I think I invented a new word… “Epicognition”.
Let me explain.
[I’m a bit of a science geek, so bear with me.]
There is an up-and-coming field of biology called “epigenetics“. It is the study of how external factors – our environment, the food we eat, even our emotional environment – can cause certain genes to switch on or switch off. Here’s the thing though, the impact of environment, food, emotions on our gene expression goes back SIX generations. In other words, what my great great great great great grandmother ate, or the emotional environment she endured, can effect the expression of my genes today – and whether or not the gene for cancer, or diabetes, or Parkinsons, turns on or turns off. It’s pretty fascinating stuff. The good news is, that the healthy choices we make today, can effect generations of our offspring to come.
Now to the word I invented.
Epicognition. “Epi” comes from the greek for over, upon or above. Cognition refers to the mental processes of thinking, knowing, judging and problem-solving. [Do you see where I’m going with this?] Epicognition then refers to ways of thinking, knowing, judging, and problem-solving that are handed down from generation to generation to generation. And these ways of thinking get handed down in such a way that it seems like the only way there is to think about something. Thinking like… always buying the cheapest thing, or always buying a used car, or even silly things like – I’m not good a plumbing… which is a way of thinking that my dad handed down to my brother and me and his dad handed down to him. In my family we were told – for generations – that we aren’t musically talented. So guess what, no one – not a single person – in my family or extended family (cousins, aunts, uncles) has ever learned to play an instrument or sung in a choir.
But it gets even more insidious when we think about the more subtle ways that generations of thinking impacts us today – we aren’t that smart but we’ve got a lot of heart; better to be safe than sorry; don’t be greedy be grateful for what you have; that’s good enough; rich people are arrogant; our family runs “large”; don’t be too careful or you’ll be taken advantage of; and on and on.
Here’s the good news… in the same way we can begin to break the Epigenetic cycle, we can also begin to break the Epicognition cycle. We can be the ones who begin to reshape our own thinking and the thinking of generations to come. We can be the ones to say – that’s not the truth of who I am. It’s NOT true that it’s better to be safe than sorry – I believe that the greater the risk, the greater the reward. I believe that the more money I have, the more generous I can be and the more people I can help. I believe that the health of generations before me doesn’t determine my size or my fitness. I believe that people are basically good and trustworthy. We have the power to turn the cognition tables around for ourselves and for generations to come.
So here’s the invitation…
I want to invite you to become an objective observer of your thoughts this week. Get really curious. Where did that thought come from? Is it true? How do I know it’s true? If I didn’t have that thought, what else would be possible? I love the story in Eat, Pray, Love where Elizabeth Gilbert is on a cross country trip with a friend after having gone through a really ugly divorce. She’s talking about how bad things were and how she thought maybe God was punishing her for all of her bad behavior. Her friend just looked at her and said – “Where did you get that stupid idea?”. We need to be that kind of friend to ourselves.
Are there ways of thinking that you have seen handed down from generation to generation in your family? What thoughts are you ready to challenge? What new thoughts are you ready to adopt? Are you ready to take the Epicognition challenge and be the one who changes the thinking trajectory for generations to come?
With much love and respect,