Does putting walls around your thoughts create a tunnel to success?

by phil on Monday Mar 1, 2004 12:43 AM

Should I start to obey social norms?

I'm not talking about the norms that prevent wearing flourescent-green Hawaiian shirts at funerals; these I already follow. I'm talking about obeying norms in the mind such as, "don't think too much" or "be yourself."

Here is an illustration of what I mean by these "mental norms":

I approach a buddy of mine and ask him, "What's the secret to getting girls?"

He responds, "Phil, you don't get girls, and you shouldn't treat them like objects. You're trying too hard. Just be yourself and good things will come your way. How do I know this? Because I believe there is someone for everyone. That's what my intuition says, and it’s always good to search your heart for answers."

What is that crap? It's useless. What is in there that is considered good advice? This is not even advice; rather it's more like vague suggestions. Even so, how can I trust those suggestions? Are they even suggestions, or are they just statements that come to you when you've succeeded?

"Whatever it is, there's wisdom in there somewhere. Just meditate on it for a while, and at some point it will hit you, and then you'll come to an understanding. Trust me, I've been there."

Psychologists would call this line of thinking a defense mechanism. When rational thinking is absent, most people will rely on some canned appeal to "acceptability" to determine how to process their thoughts. They'll say, "I shouldn't think too much" without considering whether something is worth thinking about. Life for these people is a fumbling through standard pathways, with the general aim to obtain emotional equilibrium. So whenever their minds drift into scary territory, they will run back within the bounds, shut off their minds, and then turn on their TV.

"Oh whatever, just take a chill pill, and everything will be alright."

I clearly cannot just take a chill pill. I have to know why first. What's the cost-benefit to me relaxing at this very moment? When someone pushes a norm like that onto me without backing it up, I'm hesitant to accept. I fear taking advice prima facie without analysis, because I worry that caving into the canned response is precisely what gets people into trouble.

"One life to live bro, she's hot, and she's right there. You know the 'One Ocean Rule' right? If you and your girlfriend are separated by an ocean, it's not considered 'cheating'"


Unfortunately, our survival depends largely on thoughtlessly accepting rules and norms. Imagine if you had to provide a risk-analysis for every decision tree, you would go neurotic. I know I go neurotic, trying to guide this marble of my life down the right chutes. Maybe I should approach life as others do, like pseudo-pinball, bouncing around the boundaries of "normalcy."

So what am I going to do? "We'll wait and see."

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