George Kelly’s Silly Idea: People Actually Think

The psychologist George Kelly had a silly idea. He thought that people could actually think without having to wear a lab coat first.

Born in 1905, Kelly worked with people in a counseling clinic, which meant that he worked with healthy but unhappy people.

Bells and Oedipus Rex

If you have taken a psychology 101 class, you know about Freud and BF Skinner. Freud (1856–1939) believed that all of our problems and personality came from childhood experiences. He also had a lot to say about genitalia, and his parents’ genitalia specifically, which I think is weird. The other view people generally know is that of B.F. Skinner and his theory called Behaviorism. Skinner claimed that you can take a child and with complete control over their environment, make them into either musical prodigies or homeless beggars. Skinner believed that thoughts were illusions and that people were nothing more than behavior.

What both of these views have in common is that they do not give human beings the credit they deserve.

Whether you believe that people are a result of their genetics or other external encounters, we still have a bigger. How do they think? What do they think?

George Kelly believed that people were not passive passengers on the road of life, blindly taking in all that life had to give them and then vomit out the right responses. Kelly thought that all people are like scientists. They watch the world, come up with theories about how the world works, and then change their theories to fit their experiences.

Dr.Kelly called this idea the Fundamental Postulate and used it to describe people not as robots, but as people driven by the ideas they have about the world.

A break for our Overlord Masters, the Machines

Speaking on the topic of computers and the human mind. There have been advancements in the theory of computers, which have crossed back over to the way neuroscientists view the human mind. Techniques like deep brain stimulation have lead to mind control research. Yet, these advances actually support Dr. Kelly’s views on the human mind because both Kelly and neuroscience assume that the mind is a network of operations and covert thoughts.

Although before his time, the field of neuroscience and artificial intelligence have begun to intersect. This represents less of man as a machine but machines becoming more human. For more on this, check out this article Crystal computing mimics human brain cell.

Back to the topic of humanity.

Building on the Fundamental Postulate, Dr. Kelly proposed that people use what they knew about the world and themselves to figure out how to act and think. One observation that Dr. Kelly found was that people could have skewed ideas about themselves and limit themselves to faulty self-images.

Fixed Role Therapy

Kelly’s neatest trick was to figure out who you wanted to be. Whenever a patient came and said they were depressed and did not like their lives, Kelly would find out what they admired about themselves. Sometimes, he would ask them who they would like to meet at a party. What was this person like? What stories did they tell? Were they speaking? Were they brave, humble, kind?

After clients described their ideal their party guest, Kelly would ask them why not try to be that person? Of course, most patients give perfectly reasonable answers that that just was not who they were.

From there, Kelly would work with his clients to develop a persona of their ideal persona and then challenge them to roleplay that person for a week. After the week was done, most people realized that the ideas we get in our head of who we and how people think of us is not fixed. That we are free to remake ourselves.

Meet Jack and His Self-Imposed Impotence

The core of Kelly’s approach was to break open our assumptions and self-imposed limitations. Once a person could understand that they could be more than who they thought they were, they became free to be who they chose to be.

Let’s make a quick example. Kelly once treated a young man named Jack. Jack was so obsessed with being the perfect dating material that he became your prototypical friendzone. Jack thought that being self-assertive was tantamount to aggression, and he was so black and white in his thinking that he could not really listen to other people. Worse still, as his relationships became worse, Jack only buckled down and made the problem worse. By the time Jack met Dr. Kelly, the man could not even remember who he was.

After listening to Jack, Dr. Kelly helped him to create a persona of a good tennis player, creatively named John. John was a competitive and cooperative player who could anticipate other player’s actions by empathizing with them. When Jack roleplayed this persona, he tried to anticipate what other people were thinking and feeling, and be willing to play as well as he could without being bothered by losing.

Kelly helped Jack to stop trying to be suave with women but instead focus on approaching life like a sportsman. Best yet, it worked for him. He wound up getting along with other people and even found a girlfriend.

Now, Dr. Kelly used a whole host of other steps and approaches before getting to the point of roleplaying a different personality. He would often start with non-judgmental interviews, ask his clients to write about themselves as if they were the star of a play, and ask them about the people that they loved and hated. But, all of that would be far too tedious to read and so will all be in part two of this series.

For now, who would you like to meet at a party?

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