Clients and nearly everyone I talk to about it consider changing beliefs one of the hardest things to do. Changing beliefs voluntarily is fundamental to the Method, so I help people develop the ability a lot.
Experience has made me pretty good at it, at least compared to my ability in the past. Based on how much I used to argue, I don’t think I started with any particular advantage in this area, so I think whatever I could do anyone else can too.
The value of being able to change beliefs
I forget if I mentioned it here, but a psychologist who studied intelligence once told me she considered flexibility in beliefs and models one of the most important components of intelligence and many of her peers agreed. I hadn’t expected to hear her say that, but I expect the ability to see problems from many perspectives enables you to solve more of them than someone who can’t and I tend to equate problem solving skill with intelligence.
Add to the ability to change beliefs that you can do it entirely yourself, it costs nothing, can take almost no time, and can dramatically change your life in a direction you choose, you have access to an amazing tool.
The detriment of being unable to change beliefs
I’ll add that getting stuck in a belief that isn’t helping you can constrain and hurt your life as much as anything. When others disagree, you end up sounding self-righteous, you get into arguments, and people avoid you. People in such situations often behave more positionally, resulting in them holding their beliefs, however counterproductive, even more.
The Domino Theory comes to mind as a belief people stuck with long after it seemed counterproductive.
A skill like any other
Like any skill, you can learn to change beliefs and improve the ability with practice.
Also like any skill, perhaps the best way to learn is to start simple and small and to build on success. And what better way to start simple and small than to recognize you’ve already done it?
Proof by example
Here’s an example you’ve changed an important belief in an instant already, proving you can do it. I’ll bet you’ve done it.
Have you ever woken up in the morning to realize you’ve nearly overslept for an important meeting — something like you need an hour to get ready and get there and the meeting starts in forty-five minutes? Has it ever happened in the winter, when it’s cold outside and you wake up with a chill?
You look at the alarm and realize you have to hurry as much as possible. You jump out of bed. You can skip breakfast. You have to take the fastest shower you can. Realizing how important the meeting is, you will yourself to take absolutely no more than two minutes in the shower. You can make it that short.
As you stand by the shower in the cold about to get in, you know what you’ll do — shampoo and soap as fast as possible, then get out right away and dry off.
Then you step out of the cold and into the warm water. It feels so good. Within seconds of stepping in the meeting becomes less important, the need to take the shower in two minutes decreases, and you think “I can relax a little. I can take a few minutes more in here.”
You’ve had that happen, right? Even if you haven’t, you know the feeling.
It doesn’t matter how important you considered that meeting before you got in the shower. When you step out of the cold into the warm shower, you change your beliefs. You change your values. They may change back after you leave your shower, but changing back is changing too, only reinforcing you can change values more. In this case you’re using your environment to change them, but they changed nonetheless?
By the way, in all the hurried times I’ve allowed myself to take longer showers, I’ve never gotten in serious trouble for it.
Now that you realize your beliefs and values can change, even for important issues, you only have to improve your consistency and accuracy.
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