Time To Shift Your Paradigm?

The duck rabbit illusion.

Is Your Life Working?


Among his many achievements, Einstein is also famous for his definition of insanity, which he aptly describes as, “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”  It’s an accurate description if you stop and think about it—people stick to the same old patterns irregardless of past failures, and each time they expect things to turn out different.  If that’s not crazy, what is?


I’d like to give humanity at least some credit: I’m willing to accept there is a part of the human spirit that’s eternally optimistic no matter how bad things get.  At the same time, we shouldn’t ignore the possibility many of our basic assumptions about how the world works are wrong—dead wrong.  At the core, this is a matter of perception—the way we learn to view the world and everything that comes as a result.


Perception is a tricky beast.  Take the drawing above, as an example.  This is my own version of Thomas Kuhn’s famous illustration.  Do you see a bird or a rabbit in the picture?  Wait, are you sure?  Even a simple drawing like this can be confusing to the eye, which means our world and all its baggage is bound to be much worse.


My perception keeps changing.

See a rabbit, now, or is it still a bird? Does it shift for you?

Truth Is Rarely Black And White


Quite often, I’ll visit some website and see people expressing their outrage over a certain topic.  Now, there’s no denying we should be angry about any number of things that go on in our lives.  Yet our picture of the world is frequently distorted. You can practically count on “the facts” being skewed to reflect a certain value set.


It’s no mystery that our values and beliefs are constantly reinforced or challenged by confusing or even manipulated words and images.  That can lead to misunderstandings over the way things really are.  For instance, think of the way  politicians or advertisers continually repeat a phrase or show an image to get their message across.  They want to burn it in our brains and create a need or a belief we accept as our own.  This is where the trouble starts as we try sorting the good from the bad, or sorting who we are versus who we aren’t—our perceptions of the world around us matter, and everyone wants their piece of us.


Take a glance at the three drawings below to learn how much our point of view (i.e. our perception) impacts what our brains register as fact. It’s a bit scary if you stop and think about it.


Three Drawings Three Different Views


Are you sure you see what you think you do?

Seen from two dimensions, this drawing appears to be of a slightly skewed envelope resting on top of a table.


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Doing the same thing over and over, or hearing the same “voices of reason” again and again holds the same kind of risk that results in viewing at an object in two dimensions.  Yes, we can focus our attention on it, but just as we think we see an envelope in the drawing above, the question arises whether what we perceive is actually a distortion of the truth.


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This appears to show a pyramid on a plain.

Seen in three dimensions, it now appears we weren’t looking at an envelope at all. Instead, it’s a pyramid rising above a plain.


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In these two examples, we can already see how perspective becomes important in viewing a particular object, yet even when we think we’ve figured out “the final truth” reality can still turn out much different than we expect.


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A bigger risk is lurking.

Just as an iceberg floats atop the water and most of it’s mass lies hidden beneath the surface, our view is limited by our unique perception of the world and our inability to imagine what lies beyond it.


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Shift Your Point Of View


It’s useful to think of the word “paradigm” as a system or model that explains the way things work in our world.  Implied within this framework is an assumption that the model explains everything that might happen—even the unexpected. If it doesn’t, then the model is somehow flawed and needs adjustment.  You may have heard the phrase shifting your paradigm.  That’s what we do as we adjust our model.


Another way to think of shifting our paradigm goes as follows:  Old ideas or beliefs about the world and what happens within it aren’t working for us.  We are constantly traveling down the wrong path.  The old guidelines we relied on to reinforce values and beliefs, or maintain our current lifestyle and relationships fail us.  They continually become a source of frustration because we feel trapped by them.  This means they weren’t adequate as a workable model in the first place, since they haven’t provided a means for us to break out of our dysfunctional patterns.  It’s time for change.  Let’s see how this might look in the real world.



A Real Life Example


Years ago, I sat in a counselors office and was told that as much as I wanted life to be easier, and I wanted a particular someone in my life to make that happen, the only thing I could really do was to change how I felt about our relationship.  Honestly, it pained me to learn I had so little power—at least, that’s how I originally took the news.  Then a curious thing happened.  I began to understand that if I was willing to step back and disengage from my current situation, I could do anything I wanted.  For example, I could end my relationship with this person altogether, get a new job, move to a foreign land, take an extended leave or even join the circus.


