How to Create Lasting Changes by Applying Systems Thinking to Your Beliefs

“A decision is only as good as the processes used to produce it.”

This idea is the basis for Einstein’s premise that you cannot solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that got you into it.

You can gain more insight into your beliefs and ways of acting by applying systems thinking to your own system of thinking, because our beliefs are themselves a system. Yes, that’s a little confusing, so I’ll say it again, “You can gain more insight into your beliefs and ways of acting by applying systems thinking to your own system of thinking, because our beliefs are themselves a system.”

Mental Models

We have habitual ways of thinking that we fall into time and again. Our beliefs underlie how we approach problems, what we even think problems mean, and the kinds of solutions we’re willing to consider. This overall way of understanding our thinking is referred to as mental models: mental because they exist in our minds and motivate our actions; models because we construct them from our overall experiences.

Mental models are common—everyone has them. Our early learning, our experiences, our overall “map of the world” forms the basis for these models. These in turn form our beliefs as we apply them to real life. We form them. We hold onto them. They are ours. We even talk about “having beliefs” or “adopting beliefs” or “acquiring beliefs.” We will defend them from attack. We also talk about holding them or even abandoning them. When we do abandon a belief, it’s gone for good, and there the void that remains needs to be filled by another belief.

Processes That Keep You Stuck

Our mental models are personal and deep rooted, and they predispose us to act in certain ways. That’s why it’s often difficult to learn from mistakes because oftentimes what may be called a mistake is actually “justified” based upon our particular models. We mistake our view for reality—because in our mind, it is.

So, how can you use this? If you continue to experience similar difficulties or problems, you must consider this: “What are the underlying beliefs that are getting you—and keeping you—stuck?”

One way to think about it is that we create blind spots. This is the phenomenon of deletion. We are selective about what we notice. Based upon what we notice, we form ideas and take action. There’s a plethora of information that we fail to pay attention to. Sometimes adopting a new form of self questioning, like “What am I failing to consider?” presupposes that there is information out that that you haven’t noticed, and the question itself will open you up to considering that other information.

The opposite of the blind spot is the idea of constructing meaning from something that isn’t there. Your mind will make meaning out of a gibberish sentence or misspelling because it knows what should or ought to be there. For instance, just because someone questions us, we might assume that they don’t like us. This assumption was probably formed long ago, and there may be no basis for it, but we act as if it were true. We may continue acting this way, as if that were true, rather than challenging that assumption.

The next part of the mental model that is problematic is distortion. Distortion is how we change our experience—emphasizing some parts and discounting others. It can even be the basis of creativity or paranoia. When we distort events, we give weight to some experiences more than others. For example, many gamblers continue to believe they can and will win, despite the fact that they keep losing. Their minds reframe the losses as near wins. Another example is jealousy. A jealous person can distort all sorts of everyday events into painful, threatening possibilities.

Finally, there’s generalization. We create all of our mental models by taking experiences and making them represent groups. For example, a child witnesses how his father treats his mother and can generalize from this experience how men should treat women. One of the problems is that once we generalize, we can become blinded to other possibilities. For example, someone may generalize from an earlier coaching experience that didn’t work out and decide that coaching doesn’t work.

Taken all together, these mental models—deletions, distortion and generalization—are the basis of our learning and creativity and all of our beliefs, including the ones that serve us well. From a systems viewpoint, we want to be able to examine how these four principles combine and how they reinforce. They are the loops that keep the system in place.

The implication for all of this is that you have to be able to step back and begin to notice how your system is working. As is often said in earlier writings, if you change one belief within a system, that may not be enough because a system, by definition, is made up of many reinforcing and supporting elements. It will usually not suffice to just change one part of a system.

This article was inspired by The Art of Systems Thinking: Essential Skills for Creativity by Joseph O’Connor and Ian McDermott.

P.S. Do you want to share this post? Please do. Just be sure that it remains intact and includes the following bio.

About Terry: Terry Hickey, M.S., is a Certified NLP Professional Coach, Business Trainer and Consultant, a Certified Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the co-owner of NLP Advantage Group. Originator of the Belief Breakthrough Method™, Terry specializes in teaching coaches and entrepreneurs how to rapidly resolve limiting beliefs about wealth and success. His tips and strategies can help you launch yourself into the future you want… NOW. http://terryhickey.com/

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