Generating Counter Examples

Choose a belief (complex equivalent or cause-effect) to work with and write it in the spaces provided below.

e.g., (A) I am not capable of learning to operate a computer because (B) I am not a technically oriented person.

Finding counter examples would involve 1) searching for cases in which there was A but not B; i.e., cases in which people learned to operate computers who were not technically oriented.

You can also identify counter examples by 2) seeking instances in which there was B but not A; i.e., situations in which people who were technically oriented did not learn to operate computers.

Here are a couple of other examples:

I will never succeed academically because I have a learning disability.

1. Are there examples of people who did not succeed academically even though they did not have any learning disabilities? (i.e., people who did not take advantage of the opportunities provided for them)

2. Are there examples of people who did have learning disabilities (such as Albert Einstein) yet did succeed academically?

I don't deserve to get what I want because I have not made enough effort.

1. Can you think of examples of individuals who do not deserve to get what they want even though they have made a lot of effort? (e.g., thieves or assassins who put a lot of effort into their crimes)

2. Can you think of any individuals who make no effort at all (such as a new born baby), yet still deserve to get what they want?

You can search for counter examples either in your own personal life experiences or in the accomplishments and achievements of others. The actions and achievements of others generally convince us that something is possible or desirable. Counter examples coming from our life experiences convince us that we personally have the capabilities and deserve it.

Generally finding even one person who has been able to accomplish something that is believed impossible builds our sense of hope and 'outcome expectation', strengthening our confidence that something is possible. Finding examples from our own life experiences goes a step further, intensifying our confidence, not only that something is possible, but that we are capable of reaching it already to some degree — i.e., it strengthens our self-efficacy expectation.

Once a meaningful counter example has been found, it can be presented to the person who is struggling with the limiting belief. Remember, the purpose of finding counter examples, and of Sleight of Mouth in general, is not to attack or humiliate someone for having a limiting belief; rather, it is to help the person widen and enrich his or her map of the world, and shift from a problem frame or failure frame to an outcome frame or feedback frame.

As an example, if a child says, "111 never to learn to ride this bike, I keep falling down all the time," a parent could respond, "You were able to keep your balance for almost 10 feet a little while ago. So you are not falling all the time. Keep practicing and you will able to keep your balance longer and longer." This counter example is arrived at from "chunking down" the child's experience and narrowing the frame size to focus on the moments of success. Because it is drawn from the child's own behavior, it is likely to help reinforce the child's belief in the development of his or her own capabilities. This supports the child to become open to believe that he or she can, indeed, learn to maintain his or her balance.

A parent could also make a statement like, "Remember how your brother fell down all the time when he was first learning to ride his bicycle? Now he rides his bike easily all the time. Falling down is just a part of learning." In this case, the counter example is established by "chunking up," widening the frame, and pointing to the achievements of others. This will serve to build the child's confidence, or "outcome expectation," that it is possible to learn to ride a bicycle, even if one falls down a lot. This can help the child to become open to doubt that falling down means one will ultimately fail to learn.

Both counter examples help to put the limiting generalization—"IH never to learn to ride this bike, I keep falling down all the time"—back into a feedback frame instead of a failure frame.

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