Adaptability vs. Stuckness: Optimizing Thinking Patterns

It's always easier afterwards, looking back in hindsight, to track the arc of our development, and to see the evidence of our ability to adapt (or lack thereof).

The evidence is visible in the trail of our behaviors. But the "cause" of either stuckness or flexibility... is in how we react to things, and in what we're paying the most attention to. Sometimes we can be pleased with our flexibility. Sometimes we're not happy with how we behaved or spoke. Fortunately, these patterns of reactivity and attention... can be changed!

How can we change how we think, to become more flexible?

One of my coaching clients, somewhat like myself, has experienced a career arc that's taken them rather far away from the kind of thinking patterns they were trained in all through college. And as I've reflected on that, it seems apparent that the degree to which they've been successful in their newest professional role is based on shifting values and beliefs. But the flip side of that is, the degree to which they're not yet as successful in that role as they'd like to be... is based on habitual mental patterns/filters. In NLP we often look at these habitual mental patterns and filters, and work with these. We call them "Metaprograms."

So the challenge for anyone who wants to get rid of less useful thinking patterns, and develop more useful ones... is all about changing what observations or patterns we sort for, and how we process information/ideas. One example might be that some people usually look for possibilities, while others may look for exceptions. The engineer had better be or become able to find exceptions. The visionary had better be or become able to ignore them and shoot for the moon. Another example might be, do you tend to look first for all the ways in which things are different? Or do you look first for the ways things are the same as other things, or that you already recognized/valid? NLP may offer _some_ instant/rapid shifts... but changing metaprograms (core personality traits) usually takes time, willingness to work and think differently, and there can be some effort involved. Mistakes/setbacks do occur. But it's SO worth it...!

Here's an example of the sameness vs difference in more 'layman' language:

When someone is speaking with you.... as they're talking... and you're listening... which do you do inside your head first, or more of?

  • Do you think about what aspects of what they're saying are correct (or agreeable)?
  • Or do you think about what aspects of what they're saying are incorrect (or that you know exceptions to)?

HOW we process information often dictates the quality of our relationships, our communication, our listening skills, our ability to fulfill the roles we've chosen (or that other people have chosen us for), etc. And how we communicate our responses, creates completely different perceptions about us, in other people's minds.

To what degree do you think you're processing your experiences optimally?

And are those processes/habits serving to help you be perceived the way you want to be?

Let's stay nonjudgemental when we explore these! There is no bad or good here; I like to think of these sorting patterns as more or less useful for current/desirable results. Not good or bad, just more or less useful. The smaller-chunking and sort-by-difference patterns that are essential to high-quality critical thinking from an engineer's perspective, has a far less useful place in a top executive's role. Just as the pie-in-the-sky visionary thinking that an executive or high level entrepreneur needs, for convincing others of his vision for the future... is likely to cause some major trouble in an engineer's role (in terms of unanticipated technical hurdles: "It was your job to anticipate and prevent that!").

Also, would you want to be married to the engineer's thinking patterns? Not if they couldn't leave that mindset at work when they came home each night. All of these patterns has at least some useful contexts -- more or less for each person's unique circumstances and roles.

The real challenge for most people is that "catching" yourself using these sorting patterns is extremely difficult, because these patterns are unconsciously habitual for us. And the more habitual/practiced they are, the harder they are for us to track. So it really helps to have a coach trained to track these patterns.

Here's another simple example. Have you ever known someone who was a "polarity responder?" Someone who always argues literally every point you make? You could tell them "you're a polarity responder" and they'd respond "No I'm not," at which point, they'd have proven your point, displaying the same trait in answering you the way they did.

Another example is asking a procrastinator when they're going to start learning to do things promptly, and they tell you "they'll get around to it eventually."

So perhaps the BIGGEST question is, what aren't you even remotely aware of, that's holding you back?

Maybe everyone should have a coach, who can hold up a friendly and supportive mirror to our less-useful patterns, outside of the context of our daily family/friend/co-worker relationships.

I've written about these subjects elsewhere in articles, etc... but thought you all might want to discuss these "sorting patterns" a bit. Find out how they're helping or hurting you!