What to do with Paradigms

What to do with Paradigms

by Joel Christie

We all have paradigms, those patterns and structures that shape our thinking and beliefs in certain particular ways, wherein we like some things, and dislike others, trust some sources, and distrust others, etc., etc.. It's inescapable. And though it might be tempting to label this as a bad thing (as some indeed have), doing so would merely be acting out of one's paradigm. Ha. No, the fact that we operate out of paradigms is neither good nor bad, it is simply one of our primary ways of managing thoughts and information.

Our paradigms affect the way we live of course. If I have come to believe that all oranges taste bad, I may in fact miss out on that one magical, extraordinarily lovely type of orange that I would actually totally enjoy. However, the overriding hostility I feel towards oranges in general also helps me avoid eating plenty of yucky bad oranges I don't like. (I like oranges fine, by the way. But I know some anti-orange people out there... You know who you are.) Regardless, we all do this. We may attempt to not do it, insisting, "But I am open-minded!" Ah. But in so doing we are nevertheless demonstrating a paradigm diligently at work making sure we aren't close minded. Again, there's no need to worry about the fact that you and I and everyone else operates out of paradigms.

But that is not to say that the content of the paradigms we develop cannot be harmful. Certainly it can be, and in a variety of ways. I could come to believe that exercise is nothing more than an annoying waste of time that leaves me feeling sore, sweaty, and generally gross. Why would I want to spend my time doing something that makes me uncomfortable and that I don't enjoy? That's stupid. Duh. ...Except that exercise is also critical for maintaining health, regulating chemicals within my body, assists in keeping me on a consistent and reliable sleep schedule, and giving me energy though out the day, the lack of which could contribute to depression as a result of a dopamine deficiency, and a general sense of lethargy, which I also don't enjoy. Not to mention that exercise allows me to be in good enough shape to run from a bear if I should happen to come across one. All good things. And all things I will miss out on if my paradigm tells me there is no point to putting in the hard work that comes from exercising. It might also prevent me from discovering certain types of exercise which I enjoy. Bummer.

Some aspects of our paradigms are formed consciously: "Goodness, this seminar on Shakespearean literature certainly has helped me rethink the implications of Macbeth, just as I hoped it would." But many aspects of them are formed subconsciously, which means I may lack awareness about why I believe what I believe/ want what I want. "Hmm, now that you mention it, what drove me to sign up for that seminar on Shakespearean literature in the first place? I mean, I know I like Shakespeare and all... but why? Did it have anything to do with the fact that my father often praised me for being 'As witty as Shakespeare?' Dear God, I'm nothing but a puppet!" And so on.

Regardless of how and why our paradigms are formed, we can be confident that they will deeply impact the decisions we make, the way we feel about ourselves and others, and the things we enjoy or don't enjoy in life. Examining our paradigms not only helps us understand ourselves better so that we have a clearer sense of why we believe what we believe, it can also open up space for us to challenge and change beliefs we may possess which contribute to depression, anxiety, poor self esteem, and plenty of other belief-rooted maladies. For those interested in such change, a good way to begin examining a paradigm is to ask myself how I came to believe something, and why I still believe it, or no longer do. Journaling can be one way to do this, or simply sitting alone with my thoughts. Conversation can also help me unpack my paradigms, though of course this means I will be rubbing up against someone else's paradigms. But that's okay! These why questions can lead to greater illumination, producing a stronger sense of self confidence and also indicating areas where I would like to see growth and change occur in those portions of my paradigms no longer satisfy me. And that can be downright life changing.

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