The Principles of Objectivity Can Help You Think Smarter

Intuitive knowledge to help you create powerful new mental models

Posted Apr 06, 2016

How objective are you?  How often are you over-reacting to situations, taking things personally, perceiving tone in e-mail or judging people unfairly? We all do this at some time or another.

The challenge for many of us is that when we are under a lot of pressure, we tend to be less objective. Under stress, most of us draw solely on our past experiences, old assumptions and biases, which cloud our ability to see things clearly and make sound judgments. Moreover, our desire to succeed is often so strong, that, under these intense circumstances, our insecurities and our limiting and unproductive mental models tend to get in our way, creating even more stress and causing us to react in ways that we may regret.

Our ability to be objective depends on our willingness to question our mental models, the lens through which we perceive, interpret and respond to our world.  If our mental models are incorrect, then our understanding of what is going on and our response to it, are often incorrect.  This is why we sometimes misjudge situations, over-react and take things personally.

The good news is that with the brains neuroplasticity and with practice, we can interrupt our automatic reactions, those often driven my limiting and unproductive mental models, and choose a different response. Each time we do this, we are re-wiring our neural network by creating new pathways based on new models: new ways of perceiving and responding to our world. We can actually learn to think smarter!

One of the most powerful mental model transformation catalysts is knowledge, new information or logic that defies old mental models and ways of thinking.  As we have seen, mental models are deep-rooted beliefs, ideas, and notions that we tend to hold onto, no matter what. They define our sense of reality and drive our perception, interpretation, and response to everything we experience.  Mental models predispose us to very specific ways of thinking and acting.  They’ve usually been with us a while, so we tend to trust them, in some cases justifiably. For most of us, we have never been taught about mental models and how to evaluate them to determine if they are helpful or harmful. 

To transform unproductive mental models, you must change your mind! I cannot tell you that your Perfectionist mental model does not serve you well. You have to decide, through your own logic and reason, whether your way of seeing the world is no longer valid for you. This requires that you be open to new knowledge, information, and reasoning. It is in the wake of this new knowledge that transformation takes place. Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University’s Institute for Neuroscience and others call it a “moment of insight” and have used MRI and EEG technologies to study how they happen. The findings suggest that at a moment of insight, an adrenaline-like chemical is released and a complex set of new connections is created in the brain. It’s these new connections that have the potential to enhance our mental resources to help us transform limiting mental models.

To help facilitate a moment of insight, there are four Principles of Objectivity that have been very effective in transforming old mental models. These are insights that we all intuitively understand and that can be verified through our own personal experience, and yet we tend to take them for granted or discount altogether. The next few blogs will review each of the four Principles of Objectivity. The first one is:

Principle Of Objectivity #1 – There Will Always Be Situations That We Don’t Like

Image purchased via Istock photo
Source: Image purchased via Istock photo

We all know that what can go wrong, will go wrong. But often when things happen that we don’t expect or anticipate, we start the mini-movie titled, “Why me, this always happens to me.” We start playing back memories of all the things that have gone wrong lately. Some of us react by disowning the problem or, worse yet, engaging in wishful thinking, willing the problem to go away on its own. Of course, in most cases, it won’t.

In order to effectively handle day-to-day problems, the first step is to accept that they exist. Acceptance of “what is” is a precondition to right action. Non-acceptance is an ideal condition for an emotional, subjective reaction, and we have already learned how that can end. Furthermore, non-acceptance does not alter the fact that there is a problem. It just creates a chain of further emotional reactions that make the problem worse. If you are objective in your perception of a situation, you can then respond to it appropriately. The key is to accept a problem as it occurs and not take it personally.

Case #1 -  Mary, a career woman in her mid-30’s who works for an investment banking firm shares:

By keeping this principle in the forefront of my mind, along with a deep breath in and out, I will be more flexible in the moment. I like having a plan, and I currently get irritated when deviations from the plan arise. Rather than spending valuable time complaining and irritating those around me, if I can recall this principle, I can more easily adapt to what is now in front of me. In addition to being more adaptable, it will allow me to be more easy-going, both in work and in my personal life.

Case #2 -  Josh, a 30-year-old serial entrepreneur describes it like this:

The principle definitely changed my mental model of myself and the world around me. It made me happier in life to realize that being content with what happens to me is a matter of how I choose to perceive it. No one is out there to ‘get me’ and no one is responsible for my state of mind. Only I can change my state of mind, and how I react to events. I look at events at their face value, just as events that happen. Some are good and some are bad, but how I turn a bad thing around is up to me.

Can remembering Principle Of Objectivity #1: There Will Always Be Situations That We Don’t Like help you be more objective?  If so how?

In my next blog I will review Principle of Objectivity #2: People are Fundamentally The Same but Are Unique. Can you imagine how this might help you be more objective about people?

Excerpt from:  The Objective Leader:  How to Leverage the Power of Seeing Things As They Are.