If you’re shackled to who you are now, you can’t recognize or reach for who you might become in the future. We all are facing the difficulty that as the world changes so quickly, the future becomes far less predictable, our options become exponentially increased, and the way we need to think about these options shifts. Today, we need an endless amount of information which might make it even harder to make decisions. The world around us has certainly become more complex and it makes us need to think differently than ever before. That is why we talk about the VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity).
End of History Illusion
Most of us believe that we have changed a lot up to now, but will not change much in the future. The term “End of History Illusion” originated in 2013 when psychologists Quoidbach, Gilbert and Wilson summarized their research on more than 19,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 68. These studies found an underestimation of future changes to personality, core values, and preferences. Overall, the study concludes that individuals of all ages seem to believe that their pace of personal change has slowed down in the presence, while evidence points to their underestimation.
The more time we spend looking around for new initiatives that help us to become experts, the more we tend to avoid looking inside at how we make sense of what we know. We mistakenly build a barrier between the growing and evolving person we were and the evolved person we are now, in the present. Since we don’t think of ourselves as changing in the future, we focus our energy on projecting and protecting the person we have become, not on growing into the person we might become next. We are caught in Identity Mindtraps. Much of this happens instinctively, hidden away from our awareness, and it happens constantly.
Our Identity Mindtraps
Based on the research by Jennifer Garvey Berger, there are 5 pervasive Identity Mindtraps related to the complex times we are going through:
Trapped by Simple stories. Our desire for simple stories blinds us towards the real ones. We love to tell and listen to stories. They carry the answers to some of our most important questions. Simple and easy-to-understand stories are powerful. This is great, except when things get too complex and stop fitting into our default templates. A simple story makes us understand who the heroes and villains are, as well as what will happen next. But we don’t really know these things, and our desire for simple stories often leads to unhappy endings in the VUCA world. To escape, you need to find your own way out from your simple story and to create a new, more complex and real one.
Trapped by Rightness. Neuroscientists have shown that the feeling of certainty is an emotion, such as love or anger. We look at the world and believe that we see it as it is. But the truth is that we see it as we are. When we believe we are right, we stop listening to others and ignore data that prove us wrong. This is the way our brains work. However, just because something feels right doesn’t mean it is.
Trapped by Agreement. “Are you with me or against me?” We need to be in relatively easy agreement to survive. We desire agreement and hate conflicts. When we disagree with one another, we experience a social distress that is neurologically like physical pain. This leads us into agreement too easily and we struggle to think about valuable options when dealing with complex challenges. In other words, seeking to get along literally robs us of good ideas. With complexity, we need diversity of experience, ideas, and approaches. And we need to learn how conflict can be useful rather than run away from it.
Trapped by Control. Our desire for control is deeply connected to our sense of happiness. A sense of control even makes us live longer and healthier lives. In today’s VUCA world, we cannot control what will happen next. There are too many interrelated parts. And because complex outcomes are hard to measure, we tend to exchange larger goals for simple ones with ineffective solutions. When we care about big, complex issues, we always need to let go of our control to create conditions for good things to happen.
Trapped by ego. Locked in who you are now, you cannot reach for who you will be next. When we try to defend our egos rather than grow and change, we end up perfectly designed for a world that happened already, instead of necoming more able to handle the world that is coming next (cited from Jennifer Garvey Berger, Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps).
I bet that you have recognized yourself in some of these traps. So, you might ask me: How can I get out of these and shift myself to be my next ME?
Fortunately, theories of adult development offer us a map of the terrain where our growth potential plays out. These theories tell us that our time on the planet doesn’t just change us physically; it also changes our emotional and mental shape: in other words, our “forms of mind”. Academic research highlights four such stages or forms of mind of potential development. We move from one to another sequentially, growing new forms of mind much as a tree grows new rings.
Nevertheless, it turns out that ongoing development is not inevitable: we may grow to a certain point and then stop. Going further means building capacity, and that requires time, self-awareness, and the willingness to discover and examine the hidden beliefs that govern our identity. It also requires humility. It’s far better to view the four forms of mind as an invitation to growth, not as a competition, judgment, or blame. The ability to see forms of minds of other people leads to gratitude and friendliness. It allows us to appreciate that every person, in relation to his/her understanding, tries to do his/her best in finding the best solutions.
So where are you now and who do you want to be next?
Self-sovereign mind. This form of mind sees only its own needs and views. This is a massive achievement to the childhood mind with tendencies to see only black and white but no grey. Complexity is not seen at all. Studies show that about 10 percent of the adult population see the world this way. Stress can bring out this (or any other) previous form of mind in anyone. It’s therefore helpful to know that it exists, so you can look out for it during tough times.
Socialized mind. Studies talk about one third of the population who rely on external perspectives to tell them what to do, what is valuable and what success looks like. This outside perspective can come from our relationships (family, friends, or colleagues), our inherited values (faith or political affiliation), or our professional expertise. In each case, the truth we perceive about ourselves comes from outside, from our social surroundings—hence the socialized mind.
In this form of mind, we mostly protect and project the identity that others give us. When others feel good about us, we feel good about ourselves. Many people stay in, and at times struggle with, the socialized form of mind through most of their lives.
Self-authored mind. In the self-authored form of mind (shared by slightly less than half of us), we seek to pick up a pen and write our own stories, not to have them written by external circumstances. For direction, we draw from an internal operating system of values, beliefs and a sense of purpose that we’ve created, often over a long period of time. We care about others’ opinions, but when they clash with our own views, we face a tricky set of decisions to negotiate, not a crisis of self.
Self-transforming mind. Fewer than 10 percent of adults come to see that they aren’t the sole authors of their lives, but are instead both the writer and the written. They have some, but not total, control and recognize that they are shaped by life’s circumstances as much as these circumstances are shaped by them . They are jazz musicians riffing along with others rather than believing that life can be rehearsed and perfected. We seek to spend less time creating and defending a particular version of ourselves and more time letting life transform us.
3 powerful questions to grow
We usually experience the large shifts explained in this article by a series of tiny movements in time. To accelerate your self-awareness development, you can ask these questions:
- Why do I believe what I believe? (Did it come from an external authority? Or did you come up with it yourself?)
- How could I be wrong?
- Who do I want to be next?
Our world is changing faster than our biology can adapt. Mindtraps that once worked in the past are not addressing complex challenges. Fortunately, our adult minds can evolve faster than our genomes and we can continue developing through practice. Our inherited homo sapiens reflex to protect our egos never leaves us. However, through asking different and powerful questions, we can gain the map for our evolution in the complex future, so that all society can benefit from solving the most complex issues human beings have ever faced.