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Doublethink

If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality. For the secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one’s own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes.

George Orwell

For you cunning literary types reading the articles here, you might have already heard about Doublethink, but for those who haven’t I shall provide a brief introduction.  It was, as far as I know, first coined in the novel 1984.

I want to talk about Doublethink because it relates to my inverse paranoia post.  I believe that Doublethink is an integral part of being an optimist–  A sane one, anyway.  It’s a choice.  Despite knowing something could go in either direction, you choose to anticipate a positive outcome.

Wait, what’s ‘Doublethink’?

Doublethink is the act of holding two opposing facts in your mind and believing simultaneously that both are true.  A small and rather ludicrous example?  Let’s say you’ve got a baseball sitting in front of you.  Partaking in Doublethink would have you believing that the baseball is scorching hot to the touch, while at the same time believing that it would be ice cold.

If that’s not quite clear, I can give you the actual description George Orwell wrote in 1984.  It is as follows:

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

Seems pointless and crazy, right?  I thought so too when I first heard the concept.  It made sense in the book, but I didn’t realize that there would be any kind of practical application of the concept in real life.  Not one that didn’t involve seething with evil, anyway.

In the book, Doublethink is used as a means of control and power for a government that seeks to crush, demoralize and control its people, and consequently the word carries with it quite a negative connotation.

But, it can be used for good in very limited applications.

Why use Doublethink?

Well, the chances are that if you’re a ‘realist’ (I put that in quotes because I don’t believe being a realist has to make you a pessimist as well.) turned optimist you’ve already employed Doublethink at some time.

You use Doublethink to switch your viewpoints on a topic if you desire to do so.  I know, I know, I can hear you yelling already…  viewpoints aren’t malleable like that, right?  If you believe in something you have your reasons, and by trying to consciously change your viewpoint you’re only tricking yourself, right?

Well… yeah.  You are tricking yourself.  But you’re only tricking yourself into believing something different from what you were initially tricked into believing.  Your point of view on a topic is based out of what has been repeated to you over and over again throughout your life and to a lesser extent, (Believe it or not.) personal experience.

If your parents were pessimists, there’s a pretty high probability that you will be too, because all of your life all you’ve been hearing is how terrible the world is, how you have to work like a slave for every dollar you make, how unfair life is and how people are all mean, angry people who only try to hurt you.

I know people who would swear up and down that that’s the way the world is– and for them, it usually is that way simply because they expect it.  And thus in their dealings with people they act innately hostile without even realizing it, and those people then act hostile back as a form of self-defence.

Meanwhile, the positive person goes around expecting good things to happen all the time and they do, because people can sense that too.  When you’re happy, other people start to feel happy.

I’m getting off point here.  What I’m saying is that what you believe is really what you have been taught, and if you want to change that you have to teach yourself something different.  And I’m also saying that changing what you believe is a form of personal trickery, but a conscious one and sometimes a very important one.  There is nothing wrong in choosing what you believe.  But if you’ve believed the opposite to be true your whole life, changing your belief is very difficult.

Which is where Doublethink comes in.  When you switch from being a pessimist to an optimist, you have to hold two contrary thoughts in your mind at once, and believe both.  Why believe both?  Because at first you literally will not be able to stop believing all the pessimism you’ve had drilled into you your whole life, no matter how hard you try.  It’s a habit that has had many, many years to blossom and it won’t go down without a fight.

So when you’re trying to become more positive, instead of denying the ‘realist’ or pessimistic point of view (ie. ‘I probably won’t get this job.’) you can accept it.  But you can also accept the view that it’s just as likely something good will happen as something bad, and that you have no way of foreseeing what will happen, no matter what facts you have at hand.  There are always a huge amount of unseen circumstances playing out in the background of every event in choice that we just don’t see as human beings.  And quite often those disasters turn out not to be disasters after all.

You will likely ‘Doublethink’ for a long time when you’re trying to become an optimist (Probably for at least a year if you’re like me and were negative all your life before attempting to be more positive.) but it does amazing things.

At first, Doublethink just lets you accept the fact that something good could happen, without causing fire alarms to go off in your brain by denying your usual reaction.  In a way, Doublethink allows a positive attitude to get its foot in the door of your mind.  From there it’s a rather slow process, but the more you focus on the positive outcome and the good things in life, the more it becomes the dominant thought process when something happens to you.

Doublethink is a great tool for getting you there, but it only lasts as long as you need it.  Once you start defaulting to the optimistic side of things, Doublethink loses its usefulness and you can drop it, along with negativity, completely.

Try it out.  It was something I used to get me to where I am in terms of my mindset today, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have been able to do it without employing Doublethink when I first started. (Something I did without even realizing it.)

Just make sure you drop it when you’re used to looking on the bright side of things.  Used for too long, it can just as easily hold you back.

One Response to “Doublethink”

  1. Steven H says:

    Great article! I’ve never read Orwell’s novels but I am familiar with the concept. I like your positive spin on it! I’ll explain why in a little bit, but first:

    “And I’m also saying that changing what you believe is a form of personal trickery, but a conscious one and sometimes a very important one. There is nothing wrong in choosing what you believe. ”

    This is so important! So many people IDENTIFY to their beliefs even when they are unhealthy. They don’t want to change them, because they feel their beliefs are an intimate part of their being. To change their beliefs is almost the equivalent of denying their existence. To them, clinging to beliefs is a matter of life-or-death.

    I think all personal development is about putting on different “thinking hats” and trying them out. Being able to switch from one role to another isn’t a bad form of “double think,” it is a healthy dose of flexibility.

    All of this reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Great post! I am going to share this on Twitter @NeuralCorrelate!

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