What the Psychology of Sight Teaches Us About Challenge

Often, the work of psychologists and neuroscientists provides insight into the realm of therapy and counseling by breaking down, into very small and specific actions, how and why our thoughts and actions relate the way they do. Sometimes this new knowledge is directly relatable to the field of psychotherapy, such as research exploring how memories are formed during times of stress: this area of study is looks incredibly promising for PTSD counseling and treatment. Other times, though, lessons learned through research aren’t applicable literally, but they do make for a very helpful metaphor.

New research from Ohio State University is exactly such a discovery. Psychologist Dennis Shaffer and his colleagues discovered that humans looking at hills and other inclines often overestimate their steepness. Specifically, we factor in how difficult it would be to get up that hill, instead of the hill’s appearance alone, when reporting how steep it looks.

This is a fantastic metaphor for how humans approach challenge. Sometimes, the journey from A to Z (or even A to C) seems insurmountable. When people finally find a psychotherapist after months and years of struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction, and insecurity, getting to a “better place” can seem an impossible goal.

It’s true that change can take time and lots of hard work, and therapy is no exception. But it’s also true that we often psych ourselves out, adding self-doubt and pessimism to the hill, which of course only makes it harder to climb. But even in the midst of the hard work of therapy, the rewards can be incredibly heartening. Imagine you are, indeed, climbing a mountain and you’re only one third of the way up its slope. The view from one-third up the world’s highest mountain is plenty impressive in itself; how much so when you exercise patience, self-care, and determination and finally make it to the top?

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Allen


    February 14th, 2011 at 5:29 AM

    How we see things is not only in the eyes but also in our minds…more so in the latter usually…so whether we overestimate or underestimate is all in our minds…a positive outlook and belief in self ability can make anything easy…

  • Evan


    February 14th, 2011 at 5:50 AM

    It is that natural pessimism that makes you overestimate how difficult it would be to climb that hill, so many will see this as something totally unachievable instead of a challenge that they could conquer.

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