How our own personal set of rules can limit us

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4 min

At Shinesmith Academy, one of the core principles of educating clients is to have a better understanding of the mind. It benefits everyone wherever they are in the organisation. It is as essential for the development of a salesforce as it is for executives, senior leaders and board members. Working with people in this way, one of the things you quickly realise is that what provides insight is revealing the influences that result in us all learning very similar things, but not necessarily thinking or reacting in the same way.

There are patterns in us all that can be identified which are not commonly understood, and there are benefits for us learning more about this information. Companies are fast beginning to realise it is the route to potential.

The system of learning in Europe and the West is broadly “intelligence” focused. By “intelligence” I mean “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”. We collect an array of information learned throughout our education and use it to perceive events in our environment. We assess and compare, IQ, the ability to process, collate and apply what we have learned.

The way we think becomes comfortable and well-rehearsed, and we can sometimes believe that it is more than the imperfect system that it is. Rationally we know that nothing is without fault. However, we rarely employ that ability to think objectively to see how well the mind works for us.

In a previous career as Detective in the police service, I noted that many of my peers approaching retirement tended to have a bleak view of their career opportunities. The reality is very different, and there is probably a good reason that things were never as pessimistic as they might think. It is often ignored that they are one group who have to operate outside of their conditioned thinking. They arrive at work thinking within the law and to be successful, spend the rest of the day thinking outside of it. We learnt that mirroring the diverse thinking of the criminals you want to catch often determines how successfully you are in taking an investigation forward. We became better at dealing with the unpredictable as a result, and these are the great transferable skills.

Not everyone is comfortable thinking this flexibly. When you think within a well-rehearsed routine and structure, you may never have had the opportunity to realise that it is just as natural for someone else to think outside of it.

Intellect is described as something very different from intelligence. “It is the faculty for objective reasoning and understanding, particularly of abstract concepts”.

It is very common to hear when someone is articulating a point they have strong views on, that they “have done their research”. I wonder whether they only spend time looking for information that supports what they already believe is true or also seek the opposite to make the informed decision.
Accepting contradiction that may lead to opinion change may be difficult, but for me, it is evidence of intellect.

The problem with “flexibility of thinking” and the development of intellect is the existence of our rigid should or must rules – some of which become personalised. “It must be a certain way”, “they should be”, are terms that can equate to no more than opinion. We can strangely add to these an evaluation of ourselves, this being conditional on the rules themselves being met. If not, they can believe that in some way, they become worthless. The odd thing is that the rules fulfil this personal truth only on the basis that we believe them; this can be an incredibly powerful influence on directing and influencing our thinking.

In politics, we often see examples of how people fail to apply their innate ability to reason beyond party lines—or accepting leaders who we have great faith in can be discredited because they can be the best or the worst version of themselves. Organisations that have worked to build strong reputations may only be as good as the people who represent them. For the same reason, we see individuals fail to concede an obvious point in a discussion because they believe that it, in some way, affects self-esteem.

We fail to see or don’t want to see beyond what we are willing to accept even though it may be well within the range of possibility or perhaps even, the truth.

An understanding of the restrictive effects of personal and rigid rules on the development of flexible, goal-related thinking is a key skill in personal development and particular good decision making. In that respect, it forms the route to our potential.

Conditioning in terms of our education determines our natural way of thinking that is true. It is the ability to develop simply through practice the neural pathways that take us beyond this boundary to a very different world or human capacity. Organisations in public and private sectors are learning that they and their people will be a lot better for it.