A belief system or world-view is a simplified inner model for the outer world. When the model is good, it gives predictability to life. Our physical senses provide us with raw data from the external world. We combine our sense-based data with the inner model to form a perception or understanding of reality. We make decisions based on this internal perception.
When there is a mismatch between the inner model and the outer reality, our decisions may result in unexpected outcomes. Ideally, the inner model is flexible enough to understand that a given unexpected outcome might have been due to an error in the model. Then the person can update their inner model to more accurately conform to reality.
Unfortunately, this feedback cycle does not always work smoothly. For various reasons, many people prefer to rigidly hold onto their internal model, even when there are compelling reasons to change to a new one. This tendency among humans to resist a world-view change (or paradigm-shift) is a well known phenomenon.
An error in the internal model
At their core, all humans seek long-term contentment and happiness. Naturally occurring instincts for sex, security and society must be addressed. The satisfaction of these instincts revolves around (among other things) the possession of resources. Limited resources are divided by competition between humans. This competition means that there will be a struggle, which, of course, requires effort.
On an individual level, expending effort runs counter to a competing security-based instinct to rest and conserve energy. The act of struggling also involves the risk of injury – which, again, runs counter to the competing security instinct to avoid danger.
Lazy people have an internal model which places too high of a value on the dual instincts to rest and to avoid danger, relative to the instinct to gather resources through struggle and effort. The proof that their inner model is wrong is the regret that the lazy person experiences from hindsight. For example: “I think I failed the algebra test today. I really wish that I had studied for another hour last night instead of going to bed. If I had studied harder, then I probably would have gotten a much better grade. Why do I always do this to myself … ?!”
Irrational mottos and disease of the belief system
Irrational mottos mark the points of mis-match between the internal model and reality. The common sense interpretation of regret is that a change is needed in the inner model. Unfortuantely, due to persistent repetition, irrational mottos can override a normal perception of the higher level message of regret. The message of regret is that “something needs to change.”
Here is an example of an irrational motto: “I am no good at algebra … I am no good at algebra … I am no good at algebra …” Now, just repeat that 100 times a day for 30 days, and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Note that there is also a sense in which one instance of sick self-talk can “conspire” with another instinct in order to justify taking the easy way out. For example: “I am no good at algebra … My favorite show is coming on in 5 minutes … so it really makes the most sense that I should stop studying now …” In this case, by focusing on these two thoughts, the person creates their own “carrot and stick” to justify avoiding effort.
Origin of irrational mottos and treatment
All mottos, rational and irrational, are learned rules of thumb. The learning occurs from a young age at the level of family and community. Treatment for irrational mottos requires thinking. For most people, the act of thinking and self-assessment is painful. Although that may sound like a cruel judgement, in practice, we all know that humans tend to form and solidify beliefs at a very young age. Once the formative years have passed, it becomes extremely difficult to engage a person in any review that seems critical of their early training. Irrational mottos tend to form a self-supporting and interlocking network that resists or deflects all efforts at change. Because of this, it is difficult (even for a highly motivated person) to erradicate and replace these thoughts unless they are provided with on-going guidance and encouragement.
The meaning of regret
The PAL treatment plan seeks to explore the meaning of the regret that a lazy client feels. In a safe and non-judgemental way, we help clients to step through a self-appraisal of their own world-view. When a client identifies an irrational motto in their own thinking, we work together to find a cure. In this case, the “cure” means a new, more accurate motto to replace the old, inaccurate one. When the new motto has been conciously repeated many times, and tested against reality a few times, it tends to replace the old one. Our aim is to eliminate new instances of regret. Working together we can find the cure.