Identity and Self-Limiting Beliefs

Paul Graham writes

I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people’s identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that’s part of their identity. By definition they’re partisan.

Which topics engage people’s identity depends on the people, not the topic. For example, a discussion about a battle that included citizens of one or more of the countries involved would probably degenerate into a political argument. But a discussion today about a battle that took place in the Bronze Age probably wouldn’t. No one would know what side to be on.

I’d like to add another reason to keep your identity small — self-limiting beliefs. You (hopefully) use your beliefs about yourself for more than just talking to other people. You use them for decisions, and thinking about what to do.

If you’re wrong about yourself, you’re not going to do things that you could do. You can also think that you can do things that you can’t, but as long as you actually act on those beliefs you’ll pretty quickly get evidence to the contrary.

What’s more worrying is thinking that you can’t or shouldn’t do something, when really you can. If you never do something, you never receive feedback telling you that you can do it. If you never receive feedback, you never change your mind.

Bob doesn’t think that he can ask out Alice, so he doesn’t. This reinforces his belief that he can’t, so he continues not to. Eventually he decides that he’s just not the kind of person who can, and he keeps on not doing it.

It turns out that he could also just like, figure out a date plan, and ask Alice if she wants to go. But because he thinks that he can’t, he doesn’t. Sadface.

So keep your identity small. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do things, because that will make it true.


About atucker

Provisional pronouncements and (hopefully) honest mistakes. I'd like to be differently wrong about things, and helpful to the world.
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