Truth is the cornerstone of personal development and growth. Why is that? And how can you go about discovering the truth?
Understand the Vital Importance of Truth
In order to live effectively, we need a mental model that is based on reality. The extent to which we have understood the real world determines the extent to which we are able to operate within it.
The way we perceive reality important because the things we believe will always determine our actions. For example, if you believe that you’re intelligent and have a gift for learning then you might choose to apply to University, whereas if you have a mental picture of yourself as someone who is incapable of achieving academically then you’re unlikely to pursue higher education. Instead, as your schooling comes to an end, you’re more likely to choose a vocational course or to get a job that involves working with people or using your manual skills.
Knowing yourself is particularly important in this regard, because your strengths and limitations will determine the parameters in which you operate.
Wherever you go, there you’ll be.
Of course, our perceptions are not always accurate. Unless we discover these errors we’ll inevitable do ourselves and others a disservice. For example, we’ve all heard of people think that they have the voice of an angel, but who cannot, in fact, sing for toffee. Labouring under their delusions these unfortunate people may even persuade others to let them perform. The consequences can be amusing, but can also be devastating when the would-be vocalist has invested themselves into their performing career.
Facing the truth isn’t always easy. It can be hard to admit to your flaws and failures, for example, and it is difficult to accept that there are areas of our lives that we’re powerless to change. Nevertheless, growth requires honesty, and when we embrace reality we’re infinitely better placed to tackle our struggles and setbacks head on.
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.C. S. Lewis
Understand the Value of Learning
Our mental models are not fixed, but are constantly being readjusted in the light of new information.
In some ways, our brains are just very powerful pattern finding machines. As we gather data about the world, our brains actively look for patterns, and from these patterns our brains derive rules or principles that help us to make sense of things. This effort to make sense of the things we perceive is very powerful, to the extent that we sometimes find patterns where none actually exists. For example, we might see faces on the moon or pictures in the clouds.
When we start learning about something, we’re prone to over-generalizing the rules that we’ve discovered. When small children learn language, for example, they often apply their rules of language inappropriately. That’s why children say things like, “foots” instead of “feet”, or “it goed away” instead of “It went away”. As we learn more, we tend to correct our misapprehensions, and our inner model improves.
For the most part, the mental model-building happens automatically: we are not consciously aware of it. Children don’t usually need to be told about their language mistakes, for example, and will just correct them without thinking about it as their mental model matures.
Learn How to Accelerate Your Learning
Learning, then, is the process of refining our mental model. Because we’re always encountering data, we’re always refining our understanding of what is true. Fortunately, the model-building process can be accelerated if we pay attention to it and nudge it in the right direction.
Here are some ways to accelerate learning:
If we have more data available, this naturally accelerates the learning process. My son’s vocabulary has increased because we’ve exposed him to a wealth of books, for example. It can be beneficial, therefore, to go out of your way to seek out novel information.
- Get to know a wide variety of people
- Read widely
- Travel… even if it is just taking a different route to the shops
- Go exploring
Another way is to seek feedback on the things we think we know, and the best way to do this is to take act on our understanding and observe what happens.
For example, you could:
- Taste something you didn’t like eating as a child
- Step out of your comfort zone… even a little bit
- Learn a little about something that frightens you
- Get to know someone you wouldn’t naturally be drawn to
Some errors persist until we’re told about them. My son, for example, used to pronounce the word “teacher” as “cheacher” until he was corrected. Fortunately we can become aware of our mistakes by seeking feedback.
For example, do you have a friend who can tell you honestly about the mistakes you when:
- What you wear is just not flattering
- You are being rude, boring or stupid
- You eat too much, too little, or the wrong thing
- You’re just not being honest with yourself
Another great way to promote truth – especially about yourself – is to reflect a little.
Some exercises can help with this process:
- Keep a journal
- Physically take a look at yourself in the mirror
- Talk to yourself
- Go on a retreat (or just take a stroll)
- Do something artistic
- Do a life audit… or just think about where you’re headed in one area of life
Without a commitment to truth, you cannot be effective, but actively seeking truth can give you choices that you would never have had otherwise.
The truth will set you free.John 8:32
- Original image “Truth”, a sculpture by Walter Allward, courtesy Wikipedia.