To Name, Is to Create
Do Beliefs Emerge or Erupt?
Ponder this: If you label a behavior, does it become a belief?
Five-year-old Zachary remembers daydreaming for what seemed like an eternity while waiting for his Grandma to get ready for a shopping trip. She said, “Thanks for waiting. Such patience you have Zachary.” Zachary claims that his Grandma’s remark shaped him into a patient person. Since then he prides himself in always entertaining himself while waiting.
In the movie Field of Dreams, an Iowa corn farmer hears voices and interprets them as a command to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield. He does, and the 1919 Chicago White Sox team arrives and plays ball. He heard mysterious voices whisper, “If you build it, they will come.” In my adaptation of that well-known expression, I propose, “If you notice it, they will exhibit it.”
What stories like Zachary’s have in common is flipping the script. When you surprise someone with a comment, say something unexpected, you flip the script. That surprise sets off a cascade of neurological and cognitive machinery that often triggers a new belief.
Teachers, parents, coaches, and supervisors take note: Look for and find what makes those in your influence sphere grow. When you get the chance, say something unexpected, “Your eagerness to listen helps you come up with good ideas.” If you say that while they are daydreaming, you might surprise them and trigger a self-affirming belief.
Caveat: It’s also true for disparaging comments that arrive in a surprise remark. They too may create debilitating beliefs.
Carley recalls decorating her first home. The house was modest but cute. With few resources, she did her best to adorn her home. Gushing with excitement, she invited her sister to visit so she could display her proud efforts. “She came over, looked around, and said, ‘You have no taste.” Carly later claimed, “The surprising comment crushed me. Now I just put out family portraits and my children’s art, because people won’t be critical of that.” Carley expected a supportive comment and deserved one: “Wow. You’ve worked hard on this. The spirit lives here.” While not a surprise, it keeps her pride intact.
Wield surprises wisely.
For more about belief formation, go to Meaning Making Moments
Michael Rousell PhD is the author of The Power of Surprise: How Your Brain Secretly Changes Your Beliefs. He studies life-changing events.