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Perception not circumstance: Solving the unsolvable

Friday, July 17, 2009
If your brain is convinced that your situation, whatever it is, is nearly impossible to solve, how do you think it is approaching it? But, if your brain believed that solutions would come easily and that it was fully capable of finding them, how does it respond?

Let me share with you a true story from my book, "Back in Charge!," about a graduate level mathematics student at UC Berkeley in 1939, George Dantzig.  George showed up late for class one day and found two problems on the blackboard which he believed to be homework assignments. He copied the problems and took them home. George struggled to find solutions to these problems but, knowing he was as capable as any other student in the class, he worked diligently until he solved both of them two days later. Six weeks after turning them in, George was contacted by his very excited professor, Dr. Jerzy Newman. The two problems had not been homework assignments at all. Dr Newman had written them on the board to show the class two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics.

Yet George had been able to solve these problems. Why? Probably because he, and his brain, believed he could. Could the other students in the class have solved them as well? Perhaps. But all of the other students in class knew that the problems had never been solved. Their brains perceived a situation that was unknown and probably impossible; George's brain perceived a situation that was difficult but doable. It was not the circumstance, but the perception of the circumstance that made the difference.   Let me make this clear – – George perceived the circumstance to be mere homework. But they were exactly the same problems that other students perceived to be unsolvable!  When the brain is told something is unsolvable, impossible or very difficult, it approaches it as unsolvable, impossible or very difficult.  

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