The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, March 07, 2005

Functional Fixedness

"Functional fixedness" is a term in psychology. An illustration:
A woman cut the ends off of her roast before cooking it. For years she did this, and then one day her daughter asked her "why? Does it make the meat juicier?" "Because my mother used to do it," she answered after a moment's thought. "But why?" She really didn't know, but she called her mother and asked her. "Because your grandmother used to do it," she explained. Well, grandmother was still alive so she went to see granny. "Why did you cut the ends off the roast?" Grandmother thought, and then laughed. "Because our roasting pan was very small," she said.
We inherit maps of reality from our families, our societies, our childhood. Things, ways of addressing the world that made perfect sense at one time (perhaps), but have become out-moded drastically as time goes by. We have to be very careful. "Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results," the saying goes. Ofttimes, we get stuck in a rut, but keep digging. Why? Because digging worked in the past.
How can you tell if you have rendered an old reality map, philosophy, or approach obsolete? It is vital to check the accuracy of your input, and to check it regularly. Remember the core of these teachings:
1) If you are chronically broke, your reality map is off.
2) If you are more than moderately overweight, your reality map is off.
3) If you have a terrible relationship history, your reality map is off.
LOOK AT THIS STUFF. It's your life, and the chances are that you are blown out to one degree or another, in one or another category. It happens to all of us. It is one of the surest signs that we aren't reading reality accurately. It just isn't that hard to make a living, to be in decent shape, to have a loving relationship. Billions manage it. We all want it. When life screws up, WE have to take the responsibility. Look at your habits, and make some hard, cold decisions about whether the ways you have been for years or decades still serves you. If not, make changes. Sometimes a belief or habit is something healthy your parents gave you. And some time, they're just a short roasting pan.

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