Monday, June 21, 2010

How to Solve a Thorny Problem

I love Martha Beck and this article on learning how “not” to look at the world as either-or is a terrific analysis of how to change your perspective.  I have included just a few paragraphs of the article because it is a little long for this blog.  I have included the link to the whole article in July’s O magazine below.  I highly recommend you take some time and savor it.


Oprah Magazine - July 2010 issue

We're used to living in an either-or world—but when it comes to yes-or-no dilemmas the most powerful thing you can ask is: What if both answers are true?

Think of dilemmas like these as dual-emmas. Unlike standard-issue questions, dualistic dilemmas confuse people by leading to two apparently true but contradictory conclusions. Maybe you've found this in your own life: Perhaps your marriage is both wonderful and terrible, your job both wretched and stimulating, your worst habit both destructive and helpful. Reconciling these apparent brain-benders seems impossible, but if you understand the dynamics of dualism, you can transform bewildering dilemmas into sources of insight.

What to do when you're faced with a dual-emma? There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide everyone into two kinds of people, and those who don't. The tendency to dichotomize is stubbornly pervasive in human thought.

If you scrutinize your own life, you'll find you do plenty of things that violate the dichotomies in your mind. I certainly do. We're considerate, selfless, and clever (except for the times we aren't). Or we're luckless losers (not counting the infinite things that go right for us every day). This is the problem with either-or thinking: It keeps us removed from reality, and it requires that we spend a lot of time and energy convincing ourselves that life is one particular way (and burying evidence that doesn't jibe with that view). More important, it will never feel truthful or satisfying—because it leads to an answer that's only half-right. 

What makes a both-and mind-set so powerful is that it takes you beyond the two choices you thought you had. It opens up new, previously unseen possibilities and opportunities.