Improve your life by rejecting mental models that inhibit freedom, joy, and other reward

February 15, 2014 by Joshua
in Awareness, Freedom, Nature, Tips

On another forum I got into a dialog about the mental models of introversion and extroversion I found relevant, given my posts here. My goal on treating the mental model of the one-dimensional introversion-extroversion is deeper than examining this one mental model. It’s to show how much people can confuse mental models with actual observations. Without that confusion you can reject models that inhibit you. They see the mental models of introversion, extroversion, and the spectrum between them as parts of reality independent of their perception. They are only as real as people perceive them. So was the impossibility of breaking a four-minute mile. So was the idea that angels flapping their wings made the Earth go around the Sun.

Someone described themselves as introverted though capable of extroverted things and asked

Would you really say I’m an extrovert because I have “the skills” even if I don’t (can’t) love it?

I responded

I would say the model of an introversion-extroversion spectrum didn’t describe your situation and suggest dropping the concept as unhelpful.

You say you love teaching, but are introverted because of how hard it feels. I’ve never met a teacher who said anything other than that they loved teaching but it was hard work. I don’t see what meaning adding the introvert label adds except to imply other people find teaching easier, which I doubt. Maybe there are a class of people who find teaching easy that I haven’t met, but I think everyone finds it hard. Same with public speaking, meeting strangers, and so on. Your description of yourself described me almost perfectly when I was a graduate student. Starting a company forced me to realize I needed new skills. I developed them over the course of years. Now that description can apply to me sometimes in some situations and not in others. And I’ve met many people who grew similarly. I would have changed faster had I not had that model in my head and I suspect most of them would have too. When a model doesn’t describe what it’s supposed to and discourages people’s attempts to improve their lives, it seems to have negative value.

It’s like the idea that people couldn’t run a mile in under four minutes. They thought they couldn’t so they couldn’t. But it was a made-up concept too. Once one person did, many others did too. The concepts of introversion and extroversion seem to act like blinders that prevent people from attempting new things or finding joy in things.

When a woman claiming to be an expert on introversion gives a talk to be viewed by millions claims she’s really a closet introvert yet gives a great, smiling performance, I think it’s clear the term doesn’t mean what people think it does. I bet if Susan Cain came out and said “You know what? I was an introvert, but I became an extrovert and if I can do it so can you” millions of her readers and viewers would suddenly find themselves able to do things they thought they couldn’t and enjoy them more than they thought they could. Not because of any new abilities, but from the made-up concepts no longer discouraging them.

People saying “I’m an introvert,” seem to imply some things are particularly hard for them, as if it’s easier for people they call extroverts. But the things they describe seem hard for everyone. Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but I haven’t seen a case of someone using the word introvert that didn’t imply “this is harder for me than it is for others.” Obviously, I don’t know you beyond a few words on this page, but I suspect you have the potential to enjoy teaching more than you do, and the made-up concept of introversion and extroversion is keeping you from it.

Someone else joked

I loved Quiet and found much of what it said to be useful to me. Maybe Joshua is an extrovert and didn’t get it. 😉

I responded

By most people’s definitions I am an introvert sometimes and an extrovert others. I used to be only one and thought I couldn’t do anything about it. Had I read the book then, I would have said the same as you. But life led me to do something about it, which improved my life in ways I likely would have thought impossible had I read the book first. Experience showed the model counterproductive.

Of course I’m glad when people find things that they find useful. If you feel the model and the book improve your life, that sounds great. I just think that if she came out and said “You know what, talking to this audience, knowing millions of people will view this, I do find joy in this, and I realize it must have been this hard for everyone who did this, and to everyone watching who feels trapped in a shell, if I can do it so can you” then many people would find greater capability, joy, happiness, fulfillment, and so on.

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