What If We Examined a Few of Our Beliefs at a Time, Over Time…What If That Became the New Normal?

Can our ways of thinking and reflecting nurture our innate wisdom? What we believe about the world, our life, our work, business, relationships etc. can greatly influence our ability to become wiser. As we gain wisdom, we’re better equipped to navigate through an increasingly complex world. Discovering the simplicity on the other side of complexity can help immensely. We can become better leaders and contributors.

Being human comes with extraordinary thinking ability. Much of our thinking is necessarily automatic and unconscious. Fortunately we’re wired physiologically to filter and direct our thoughts in ways that enable us to act. There is a downside to this internal thought traffic controller. Biased thinking produces blind spots. We are unaware of what we cannot see. The first step: acknowledge the biases. Yup, we all have them! The second step: choose to examine them, particularly when making important decisions. Author, Jake Wilder advises us to become familiar with these five biases: halo effect, availability bias, confirmation bias, narrative fallacy, multiplicative systems. Where is flawed thinking hiding? https://medium-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/medium.com/amp/p/2d2892b3546d

How we think, so often an automatic unconscious process, is the precursor to our beliefs, decisions and behaviour. Paying closer attention to our thinking process can illuminate the way and lead to subtle and dramatically better outcomes for ourselves and others. This article identifies sneaky cognitive biases that can move in without notice. Author, Niklas Göke concluded: “The first part of this awareness comes from being able to recognize a bias when it plays a trick on your or someone else’s mind. That’s why we need to know what they are and look out for them. The second part is learning to notice them in real-time. This ability only forms with consistent practice. The best way to do this – and therefore our single-greatest weapon against deceitful perceptions – is to take a deep breath before all important decisions.” https://medium.com/@ngoeke/how-to-see-the-world-as-it-is-a820e0eb2763

For a deeper dive into the fascinating cognitive biases rabbit hole, check out Buster Benson articles, especially this one: https://link.medium.com/n5InVxUvL2

Binary, either/or thinking is so pervasive in our everyday lives, our organizations and society. Life and leadership are full of paradoxes. The push for a consistent position and decisive action can be a good thing…until it isn’t. Recognizing and making peace with the daily dichotomies we encounter can go a long way to becoming a better leader and a better human being. If we can stay open to opposing views long enough to understand their situational merits, we just might make better decisions. If we take care to communicate the basis for a different approach, we can build deeper commitment and respect where we most need it. We need more and-and perspectives to engage in real exploration, build understanding and discover better creative strategies to address complex issues. A wider range of options is almost always available when we have the lenses through which to see them.

We don’t have to look far to be reminded of the powerful effects of our beliefs. Some of our beliefs serve us well. Some do not. Which ones really hold up and can be backed-up with facts? Which ones cannot be proven and are derived from our gut instincts? So, the first step perhaps is an authentic willingness to examine our beliefs and the things we assume to be true. Okay so far? Not so fast…

What if we believe we are open to examining our beliefs and willing to adjust them in the face of new information or knowledge…but we really are not. Ah, there is the catch! We may be wise to take a step back to examine our beliefs about our beliefs. To pull that off, we need to uncover unconscious assumptions that shape beliefs and drive our decisions and behaviour…the ones we’ve never examined, challenged or articulated. The ones that need a fresh look. That is a tall order, because we all have basketfuls of beliefs, about ourselves, our lives, our past, other people, our communities, our organizations, our leaders, what is good, what is bad and the list goes on…

We cannot examine our beliefs without also reflecting on our own behaviour. Working towards alignment or congruence is another ongoing, lifelong practice. Disconnects happen. The words and the music aren’t always in sync, especially when dealing with tough complex issues and the feelings they trigger. Those around us, often the first ones to detect the incongruence, may not feel comfortable sharing their observations. Radical candour, authentic feedback expressed in a caring way, is possible when there is a relationship of mutual trust and a willingness to hear another’s perception of reality. Gustavo Razzetti offers a helpful guide: https://liberationist.org/radical-candor-how-to-challenge-people-without-being-a-jerk/

Of course, we cannot just shuck our beliefs aside. We need a solid core of beliefs and values to guide us and see us through life’s challenges. It is neither possible nor desirable to seek or expect to find empirical proof for all the things we believe. Sometimes we must trust and follow our gut instincts.

To be human, is to be susceptible to those cognitive biases, ways of perceiving and interpreting our world (and everything and everyone in it) that unconsciously influence our behaviour. What if…we commit to examining a few of our beliefs at a time, over time. What if that became the new normal? Think how that may open up dialogue, discovery and positive transformation on every frontier.

We cannot change others’ beliefs, but we can start on the inside, and then perhaps pry open a few doors, build bridges towards understanding and bust a few myths that insidiously do ourselves and others a disservice.

