Do you drive the same route to work every day?
Did you know that taking a different route to any place you normally frequent can build new neural pathways in your brain? So can changing which hand you use to brush your teeth.
Building new neural pathways in your brain helps you to have a good thinking brain. It also helps you change bad habits into good ones when you practice the new habits repeatedly. Most of us do what we do based on habits, routines, and how we have always done things. So much of our thinking is on autopilot. To be fair, that is necessary on some level.
However, if our entire day is on autopilot, that is problematic. How can we get the desired outcome we want from our work, business, health and our relationships if much of our thinking is based on habit? We live in a complex world which yields new problems constantly. If we cannot identify specific issues, and see options for creatively resolving them we can quickly become stuck.
We benefit by cultivating the habit of thinking about our thinking, and in particular being open-minded and curious about possibilities. A good place to begin is to question our thinking for accuracy. Ask yourself this: “Am I operating off longstanding beliefs that don’t serve me well?” Just because we think a thought does not make it true.
Many of us stopped questioning our thinking long ago. We think in old familiar ways, feel the same feelings, and choose the same responses and (more accurately) reactions every time. We resign ourselves to how it is, or how we think something has to be. We cling to the status quo. We don’t always like the outcome, but we like the comfort and predictability that results.
How many times have you heard someone at work emphatically declare, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” These eight words motivate people to stop thinking. In many businesses, it’s as if the organization has a sign on the door that says “preserve the status quo” — despite the detriment of doing so.
When we look at situations through different lenses, we can be courageously curious and open-minded to others’ ideas — whether its something that embodies ingenuity in your business, suggests an improvement in process or systems, or creatively resolves a longstanding problem.
I once consulted for a small mortgage company. One day, one of the employees left for lunch and didn’t return. I discovered this employee’s performance had been stellar, this was not a pattern, the owner wanted to keep this employee, and she wanted to return. However, a valid issue of concern was the poor precedent it would set if this employee returned to work with no consequence.
I had consulted, coached, and led trainings with this team and believed they had established enough trust and safety to tolerate some discomfort. So I decided to facilitate an all staff huddle where candid discussion ensued. Each worker was able to share how “Alice’s” choice to not return to work that day affected them.
The staff all decided what the natural consequences would be as a result of her choice and she agreed. There was follow up and accountability. The level of trust, connection and compassion increased tenfold in a situation that would have typically ended in termination.
Many business leaders might think of an event like this with either/or thinking: “Either I have to fire the employee for her actions or I have to keep her and tolerate her bad choices.”
How often do we see a situation from the “either/or” lens?
Concrete thinking is inflexible — it says there is only one way. Possibility thinking opens our minds and our hearts to other options that can prove to be beneficial in the end. The owner of a business nearly lost a great employee over one incident. If he followed the status quo, and was not willing to engage in a radically different approach, his business would have suffered that loss in real dollars.
Be curious and open minded as you delve into myriad possibilities in every situation that calls for it, and reap the benefits and the power of possibility thinking. It will serve you well in every area of your life.
Lesli Dullum-Tutterrow is a Certified Counselor, Health, Life and Business Coach and Consultant for small businesses.
She would love to continue the conversation at firstname.lastname@example.org.