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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Cognitive Distortion and a Myth About Success

Let’s blame the dog. Let’s blame the dog for everything, shall we, Readers? 

Not fair?

I’ll tell you what’s not fair. What’s not fair is that the husband is on call 50% of the time. This means he gets awakened at night 50% of nights. Which means I, too, get my sleep interrupted. And then, on top of that, whenever the dog - dang him - gets some kind of stomach illness, it is always on one of the nights that the husband (and therefore, theoretically, I, despite being perimenopausal) am expecting uninterrupted sleep. 

That’s what’s not fair. 

Or maybe that’s life. Life is also not fair. My father often told me this as I was growing up. I was suffering from a cognitive distortion, apparently. Cognitive distortions are ways in which our minds make us think things are true that aren't. 

“Life is not fair,” he would say. 
“That’s no fun,” I would say.  
“We are not here for fun,” he would say. 
“Then what are we here for?” I would say. 
“Duty, honor, and our country,” he would say. 

Yeah, that’s what was going on when I was growing up. Perhaps that is why I am somewhat pessimistic when I’d rather be optimistic.  So maybe let’s blame my father. But really, he was disabusing me of one of the above-mentioned cognitive distortions to which we are all susceptible, the fallacy of fairness.

So, let’s blame the dog, this week. That's also a cognitive distortion, blaming. But actually, this time it really is the dog's fault. Because that’s what’s been going on around here. Last night, after a round of medicine, the dog slept through the night. This means - you guessed it - the husband was on call, and therefore neither of us slept through. But the dog, the dog was comfortable.

He knows he's cute and will be forgiven

But that wasn’t what I was going to write about. That just came out. I’m blaming the dog for missing my post yesterday and writing it today. I was just too tired. 

What I was going to write about was a myth about success. Here’s the myth. The idea that successful people are somehow different from other people. That they have special DNA that gives them a deep down, elementary sense of the inevitablity of whatever it is they set out to achieve. I used to think that there was an invisible wall between me and successful people. The successful people were tantalizingly close but still unaccessible. 

This is a myth. Successful people do not, in fact, have an invisible mark on their foreheads that shows up under black light and lets them into the club of success. 

Plenty of successful people had no idea they would succeed. Plenty of successful people just plugged away at some project or another, full of doubt and anxiety, full of pessimism, even, before succeeding. 

Furthermore, anyone who has succeeded has also failed. It’s just that we tend to forget the negative things when the positive ones stand out so well. When looking at our own experiences, perhaps we are more critical and remember the failures more than their flip sides. This is called filtering

There is another cognitive distortion colloquially known as the grass is always greener. Well, that's what I call it. If it isn't on the official list of cognitive distortions, it should be. So I found this article refreshing. (See link below, after you have finished my post.) It is about a trend of posting resumes of failure. In other words, instead of just promoting their successes, these nice people put out a list of all the things they've tried and failed to do. It’s a nice thing to know that Princeton professors, among others, have a long list of failures on their resumes. It’s one thing to hear that Edison had hundreds of failed inventions before hitting on his big success; it’s another to hear that someone a little more contemporary has some failures, too. 

Why is this nice? No, it's not my schadenfreude acting up again. (Take two Tequilas and call me in the morning.) It's nice because it reminds we who are striving that missteps and downward plunges are inevitable and they do not preclude success. 

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