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9 things that “lock us in” in our thinking

There are lots of things that can take up residence in our minds and shape how we think. Just knowing that is empowering and can make a difference in getting us out of what can be a mental straightjacket. Here are some of those things:

  1. Language – There is still controversy in the social sciences about how, and how much language shapes thought, but it’s clear that the language we use reflects how we think about things. Sometimes, we need to take a close look at our language—our names for things. It may be holding back thought. See also, Culture wires the brain
  2. Culture – Culture obviously shapes much of what we think and do, and how we learn. You cannot escape your culture, nor the way it shapes your thinking altogether, but again, knowing how it may be affecting your thought and approach to things is itself powerful. See also, Culture wires the brain
  3. Built/sunk investment – We don’t want to let go of things we have invested in, either in money, effort, time or reputation. You may need to ask: is my investment in this blinding me to what I need to recognize?
  4. Framing – George Lakoff has written well and convincingly about how mental frames we carry around in our heads influence. Frames are conceptual structures we use in thinking, and they take up a spot in our minds and assert themselves over what we think until, if ever, they are replaced by other frames. My thoughts and more on Lakoff’s perspective are here and here.
  5. Not invented here – Similarly to sunk investment when that investment is through effort and emotional connections, we may often reject an idea that we and/or our colleagues didn’t think of ourselves.
  6. Invented here – When we, our colleagues, our classmates, our heroes, etc. are behind an idea, it takes up a hard-to-dislodge place in our thinking, and we may be reluctant or even unable to scrutinize and evaluate it for truth, usefulness, and so on. In essence, we can be too loyal in our thinking, and not open enough to ideas from elsewhere.
  7. Greed – Many of us are too easily swayed by looking at things from the point of view of how they could help us make money or reduce our chances to make money.
  8. Ignorance, misunderstanding – Simple lack of knowledge, or incomplete knowledge can lead to wrong thoughts and conclusions.
  9. Fear – Fear of change, perhaps foremost, but fear of the unknown, strangers, different cultures and customs, and so on, can make us shut out information and ideas as “foreign” or “strange"

And there are plenty more, of course.

What can you do about these things? The most important thing is to recognize the biases and mis-direction they can cause in your thinking, and talk about that. Try to offset the biases inherent in all this with time and effort spent considering other points of view. Open your mind, and work to keep it open. Involve your colleagues in this too, and try to build a general habit of confronting biases like these.

Image: shannonpatrick17, via Flickr, cc attribution license

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