In a classic study, the audience is asked to watch several people dribbling and passing a basketball. Their assignment: to count the number of passes each person makes during a one-minute period. Intense concentration is needed because the ball moves quickly. At one point, someone dressed in a gorilla suit crosses the floor, walks through the players, turns and thumps his chest, and leaves. How many people saw such an obvious phenomenon? Researches Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris found that consistently 50 percent of people failed to notice the gorilla.

This selective “blindness” is our brain at work trying to construct meaningful and consistent narratives from an inconsistent world. Things that don’t fit the storyline get unconsciously edited or simply fail to register as relevant.

Einstein said, “It is the theory that decides what we observe.” What we see is what we believe. This means that we are not just data-determined, but also hypothesis-determined. The brain as computer and as biological evolutionary system determines a made-up story called reality.

Practical Tips for Changing Your Mind

What is the relevance of these findings relative to the process of decision-making or changing mental models?

  1. For any situation, look at the data but also at the hypothesis—the default assumption that appears as “given.”

  2. Since we shape and filter the world by our assumptions, we need to continuously test those assumptions.

  3. Examine the assumptions that work as well as the ones that don’t.

  4. Challenge your thinking and assumptions. Interact with diverse people and adopt a “beginner’s mind” rather than a quick foreclosure to new ideas. Life as a series of experiments keeps our systems open to new input. Premature closure occurs by too-rapid judgment as well as by moving a new idea into an already existing model while losing the context of the new model. This style of dismissal occurs frequently among bright people with significant life experience, who immediately relate something new to something they already know, absorbing it into an old context or meaning without sufficient examination.

  5. We become comfortable and dependent on our old habits; uncertainty and discomfort result when moving away from existing internal models.

  6. Use data to test a hypothesis rather than to automatically confirm it.

  7. Distinguish between transforming your thinking and being caught up in a new fad. Focus on the foreground without losing sight of the background’s big picture. Repeat zooming in and out to keep perspective.

  8. The best way to excise something from your life is not to ignore it. By avoiding something, you engage it and keep it central in your life. The more you run away from something, the more power you give it. To ignore takes energy and moves you from a centered, healthy place. Decide what you want to keep, what you want to change and what you want to let go.

  9. You are always free to change your mind.

The clearer we are about what we want, the more power we have. Success results from being all of who we are and having all of ourselves go in the same direction. Self-validation and affirmation result from having an internal ideal—a sense of “good enough”—and consistently attaining it. We each uniquely define our own meaning of success and fulfillment.

Individual success involves a full understanding of what we create to facilitate or to interfere with success. Revising a life story begins with changing our minds as well as behaviors. We author the fundamental plot and storylines and our past, present and future are current constructions. The world occurs to us in the ways that we see and believe it to be. Beliefs drive behavior. Behavior drives performance.

We only perceive the possibilities for which we have a map (a framework or paradigm). Everything else is a gorilla on a basketball court—superfluous or not noticed. Our perceptions and experiences are not the complete picture, just as the map we created is not the territory itself. And we sort information into patterns and categories in order to process it.

Fear, adventure, change and possibility are all synonyms, just viewed from a different spot. Possibility may simply be a different way of looking at something, a new way of thinking or openness to feeling what was previously unknown or foreclosed. We each have to see and experience for ourselves the advantage of tolerating change and living into possibilities.

Three Caveats of Possibility Thinking

DAVID KRUEGER, M.D. is CEO of MentorPath, an executive
coaching practice tailored to the needs of executives, entrepreneurs and
healing professionals. Dr. Krueger is author of twelve books on success,
money, work, and mind-body integration.