the topic of External Suggestion, Instant Gratification and Self-esteem

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Self-Verification & Self-Enhancement

the re-enforcing nature of beliefs

With the concepts in our minds, we create beliefs about the world. More specifically, with the concepts in our self-schema, we form beliefs about ourselves. Like I stated earlier, concepts and schemas determine what we notice and what we do not notice in our reality. You usually don’t see what you’re looking at; you see what you’re looking with.
Our concepts direct our attention so that we pay attention to those things that our concepts refer to (that which they represent mentally).
A similar process happens for the beliefs we hold (about ourselves, as well as the world at large). We perceive reality and selectively pay attention to those things that confirm our beliefs. This process is called Self-Verification, because we have a tendency to seek and verify the beliefs we already hold in our minds. When we have found information that confirms our beliefs, we use it as evidence and a reference experience for the belief. The more evidence and reference experiences we gather for a belief, the stronger (our faith in) it grows.
In science, this is called the confirmation bias and it is widely advised to counter this tendency to self-verify by always looking at alternate theories and instances in which your belief or theory may be invalidated.

In everyday Life and in our self-schema, this phenomenon can influence our attention, mental processing and behaviour incredibly (Cook, 2007). For example: Let’s say that two beginners start a new sport: soccer. One of the two has a belief that he is good at sports like these, while the other has a belief that he is poor at soccer. Both players are likely to perform poorly the first time they play soccer. Yet, the first beginner will pay attention and later recall those instances of his play when he was doing well, whereas the second player will focus on instances of his play when he performed poorly. As a result of this, the first player will learn more when he reflects on his play and his skills are more likely to improve, further serving as evidence and reference experiences for his belief that he is good at soccer. The second player also finds confirmation and verification for his beliefs, only his performance doesn’t improve as much.

The reason we seek to verify our existing beliefs is simple, it keeps cognitive dissonance to a minimum. If we selectively seek out instances and aspects of reality that are consistent with the beliefs we hold in our minds, no tension and anxiety will arise in the form of cognitive dissonance. It is for the same reason, that our minds direct our behaviours to be consistent with the beliefs and concepts we hold about ourselves.

Behavioural consistency with the self-schema

In order to minimize cognitive dissonance, I strive to behave consistent with my self-schema. I will attempt to act in accordance with the ideas I hold about myself. When I notice that my behaviour deviates from what is in my self-schema, I will either:
rationalize it away, change my self-schema or change my behaviour.

Another way of saying this would be ‘being true to myself’; so I could say that my actions and ideas about myself are congruent with each other. There is another term for this:


“Being and acting consistently with who you hold yourself out to be for others, and who you hold yourself to be for yourself.” (Erhard, Jensen, Zaffron & Granger, 2010)

As a human being, I like to think of myself as being real and authentic, not phony and fake. Yet, sometimes I may not be authentic and my being and acting may be out of alignment with who I hold myself out to be. Given my brain’s capacity for selective attention, self-deception and denial, this may even happen outside of my awareness; I may be oblivious to it. Inauthenticity may be obvious, apparent and self-evident to the people around me, while I have no sense of acting inauthentic.
People act inauthentic more often than they realize.

“Put simply, people consistently act inconsistently; unaware
of the contradiction between their espoused theory and
their theory-in-use, between the way they think
they are acting, and the way they really act.”
(Argyris, 1991, as quoted in Erhard et. al., 2010)

Human beings may violate their tendency to behave in a manner consistent with their self-schema if there are rewards or pay-offs for doing so. The most common of these rewards/payoffs is approval or validation from other people. Erhard et. al. (2010) refers to this as admiration and more simply as wanting to ‘look good’. In the scientific realm this pathetic need for looking good is referred to as:


I like for my self-schema to look good. I like to think of myself as the greatest person in the world. I like to jump at opportunities that confirm what an amazing person I am. I like to pay attention and focus on aspects of reality that highlight my positive sides. I like to compare myself with others and notice I am better than them. I like to win. I like to receive compliments, applause and approval from other people.

“This is because you want people to know to how good, attractive, generous, funny, wild and clever you really are.
Fear or revere me, but please, think I’m special.
You share an addiction: We are approval junkies.
We’re all in it for the slap on the back and the gold watch; the hip-hip-hoo-fucking-raw. Look at the clever boy with the badge, polishing his trophy.
Shine on; you crazy diamond.
‘Cause we’re just monkeys, wrapped in suits,
begging for the approval of others.”

~ Revolver – Guy Ritchie ~

In order to self-enhance, I seek to behave in ways that will gain me the approval of others. In doing so, a dilemma may arise. My self-schema may be inconsistent with how other people want me to act. My tendency to self-verify and act consistent with my self-schema may conflict with my tendency to self-enhance. This conflict may result in either:

  • Compromising both self-verification and authenticity
  • Compromising self-enhancement (approval from others)

When compromising authenticity, I go along with what others want from me, but feeling inauthentic (phony and fake) about my demeanour (cognitive dissonance will arise from behaving inconsistent with my self-schema). One way to deal with this is to simply change my self-schema; to bend and conform my beliefs to what other people believe.
Another option is to refuse going along with how other people want me to act. In this instance, my authenticity is intact, but I will risk facing disapproval from other people. As social animals, human beings need the approval of other people in order to co-operate and form relationships with them. As a result of this, a trade-off has to be made when expectations and beliefs of the self are in conflict with those of the people around the self.

How Science compromises Authenticity

Mouton & Marais (1988) describe one of the social mechanisms that operate within the scientific community. They note there is a sort of trade-off that happens between a researcher and the scientific community. In this trade-off, the researcher receives community specific rewards (such as academic recognition in the form of publications in high-status journals or receiving awards) in exchange for producing adequate scientific knowledge or information. By this means, the scientific community has a sort of social control “because of the fact that scientists seek recognition” and “tend to accept the goals and values of the research community”. This academic recognition is a sort of carrot that gets hung in front of students and starting researchers that helps to stimulate them to produce studies and articles based upon the rules and guideline provided by the scientific community. The rookie scientist sees academic recognition as a worthwhile goal to strive for.

When I first started my education in Psychology at university I always thought this was a pretty weird kind of motivation.
My approach to education had always been to learn useful information and skills that I could apply to make my Life (and other people’s lives) better. This kind of recognition seemed totally useless to me. Over the years I started to think more about this type of motivation. I know see it as a form of self-enhancement, and a compensating for a lack of self-esteem.

If I can get recognition and acclaim in the scientific world, it must mean I’m a smart and intelligent person…

This whole notion of impressing everyone with how intelligent I am is pretty strange. It can only serve a person who does not naturally feel great about himself or herself. It’s also important to realize that this tendency is not logical, it is emotional. If my research, studies and investigations are motivated by a desire to get acclaim in the scientific world, then my works will be coloured by a need to impress my peers and I’ll be highly likely to conform to whatever the status quo of the scientific community is. This does not sound like a good recipe for breakthroughs, creativity and independent thinking to me, nor does this sound like it will make an authentic contribution to the world. In my opinion, scientific research should be geared towards empowering people, not necessarily towards gaining consensus and approval.

Self-enhancement is about the Self-schema,
not about Life Quality

Self-enhancement is about enhancement of the self-schema, making it mostly a mental act. The term should not be mistaken by other commonly used terms like self-improvement, self-help or self-development, which are focused on improving the conditions and quality of my Life. Self-enhancement is about enhancing the way I perceive myself (‘How can I make myself look good?’). Self-improvement is about learning new skills, growing as a person and improving the quality of my Life.

The next book piece drops at Monday January 30th on the topic of internally- and externally based concepts for the Self-schema

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