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In 1914 Arthur Quiller-Couch gave a lecture on writing at Cambridge University. He probably never imagined a phrase he uttered that day would still be quoted over a 100 years later, but his phrase – murder your darlings – is still good advice for any writer. If you’ve never heard the idea before what Quiller-Couch was getting at was being so attached to a line we’ve written that we find ourselves rewriting everything else around it so we don’t have to change that one perfect line. Solution? Delete (or murder) the line.
Things is darlings don’t just happen to writers. In fact we all have darlings. It’s just that not all of us know we do.
A cherished idea is what I call the every day version of a darling. A cherished idea is the idea we hold onto so tightly because we believe it’s right. Like when we’re in meetings and offer an idea that no one jumps on board with. We might question how we explained it, question if they understood it, but we rarely question the idea. The idea is right after all, and if everyone could just see that we’d all be better off.
But what if it’s not?
Why Cherished Ideas Matter
What if our cherished idea isn’t right? In a world that’s increasingly lurching toward settling into two camps on everything from climate change to immigration, cherished ideas matter more now than they ever have.
Because cherished ideas don’t just affect the way we run our world. We see cherished ideas everywhere: from the development of an ad campaign to the processes in our businesses. The question isn’t do we have cherished ideas? The question is how do we ensure our cherished ideas don’t create unhelpful strategies, processes, or plans?
The Flexibility of Mind Inhibitor
Perhaps around now you’re wondering, what’s so wrong with a cherished idea? OK, so I’m attached to a way of doing things, believe the way we process orders is the best way possible? What’s the big deal?
Well, we’re back to that point I made before. What if it isn’t? In fact what if everyone on our teams knows there’s a better way, but because we’re the leader holding onto our cherished idea everyone defers to us. Or maybe we’re not the leader and so when we encounter a contrary point of view, we point out holes in other people’s thinking and reinforce the walls of our own?
You can see what I’m getting at here, because what cherished ideas do is prevent us from living one the six attributes: flexibility of mind. Being attached to something means we can’t critique it; can’t see its downsides; and don’t leave space for a bigger idea to come along.
Being attached to an idea or way of doing things chains me to it.
The Cherished Idea Barometer
Interested in breaking out of a cherished idea?
The first step is another of the six attributes: mindfulness. Because to break away from a cherished idea we need to first know we have one. And that means being self-aware.
For example, notice how often you find yourself repeating the same idea; notice when how you react when you hear a point of view you disagree with: do you try to convince others of yours even when it’s apparent they’re not buying it?
Those, and situations like it, are what I call the cherished idea barometer. They give us the chance to notice how attached to an idea we are. And that means they give us the chance to keep holding on or relaxing our grip.
In the real world letting go of cherished ideas isn’t easy. They wouldn’t be cherished if it were. Instead, seeing our ideas for what they are – not the truth, just our ideas – means relaxing our grip becomes possible.
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