[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
This series covered a lot about flexibility with your beliefs — the ability to try out believing something new and letting the new belief crowd out the old one. Doing so is hard because believing means believing something is right. If you don’t get it, changing beliefs is hard because you’ll think it means believing what you thought was wrong is right and vice versa.
I made a point of undermining beliefs being absolutely right or wrong — it’s impossible for our finite brains to handle the effectively infinite information and complexity of the universe, so we can never know absolute right and wrong. As simple as you might think any part of the world, everything influences everything else, so no system is as closed as you might think.
A model for one of the most valuable skills related to beliefs: Flexibility
To illustrate the value of flexibility in beliefs, I’ll use a case of one of my great historical figures — someone who flipped around a belief about 180 degrees, improved his life, lived by his values, and achieved great feats of leadership.
Growing up I held a few great historical figures in high regard as role models — Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, and a few others. Eventually I came to believe their philosophies all significantly descended from Henry David Thoreau, mainly his short book Civil Disobedience. I don’t know how much they read the book but I’ve read they said he significantly inspired them.
Thoreau wrote this book after he felt his government’s supporting slavery and the Mexican-American war forced him to stop paying taxes, unable to swallow supporting either. They jailed him. In jail he came to consider himself more free and honorable inside than out — a complete turnaround from the government’s intent.
I don’t here intend to take a side whether he was right or wrong — only that his flexibility in his beliefs was great enough to make his punishment feel like freedom and honor. And that this flexibility helped make him an influential figure.
Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place to-day, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find them; on that separate, but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her — the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.
This passage exemplifies flexibility in beliefs and influence lasting centuries to some of history’s great leaders. Not many of us will achieve so much, not likely by avoiding paying taxes, but we can learn the value of flexibility in influencing others.
When we change our beliefs we can motivate ourselves to do more than we could otherwise. It also helps us learn how to influence others’ beliefs. When we influence others’ beliefs, we can motivate them far more than we could otherwise.
When I use this belief
I use this belief when a belief isn’t helping me achieve my goals.
What this belief replaces
This belief replaces getting stuck in seeing things one way when it isn’t helping us with changing our beliefs, which changes how we perceive the world.
Where this belief leads
This belief leads to greater ability to influence ourselves and others.
It can make a jail sentence feel like freedom and honor and more.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book