Complexity mind traps

Complexity and Mind Traps

We live in world that is incredibly complex. We think we know what is going on and behave as though the world is simple, but with all the complexity around us we can’t possibly know everything. Our brains developed when we lived in primitive social groups, yet now some of the ways of thinking and behaving that served us well in the distant past are no longer appropriate. As a result, people sometimes fall into a series of mind traps when trying to navigate in a complex world.

Five common mind traps and how to deal with them have been described (by Dr Jennifer Garvey-Berger). We all experience them, and can’t avoid them. They key is to notice and manage them.

Toxic Certainty Trap

We believe that we are right. The more we are attached to our ideas, the less we are able to hear any ideas that challenge what we think. Research shows that our sense of certainty is actually an emotion, and not a logical conclusion; so when we think we are right, we are actually experiencing an emotion and will react emotionally if challenged.

To manage this mind trap:

  • Ask yourself: What do I believe?
  • Ask yourself: How could I be wrong?
  • Notice how you experience uncertainty, separate emotions from your logical side

Simple Stories Trap

We tell ourselves simple stories with classic fairy-tale structure. Our brains like them and we can’t help that. But we get trapped in simple stories, can’t see beyond them, we look for positive reinforcement and ignore complexity, alternative explanations and the truth.

To manage this mind trap:

  • Ask yourself: What are three alternative stories / explanations?
  • Try to hold multiple stories in your head at the same time

Agreeing Trap

We feel good when we agree with others, and are programmed to agree with each other. Whenever someone agrees with us, our brains release dopamine. And when people don’t agree with us, our brains experience this as pain. So we are constantly seeking out avenues that lead to agreement.

To manage this mind trap:

  • Ask yourself: Could this conflict lead to a deeper relationship or create innovation?
  • In a group, nominate someone specifically to act as the devil’s advocate, but remember to rotate that role.
  • Use the phrase: I’m disagreeing to develop.

Control and Substitution Trap

We love to be in control, and struggle to deal with uncertainty when control isn’t possible. Our brains substitute a controllable / measurable thing instead of the actual big picture, and as a result we loose sight of the big picture and focus on the controllable / measurable thing. An example here would be wanting to deliver great patient care, but that is difficult to measure so we choose waiting times because that is easy to measure; in the blink of an eye the only thing that matters is waiting times, but the bigger picture of great patient care is forgotten.

To manage this mind trap:

  • Ask yourself: How much do you want to be in control? Recognise how much control you want / need and how this affects your performance.
  • Instead of control, think in terms of enabling and supporting the right conditions for what you desire. If you focus on enabling others, and what you need to be enabled yourself, you will reduce the chances of falling onto the control and substitution trap

Identity Trap

We have an identity about ourselves in our mind, and work to protect our identities in the world, to protect how others see us. This means that we get trapped by our egos, we get trapped as being one person, at one point in time. We think we are the same as we have always been but forget that we can and do change all the time!

To manage this mind trap:

  • Ask yourself: Who are you becoming?
  • Ask yourself: Who will you be next?
  • Ask yourself: Who do you want to be?

Remember, we think we know what is going on and behave as though the world is simple, but our minds get trapped in a certain way of thinking that is inappropriate and counterproductive. When faced with challenges in a complex world, pause and think: “Is this a mind-trap?”

Are you ready to see what Mind Traps are holding you back in this complex world? Contact me if you wish to talk.

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