There are systems and habits ingrained in all of us that determine how we respond to situations, how we handle adversity and how we establish routine from repeated behaviors.
These systems and habits evolve over time and usually get more and more rigid as we gain experience. The experience tends to validate and solidify these systems even if the systems aren’t leading us in the right direction.
In Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, the author touches on these systems and habits. He says, “The systems inside us that protect us from danger and encourage us to repeat behavior in our best interest respond to the environments in which we live and work. If we sense danger our defenses go up. If we feel safe among our own people, in our own tribes or organizations, we relax and are more open to trust and cooperation.”
Sinek then goes on to provide insight into leadership and how to be an effective leader by creating the right environment for our employees to thrive.
But any insight into change, whether to change us as leaders or to improve some aspect of our lives has to be done on the same systematic level in order to be successful. We have to find ways to slowly change our habits, which can then produce the change we desire.
Years ago I read a book that changed the way I think and ultimately changed my life. It is the single most powerful book that I have ever read because it challenges core beliefs that western society promotes. It breaks down things we assume we know and forces us to think of the opposite as being true.
The book is called Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I first started reading this book about 7 years ago. At first I thought it had a gimmicky title but I liked Dyer’s other work so I checked it out. I soon realized that it, in fact, did change my life.
The book goes through the 2,500 year old work of Lao-tzu, the Tao Te Ching. Dyer provides insight into each chapter with an explanation and examples.
In the Preface Dyer says, “One of the many gifts of the Tao Te Ching is its mind-stretching quality, especially in the way that Lau-tzu uses irony and paradox to get you to look at life. If you think that being forceful is the appropriate response, Lao-tzu urges you to see the value in being humble. If action seems called for, he asks you to consider nonaction. If you feel that grasping will help you acquire what you need or want, he counsels you to let go and be patient.”
When I first read this book I constantly thought, “this isn’t true, I know for a fact that that is wrong.” But as I slowly stopped judgments from arising I started to realize that there was this entire world I ignored. I focused on one side of the pendulum without regard to the other side.
This transition felt initially like George Costanza in the Seinfeld episode where he wants to do everything the opposite of what his instinct tells him to do. The comedic display of how wrong he is made light of the fact that we tend to get so stuck and rigid in our ways, yet we never really determine if that is best or just our repeated response to a situation.
The interesting thing about the Tao Te Ching is that Lao-tzu recognizes our response to the information he presents and understands that most of us will never really grasp his message.
He says in the 41st Verse
“A great scholar hears of the Tao
And begins diligent practice.
A middling scholar hears of the Tao
And retains some and loses some.
An inferior scholar hears of the Tao
And roars with ridicule.
Without that laugh, it would not be the Tao.”
The best thing that has come from my diligent look at the Tao is a sense of contentment. The Tao presents an alternative to right or wrong, start or finish, beauty and ugliness. It shows that all of these really exist together and neither can exist without the other.
Once we realize this we can then go through and improve without an egotistical motivation. We can start to be fully content while still working hard to improve. This is the sort of paradox that Dyer refers to from Lao-tzu. This is the shift in mindset that can allow us to change our systems and habits. This is the shift in mindset that can really change your life.