No matter how good our eyesight is, we don’t see the world the way it is. Instead, we see the world as we are, through the lens of our experiences, our upbringing, our culture, our beliefs – what we might call our paradigms. There are examples of this everywhere – from politics to religion to everyday relationships between people; we all see the same things in slightly different ways.
In my work as a performance coach, I often encounter the paradigms of the people with whom I’m working. These paradigms can drive all kinds of behaviours – sometimes helpful, sometimes not. For those seeking to change their behaviour, it’s important to first identify the underlying paradigm that drives that behaviour: change the paradigm and you will usually change the behaviour.
Understanding the importance of paradigms in our lives has taught me that much of our unhappiness arises because the world does not behave in accordance with the paradigms we have of it. The world is not the way we believe it should be and people do not behave the way we believe they should; this makes us unhappy.
Many years ago, I had a difficult relationship with my father; we were not close and often went for long periods without speaking. I would look at the father/son relationships I saw in the media and I would be sad that I did not have the same. I was angry at my father because he criticised me, he didn’t show affection or because he was cold and aloof. After a period of meditation on this topic, I realised that, for twenty years, I had been blaming my father for making me unhappy when it had actually been down to me all along.
My father’s behaviour was driven by his own paradigms on how a father should behave while my paradigms on how a father should behave were very different. My constant demand that he behave in accordance with my paradigms was making me unhappy – the world was not the way I thought it should be. When I let go of this belief that he must act in a particular way and accepted him for who he actually was, our relationship improved immeasurably.
We all have our ways of seeing the world and our own expectations of how the world should work. When it fails, as it so often does, to match those expectations, we become unhappy and like a petulant child stamp our feet and complain. We cannot free ourselves of all unhappiness – after all, there can be no happiness without unhappiness. And sometimes, we should feel unhappy. When a friend dies, our unhappiness may stem from a paradigm that they should not have died but this doesn’t change the fact that they are gone; it’s right that we mourn them and feel unhappy. But there is a difference between feeling unhappy over the loss of a loved one and feeling unhappy because all the traffic lights were against us on the journey into work. We create a lot of unnecessary unhappiness for ourselves because of our paradigms.
So what can we do about this? The approach is simple but powerful and you have already begun. Simply by reading this article, you are beginning to think about your paradigms – you are recognising that every time you look at something, every time you consider a situation, you are effectively viewing it through a lens. Sometimes lenses can distort instead of enhancing vision. To develop your understanding further, for the next three weeks, carry out this simple exercise – it’ll only take a few minutes of your time:
When you find yourself feeling unhappy, stop for a moment and write down what you are feeling and what happened to cause it. It doesn’t have to be in great detail – just enough to capture the essence. For instance, you said hello to your boss and he ignored you – you feel angry or upset. Whatever it is, jot it down.
Then ask yourself, how am I viewing the situation that means I am reacting the way I am? What is the paradigm through which I’m viewing this situation and which leaves me feeling unhappy? Write this down, too. Perhaps you believe that he’s been rude to you; perhaps you’re worried that you’ve done something wrong and that he might be angry with you.
Once you’ve begun to uncover that underlying paradigm, you can start to ask yourself whether that’s the most helpful paradigm to have. If it isn’t, you can give yourself a newer, more helpful paradigm. Perhaps your boss just had a lot on his mind; perhaps he’s really worried about something; perhaps he just didn’t hear you. See what impact these other paradigms have on your feelings.
Over time, you’ll begin to build up a powerful insight into the way you see the world and will begin to gain control over the way you think. Sometimes you’ll decide that you are right, in that situation, to be unhappy but often you’ll save yourself from a lot of unnecessary unhappiness.
If you’d like to know more about how you can improve your performance and fulfil your potential, or if you have comments or feedback on this article, please contact Steve direct on firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen Smith has been working as a coach in the field of personal effectiveness and enhanced performance for ten years. Over that time he has helped hundreds of people to fulfill their potential and improve their lives. Please visit Steve at his website: www.stephensmithonline.com