We Can’t Get Rid Of Our Mental Junk – So What Do We Do Instead?

The Big Clear Out

People in my neighborhood are throwing out their junk. They are sorting out their stuff and leaving it on the side of the road. In a few days some lovely people from the council will come and take it all away. Wonderful!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that with the junk in our minds? If we could choose which of the rules about ourselves and the world that we carry around in our minds, no longer work for us and just get rid of them?

Sadly, behaviorism tells us that this isn’t possible. We can’t unlearn something (unless we are willing to suffer brain damage – which seems a little extreme!). We can only add to our learning.

Let me give you an example. When I was a medical student I learnt that it was a very bad thing to make a mistake. When I practiced medicine, this was usually a very good rule to follow. I think my patients were glad I took that approach!

However, I don’t practice medicine anymore. Although doing an excellent job is still very important to me and my clients, generally it isn’t a disaster if I make a mistake. In fact, trying too hard to avoid mistakes can impair my capacity to do a good job. I can end up being too much of a perfectionist.

I can’t unlearn the rule I learnt as a medical student. It will always be with me. But what I can do is learn some new ways of behaving so I have more options. And I can get better at recognising when an old rule like ‘I mustn’t make any mistakes’ isn’t appropriate and 80% is good enough.

What internal rules do you have that are no longer useful for you?

About Rachel Collis

Rachel gained 15 years experience as a psychiatrist before moving into management consulting in 2001. She now lectures on the Executive MBA program at QUT and provides executive coaching, facilitation and workshops to organisations around Australia. To learn more, visit - http://rachelcollis.com.au/
This entry was posted in Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT), Behaviour change, Psychological Flexibility and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to We Can’t Get Rid Of Our Mental Junk – So What Do We Do Instead?

  1. I love the curb side clean up as i love to see old junk thrown away. I wish I could do the same with my internal junk but that’s not to be.
    I have a lot of old rules that I learnt in my childhood that are no longer relevant to life today. The one that stands out the most is the idea that if you are “nice” and quiet and wait, you will get the things you need/want. WRONG!!! I have had to relearn how to stand out, be loud sometimes and go and out and find, rather than wait. It’s been hard and sometimes I slip back into old patterns.

    Great Post Rachel, thank you!

  2. Thanks Judy, the rules we learnt in childhood can be pretty compelling can’t they? I can totally relate to being nice and waiting to be noticed.

  3. Pingback: Working in a harsh environment can mess you up more than you think… | Working with ACT

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