Many people face the complexities of life with simplistic cliches and standardized answers. The problems have depth. The answers do not.

Yes, many times we do have yes/no decisions. However, even many of those apparently simple questions have multiple alternatives and layers to consider. Only then can we intelligently make a decision.

Preconceptions, opinions, expectations, stereotypes and prejudices are the major reasons so many of us get bogged down. Each of these robs us of the opportunity to see each situation as it is, unique and different. Our reliance on wanting to believe there is stability instead of constant change, causes us trouble and often suffering.

So, what is the solution? Let’s look at each of the major causes of simplistic thinking mentioned above.

Preconceptions: “A mind like a parachute, works best when it is open.” Preconceptions can limit our options. We enter situations often with our minds already decided. How can we consider layers or other points of view if we are not open to them?

Opinions: “As I grow older, I pay more attention to what people do than to what they say,” (J.C. Penny). Opinions are preconceptions we verbalize. This is what we believe. And, that’s it. No discussion.

Expectations: “If you expect the worst you just might get it” (Tim O’Brien). Expectations are preconceptions about future events or situations. We often have unrealistic expectations for our spouses, our children, our jobs, our vacations, or retirement.

Stereotypes: “Stereotypes come from somewhere.” Stereotypes are preconceptions about people, organizations, and cultures. They restrict our views of others.

Prejudice: “The greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism,” (William Osler, 1902). It is active discrimination toward stereotypes. It is an unhealthy and nonproductive negative preconception and opinion.

So what do we do? First, make a commitment to recognizing that the situations in life often have several layers of complexity. Work to maintain a mind that is open, receptive and responsive. Ask yourself, “What is really happening here? Is there more going on than appears?” There is much in life to gain from in depth analysis.

Tim O’Brien writes continuing-education courses and presents seminars on stress management.

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