We often picture some of our beliefs as deeply held. We experience them as strong convictions that defy revision as our lives improve. We also experience these deeply held beliefs as lacking in nuanced assessments of complex situations, opportunities and outcomes. Here are a few examples of believing in start contrasts:
We may believe:
- that success is an all or nothing proposition that vanishes with the slightest hint of failure
- that our satisfaction depends on being better than everyone else without exception
- that we have to be right at all cost and cannot afford to make a mistake or get proven wrong
- that a pattern of misfortune always happens when we least expect it, even though we always expect it to occur
- that we have to be the one in charge so as to never get bossed around, power-tripped or compromised by others
- that any sign of disapproval is clear indication of total rejection, invalidation and intolerance
- that any work we do has to be perfectly flawless and beyond criticism in order to seem acceptable for others to see it
Each of these beliefs go to one extreme to avoid the opposite extreme. They reject the middle ground as no different from the extreme to be avoided. These beliefs dismiss tentative interest in less extreme alternatives as kidding ourselves, wishful thinking or a lack of realism.
The problems with extreme beliefs are obvious when we see them take effect in others' lives. However, they seem unmanageable in our own experiences and more like problems we've learned to endure. Attempts to defy these beliefs seem futile and prove to be short lived. The beliefs win every time in the end.
We cannot change our beliefs by finding fault with them. We need to search for a non-pathological diagnosis that reveals the "solution in use" by the deeply-held belief in stark contrasts. Here's some of the payoffs from believing in stark contrasts that we're likely to find down in the depths of our psyches:
- taking a load off our slow, energy-intensive thought processes
- setting ourselves up to make fast, reliable judgments in "fight or flight" situations
- avoiding the danger of getting deceived, manipulated or betrayed by others' advice for us
- establishing some autonomy from clinging and controlling relationships
- going for self respect amidst a tribe colluding on low standards, excuses and self pity
- overcoming one's own inhibitions, hesitation and hang-ups that interfere with personal courage
- becoming exceptional to avoid getting labeled as "one of them" or identified with mediocrity
When we become aware of payoffs like these, we realize we no longer have a problem to fix, we've got a "solution in use". With this new perspective, we can create even better solutions without "throwing the baby out with the bath water". We see the good in the deeply held belief and how to achieve something even better. It's not necessary to give up all the payoffs. We can pull off the paradox of changing our belief in stark contrasts while keeping the payoffs from previously believing in stark contrasts. We meet in the middle where the conflicted interests in change and stability find common ground. We maintain the deep commitment to solutions in use while upgrading to a better solution.