Think Differently, See Differently

woman thinking

If you always do, what you’ve always done, you’ll always get, what you always gotten.” I don’t know who said this, but I heard it for the first time when I was studying  NLP  (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) . I’d like to change it slightly to, If you always think, what you’ve always thought, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

The original statement relates to the law of requisite variety, which states, “a system only has requisite variety if its repertoire of responses is at least as big as the number of different stimuli it may encounter in its environment.” In other words, the less restrictive and more expansive our thinking processes are, the more choices and options we have. Also, the more resilient we are and the more control we have over our lives.

How we think and what we focus our attention on will determine our repertoire of options and choices. Let’s face it; there are moments where our attention, either consciously or unconsciously, dwells on aspects of our lives that can create stress or unintended negative consequences.

So what are thoughts? Where do they come from? And why do some thoughts persist and seem to represent patterns? The “truth be told,” no one knows. Thinking is still a mystery. There is no consensus about what thought is or how it is created.

One thing for sure, on which there is universal agreement… we cannot, not think. Often the challenge is avoiding what I call the “spiraling story,” where we take a “neutral thought” ruminate over the thought and intensify it to the point where it has a completely different narrative and little or no basis in reality.

We can do our selves a great service if we accept the reality that thoughts, seemingly out of nowhere, will enter our minds, whatever the thought might be. Trying to control the thoughts that enter our mind is like Sisyphus pushing that giant boulder up the hill.

Our control is over how we respond to them. The more aware we are of the creative aspect of thought and skillful in managing our thoughts, we’re much more likely to keep a momentary stressful thought from turning into a full-blown stressful story.

Given the ephemeral nature of thought which has power to coagulate into patterned thought forms –  how can we approach changing negative thoughts so that we see the world through a new set of lenses?

As a long time advocate and practitioner of the belief that change works from the inside/out, I gave pause to that belief when I came across the work of Donella Meadows,best known as lead author of the influential book The Limits to Growth and publisher of Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System, which describes what types of interventions in a system (of any kind) are most effective, and which are least effective.

While not abandoning my focus on the inextricable role of the individual in making personal change, Meadow’s pioneering work on systems thinking got me thinking (sorry, couldn’t help myself)- about its application to personal transformation and change. Especially, the concepts of “leverage points.” These are places within a complex system where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.

If we think of ourselves as a system with interconnecting aspects of body, brain and mind… what then, might be the leverage points within the human system that could affect the system and ultimately the choices we make and what we do?

It seems to me that the leverage point within the “human system” with the most impact on our behavior and actions are our thoughts (internal narratives) and self-awareness. To the extent that we are able to tune into the narrative of our self-talk – to understand and be aware that a moment doesn’t go by where there is no internal processing taking place -underpins our ability to use other leverage points.

In the world of systems thinking one of the higher level leverage points for transforming a system is the ““structure of information flows” – in other words “who does and does not have access to information.” Our thoughts, beliefs and emotions and awareness of them– our ownership of them – is perhaps the most powerful source of information about the human mind and determines what is possible in our lives.

Here is an interesting story often cited by systems thinkers exemplifying the importance of “information flows.”

“There was this subdivision of identical houses, the story goes, except that for some reason the electric meter in some of the houses was installed in the basement and in others it was installed in the front hall, where the residents could see it constantly, going round faster or slower as they used more or less electricity. With no other change, with identical prices, electricity consumption was 30 percent lower in the houses where the meter was in the front hall.”

So, I ask you- what is in the front hall of your consciousness?

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. 

George Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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3 thoughts on “Think Differently, See Differently

  1. Hi George,

    I particularly liked the connections you made here to personal change and systems. Unfortunately there is a great deal of polarization about where change is most effectively. I think it’s another example of either/or, or as the Buddhists call it “dualistic thinking.”

    Clearly we are products of our cultures and the systems in which we interface. But without a commitment to personal change (and how do we change systems without it?) changes alone in the system are not as effective. They work in concert.

    And of course, we’re only in the very early stages of understanding how the attention of our focus, especially group focus, affects the outcome of any system.

    Looking forward to more of your thinking on the topic.

    ~Louise

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    • This is the problem with the new “Self Love” movement (or cult) where people are encouraged to focus their thoughts so narrowly on themselves and their pleasure and to just listen to themselves (and others who keep telling them to think that way). The result of this is a narrowing of thought – a reduction of requisite variety in ones thoughts – that ends up in the same failure to thrive as lack of requisite variety does anywhere — in countries, gene pools, etc.

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      • Thanks Steve for you comment. Much appreciated! I agree, it’s true, that there are people with narcissistic tendencies. I suppose that there will always be a segment of human thought that will be in distortion. In my opinion, what we should strive for is an integrated life, which comprises linkage of aspects of ourselves (body and mind) to our relationships with others. This requires our ability to be empathetic. We need to distinguish between ‘self-love” in the form of narcissism and knowing and loving one’s self, which also includes owning one’s truth. One of the by-products of empathy from a neuroscience perspective ( our mirror neuronal system) is we get the opportunity to learn more amount ourselves through our interactions with others.

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