It was a powerful and freeing feeling to realize I was only trapped because I allowed myself to think in certain terms.  In truth, I had locked myself inside a very small mental box.  My options felt so limited, because I had chosen to play by a certain set of rules and parameters.  It didn’t matter that my partner had helped to create those rules.  What mattered most, and where I had a choice to do something different, was in how I continually went back to them.


In the end, my world was dysfunctional because I had been unwilling to risk changing it.  As a result, I became angry, and my life was much smaller and less interesting than it might have been.  Curiously, all I needed to do to make my life easier was to change my mind.  With help, I was able to shed different light on the same old problems, and that was enough to shift my perspective and create a world of new and exciting possibilities.


Bottom line:  We always have choices.  The question is whether we have the courage to make them.


It's impossible to fit a square peg into a round hole without changing the equation.

Feel like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole? Maybe it’s time to shift your paradigm.

Looking For Change


If you’re feeling like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole, you probably understand what I’m talking about.  Still, talking about change and following through on it are two entirely different things.  So how do you start?  Here’s a stepped approach to move forward:


(1)  Take a breath. Step back or get away from the problem you’re facing and take a long, deep breath.  Recognize you’re angry or upset.  Now, take another breath and yet another.  Let your mind wander and pretend to be the air that you inhale into your body.  Understand that your problem or situation causes certain stress within you, and that means the muscles in your chest tighten up and your ability to breathe is impaired.  You’ll feel better just getting some oxygen.


(2) Seek counsel. A counselor can be a friend, significant other, boss, pastor, coach, and yes, especially someone trained to be a counselor.  Here’s the thing: What you’re currently doing isn’t working.  If it was, you wouldn’t be in this state.  That means you need help.  Don’t feel bad.  We all need help on occasion.  The whole idea with counseling is for you to say what’s on your mind and have your trusted confidant reflect back the words they hear.  This isn’t about making judgments or being judged.  An important key in this process is to find someone who is a good listener and whose advice you can trust.


(3) Brainstorm. Seek out new ideas with the help and guidance of others.  If you’ve tried it before it’s not new, right?  Remember that definition of insanity above?  You’re looking for different path and that will show itself as you gain new perspective on your problems.  However, it’s important to do this process only by involving those willing to support your change.  People who don’t understand your struggle may start shooting your ideas down as soon as they hear them because they are  happy with the way things stand.  Give yourself some time with this process and avoid those unwilling to help with it.


(4) Commit. Once you decide you want to try something different it’s time to commit.  The more ways you can make your commitment real, the greater the chances of success.  For example, write out a statement committing to a specific change. In the process, spell out how you want your life to look different and the rules of engagement.  Now, tell your closest friends and gradually include others until everyone is on board (or at least aware of your intent).


(5) Act. Actions do speak louder than words.  You’re in a process, here.  You’ve decided how you want things to be different, you’ve set up new rules, you’ve come up with specific ideas, but they’re all going to be pointless unless you jump in with both feet.  You can do this!


(6) Expect fallout. Actions have consequences.  When you decide to change the way you interact with others it can create tension.  Be prepared for it.  Just because you aren’t happy doesn’t mean others feel the same way.  In fact, they may feel threatened by change and lash out.  Take it in stride.  It’s never comfortable or easy to make real change, but it’s worth it in the end.  Also, if you’re uneasy about conflict, avoid putting yourself in a situation where you’ll feel the need to back down—you want to move forward, right?  Stick with those who can support you through the process.  You’ll get there.


(7) Practice self-forgiveness. Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Change can be difficult.  Try to view your situation as an ongoing process.  Expect ups and downs, and remember they are far less important than a sense you are making some kind of headway.  Don’t worry so much.  If the changes you make feel horrible don’t beat yourself up.  Instead, step back and regroup.  It’s the rare bird that will get it right the first time around so give yourself a break.


Feeling Stuck?


How is your life ruled by perception?  Is it time to shift your paradigm?  We’d love to hear your story.  Why not share in the comments below?


If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy reading:
Releasing The Bonds That Tie
The Life Timeline: Planning For A Brighter Future
Unbind The Chains And Unlock The Locks


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