You know how some people hold onto stuff and others seem to be able to freely let go?
I often have to trick myself into letting stuff go. Because, you know, stuff is worth something. Especially once I own it. It’s the endowment effect, “the hypothesis that people ascribe more value to things merely because they own them.”
That’s true for me. My stuff is worth more once it’s mine. The identical item in the store? Not worth as much as mine on my shelf.
My attachment seems to be enhanced if there’s a story around the item: it came from a garage sale; a dear friend gave it to me; I got it on vacation as a trip memento; it was my great-great-grandmother’s; it was a super-bargain. Any and all of those stories burnish the value of the item for me.
Even if I know an item has lived beyond its usefulness, I frequently still hold onto it, often to be reminded of “the story.” Even if it’s in the way or possibly holding me back.
I’m aware of this dynamic when it comes to stuff. Once “stuff” becomes mine, it’s hard to part with. It’s suddenly shinier; prettier; sticky-er.
Recently I started to wonder if this tendency applies not only to things, but also to thoughts and beliefs.
If I walked past and saw thoughts and beliefs on a shelf in the store, it would be easy to view them dispassionately. I’d be able to calmly listen to arguments in support of and opposed to them. I wouldn’t identify “them-with-me” and “me-with-them.” No attachment. Their value would be neutral.
But pick them up and put them in my cart? Ooh, I can feel the ownership energy start to take hold. Pass through the checkout and load them into my car? Well, those thoughts and beliefs have burrowed in; my identity is now associated with them.
“My” thoughts. “My” beliefs.
They’re worth something. I need to hold onto them; defend them.
When I think about all the thoughts that enter my mind-cart, it can become clutter-city, especially if I never let any of them go. Pride-thoughts? Put them on the mantel and show them off. Embarrassment-feelings? Stuff them into a dark corner, in the hope no one will see them. Righteous anger at an a-hole who cut me off on the road? Hold that righteous anger up as fact.
I’m likely to cling to thoughts and beliefs in my mind as “mine,” often because there’s a story around them; my grandmother believed this; my teacher believed that; I discovered this on a trip I took during my college days; my uncle’s questionable behavior taught me that. The thoughts and beliefs are how I identify myself. They’re familiar; they’ve taken hold. Besides, if I didn’t have these thoughts, who would I be?
As with stuff I have a hard time letting go of, so too do I have a hard time letting go of thoughts and beliefs, even when I know they may have outlived their usefulness. Or may be holding me back.