Developmental Psychology, Performance Psychology, Psychology

Hey! You got a monkey on your back

A lot is happening and a lot is passing too. Life seems to have gone from a (barely) manageable 3D version to a brutal 4D with a space-time continuum, making the mind toggle between past and future. While the creative tension between what-has-been and what-can-be is the source of all learning and development, in these times of global crisis and uncertainty it is adding to the stress of one’s unmet expectations.

We are the sum total of our experiences

We entered the times of these unprecedented crisis with our old habits and therefore, our similar experiences seem so different. The assimilation of these experiences into our minds is driven by the psychology of self. Contemporary psychologist, Thomas Gilovich impresses upon the vitality of every experience – good or bad. The question remains, are we truly maximising the utility of our experiences?

Positives are a result of me; negatives are a result of external factor

Psychology of self observes a natural self-serving bias in us. This bias in action attributes everything good to ourselves, and blames external factors when bad things happen. While this can mean evading responsibility, it also acts as a defence mechanism that protects our self-esteem. Let’s say you had a great year-end appraisal. You believe that you deserved it because you had worked hard. On the other hand, if you had a bad year-end appraisal, it was because your boss doesn’t like you or because he never clarified his expectations well! While all of these may be true, it does not paint a complete picture of your performance. That picture will remain hidden until you pull it out with your unbiased self-awareness of the experience of your performance through the year.

Self-serving bias acts as a defence mechanism because it avoids internal inconsistencies when faced with a reality different than our expectations. The feeling of this internal inconsistency is rather unpleasant and the mind would do anything to avoid or reduce it. This is called the theory of cognitive dissonance. The theory is based on the universal self-truth that states, ‘what I do makes sense’. This attitude of in-sufficient justification applies well towards our confirmation to ourselves about our actions, even when we know that those actions are not right. For example a smoker knows that smoking is injurious to his health but he still smokes. He refuses to accept, not the consequences, but the responsibility of his actions leading to those consequence. If he did fall sick, he may still blame it on the weather or his genetics. This is a hard-to-escape, vicious mental trap where in absence of a true picture of our experiences, we become stagnant in our growth.

Just because the monkey is off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left the town

Just knowing what is good for you may not help you do it right. Self-reflection is a mastered art of unbiased observation with the aim to achieve growth. It is an examination of your conscious thinking and feelings. This exercise must be conducted in an environment that is conducive towards clear thinking. Nancy Kline, the famous author of ‘Time to Think’ confirms through her work that listening is the key to ignite our minds. Effective listening to self through the window of reflection can present us with rich information about our thinking and feelings. The key to this effective listening is to develop, what Nancy calls, a ‘thinking environment’. Some of the key components of a thinking environment are giving attention and appreciation, allowing emotional release, supplying the facts and removing assumptions to bring clarity. While she talks about creating this thinking environment for us to help other people think well for themselves, I believe that the same can be applied while doing self-reflection as it is the singularly most powerful way of affirming to ourselves in a way that screams – ‘I matter’!

Suffering and freedom have their limits..those limits are very near together

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

2 thoughts on “Hey! You got a monkey on your back”

  1. Very insightful. Self reflection is about allowing yourself to Feel what you may already Know. It is the way to becoming yourself.


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