Our sense-of-self or identity consists of a mosaic of past experience, personality & beliefs. Some of those beliefs are founded on facts, verifiable truths. Often, we cling to self-limiting beliefs, which are distortions, judgments we make about ourselves, our circumstances and our lives. Some of the stories we tell ourselves can keep us stuck in patterns of which we’re unaware…like invisible threads. This kind of flawed thinking is very human, and may at times serve us well as protective mechanisms. Following a path of self-awareness can help to uncover these self-limiting beliefs. We can choose a different mindset that shifts our self-perceptions and worldview. We can break free of these invisible threads that keep us unfulfilled and boxed in to smaller versions of our true selves.

There are many popular self-help gurus who claim to have the keys to enlightenment and urge us to ‘manifest’ the positive things we want to attract in our lives. Positive psychology is seen as a helpful bridge to a healthier outlook. There are some excellent resources available here. However I’m troubled when this becomes a panacea, when the buzzwords take over and the original science is overlooked. Perhaps it is because some proponents seem dominated by western philosophy mixed with some bravado. It is as if we just need to break through to a new enlightened way of seeing things and once we arrive there we’ve ‘got it!’ I am bothered by brittleness and unintended arrogance that sometimes ‘glosses over’ the messiness of being human.

Brene Brown’s videos about vulnerability and empathy have been making the rounds and for good reason. If you haven’t tuned in, here is an excellent perspective: https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o

We all nod our heads about the importance of empathy and yet we witness daily examples of its absence, up close and on the world stage. It may help to become more aware of where we sit at any given time, on a continuum from apathy to sympathy to empathy to compassion to altruism. It is one thing to think about, yet quite another to experience true caring and connection with others facing some kind of struggle. I think this is another of life’s tricky balancing acts. The pervading philosophy of ‘positivism’ or ‘positive psychology’ can be a good thing. Like most things, it can have a dark side that eludes awareness. In an effort to maintain a ‘positive attitude’ or to ‘manifest positivity’ we may sometimes avoid those facing painful life experiences. At times ‘self-preservation’ or a fear of being ‘sucked down‘ overrides the ‘caring gene.’ This too, is part of being human, and our threshold for empathy and moreover, compassion may sometimes have limits. Awareness of our own vulnerability and limits can help. With awareness comes choice. We can choose to care in a way that helps others while nourishing our own souls. https://aeon-co.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/aeon.co/amp/essays/a-sophisticates-primer-on-empathy-and-its-limits

Why do some people seem more resilient and able to adopt a more positive perspective on challenging or painful experiences? Is it real? Is it sometimes just another form of denial…a ‘fake-it-till-you-make-it’ veneer that can set people up for a serious setback down the road? Why do some people who’ve adopted this positive life stance seem lacking in empathy? The analogy that comes to mind is the reformed smoker (or fill in the blank…) who has broken through and seen the light and becomes a zealous advocate. Or perhaps there is resistance to getting sucked down into that dark, negative place we all recognize?

Several months ago I tuned in to a Broken Brain interview with Peter Crone. Listening to him tell his story and the way he helps others think about their stories was powerful. He’s been dubbed ‘the mind architect.’ He brings a mix of western and eastern thinking to the conversation. He combines a deeply compassionate and humble perspective, embracing the ‘humanness’ that underlies us all and the life-long journey of becoming more self-aware. He offers a different mindset toolkit, a way to travel to a deeper awareness that permits openness, vulnerability and a gentle recognition of our limiting beliefs and then some new choices. There is a stunning simplicity that shines through his words. He reveals how our language, our choice of words can distort our perceptions and box us in to limiting beliefs. For example, consider the not-so-subtle contrast between thinking, “I am sad,” versus “I feel sad.” His calling is to help people experience more ‘freedom’ that then permits a greater sense of peace and fulfillment.

There is no single path that contains the answers. We are each unique and there are some aspects of our life journey that are truly solitary. Nobody can ‘do it for us.’ We are social beings and we do need other people in our lives. Sometimes those connections and relationships can be very helpful. Sometimes we can be a source of inspiration and support to others. Sometimes there are useful life ‘hacks’ that work and some revelations that make things a little easier, at least for a while. Sometimes not, and we must wrestle and ‘stay with’ the uncomfortable feelings long enough to work through them and hopefully arrive at a better place (again.) I say ‘again,’ because this work is never completely done; life is cyclical by nature. Life and nature are messy and beautiful and difficult and simple and

Here again is the link to the Peter Crone interview:


Maybe it will offer a useful piece of the self-awareness mosaic. My hope is to invite more thinking, dialogue and collaborative exchange. When we share our insights, we can build more understanding and create a richer mosaic that can help on intrapersonal, interpersonal and even societal levels. What do you think? Will you join me?

What If We Examined a Few of Our Beliefs at a Time, Over Time…What If That Became the New Normal?

Traversing creative edge with purpose & 30 years advisory experience. Balancing hard science with messy humanness. http://linkedin.com/in/donna-nelham-65091145