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The Mentality of Childhood

William Dubin, Ph.D.

"Accept the truth, even if it is not what you expected or wanted" is the kind of advice one might give a child. In domains of low self-efficacy, even otherwise competent adults revert to the mentality of childhood. Children are attached to outcomes, react emotionally when their efforts are frustrated, and tend to focus on themselves, how they feel, and how valuable they are.

man thinkingAt the theoretical level, the scientific method is flexible in its openness to new facts and ideas. At the procedural level, it is rigid; a good scientist adheres, without exception, to good scientific process. You can be confident that (s)he followed the procedures exactly as described in the publication's method section. The Enlightened Path requires adherence to good process: Honor your commitments exactly as described and without exception! Be aware of this responsibility when you compose your plan. Do not look for or accept loopholes!

On the Enlightened Path, whatever happens is nature's way of teaching you the principles of cause-and-effect. Performance errors that in the past would have triggered ruminative self-focus, are instead used in the service of personal growth by increasing your understanding of cause-and-effect relationships. Following the Enlightened Path requires that you perform as intended without exception . . . except when there are exceptions.

Rather than react to unexpected and unpleasant data with self-focused rumination, you are to use the information to develop a more accurate appreciation of the relevant cause-and-effect principles that influence your subjective experience. The truth wants to set you free!

An Exquisite Irony

As you follow the Enlightened Path, you will discover the truth about how you actually respond during real-time crisis. The truth is what it is, and it can be cruel. However, the truth can only set you free if you can accept it. Your challenge is to prevent your reaction to learning the truth from provoking ruminative self-focus and other drains on your motivation and cognitive resources.

Planning itself involves attachment. The very attempt to achieve a goal implies that reaching this goal is desirable. When I feel bad, I am motivated to figure out what to do so I will feel better. But this requires that I check whether or not my tactics are working. If I detect, failure, that means my tactics are not working and I should change them. Sadly, most people interpret negative feedback as evidence of their intrinsic defects or worthlessness, which begins the self-focused ruminative sequence that is never helpful.

Individuals who take on a task as demanding as this one must be open to the truth, yet avoid the judgmental reactions that would trigger neurotic rumination and the impaired performance it brings about. Preventing ruminative self-focus from hijacking your cognitive resources is a critical challenge. Discovering the truth about cause-and-effect, rather than avoiding looking at it, is what enables you to benefit from the lessons that nature is trying to teach you. The Enlightened Path requires that you be awake and open to the truth, no matter how ugly or cruel.

Please click here for implications of the enlightened path on recovery from dependence on an incentive to cope with the experiences of life.

The Serenity Prayer

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference," is an eloquent statement of the Enlightened Path.

Here is the way to know the difference: The only things you can change are your thoughts and actions; everything else is outside of your control. Consider how the Serenity Prayer applies to ruminative self-focus. "The things I cannot change" include outcomes, the past, what people think of me. I must have the serenity to accept these realities.

Given your awareness of situations or personal characteristics that diminish the quality of your life, it is natural to apply your problem-solving skills to improve things. The goal is clear enough: Maximize pleasure and desirable outcomes and minimize pain and miserable outcomes. Unfortunately, problem-solving methods applied to the self tend to trigger self-evaluation and hence ruminative self-focus, which in turn increases the likelihood of suffering and bad outcomes.

Ironically, problem solving in the service of escaping suffering, or achieving gratification, drives the recursive mechanism. The irony shows up in many neurotic and addictive disorders. For example, individuals with social phobia are often successful at minimizing social contact, which prevents the exposure to social situations, which is the cure for social phobia. Substance abusers are notorious for coming up with ingenious methods to access their chemical of choice despite the heroic efforts of families or treatment programs to protect them-the relapse, of course, exacerbates their suffering.