This post is dealing with the way we can change how we see the world or how we perceive our environment. It is related to two others posts which have been published on HumanBusiness.eu, which are how can we change our thinking and how we can change our actions. Since our beliefs, the narratives that we construct about ourselves, lead to how we interpret and think about events which happen to us. This interpretation influences our behavior, our actions in that situation. The actions we take though could either strengthen or weaken the beliefs we have. Therefore, these three posts, which are part of the self-awareness phase, are interrelated and one should not be viewed without taking the other two into consideration.
Are we in charge?
It is like the chicken or egg question: What came first? The same discussion could take place between the environments influence on our interpretation. Is the environment responsible for our beliefs, thoughts and actions or are our beliefs, thoughts and actions shaping our environment? There are arguments for both sides, but I believe that the thought that we are not responsible for our own decisions is quite intimidating. What would be the motivation to live on, if we could not make a difference? So I think the most important belief is that we are in charge about how we interpret the world. As Frankl has shown there is always an option on how we respond to our environment.
What is our story?
The narratives we tell ourselves or the beliefs we have are the foundation for how we perceive our environment. It is like a filter through which we see the world. Everything we experience is interpreted through this filter. It is like we are having a certain perspective on our environment. So how could we access this belief?
A technique which is helpful is named the 5-Why’s. The technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, who was the inventor and founder of Toyota Industries. The method identifies the root cause of a problem and leads to developing counter measures. It became popular in the Japanese industrial revolution. In order to understand our motivation in a specific situation, we can ask ourselves five times the question why. It sounds childish at first, but eventually it will reveal the core belief that was responsible for letting us act in a certain way. Here is an example from my own experience:
See how the answer to one why, becomes the question for the next why. The method works best for single cause and effect relations. For more complex issues every single effect should be treated individually. It is essential to be honest to ourselves and focus on facts, when answering the why’s. However, as we all have blind spots it could be helpful to reflect on the answers or get help by a friend who remains objective on our answers.
Once we know our story we are interested in how to change it.
Change beliefs through story editing
By being able to access our narratives, by becoming aware of them, we have already taken the first step to change them. These patterns are the interpretations we make or the stories that we tell ourselves. And these can be changed through story editing.
Story editing is used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in the form of interventions. Don’t worry interventions do not mean to be treated in a clinical way. But let me be clear that for some forms of unhealthy believes like the need of drug abuse or not being worth professional treatment is unavoidable.
Interventions in this case mean that people are exposed to other stories and are given a choice to deal with a dramatic event or emotion.
Exposure to other stories
Through showing people other ways of handling things, their current beliefs are challenged and it enables them to see different options. Another way to put it is to inspire people by showing them alternatives. That is why leading by example is the only way for authentic leadership. However, the inspiration does not necessarily need to come from other people. If we just start acting in a desired way, we are able to change our perceptions about ourselves on our own. The principle is called ‘do good, be good’. It basically means that our own actions can change the story we tell ourselves.
In my opinion the best way to get aware of and experience other beliefs is through travelling. In that way we are able to get confronted with completely different perspectives. We are able to meet new people who could inspire us to see the world through their eyes.
The best thing is that once we are aware of alternatives, we can’t ignore them anymore. It is like having seen a different perspective or looked through a different window. We cannot forget what we have seen. Even if we want to, our unconscious part of the brain has saved this information and will use it the next time we evaluate a situation.
Another way of influencing our choice making is by putting our life into perspective. We humans are the only species which is aware of our own mortality. Life is going to end at some point. Although this sounds quite dramatic, there is something positive about this awareness. We can start working on what we want to achieve in our lives right now.
Imagine you are old and the final day is close. What are the experiences you want to have made? What are the things you would like to have achieved? Where do you want to live? Who should be at your side?
I feel like I should warn you that this exercise could lead to big changes in your life. For me it led to quitting my job once I realized the toxic environment I was in.
Experiences dramatic event
A sudden and most often unforeseen event or emotion can make us realize that our narratives up to this point are not right anymore. Such an experience can literally lead to opening our eyes or getting exposed to a new perspective, which leads to a different interpretation of what we believe.
An example would be that we been suddenly let go from a job and realize that there is no job security. We can’t rely on anybody else than ourselves for making our ‘career’ successful. We are responsible for it. (Please note that the definition of career is defined by everyone individually)
Another example could be the loss of family members who worked hard all their lives and saved all the money to realize their dreams once they do not have to work anymore. We realize that waiting a life time for something to happen, which might not take place at all, is not worth it. The study ‘Failing to act’ from Hattiangadi et al (1995) showed that a lot of older people regret what they have not done in their life when they had the chance. Therefore we better start acting on fulfilling your dreams immediately.
What story are you telling yourself?
The inspiration for this post is coming from the book ‘Redirect’ from Timothy Wilson. If you want to get deeper into the story editing approach you can get the book here:
The mentioned study’s reference is:
Hattiangadi, N., Medvec, V.C., and Gilovich, T. (2015) Failing to act: Regrets of Termian’s Geniuses. Int’l J. Aging and Human Developmment, Vol 40(3) p.175-185. Baywood Publishing Co, Inc.
Get the study here.