Do you remember the experiment where a scientist studying the conditioning of animal behavior put a bunch of fleas in a jar and sealed it with a lid? I hadn’t thought about it in years but was recently reminded of it and its inherent lessons for us in a brilliantly written blog by my friend and colleague, Joan Garbo (https://joangarbo.com/,) where she shared a link to this video of the experiment:

fleas in a jar.mpg

I tried to research the origins of this experiment and ran into a dead-end. The story may be a bit apocryphal, but the core idea is this: if you put fleas in a jar with no lid, they immediately jump out since they can jump almost 1000 times their own height. However, if you put a lid on the jar, after some time, the fleas learn that jumping too high hurts their heads, and they quickly become conditioned to jump just below the lid. Once the lid is removed, even though they could escape, they don’t because they have associated jumping high with pain. They continue their limited behavior because of conditioning and don’t choose the option of jumping out, based on the belief that they no longer can.

The analogy for us, of course, is whatever we believe to be true creates the paradigm we continue to live within… even if there is evidence of a bigger or better option. Based on our experiences, education, and conditioning we believe that certain things are possible or impossible, true or false, right or wrong, moral or immoral, good or bad, safe or risky, important or unimportant. These beliefs are the lid on our jar of life.

I don’t think it really matters what our paradigms are if we are getting the results in life that we like and want. For example, if we have great relationships, fulfilling work, enjoyable hobbies, a comfortable home, well-adjusted children, financial security, good health, and an optimistic outlook, we are probably not in need of a paradigm shift. Our current beliefs are supporting the life we desire. But, if we cannot say yes to those things and wish we could, then it just might serve us to examine the beliefs we are holding and the limits they put on our lives.

The way I do this for myself is to first identify the beliefs I’m holding and then poke some holes in them by asking myself a set of “better questions.” Here is a short list of examples:

  • Is this the only way this story could go?
  • Is there anyone who has done or achieved what I wish to achieve? Who are they? Where are they? (And, how can I speak with them or take them to lunch?!)
  • What if (fill in current belief) was not true? What else might also be true?
  • What if there was something I didn’t yet know or understand about this that might change or broaden my opinion, belief, and available options?
  • What might I consider if I knew I could not fail?

There are a million other questions you could ask to “take the lid off the jar” that may suit your situation better but not asking the questions at all is like wanting to jump out of the jar to freedom but never looking up to see if the reality of the lid has changed. It means you’ve accepted the reality of the lid without looking up to verify if the situation has shifted or expanded to create a new way out.

To make this phenomenon worse, the people we surround ourselves with often are there because they support and share our beliefs. When you begin to poke holes in them, at best, they will not be all that supportive and, at worst, may actually try to convince you to keep the lid on the jar. We see “group think” all around us, and I try very hard not to get caught up in it.

I believe that the best we can all do is to acknowledge places in our lives where we want something different and then notice our own current beliefs surrounding that particular issue and get good at testing “the lid” by poking some holes in it. If we don’t find any other ideas or pathways, then we are no worse off. We simply hold on to our current beliefs. But, most often, I do find expanded options, greater resources, interesting new ideas, open lids and pathways to what I desire.

We are in charge of our own destinies. And our destinies are only determined by the lids on our jars. So, this week… jump high, my friends. Jump high!

“You begin to fly when you let go of self-limiting beliefs and allow your mind and aspirations to rise to greater heights.”
~ Brian Tracy