Using Our Paradigms to Take Control

There is so much going on right now. So much that people have created memes and posted them all over social media about how 2020 should just be over already because of all that has been packed into six short months. And each new event or development or news story has the potential to make us feel a little less in control, and that’s a little scary. So the key is to recognize that while we don’t have control over the happenings, we do have control over how we view these happenings.

We each see things differently, through our own lens. These lenses are developed over time and impacted by elements such as where we live, when we live, and what we’ve studied.

This lens affects how we think in general and also how we view the world as a whole. Our minds use pieces of information that have been gathered over the past in order to make sense of the present and the future as much as possible, sometimes without our even realizing it.

Using this idea as a basis, business theorist Chris Argyris developed something called the “ladder of inference,” which basically depicts and details the steps we all take when we make assumptions. For example, if a colleague is five minutes late to a meeting. We first might make the assumption that she was probably just checking her email which leads us to believe that she thinks her email is more important than her meeting which leads us to think that she doesn’t think this meeting is important which leads us to think that she doesn’t think our time is important which leads us to think that she doesn’t value us at all. Really, however, there are a million reasons that she may have been late, and it is entirely possible that her being late is in no way related to whether or not she values us. Through the “ladder of inference,” however, our mind quickly pieces together assumptions in an attempt to make meaning and explain an observation. This process happens to us all of the time and is largely rooted in our particular paradigms or ways of thinking.

Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, discusses the concept of paradigms (a perception or understanding). He discusses that our paradigms affect us on a daily basis, coloring our everyday thoughts and actions as two people can see the same thing in totally different ways because of their individual perspectives. Paradigms determine our attitudes, behavior, and relationships with others, and in order for any of these areas to really change, we must first undergo a paradigm shift in order to reframe our thinking.

Covey argues that in order to be truly “effective” we need to first be aware of our paradigms and then to work towards ensuring that our paradigms are the best ones for us to be employing. Our paradigms are the lens through which we view everything around us -- including all that has been going on this year. So how can we do this? How can we be aware? Here are a few questions we can consider:

  • What are the facts in this situation? How am I determining what is a “fact”?

  • What do I “know” and what do I “feel” or “believe”?

  • How else could this be explained? What are the possibilities?

  • Where am I making assumptions?

  • What questions do I have or additional information do I need?

  • How can I use this awareness to take control of the situation (or at least how I'm reacting to the situation?)

We, as individuals, have limited control over what physically happens to us and what opportunities we have. We do have ultimate control, however, over how we react to those happening and opportunities, how we view them, how they affect us, and what exactly our next move is. So in a year when many of us are just trying to keep up and trying to make sense of things the best we can, our best tool is to be aware of those paradigms and use them to take control.

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