I have spent a decade studying personal development systems in conjunction with psychological paradigms for mind management. Some approaches I looked into were weird and mystical, like the Silva Method, Lazaris, Abraham Hicks and A Course in Miracles, others were more socially acceptable like Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Hypnotherapy, while some were widely applied in clinical settings like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy.
Over the course of years, I’ve noticed these mind management paradigms contain overlapping suppositions. And in this article, I want to share with you the three most striking ideas that repeat throughout the literature of personal development and therapeutic psychology.
#1 Understanding that perception is projection.
This Jungian notion is emphasized in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and is a foundational supposition in Cognitive and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It repeats in the esoteric book A Course in Miracles as well.
When we realize that perception is projection, we come to the understanding that the whole world that we traditionally think of as out there and separate from us, is actually a giant mirror reflecting us back to ourselves. This perceptual shift allows us to move away from judging others or circumstances and turning those judgments on ourselves.
Why are we perceiving the way we’re perceiving? Is it really out there or is it within us? This single turning of the tables of our experience onto ourselves means that we are no longer blaming others for how we feel, but rather enquiring within ourselves as to why the others are eliciting this reaction within us.
#2 You are responsible for your reality (awakening).
If perception is projection, then we are responsible for our reality. No one else has created it but ourselves. Being completely responsible for our experience is not the domain of traditional psychoanalysis which looks for people and situations that made us the way we are.
Instead, this idea is invested in giving us power over our experience. If we’re creating our perception of being victimized, for example, then we have the power to do something about it. But if our perception is that we’re being victimized by something external to ourselves and over which we have no control, then we have no agency.
#3 Nothing from the past is real, because there is no past, only an ever-evolving present.
This supposition features heavily in the esoteric teachings of A Course in Miracles and has an unusual way of connecting to the neuropsychology of personality. Neuropsychologists now understand the brain networks responsible for giving us a continuous sense of identity. Our memories and our default thinking about autobiographical details are the very things that result in our overall personality.
Removing our habitual reactions and perceptions that were created by an aggregation of experiences over time, would allow us to do things our personalities might otherwise inhibit us from doing. A potent example of how our personalities can inhibit us based on generalizations we make due to past experiences can be seen in Martin Seligman et al.’s discovery of learned helplessness.
In Seligman’s experiment, a group of dogs previously conditioned to passively accept an electrical shock (because they had no other choice), did not seek any means to escape a new round of electric shocks even though this time a means of escape was made available. The dogs had developed a belief based on prior experience that the electric shocks were inescapable.
It does not seem to matter what terminology or mythologies the personal development systems use, they inevitably appear to communicate fundamental ideas about being in the world, and the nature of mind and perception. They offer the same hacks to being in the world and to perceiving and acting: You’re responsible for what you perceive; and disrupt your habitual responses.
When we hack these habitual ways of being, thinking and acting we stand to have tremendous breakthroughs and instant transformations. Because these systems are not interested in looking for what is causing us to be the way we are, but are interested in teaching us how to leverage ourselves as the cause of our experiences, they have the capacity to initiate more rapid behavioral change than traditional psychotherapy can.