Old thought patterns, exposed in Burma

We all do it, and we all deny doing it – putting people in neat boxes, sticking labels onto them with lightning speed.

So, are you the blonde beach girl? Or rather the bespectacled book-nerd? The introvert who only laughs out loud in the basement, behind closed doors? The communicator, facilitator, the cool guy? Or the teary, anxious and nervous type?

I’m certain there’s a category for each of us, yes, for you too – and for me.

Or not? How about the kickboxing guy who does yoga? Or the introvert backpacker? The mathematician who in the evenings entertains people as stand-up comedian? Well, they must be the exceptions, or at least this his how our brain rationalizes these types. Just like in our email inbox, we have set up categories (or tags, if you’re into blogging) for people we meet in real life – even for those who are already our friends. And like in Gmail, it’s simply impossible to file an email somewhere between two folders.

So why are we doing this – if we hate it so much when it’s done to us?

Burma, what you'd expect. Box ticked.

Burma, what you’d expect. Box ticked.

It’s because our mind really struggles to hold two seemingly opposite thoughts. The guy who does kickboxing, surely he does yoga as a complementary exercise to enhance his kickboxing skills. (See, how we rationalise here?) Our mind’s a master in finding reasons, explanations, short: putting order into the chaos of this world and the never-ending current of daily experiences. We simplify, we form ideas about people – and we stick to those ideas. And eventually, they start shaping our thought patterns. That’s why it can be so hard to present a radical idea or project to an old friend – they might just say: “Oh that sounds great, but are you sure you’re the type of person to do that?”

A few months ago we travelled to Burma (or Myanmar, if you like), and I’ve had a powerful reminder of how preconceived ideas shape our “reality”. Mind you, I had never been to Burma. And of course I was an open-minded, curious, adventurous backpacker, ready to throw myself at whatever might await me. Only that subconsciously I already seemed to know what would await me!

Burma, supposedly, is a tad backwards, there are no ATMs, at least not if you are in possession of a non-Burmese credit card, and the internet is highly censored, with most sites being blocked. We decided to not even bother, take an entire stack of cash, leave the credit cards at home (what’s the use of carrying and potentially losing them if you can’t even use them?), and of course we left our cell phones and tablets at home. You wouldn’t expect a decent mobile network, or even WiFi access anywhere, right?

Burma, maybe not what you'd expect: Skyscrapers in Yangon.

Burma, maybe not what you’d expect: Skyscrapers in Yangon.

We stepped off the plane, pouring with the other passengers into a hypermodern, super-efficient airport, watching everyone’s eyes glued to their cell phones. From the cab window, on our way into the city, I counted an endless number of cafés and shops with WiFi signs. Needless to say, hotels offer WiFi too, and I started to sense that upon request probably every Burmese school kid would be able to produce a cell phone from the pocket of their designer denim.

We had a wonderful, four-week long trip across the country, with people smiling at us when we asked to use the hotel reception phone or tried to pay an internal flight in person at the airline’s office, neatly piling up our USD notes on the counter (no, we couldn’t book online, even though all the booking sites you can think of were accessible – because we couldn’t remember our credit card numbers…).

Blimey! We were as floored as this.

Blimey! We were as floored as this.

To cut a long story short, we looked a bit like the technologically challenged travellers from some obscure, backwards country, and the young guys at the internet café shot meaningful glances at each other before resuming their online chats and video games.

So I’ve swallowed the bitter pill, the only comfort being the fact that apparently I’m not the only one stuck in old thought patterns. Shortly after we got back to Australia (where we moved to a while ago from Europe), a friend from London asked on Skype: “So, in the morning, are you running to the office along the beach, in your speedos?”

He was shocked to hear that winter in Melbourne means it’s about 6 degrees in the morning, and apart from the occasional dog fetching a ball, the beaches are pretty much deserted around here. At least until summer arrives, which is in November (I know – another thought to get used to!).

Here’s to getting rid of old thinking patterns! Have you found yourself in a similar situation? Please share!

~ Andrea

Image credits: Anthony de Palatis

14 replies »

  1. I traveled to Burma back in 1998 and it remains one of my favorite destinations. The people were so warm yet so oppressed. It is a place I look forward to returning however am resigned to the fact that it will have changed considerably. Thanks for the post.


    • Hi Tim,

      Yes, it sounds indeed like it’s changed a lot, and keeps on changing rapidly…before departing I spoke with two friends who had been to Burma ten years ago but I couldn’t really find any of what they had described to me.
      Thanks for reading!



  2. Hi Andrea, Burma is on my list for early 2015, good to read a bit about recent experiences… did you go with a travel group/guide? Or just make it up as you go? Thanks 🙂


    • Hi, thanks for reading – we basically just booked the flights and then backpacked a bit around the country, trying to find accommodation when arriving in a new place. We don’t usually pre-plan much but found that some places were very crowded so we had to search a bit for rooms. Happy to chat more, if you like email me at

      Happy travels!


  3. Ha! I loved your story on Burma and expectations. I think judging is what our mind just does. It can’t help it. We don’t need to listen or believe it though! I love astrology and numerology becuase it helps me understand myself (and other people) better. But it’s also a great tool for my brain to box people in; a two-edged sword :). I guess we just have to keep questioning ourselves and our assumptions and omg our expectations.


    • I’m trying to move from “judging” to simply “perceiving” but, needless to say, I’m struggling! 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!



      • Yes, I think that practice where we look at something (like a tree for instance, or a sunset) with no thoughts, no naming of what we are looking at is very helpful.


  4. We have a saying in a group I belong to: “expectations are reservations for resentment.”

    Old thought patterns constantly color my expectations and turn into self fulfilling prophecies that aren’t always true.

    The thought “I’m not athletic” kept me from doing anything active for years. Then I discovered running, and suddenly I was winning my age group at races. Then I got injured, which led to “I’ll never love anything the way I love running.” This colored my life for a year and a half while I moped around and felt sorry for my non-running self. Then I stumbled into an Ashtanga class…and the rest is history.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Emma,

      It’s terrible, isn’t it? There are so many things I would have liked to do but didn’t because, well, “I’m just not that kind of person”. It’s only now, in my early thirties, that I’m starting to change my thought patterns and switch things around. Oh and it’s exciting! 🙂

      Thanks for reading,
      All the best,



  5. Great post. Great wxoerience to shsre. I’m guilty of all the above! I do however, have a much better perspective on life now, just from many experiences. As my judgment lessens and my heart opens more I see and feel life thru kinder and more understanding eyes.



    • It’s a learning curve, isn’t it? It’s hard to be completely free of judgemental thoughts – hopefully the yoga practice helps!

      Thanks for your comment,


  6. One of the reasons I started traveling was the feeling of being trapped by the expectations of others. I spent a long time in my late teens being a miserable bastard. The effect this had was that everybody believed I was a miserable bastard. This made it hard to change myself because everybody else wanted me to stay as that miserable bastard to meet their expectations. In other words, if I started to act happy I’d get the old “Oh, you’re acting happy all of a sudden! Why’s that?!” Like it would be something wrong of me to be because it’s not how others perceived me.

    Also, on the subject of Burma (I’ve never been) I imagine the majority of the information out there is pretty outdated (Eg. guide books, internet etc). I know that even in the last few years it’s changed massively. Only a matter of time before it’s like everywhere else with a Starbucks or McDonalds on each corner!


    • So true! Burma was a lot different from what we had read, and you’re right, not being stuck with how others perceive your personality is one of the best things about travel!
      All the best,


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