Life’s Little Training Wheels
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
Life’s Little Training WheelsGetting past beliefs that work against you.
My first bicycle came with training wheels. While I was learning to ride, the training wheels kept me safe by preventing me from falling. They were definitely helping me at that stage. But as I mastered the bike and started going faster and tearing around corners, I had to remove the training wheels, because what had once kept me safe was now getting in my way. It was scary, but I removed them, and bike riding suddenly got a lot smoother and easier.
If some of our beliefs were as visible as training wheels, we would see a lot sooner when the time came to let go of them. As I grew up, an overweight loner among the neighborhood kids, I learned that people were not to be trusted. When boys would approach me, it was often to insult me or beat me up. I learned quickly to harden myself, to avoid eye contact, to ignore taunts.
Although the severe hostility of that environment lasted only through junior high school, and in fact I’ve met many people since then who wanted to be close to me, I rode around through life with the “training wheels” of my distrust for a long time after that. My point is this: Just because you have a belief and nothing has happened to blatantly disprove it, that doesn’t mean the belief is true!
People and life are so varied and complicated that it’s rare that one universal statement of “Truth” is always true for everyone and for all of time. In fact, a belief may be working against you in the form of self-fulfilling prophecy. Beliefs such as I can’t ___ or I’m too ___ to do ___ are obvious examples: just by believing those things, you affect the results you get in all sorts of ways. But there are many more subtle, unconscious beliefs we have that work against us until we recognize them and consciously develop new, more effective attitudes. Beliefs or attitudes learned in the past can be like training wheels never removed from a bicycle, hindering us in improving our quality of life.
Early in school, we get taught facts and skills, much as dogs get taught tricks. The model of education is: learn facts—truth—then prove we know them through a test, paper, presentation, or other means. After 12 or more years of this pattern, it’s not surprising that it’s tough to shake, especially considering we do learn a lot of valuable things in school. Without mastering the basic fundamentals of language, arithmetic, and problem solving, we would find it difficult to get along today.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to go unconscious and run on autopilot, spending the rest of my days learning facts and proving to other people that I know them. Are you acquainted with anyone like that? I’ve met folks who, for no purpose apparent to me, spend their lives doing just that—learning facts and proving they know them. If you’re having trouble relating to this, go to a baseball park and listen to the conversations about batting averages, RBIs, and slugging percentages!
When I was an undergraduate at Harvard, there was a man who spent his life standing by the bus terminal in Harvard Square, listening to strangers’ conversations and chiming in with the number of the bus they’d have to take to get to their destination. I tested his knowledge one day by asking him how to get to a particularly obscure location several miles away. Without missing a beat, he began, “Ya gotta take two buses . . .”!
Most of us don’t take the learning-telling pattern to quite this extreme. We make the transition from learning facts as an end in itself to abstract thinking—formulating concepts, developing ways to think about life, building a belief system that helps us make sense of the world. New facts get filtered through this belief system and—in the traditional model of education—strengthen the true beliefs and bring into question the erroneous ones. By early adulthood, most of us have pretty much assembled the major beams and girders in our models of the universe, and continued acquisition of facts begins to have diminishing returns.
This is where most people stop unless they come upon a major crisis in their lives that requires rethinking some of their basic beliefs. It’s not surprising: Tinkering with your belief system can feel uncomfortable. So unless there’s some good reason to do it, people tend to stick with what they’ve got. But stick is an appropriate word: Personal growth occurs when we allow our belief systems to flex and grow with us. When we develop an inflexible mind-set, we stay stuck with what we’ve got.
The way to make progress is to do what Einstein did. Just as he was willing to question something as obvious, unshakable, and “True” as Newton’s laws of motion, the way to make real progress in life is to question attitudes and beliefs we consider “obviously true”—to realize there may be other, equally valid models of our life that, in our current situation, work better than the old one. Sometimes we need to do more unlearning than learning!