Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Reflection of Your Soul

For quite a while, I have been fascinated by the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies. A self-fulfilling prophecy is something that comes to pass by virtue of a person believing in the validity of the prophecy. Because of belief in whatever has been prophesied, a person acts in such a way that the prophecy is fully realized. Another interesting psychological phenomenon is the confirmation bias, whereby a person tends to notice information that supports a given theory or hypothesis that they have. When you combine these two concepts, you find there there is a very real and exceedingly powerful psychological and sociological impact to one's beliefs. Whatever a person believes begins to come true because they believe it, and they find their view reinforced by the information that they observe after having begun to adopt a certain perspective.

For quite some time now, I have pondered the implications of such a realization. Is it really true that a person's beliefs about any given area of life profoundly impacts the way they act in response to such beliefs? Is it really true that a person often finds strong evidence in support of their current theory of life? Is it really true that one's actions actually instigate and perpetuate that which is believed to be true? In looking at reality and the way people view their world, I have come to this realization:

A person's experience of life is primarily determined by the way they view life.

I have seen this at play numerous times in my own life and countless times in the lives of others. Very frequently I find that my expectations for the day, when I arise in the morning, become true. When I wake up and think, "Today is going to be very refreshing and enjoyable," by the end of the day, I find myself quite refreshed and content. When I wake up and think, "Today is going to be a very productive day," I find that I am able to accomplish even more than I usually would. Yesterday, I woke up with a headache and thought, "I'm probably going to feel awful all day," and sure enough, my headache persisted throughout the day and even sapped my energy before evening. I felt awful enough that I almost canceled my evening activities.

Similarly, I've seen how much my beliefs have impacted my success in dating, job hunting, and playing music. For a while, after reading too many cynical opinions about modern American girls, I began to believe that there weren't any quality girls worth dating. Because of that mindset, I went on far fewer dates, and even those dates that I did go on didn't turn out as well as I would have liked. However, when a friend pointed out the truth to me that, "There are plenty of great girls to date," I began pursuing girls more assertively and quickly found out that he was right. Work projects are exactly the same. Sometimes, when given a task, I think to myself, "This project is going to take a TON of work." When I hold that mindset, I feel little motivation to put serious effort into accomplishing the task, and my belief that the task is difficult ensures that it takes longer than it otherwise would. But, when I tell myself, "This project should be easy, it will just take a couple hours of effort," I can even complete challenging projects in short amounts of time. Many times, it's even the same project that first seems insurmountable and then is accomplished with minimal effort when I change my mindset.

In this manner, nearly every mindset that one has, so long as there is any degree of truth in it (and even in some cases when there isn't), is self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. Wisely is it written in the pages of Scripture, "To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled." One's experience of the world is largely determined by one's beliefs about the world. To the cynic, there is an endless supply of things to be cynical about. To the adventurous soul, everything is an adventure. To the bored, everything seem boring. To the comedic, anything can be made into a joke. To the wise, wisdom can be gleaned anywhere. To the foolish, wisdom is of no use. To those who admire beauty, there is beauty all around. To those who believe in determinism, freewill is more elusive than leprechauns. To the religious, God is omnipresent. To the atheist, god is nonexistent. To the philosopher, everything is worth pondering. To the common man, life isn't worth overthinking. And on and on it goes...

But, as mentioned above, one's views on life don't end in one's brain. They actually affect one's life and the world around. As such, there is another principle we can derive from this concept:

Nearly every aspect of a person's life is a reflection of their soul.

Since one's view about life inform their decision making process, and since most beliefs about life tend to be self-fulfilling, we see that almost every single part of a person's life is a direct result of choices they've made, which is directly influenced by how they view the world. The outward trappings of a person's life reflect the condition of that person's soul. Everything says something about you. What do the clothes she wears convey about her body image? What do his 70-hour workweeks say about what he most values? Why is she with a different guy, everytime I see her? Why is he so adamantly opposed to religion? What do her manipulative ways of treating people say about her perception of people? Why does he drive a beat-up old car? Of course, the externals never tell the whole story, but they often reveal more than people realize. Those who are good at reading people know how much a person's body language and eye contact testify to their perception of themself and of their perceived social relation to others. Similarly, you can learn a lot about a person by knowing where they live, who their friends are, what books they read and why they work where they do. There is always an internal reason for every external part of a person's life.

Moving to the more personal level, I find that this it often helps me to ask myself why certain people or things are the way the are in my life. Why do I choose not to have health insurance? Because I'd rather take tough blows when they occur rather than constantly be paying money to big corporations. Why do I spend time with my siblings so often? Because I highly value my familial relationships and genuinely enjoy spending time with my family. Why do I skip breakfast and typically only eat two meals a day? Because I prefer to sleep in and I'd rather save money on food, especially since I'm not very economical about my eating habits. Why don't I change my eating habits to be more economical? Because I prefer to spend my time on artistic endeavors and social activities, and therefore I'm willing to spend more for convenience. Why do I write blogs? Because I love to think about various issues, formulate specific stances on them and share my opinions with others.

Occasionally, I like to ask myself a series of such semi-random questions to see why certain aspects of my life are they way they are. When I realize that everything I eat, everywhere I go, everything I own, everyone I spend time with and even everything I think are all a reflection of my soul, then I can use my external life as a starting point for analyzing my internal beliefs and views. Whenever I find an area of life that isn't quite the way I want it to be, I take action. If I have a belief that is hindering me or limiting my effectiveness in any given area (such as in my dating life, or with my work projects, as mentioned above), I stop to analyze my thinking in order to see how my present beliefs are holding me back. Similarly, when I see issues in other people's external lives, I always know that there are beliefs they hold beneath the surface that are manifesting those issues. Alternately, when there is something in my life that is going really well, it's quite helpful to ask myself, "What belief is causing this aspect of my life to flourish?" Likewise, when I see some trait I admire in another person, I instantly realize that I can develop a similar trait by adopting a similar view.

The double-edged nature of external manifestation means that we always must be very careful to guard our thoughts and to guard our hearts. Certain beliefs and mindsets are extremely destructive to the soul. Certain beliefs and mindsets are life-giving and inspiring. Just as with judging people, it is wise to determine the worth of an idea or belief by its fruits. Wholesome views and beliefs always yield positive results in one's life. Detrimental views harms ourselves and others. We must continually be on our guard against toxic ideologies, and we must continually seek to graft nourishing viewpoints into our hearts. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." That the issues of life spring from the heart is not merely a poetic use of metaphor, it is the simple, practical truth. Whatever is in your heart becomes part of your world. Your experience of life is primarily dependent on the condition of your heart. The various aspects of your life are a reflection of your soul.

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