Paper shredders and making changing beliefs and values easier

March 15, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Tips

People tell me it’s hard to change beliefs and values. Some people think it’s impossible. I agree if they believe it’s hard, but you can and it gets easier with practice. Most people change their beliefs and values all the time without realizing it.

One goal for this page is to help people learn to change their beliefs more easily so I try to give examples of how you already change beliefs and values without thinking about it. If you see you do in simple or little cases, you can expand what you already do to more complex or bigger cases. Next thing you know you’ll change your life.

People often restrict themselves by thinking of changing beliefs as thinking positively or thinking the opposite of what they currently think. I suggest nothing of the sort. In fact, one of the most annoying things for me is when people say something like “I’m trying to take your advice and think more positively.” I cringe.

If someone punches you in the face, I don’t propose you think “What a nice thing they did. I’m so happy they punched me in the face.” But I don’t suggest you just think miserable thoughts either. If I put it simply, I suggest people think productively. But that one word hides a lot of meaning. Productive implies direction. Direction implies a goal. A goal implies knowing what you want. Knowing what you want implies self-awareness. Self-awareness implies you’ve thought this through — you aren’t just doing something because someone said it was good.

Besides, alternative beliefs that work generally aren’t the opposite of ones that don’t work. They’re generally complementary and involve taking responsibility. If someone punched me in the face I might think something like “I can’t change that it happened. Since it did, how can I use the experience to improve my life?” Maybe I’d use it to motivate me to take a self-defense course, knowing how many people I know have benefited so much from them.

I wouldn’t call motivation to take a self-defense course positive. I would call it productive.

A paper shredder example

The other day I was shopping in an office supply store. I wasn’t looking for paper shredders but I happened to notice they had some on display, grouped and ordered by speed.

I first noticed the group called “High speed.”

To the left of that group was another group called “Standard speed.”

Before I could look to the group to that group’s left I expected to see another sign saying “Slow speed” and wondered who would buy them. Nobody wants slow, but the store seemed to paint itself into a corner on that one.

But the next group didn’t say “slow speed.” It said “Economy.”

Do you see how they changed their values and beliefs between categories?

Nobody wants slow, so they stopped valuing speed in that area and started valuing money. By that value that group excelled. You could say they didn’t believe speed was as important as money. For many customers that new belief resonates with them and I’m sure they sell more shredders in the group that way.

Applying it to your life

So the next time you miss your subway or your boss gets you down or whatever, it probably won’t help to think “Missing the subway is awesome!” or “I love when my boss depresses me!”

You might instead think “I can’t change the past. How can I use what happened to improve my life?” and use the changing values of whoever put up that paper shredder display to suggest how you can change your values.

Learn to make Meaningful Connections

with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.


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2 responses on “Paper shredders and making changing beliefs and values easier

  1. So by cleverly advertising to themselves a belief system people can be happier? Seems like another way of saying being ignorant will make your life better.

    • People often ask if changing your beliefs is just calling everything positive or, as in your case, being ignorant or denying things, if I understand you right.

      To me there’s a world of difference between saying saying, “Instead of calling the slow shredders slow, I’ll call them inexpensive” and ignorance about the slow ones. What I’m talking about is choosing your values based on the situation. For someone who can only afford the cheapest shredder, what difference does the speed make? They aren’t being ignorant by not caring about the speed — they’re devaluing what doesn’t matter.

      Being able to change your values based on the situation — flexibility — instead of sticking with them no matter what doesn’t seem like ignorance.

      It reminds me of a psychologist I once met who studied intelligence. She told me one of the more important components of intelligence was flexibility in how you model things. She explained that you can solve problems better if you can look at them from different perspectives. In the case of the person at the store who made the shredder display, the problem to be solved was profitably selling them, which I argue the flexibility in values of this solution did.

      In the case of your life, the problem to be solved is how to maximize your happiness or whatever your goals are if not happiness. My point is that flexibility helps you achieve those goals. Inflexibility gets in the way.

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