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July 29, 2019
by Elizabeth Pratt

Why Your Pre-Existing Beliefs May Stop You From Pursuing Your True Passions

July 29, 2019 08:00 by Elizabeth Pratt  [About the Author]

Do you know what your true passion is?

Perhaps it’s writing, art, helping others or travelling. Maybe it’s exercise, clean eating, craft or languages.

Many people think they know what their true passion is, or even what profession they would like to pursue. But new research has found that pre-existing self-beliefs and cultural stereotypes may stop people from following their true passions.

“Common wisdom tells us it is important to ‘find a job you love,’ and ‘pursue your passions,’ but it is much less clear how we are supposed to go about doing that. While we assume it is simply enough to try new things and learn what we like, it turns out that what we learn about our interests can be biased by the pre-existing beliefs we already hold,” Zachary Niese, who led the research as a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State University, told Theravive.

“For instance, even if a subject or activity sparked interest in the moment, if a person believes ‘that is not the kind of thing I enjoy,’ this belief can cloud their memory of the experience and prevent them from developing an interest in the domain. And this is particularly important because, not only are our beliefs sometimes inaccurate, but they can also stem from negative cultural stereotypes, for example, ‘science is not for girls.’”

In undertaking the research, Niese and his colleagues found people sometimes forget how they have previously enjoyed a particular activity due to what they believed.

Niese used the example of a young girl at summer camp. At camp, she might enjoy working on a science project, but later when she thinks back on the experience she may recall the idea that she has heard ‘science is not for girls’ and this may cloud her memory. Because of this, rather than remember the science project at camp fondly, she believes she wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

But the researchers found there is a way to overcome this bias. They found that using imagery to tap into memories was effective at accurately showing whether experiences were enjoyable or not. To do this, people can visualize activities they do from the first-person perspective.  

The girl thinking about summer camp could later visualize herself at the camp and imagine exactly what she did as part of the science project. This may then remind her of the fun she had during the project.

“We found that using first-person imagery can change people’s frame of mind when thinking about their past experiences. Specifically, it helps them reconnect with how the activity itself actually made them feel, and makes them less likely to be biased by their pre-existing beliefs about what they already think they like or dislike,” Niese told Theravive.

Overall, forming beliefs about ourselves can be useful and enable us to find careers or hobbies we enjoy, as well as provide guidance for behaviour. But problems can occur when our beliefs about ourselves are maintained even when they are wrong.

“One way this happens is because our self-beliefs can serve as a mental shortcut when thinking about how we felt in the past,” Niese explained.

“For instance, if students are asked ‘how was your math class today?’ they could come to an answer by really reflecting on the class, the material, and how it made them feel, or they could simply use their self-beliefs as a guide to come to quick answer: ‘I do not like math… so, class was boring today.’ Even if the subject actually does engage the students, their pre-existing beliefs might prevent them from recognizing it after the fact,” he said.

Visualizing activities in the first person encourages people to be in a frame of mind where they can focus on how past activities made them feel. The third person perspective, however, is more abstract and causes people to rely on their pre-existing beliefs.

Niese and his colleagues hope to explore this idea in a real world setting such as among college freshman deciding on a major.

Long term, they hope that using first person imagery visualization will help people accurately find what area interests them, and enable them to pursue their true passions.  

“Our pre-existing beliefs can interfere with our ability to accurately recall and recognize the things that interested us in the moment. This research shows that first-person imagery is an effective tool for putting people in a frame of mind that helps prevent this issue,” Niese said.

About the Author

Elizabeth Pratt

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald,, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.

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