Is Your Brain a House of Cards?

What are your loadbearing neural pathways?

In construction, a loadbearing wall is vital to supporting the structure.  A loadbearing neural pathway is much the same.  It’s a belief that supports a hundred other beliefs.  For example, I have a friend who was once highly engaged in a strict religious culture.  The religion’s belief system was a concrete pillar of his life and worldview.  As he grew older, he began to see small contradictions; but he shoved them down.

Then one day, he says, “I was in the men’s room at work.  I was literally sitting in a stall; I began thinking about one of our beliefs, I realized, it wasn’t true!  I came out of the stall hyperventilating.”

He continues, “I stood facing the mirror, just staring.  I realized if that one thing isn’t true, then all these other things might not be true either.”  He says, “Looking into my reflection that day, it was like watching a huge house of cards fall.  I pulled out one thing, and my whole belief system just crumbled in front of me in the mirror.”

He said after that, there was no turning back.  The loadbearing neural pathway had been knocked down; the rest of the house fell apart.

We all have our own loadbearing neural pathways.  In my friend’s case it was a narrow religious belief.  Letting it go was dramatic, and painful.  Yet it enabled him to create his own belief system, one that expanded to include a more compassionate, openhearted religious life for himself and his family.

Here are three examples of load bearing neural pathways:

1. Rich people are shallow and materialistic.

I confess this was a prevailing belief in my family. The win for holding onto this neural pathway is self-righteousness.  Every time you see wealth, you have the satisfaction of disdain.  “We’re good guys, we have strong values, those rich guys are shallow, they only care about money,” As someone whose family clung to this belief like a religion, I can promise you, disdain for rich people ensures you’ll never become one of them.  Once I realized, sure there are also plenty of nice rich people, the wall crumbled.  I found it a lot easier to envision (and take) steps towards increasing my own financial status.

2. Success requires sacrificing your personal life.

There are entire firms built on this belief system.  When your organization measures success in terms of work quantity, billable hours, face time etc., it’s easy to think 80 hours a week is the only way to the top.  But giving up this belief enables you to consider other models.  Instead of “I have to give up family time to make partner,” you can start thinking, “How can I create success on my terms?”  The answers generate more creative options.

3. Work is about making money, not personal fulfillment.

We encounter this one frequently in our consulting practice.  When you’ve been told work should be awful, and it’s been awful for you, people resist the idea work should be meaningful and even fun.  An expectation of meaningful work belief puts pressure on leaders to act differently.  It means coming face-to-face with what may have been a false mental construct.

A loadbearing neural pathway feeds so many other beliefs and decisions you don’t even realize its impact.  Sometimes it’s a solid wall, and sometimes, you’re better off taking the whole structure down.

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