As a parent I keep noticing that I am teaching my children to judge. We want them to understand right and wrong. We want them to be kind, polite and well behaved.
So we set out to teach them how to go through life in a way that will ultimately help them achieve more and become well integrated with others. We want them to be happy and to be happy, we contend, they must understand how to navigate the world and avoid trouble.
We teach by establishing patterns and habits. We nudge them in certain directions and the constant adjustments help them develop their own ability to navigate the world.
This is great because there will come a time when they are on their own. As parents we initially have to make all of their major decisions. But as they grow, we want to give them more freedom, while still being confident they are making decisions that align with what we feel is right.
But through all of this, one side effect is that we are constantly teaching them to judge. We tell them something was wrong, or mean. We say that sharing is good. We tell them to be nice to their sibling and that good children listen to their parents.
This helps us raise children and slowly remove us from being the main decision-maker. But it also teaches them to always judge a situation first. This is beneficial but also has some side-effects.
Now that we are adults, this is natural but often leads us down a familiar path instead of being willing to try something new. This is good and bad. It is good because we don’t need to explore drugs to know that we should avoid them.
But it is also bad because we cling to misconceptions. It might be better to challenge those misconceptions in order to improve.
In systems thinking these are called mental models. They are the ingrained beliefs about the world that live in our head. Sometimes they are conscious thoughts and sometimes they are just under our awareness.
For example, if we have the mental model that life should be about social times with those you care about and that social times include delicious meals, you could start to stray from healthy habits due to this mental model.
Or you may think that your role in life is to sludge through a laborious job because you never earned a college degree. So you sabotage yourself and you hold yourself back when opportunities arise.
Or you may assume that you have to stay in a job that is holding you back because loyalty to your employer is most important. Or you may assume that all employers are evil and will use the labor force for their good, so you constantly jump from job to job.
Hopefully you can start to see that these mental models can be very powerful. We learned at an early age to judge and then react based on that judgment. But what about when that judgment is holding you back?
My first recommendation is always to get curious. Start to question your assumptions. Look for patterns. Find the underlying structures and systems at play. This will uncover a bigger picture. You might just find that you were wrong all along.
I have done this many times. I have taken on projects at work that seemed to be complete failures, only to come at them from a new angle and breathe life into them. I noticed that I always thought that exercise should be difficult and painful and it kept me from regularly exercising. But then I broke through that mental model to find an exercise I enjoy and continue to do today.
Mental models are natural but that doesn’t mean they have to dictate your life. You can break through them to slowly adjust the course of your life. You can improve and grow to new heights and along the way you might just learn that many of your judgments weren’t completely accurate.