Recently I had supper with Dunstan till 2am+ and we were talking about this topic of schemas, alternative realities and why human beings repeat certain patterns in life. One of the most interesting things Dunstan mentioned was the concept of “parallel universes”. In case this sounds too Sci-fiction, an easier way to think about “parallel universes” is that they are “alternative realities”.
According to Dunstan, we all live in our own respective alternative realities (popularly known as “bubbles”), and once we can figure out the rules, most things can be predicted.
Now, knowing that people have rules that govern their alternate universe is extremely liberating to me because once I figure out the rules…
- Communication/ messaging can then be tweaked to increase the likelihood that that particular message can be received as closely as intended when sent;
- I’ll now know who to avoid and keep close because they could be tickling time bombs;
- [Most importantly] I have stopped wanting to change people, or even think that I can change people, or it is easy to change people based on my current resources. Because such rules of every single particular universe are so hard-coded and difficult to change!!
Some examples of depressive/ damaging rules of particular universes:
- If a rule in an individual’s universe is “I have to go to church every week if not I’ll end up in hell”, perhaps due to childhood upbringing, then no amount of preaching about Corona Virus and social distancing will convince the individual otherwise. The only way is then for government intervention, because the bible writes “Thou shalt respect authority”.
- If a rule in an ex-convict’s universe is “I have gone to jail and everyone will never give me a second chance. Society sucks, so I shall con people to get even because they deserve it.” Then he will just keep conning people.
- For the same conman, it is likely that he also has a complementary assimilated schema of “I have been incorrectly maligned” that fuels feeling indignant (see above), and so this rule can be used to one’s benefit 😛
Some core emotions that govern the above assimilated unhealthy schemas are shame, fear and guilt. Which is great because we can then work backwards to track if we have any associated negative emotions governing the rules of our individual universes.
For the universe to continue to exist, all rules of the universe have to hold. The stronger the will of that person, the stronger the gravity pull of that particular universe, resulting in a larger scope of influence. Also, rules get stronger with every major consequence– it reinforces itself.
Rules of Alternative Realities: Schemas, Assimilation and Accommodation
There are various scientific definitions to the words “rules”/ “schemas”, “assimilation” and “accommodation”. However, since this is a reflection piece, I am just going to write my own definitions:
- Rules/ Schemas: A mental model. What our brains rely on to process new information/ data in a super fast way, so that we don’t have to use mental energy to process data from scratch and restart the analysis.
Schemas exist because the brain loves short-cuts and doesn’t like to look at itself.
- There are two types of schemas:
- Assimilated schemas: Observations/ data fitted into a foundational mental model. Assimilated schemas–or foundational mental models– are usually formed during childhood.
- Accommodated schemas: Schemas built on top of assimilated schemas. They are always conceptualised with respect to assimilated schemas.
Accommodated schemas can manifest in the forms of:
- Masks and alteregos
- Reactions (instead of responses)
- Coping Mechanisms, which include adaptation
Because accommodated schemas is a function of assimilated schemas, once assimilated schemas change, your accommodated schemas will also change.
Alternative Realities as Equilibrium: How To Map Out Assimilated Schemas
The situations where your life gravitate towards is your equilibrium. And this equilibrium is a cumulative consequence of our assimilated schemas.
Which means it is entirely possible to predict your future based on your past and present, because assimilated schemas guide your decisions. Yes, people might be different past, present and future–and that’s because most of the time, it’s the accommodated schemas that change, not the assimilated schemas. It’s almost close to impossible to modify a set of assimilated schema unless a person has a huge-ass trauma or a near death experience prior, and/or have a high level of self-awareness.
If I find myself repeating a certain pattern in life over and over again, then that means that my assimilated schemas have caused this equilibrium. And if I want change, it means that I have to go back to the details, observations and data which led to the formation of this set of assimilated schemas in the first place.
Usually we can suss out assimilated schemas with our emotions and feelings as a compass.
If we feel guilt/shame/terrible that something is recurring in our lives, most likely there is a set of assimilated schemas there that does not serve us anymore.
Which is why if we want to change our lives, we have to take a long hard look backwards to what our assimilated schemas are. Schemas and results could even be seen as one and identical, because fundamental assimilated schemas are the rules that govern this alternate reality.
Schemas– both assimilated and accommodated, explain why people cannot see the full dataset properly, which is why schemas get stronger over time as we continue to see what we want to see. To even be aware that we have certain “mental blocks” is an issue, which perhaps illustrates why it is so important to “hone people’s skills” by having perspectives.
Are My Schemas Serving Me Today?
When should we seek to change our assimilated schemas? I believe it is useful to consider if the schemas are serving us or not today, at the present moment. If they are not, then it is important to change them.
How then, can I catch myself with unhealthy schemas? One of the methods to spot unhealthy assimilated schemas is to check if I feel shame, fear, or guilt.
If an/ a set of assimilated schemas do not serve us anymore, it might be wise to work to change them.
Towards More Beneficial Alternative Realities: How to create new assimilated schemas
- Accept that I have rules in my current assimilated schemas, and those current assimilated schemas do not serve me anymore
- Think about where I want to go
- Return to fundamental observations/ data
- Reinforce the new schemas, over and over, until it becomes a habit
- Hang out with people who are closer to where I want to go than myself
- Distance myself from people who are further away from where I want to go than myself
- Practise daily gratitude
- (And for myself) Write it all out
Alternative Realities: We Always Have A Choice To NOT Take The Easy Way Out
“Understanding, accepting, and working with reality is both practical and beautiful. I have become so much of a hyperrealist that I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty of all realities, even harsh ones, and have come to despise impractical idealism.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe in making dreams happen. To me, there’s nothing better in life than doing that. The pursuit of dreams is what gives life its ﬂavor. My point is that people who create great things aren’t idle dreamers: They are totally grounded in reality. Being hyperrealistic will help you choose your dreams wisely and then achieve them.”— Ray Dalio
Schemas are short-cuts by the brain. So whenever we start to feel that something is wrong with our lives, especially after seeing recurring patterns, it is important to take a hard look back at the assimilated schemas.
It is a choice because if the individual feels something and consciously does not seek an answer to change his/her life situation, then he/she is taking the easy way out.
Of course it’s not easy– the brain doesn’t like hard work and it doesn’t like looking at itself. Therein, therefore, lies choice. If we want change in our lives, it is important to get it all out in analysis. For my case it’s all about writing out certain cases, no matter how busy I might be. Because then I can take a long hard look at what the assimilated schemas are.
Your life is your responsibility. Take ownership today.