They Say You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
When we are young, our minds are empty. Everything we’re exposed to is new, and we learn quickly and easily. As we grow older, our mind gets crowded and any new piece of information we try to hold on to conflicts with something we learned before. But to let things go, to acknowledge that we were wrong, we have to experience disappointment, and it is painful.
After a while, our minds become so cluttered that no conversation can go through without requiring some adjustments, and with it the pain of dissonance and embarrassment. At this point, old dogs choose to stop learning. They shut down and barricade themselves from new information, just to avoid the pain of being wrong.
For us, the younger generations, the young dogs, shutting down is no longer an option. In today’s world things just move too fast. New technology comes out every other day, skills that didn’t exist 5 years ago are now in great demand, and the skills we’re taught in university become outdated even before we graduate. The world challenges us every day. And those of us who don’t know how to work with their mistakes, failures, and disappointment, or can’t let go of old knowledge, will not be able to keep up.
This article will explore the possible reaction for disappointment and make use of game theory to find the best response for dealing with it. By the end of this article, you will not be afraid of disappointment anymore and you’ll know how to use it as an integral part of the learning process.
We have a set of beliefs we live by, our personal rules of conduct, vices and virtues. Ever since we were kids we’ve been working to get them all to co-exist pleasantly inside our minds. But every once in a while, reality comes knocking.
As we go through our lives we’re constantly exposed to new information, and our existing beliefs are being put to the test. Sometimes, with the introduction of new information, our view of the world becomes inconsistent. The inner-conflict between the new and the existing information brings a state of confusion, uncertainty, and a mental sensation that can only be described as pain. This is cognitive dissonance, and it feels bad.
Cognitive dissonance feels like you’re being pulled apart from the inside. Like your right hemisphere has just offended the left and now they refuse to play together. Leaving you split, inconsistent, and in agony.
Nowadays, as new information is literally everywhere and this is a situation we’re all exposed to on a daily basis. This pain of dissonance, the pain of being wrong, is probably the most common form of pain experienced in the modern western society.
The Importance of Disappointment
Disappointment is an integral part of learning, growing and improving. Disappointment is the acknowledgment of our mistakes. And without acknowledging our mistakes, we are helpless against them. Without feeling disappointed, a person becomes a prisoner of his own conditionings, habits, and destructive patterns. Unable to change, adapt, or break free.
People who choose to block themselves from feeling disappointed turn into ‘old dogs’. They can’t learn new tricks, and keep holding on to their mistakes throughout their lives, with no ability to change. Old habits their grandfather picked up in the polish winter, some religious habits that were very helpful 2,000-5,000 years ago, and maybe a habit or two from your days in preschool.
Are all these beliefs still relevant today, or are you just refusing to let them go?
What can you do about it?
As kids, we soaked information like a sponge, we couldn’t even imagine that others might be wrong, and we believed everything we were told. All of these beliefs are still with us today. The more information, beliefs, and values we soaked in from others when we were young and innocent, the more work it will take to sort it all out as adults. And with it, the more dissonance and disappointment we must endure. But avoiding this process can be far worse.
Though experiencing disappointment makes you feel bad, avoiding disappointment causes you to feel much worse. Attempting to live with dissonance and holding onto false beliefs makes the entire world become confusing. When every encounter with new information can trigger the pain of dissonance, just leaving the house can become an ordeal. Unfamiliar opinions are perceived as threats and induce fear. Arguments are perceived as dangerous and cause anger. Eventually, you end up spending the majority of your time protecting your current beliefs, instead of learning and creating new beliefs.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
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.
Reinhold Niebuhr, serenity prayer
Since avoiding disappointment by barricading your mind just doesn’t work well enough, we need to come up with a better solution. If we can’t get rid of disappointment, let’s at least make it as quick and painless as possible.
When finding a mistake in your beliefs, don’t worry about your first-grade teacher giving you an F, or being punished by your mom, minister, Rabi, friends, family, or whoever. When finding a mistake in your beliefs, just let it go. Anything that is true will remain there after you let it go. If you forget the sky is blue, when you go outside you’ll be reminded. If you forget you like someone, when you see them you’ll be reminded. The only thing that needs to be held, remembered, and defended is a lie. The truth needs no protection.
Therefore, everything that is true can be let go of, and everything that is a lie should be let go of. Being disappointed and letting go of your beliefs is not something to fear. It is, in fact, a dominating strategy, and it is always the best response. Lies are caught up in words, the truth is omnipresent.
Disappointment, mistakes, and failures aren’t your enemies. They weren’t created to test you, judge you, or punish you. They are merely here to show you that you’re holding on to something which doesn’t serve you, something that doesn’t go with your truth. Don’t waste precious brain property on false beliefs. Let your disappointment guide you, because disappointment knows.
Main Image By Sergey Guneev