We all think that we have an accurate perception of reality. We think things are always right from our point of view, and if others don’t see things the same way, then they are missing something quite obvious. We mistakenly believe that the way we see things is the only way those things can be seen. When others see those things differently, we are quick to “correct” them. We feel the need to reconcile their views with our own.

We forget that two people can look at the exact same thing and come to totally different conclusions. That is not to say that one is right and the other is wrong — both are right from their own perspective. I wrote about this in my piece on meetings:

We don’t always see things as they are; we see them from our perspective. Sometimes, it can be hard for you to see things the way your team is seeing them. Recognize and embrace that. To get a better understanding of this principle, see pictographic ambiguity.

Basically, we are looking at the world through a series of filters that we call our reality. We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. When we open our mouths to describe the world, all we are doing is describing ourselves.

The way we look at reality is filtered based on our conditioning — background and life experience — that form the paradigms through which we see the world.

I first learned about the word “paradigm” from Stephen Covey a few years ago. Paradigm is a fancy way of saying “beliefs”, or having worldviews based on our conditioning. Paradigms are essentially how we see the world combined with our beliefs about how the world works.

“Paradigm shift”, as per Covey, is when we look at a situation differently than before. It is the change in our belief system that causes a shift in our minds about the situation based on what we learned — this is why we see things differently now than before. They can happen instantly or they can happen over time. Not all paradigm shifts move in the positive direction, either. Regardless of their directions, they create powerful change in a way that leads us to see the world differently than before.

In my personal example of a mini-paradigm shift, I used to think of time as a resource (like most of us do). I used to say, “I don’t have time to do…” when what I really meant was, “This thing that you’re asking me to do is not important enough to me, so I choose not to do it, therefore I must say no”. Later, this realization led me to believe that time is a priority, not a resource. We don’t “have time” or we cannot “find/manage time”; no one does and it’s not just about semantics either. We can only manage ourselves in the time we have. Saying, “I don’t have time” doesn’t mean anything. We make time for things that are important to us. We might say that something is important to us when, in fact, our actions communicate otherwise. They speak louder than words. Our actions determine our true priority.

Now that we know that we see the world based on our paradigms (our beliefs), which is based on our conditioning and upbringing, here are at least a couple of reasons why our paradigms matter.

Knowing (and understanding) that everyone is right from their perspective helps us practice empathy by listening to others and understanding things from their perspective without feeling the need to agree/disagree with them. We need to listen to them and understand things from their viewpoint. As the saying goes, we need to walk a mile in their shoes before we can “judge” them. Knowing that others are right from their perspective, we know better than to judge them.

When it comes to creating lasting behavioral change, our paradigms can play a vital role in helping us change for the better. Making lasting behavioral change can be hard for many reasons. In order to become the person we want to be, we need to give up the person that we are. That is anything but easy. Not the least of which is because we are used to doing things a certain way, and asking ourselves to do something different will likely cause resistance at some level. This is because our old (current) behaviors are inextricably linked to our beliefs. Trying to change our behaviors without changing our beliefs about things simply won’t work.

Our behavior is largely a function of our decisions (not our conditions), which flows from our attitudes that stem from our beliefs. Healthy beliefs create positive attitudes that manifest in effective behaviors.

We tend to mistakenly think that we see things objectively for the way they are. When others see things differently from us, we try to reconcile our views with theirs, thinking they must be wrong and we feel compelled to “fix” them. The fact is, we see the world not as the world is but the way we are. This is important in understanding others’ perspectives and to celebrate our differences rather than fighting over them.

When we want to make long-term positive changes in our lives, we must first examine our own belief system, attitudes, and behaviors. Simply changing our behaviors won’t make a lasting difference in our personal effectiveness.

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