Jennifer B. Davis
I heard someone editorialize this week that no one is capable to act inconsistent with their perception of themselves for a prolonged period of time. Apparently, this author's well-researched view was that you can not sustain something that is internally consistent with what you think you are about, what your capable of, or what you believe your choices to be. The speaker said it in a way that made me think that these perceptions were "fixed" and although they could be influenced, they could never be substantially changed.

In some ways, this may be true. You certainly see a lot of example of this in real life. People believing themselves to be incapable and then proving themselves to be incapable, time and time again. A vicious cycle to be sure. One of the best interviewing techniques I have used is one that looks for patterns of performance and work style, even as they were demonstrated in childhood or early in the prospect's positions that are all, but irrelevant to the position for which the interview is being conducted. Human Resources research and the Effective Interviewing techniques, have shown that past behavior is the only consistent indicator of future performance. High achievers with good work patterns will continue to achieve.

Yet, I don't want to believe it is true. I want to think people can reinvent themselves, with sheer will or good mentoring, to act differently and then be different. This is the foundation of discipleship. This is the foundation of education, isn't it? That a person can better themselves, see demonstration of improvement, be encouraged to further better themselves. I want to think that a Harry Higgins could take a scruffy-faced and sour-tongued Eliza Doolittle and pass her off as a dutchess at a society ball and help her transform herself into a larger version of her previous self. A virtuous cycle.

Is is possible? How does one kick-start a transformation to overcome the inertia of damaging (or at best, useless) self-perceptions?
Picture from Lynn Meade.
2 Responses
  1. leslie Says:

    i've been checking your blog regularly to see what you'd post next...thanks.
    i have been thinking about this very thing lately. i'll try to keep this short...
    i guess i never thought that 'perception' was such a staid word, so i looked it up. to form a 'perception' requires stimulus. and if one is 'influenced', something about what they thought before required change to be 'influenced'. the word in itself denotes an effect, an action.
    how can something be 'fixed' and given to influence. and if it can be 'changed' a little, why not more substantially depending on the stimuli, or repetitive stimulus?

    i've seen people who believed themselves 'incapable' and surprised themselves when the opportunity presented itself. isn't that why mom made me at least try it..just once? and hey, after maybe the second time, i was no longer incapable...and i've seen the 'capable' fail at something they did well many times i'm incapable until i decide to try again and become capable again.

    patterns are an important consideration. but human behavior, though incredibly cyclic (circling a central point or core), allows for a strong external force to change, an extenuating circumstance, or miracle, that knocks them off their 'center'.

    as for eliza, i loved her both ways. and the doctor found him attracted to her (drawn to her)in both conditions...wonder why that was? are the 'perceptions' that make us who we are our own, or others? and do we 're-invent', or do we change environment, dump excess, or exchange on group of people for another?

    Maybe we need other people to let us bathe, dress better, elocute beautifully. maybe we need to give ourselves permission to do so.

    doesn't an external force effect the inertia of an object? it depends on variables, but with enough force, that object will move.

    just a thought...and an agreement with the track you are on....

  2. Thanks, Leslie. I've enjoyed your blog as well.

    So, the question them becomes one of integrity. If I set out to play the part of a street performer or a CEO, by dressing the part, styling my hair, adjusting my posture and I lose myself along the way? Which comes first: the perception of capability or the capability? Knowing that acting the part can often get you the experience that you need to "be" the part, this becomes tricky. :)

    I guess the challenge is to strike a balance and to be and become the person that you can respect fully!