Did you learn from incompetent role models?

Imagine that you are about to learn to drive race cars or speed boats. You probably wouldn’t pick as your driving teacher:

  • The town drunk
  • A blind person
  • A neighbor who has crashed their car into every trash can and sign pole in the neighborhood.

And yet most people learned at least one important life skill from someone who was that poorly qualified to teach it.

For instance, my parents taught me some excellent money management strategies. But they had zero business or entrepreneurial skills, and held business and businesspeople in contempt. So who do you think I learned my attitudes about business from? That’s right: my parents — people who were completely incompetent to teach anyone success in that area! Worse, I didn’t learn business skills from my entrepreneurial uncles who had business knowledge, experience, and connections that might have greatly improved my life. As a result, it took me decades to figure out that I love business and entrepreneurship.

Learning from incompetents

This problem isn’t just common; it’s almost universal. As children, most of us learned basic life skills, behaviors, values, and beliefs from whoever was around, whether or not these role models were competent in those areas.

Think about it. How many individuals have you met who learned:

  • Relationship skills from people who had lousy relationships, or whose relationships didn’t last…
  • Beliefs about wealth and money from role models who were poor, or who kept having money problems…
  • Beliefs about work from people who felt unhappy at their jobs, or who hated work and working…
  • Social skills from people who had few friends, many enemies, lousy friendships, or were shy, rude, hostile, or socially inept…
  • Judgment and decision-making skills from role models who had lousy judgment and made poor decisions…
  • Parenting skills from inept or inexperienced parents…
  • …or how to be happy and successful from unhappy, unsuccessful people?

How well did that work?

Many times a person we learned from was competent in part of a skill (Uncle Ed was good at his job), but lacked competence in  other aspects of it (Uncle Ed lacked skills for liking his job, or picking jobs he liked).

“Course correction? We don’t need course correction!”

None of this would be much of a problem if we humans noticed when we had learned skills from incompetent teachers. Or if we noticed when our skills didn’t work, and then made corrections.

Instead, people cling to mistaken ideas of what’s “right” or “should” work, even when it doesn’t. For example,

  • Millions of people are convinced their way of doing relationships in “right,” despite ongoing conflicts and having a string of failed relationships. Any problems must be the other person’s fault — even if the other person has a much better track record of relationship success!
  • I have known numerous chronically impoverished people who were totally convinced that their beliefs about money were correct. They even used their money problems as evidence that their money beliefs were correct! Counter-examples, including similar people who succeeded financially, didn’t disprove their beliefs. Instead, successful people “obviously” succeeded because of  luck, personal connections, or fewer problems with prejudice… never because they have better strategies.
  • Millions of people are convinced they are bad, wrong, flawed, and inadequate because they have adopted other people’s negative judgments of them. Once someone believes such a judgment, they will tend to gather evidence to support it, rather than questioning the competence and judgment of the judges, or searching for counter-examples that disprove the belief.

Programmed for failure

“That didn’t work. Do it harder!” is one of the world’s most counterproductive strategies.

Before I learned NLP, I spent decades making myself miserable attempting to succeed with strategies that didn’t and couldn’t work. So did my friends. Even after our strategies failed repeatedly, we still kept doing what hadn’t worked. In those days, our beliefs about what “should” work were more powerful than the abundant sensory evidence life gave us that our strategies really didn’t work.

Reprogramming for success

Getting people to question times they learned from non-experts often proves very empowering. Unuseful old beliefs and strategies often persist only because the person hasn’t questioned them.

I encourage people to question two main categories of experience:

  1. Skills they learned from others, and
  2. Judgments and beliefs that came from other people.

I find this particularly useful while or after the client does a process that gives them an overview of their life: timeline work, regression, or anything that creates a “big-picture” meta-position. Now the client can see their past as a whole, notice the patterns, and see the cumulative effects of bad decisions. From meta-position, the client can get to and fix problems easily, and has lots of motivation to do so.

I do this very simply, using hypnotic language. For instance:

You might notice that there were times in your past when you learned skills and beliefs from people who weren’t very good at something. You might have learned relationship skills from people who weren’t very good at relationships… or money skills from people who had money problems… or maybe some parenting skills from people who weren’t that great as parents. And sometimes the person you learned from was very good at part of the skill… but not so good at other parts of it.

Take a moment to notice the skills you learned from people who were not experts… and notice how you would have gotten different results if you learned from people who were really good at those skills.

[At this point the client has taken skills they hadn’t questioned until a moment ago, gotten meta-position on them, and imagined learning them better from another teacher. That is quite a shift in itself!]

Perhaps you might want to fix and improve some of those skills now… and give your younger self access to the people you’ve met since then, who know how to do this better…

[Here I pause until they have processed and give me a signal, such as saying, “Okay.”]

And you might also notice some times where someone made negative judgments about you. A lot of times, especially when they were kids, people take those judgments on as if they were true. But you can notice now how the people who judged you probably weren’t world-class experts on human potential… And they certainly weren’t experts on your potential… because if they had been, they wouldn’t have made judgments that caused you problems later…

And even if some of their judgments were true then, a lot of things have changed since then, and you have changed, and those judgments probably aren’t true, now. So instead of taking on those judgments as if they were true, now you can notice now how your life would have been different and better if you had gotten more useful evaluations from people who knew just what to say… people who would help you develop your skills and strengths, and have the best possible life… And perhaps you might want to change those negative judgments now, and give your younger self access to people who will help the younger you flourish… so you have the best life from now on…”

Some clients will benefit from having you walk them through changing one or more specific examples. Most people I have worked with didn’t need that. Of course I waited until late enough in the session that the NLP processes they did had put them into a fairly deep in trance before I made the suggestions.

Most clients also benefit from a verbal walk-through of how to pick good exemplars (people to learn skills from). I discuss that in my next post.



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Did you learn from incompetent role models? — 1 Comment

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