It’s Both! Your (Habitual) Dichotomous Thinking is Killing You

“Take away the paradox from the thinker and you have a professor.” ~Soren Kirkegaard

by: Martin Grunburg

Professors are great;  the world certainly needs them. However, if there is one thing we know about professors (and this, I believe, is what our buddy Kierkegaard is getting at), it’s that they love to label things — to put them into a box. This, more often than not, creates dichotomous (black-and-white) thinking.

Technically, your dichotomous thinking is probably not killing you, but I can almost certainly guarantee it’s making your life tougher than it has to be.

In our personal quest to seek answers — any answer, “THE ANSWER” — we look to books, podcasts, seminars, workshops, consultants, or highly paid “gurus” to show us “THE Way.” This can often provide value, as modelling/repeating someone’s proven behavior, strategies and tactics is likely to increase your efficiency.

“You can’t step into the same river twice.”

While participating in an open exchange with a group of entrepreneurs the other day, one of them said to another, “You must know what the customer wants!” very emphatically. Everyone shook their head in agreement. This was THE answer! It appeared to be unanimous.

Or, was it?

Later, another very smart entrepreneur advised, “the key is to be sure to focus on the small things. You’ve got to take care of the little things!” Everyone shook their head. This was THE WAY!

Or, was it?

Years earlier, I recall another entrepreneur sharing his “key” as he explained the reasoning behind his “successful” marriage: “I never settled — I realized that never settling is the answer.” He was recounting the reason his relationship was so fulfilling and successful. I can remember writing that down, “never settle.”

Today he is divorced.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” ~Lao Tzu

Once again, life serves up a very special paradox. We believe it is right to have goals and ideals and strive for them (and I believe it is); however, at the same time it is paramount that we remain flexible in our approach, ever-adapting. What’s become even more evident is that the more we fix our agenda, the more likely we are to encounter friction.

So, for instance, the idea that “you must find out what the customer wants” sounds great. However, Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Further, Steve Jobs — who referenced Hank’s quote often — would say as he spoke about the iPad, “Customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”

Linear thinking (too much of it) not only creates friction, but is likely to create a great deal of frustration (which further taxes your energy). Just think about “Facebook Guy” who posts countless times demanding everyone support his position. “This is the ONLY way any rational, semi-intelligent person can view this,” he might write. Then, he may wonder why there is a single like.

It is the recognition of multiple paths, multiple viewpoints and paradigms, that leads to freedom — even enlightenment.

For instance, you must know what the customer wants AND you must trust and move to according to your own intuition.

You must pay attention to the little things AND you must have a long-term perspective.

You must never settle AND you must, most definitely, on occasion settle.

There are no accidents AND there are, in fact, many accidents.

How about a few more?

You can be wealthy AND you can be happy.

You can be relaxed AND you can be focused.

You must create your future AND, don’t worry, the future will happen.

You must plan AND you must act.

You must go slow AND you must go fast.

You must be mindful AND you must be mindless (which is indicative of peak performance or, “flow).

You must rest AND you must hustle.

You must have goals AND you must work on those habits that will support those goals. It is your goals that give you intentionality and provide purpose and meaning to your habits.

Without illusion there can be no enlightenment

Over the last 20 or so years, I have learned a great deal from observing water (good ol’ H2O), and, as the great saying goes, “Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another.” Consider water for a moment, which is a highly efficient natural substance.

[This is probably a good time to remind everyone that humans are made up of approximately 60% water.]

Never is water fixated on a path, yet it seems always to arrive effortlessly. As far as I can tell it has no agenda and remains formless, shapeless and soft. If it is ever frozen, water becomes rigid and hard and, if it gets too hot, it simply evaporates into thin air.

Water, in many ways, is a symbol for both Taoism and Zen. Interestingly enough, Tao translates effectively to “The Way.” One of the underlying principles of both Taoism and Zen that is paramount to enlightenment and “The Way” is this recognition of oneness. This idea that when you look beyond all the labels, all the separation, all the dichotomies you ultimately find unity — oneness.

There are truly two sides to every coin, yin and yang, and it is the two sides that make up the “suchness” and the oneness. Even our minds are dichotomous in nature (subconscious and conscious), yet, of course there is only one “mind.”

Interestingly, habit resides and operates within the unconscious mind, yet to craft a habit we must utilize our conscious mind. This is indicative of one of the highest forms of mastery of the human condition: the idea that you can (and should) conscientiously and intentionally craft habits (mindless acts) that will serve your goals unconsciously. This, my friends, is one of the great distinctions between humans and all other creatures.





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