Ever heard or made statements like this?
“Boys like blue”
“Girls like pink”
“Boys are better at math”
“Girls are more mature”
“Milk does a body good”
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away”
OUCH! Those statements are not fact. They are generalizations that have snow-balled across generations.
Often, we can get caught up in generalizing people, places, and things. Our brain likes to categorize. It’s a simple and efficient way to process and communicate. It’s not a perfect process but it is how our brain can process and communicate at such an incredible pace. Guy Claxton, in “Blink”, speaks to the concept of “thin slicing.” Where we get an instant picture based of a minor slice of the whole.
Generalizations feed our mind and can influence us in many ways. They can leave us with good, bad, and indifferent impressions. There are many examples how generalizations can be harmful.
Instead, I’m going to advocate the benefits for generalizing when it comes to our self and how we can use generalization in an effective, healthy, and supportive way!
From a psychological perspective, generalizing can be understood as a conditioned response evoked by a stimulus. For example, you get bit by a dog not once but twice as a small child, you may carry that forward, and as you grow up you begin to generalize all dogs bite. Therefore, you stay away from dogs and don’t want anything to do with them.
Generalizing is not all about unhealthy interactions and experiences. A benefit from generalizing can be exhibited when a doctor makes a conclusion that a patient is about to experience cardiac arrest based on their experience. The doctor has experienced similar signs in other patients. Therefore, the doctor can quickly decide that immediate action needs to be taken.
Which leads me to share how generalizing can be an effective, healthy, and supportive way to build momentum towards a goal and foster a belief that “YES, I CAN!”
For example, recently, you taught yourself how to play some basic piano notes. You learned enough that you can manage your way through a song or two. You even had the courage to play at an open mic event. You feel exhilarated by the results of your effort, practice, and perseverance. Not to mention, the courage to play in front of an audience!
Now, let’s generalize that recent accomplishment.
In addition, you’ve set an objective to get healthy, although in the past you’ve tried and ended up convincing yourself you just can’t do it. Your inside voice is saying “why are you trying this again?” Regardless, you want to try again. Even though, you’re not sure how to start and do it differently. That first step feels daunting to decide what is the best way to begin with so many options. Let’s start to generalize a bit. Didn’t it feel daunting the first moment, day, or week you started playing the piano?
Set yourself up for success, prime yourself by recalling the similar characteristics it took to learn to play the piano. Remind yourself, it took effort, practice, and perseverance. Something you KNOW you have in you and are explicitly capable of.
Second, generalize the belief in yourself, “YES I CAN”, because I already have with the piano.
Then, while you are progressing towards becoming healthier, be intentional about recognizing the effort that those micro-changes have had. Check-in with yourself and gauge the impact from those daily practices.
Are the generalizations you made from learning to play the piano helping you? How are you feeling? Have you hit a tough spot along your journey? If so, pause to celebrate the success from learning to play the piano and recall how you can achieve your goal. It takes perseverance to learn to play the piano and it takes perseverance to get healthy!
Intentionally generalize the effort, practice, and perseverance towards other goals and objectives. If you have a separate goal to find a new job then tell yourself, “YES I CAN”, based on my effort to learn to play the piano and to become healthy.
Go ahead and generalize, “YES I CAN,” based on small changes and recognize how they will begin to add up and influence other aspects of your life resulting in bigger and broader changes impacting you.