Context is the air we breathe, the water we swim in. It’s our outlook, our worldview, how things occur to us, what we believe is true. It’s influenced by experiences, what we’ve been taught, things we’ve done and seen. Context is rooted in the past, much of it originates from childhood, from formative years. For that reason context is super sticky, it has a lot of staying power, it’s hard to change. And as people get older, they become less and less inclined to change their minds, or even to listen to different ideas.
Context is correlated with action; or, our actions naturally flow from our context. Context is similar to identity in this way. If you identify as an overweight person, you’ll take actions that are consistent with that identity. You’ll eat a lot of unhealthy food and you’ll spend a lot of time on couches. You’d have an incredibly difficult time losing weight, assuming you even wanted to try. If you identify as a healthy person, on the other hand, you’ll watch what you eat and make the gym a regular part of your routine. It’s baked into who you believe you are.
Context is partly what you believe about yourself, but it’s also what you believe about the world. If you believe people are generally nasty and selfish, you’ll have a hard time caring about a stranger. You won’t even want to meet a stranger. If you believe money is scarce (which the vast majority of us do), you’ll feel a measure of helplessness about your long-term earning prospects. The process of money-making feels like a grind, not the motivating ‘work hard’ grind, the boring, fruitless, hopeless grind. On the flip side, if you believe money is abundant, you’ll be inspired to work hard, be valuable, find ways to help people, and most likely accumulate more money.
Since context is sticky we often feel stuck in them, even if we realize they exist. We fall into ruts, or routines, or habits, that stem from our context and then we don’t change. It’s like our contexts are hardwired into our brains, like we’re in the Matrix, unable to detach from the machine. But, we’re not entirely powerless in relation to our contexts.
We can control our inputs, what we’re reading, watching, and interacting with. Good books can have a profound impact on how we think. Take time to interact with and evaluate other ideas and arguments and contexts. The world is way bigger than our limited experiences.
We can take a step back and evaluate them. If you can understand your context, and even some of the background that helped mold it, you can begin to see how it could be different.
We can also control what we say. Context is intricately tied to language. Words are how we organize and process what we see and experience, we speak and listen and think with words. And we can use different words, like ‘scarce’ instead of ‘abundant’, or ‘get to’ instead of ‘have to,’ or say ‘thank-you’ more often. Those are subtle changes, but sometimes what we need is a perspective that leans a different way.
So context is decisive, but it can also be changed. I would start with a good book.