Tar babies

You know that Anansi story with the tar baby? In revenge for some prank, one of Anansi’s enemies — I think it’s a farmer here — makes a tar baby. Anansi speaks to it, and when it won’t answer, he slaps it, getting one hand stuck. He slaps it with the other hand, and then tries to kick it, ending up with both hands and both feet stuck fast. In some versions, he even gets his head stuck trying to smash it!

This story is exactly like what happens to us with negative beliefs we hold about ourselves or the world. Our brains are these brilliant, beautiful, pattern-matching machines, but they are especially good at matching patterns we already know. And in their attempts to keep your ancestors from being tiger-nosh, they’re extra especially good at being affected by negative things, so when have a negative belief about ourselves or the world, we see proof of it in everything. We stick one thing on to it, and then another and and another until we are paralyzed.

This is why it is important to know about this trick: the reason that all kinds of events stick to our negative perceptions of ourselves is not that they are true! It is just that they are really, really sticky.

In the next week or two, I’ll be talking about different approaches to our tar babies, but for now, I invite you to be curious about this kind of pattern: what is it that’s sticky for you? What can’t you resist trying to headbutt, even with both hands and both feet stuck fast?

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