SELF-MANAGEMENT Think – Management is all in the mind

Whatever your perspective of the day’s events or what you are doing right now, and whatever you want or do next is determined by your thinking and thought systems. You constantly cultivate your thinking and harvest the resulting attitudes.
But, since few of us realise the powerful role our thought processes play in our lives, we seldom gain significant command of them. Mostly, we’re unaware that what we think and how we reason are frequent sources of choices that direct energy away from where it is most needed, directing it instead to fruitless efforts.
Unrealistic thinking delivers disappointment. Random or unfocused thought processes produce disorganised, unsystematic behaviour. Pessimistic reasoning or inflexible perfectionism immobilises us with anxiety. The predominantly judgemental, critical or cynical among us are untrusting, and overlook the many things from which we might derive pleasure.
When our thinking and reasoning follow sound logic, methodical processes, mature and psychologically healthy beliefs, we are likely to do whatever is right, enjoy others and the moment.
It is entirely possible to undo whatever unnecessarily complex, adversarial, competitive, harshly judgemental, unfocused or otherwise problematic habits of thoughts and process we learned, to become clearer, more strategic, more critical thinkers.

Our predispositions
We are predisposed to certain ways of thinking, the origins of which can be traced back to great grandparents and generations beyond. Depending on what they passed on, we accept certain conclusions about life, others and ourselves. We notice what we are taught to look for, to make the judgements others made about what we notice, and to have our particular aversions or desires. Our attitudes about life can be summarised as series of thoughts that we hold to be truths.
Much of this serves our best interests but, some aspects will not. The good news is, it is possible to change our attitudes once we know what they are.
Nothing holds our attitudes in place other than willingness to retain them. They are not based on absolute truth: they are perceptions based on our individual version of life. They are not in our genes: if they were, they would be identical to those of others in our family. They are not due to our current circumstances: if they were, positive attitudes would be tied to positive circumstances and negative attitudes to difficult circumstances. We all know this isn’t universally the case: hardships that others endure do not always cause us adversity. Many people thrive on challenge and some in very difficult circumstances are happy simply to be alive. The key variable is attitude arising from thought.

Paying attention
When we first learn to pay attention to what’s on our own mind, we frequently discover and are surprised by number of useful insights:
* Unnecessary good/bad judgements about our experiences and expectations of future experiences tend to dominate our minds and lock us into mechanical reactions that disallow creative responses. Many have no objective basis at all.
* Many of our thought processes do not resemble skilful, critical thinking; they are unhelpfully random, reactive, disorganised and improvisational.
* We can learn to alter our attitudes, feelings and desires. This enables us to reduce our stress levels, make better decisions, solve problems more efficiently, plan and act more constructively, reduce friction in relationships and get better results from collaboration.
Once we see how little there is holding our predisposition to certain attitudes in place we can start challenging our thoughts. Although it takes strength and wisdom to distrust habitual thinking, when we stop using our ability to think against ourselves or to decide that there are only habitual ways of doing or regarding things, we are left with healthy psychological functioning – the most natural state of mind. All we need do is pay more attention to our thinking and avoid the mental processes that interfere with healthy, constructive functioning. The process is called ‘metacognition’: being aware of and modifying our thinking processes as we use them.

Mental floss
Metacognition is an essential aspect of critical thinking and an indicator of emotional intelligence. The more we engage in metacognition, the better is our ability to identify and strengthen those aspects of our thinking that serve us well, and to modify those that do not.
There is both power and potential in this. We can become more mature thinkers and experience less anxiety, guilt, stress, displeasure and resentment. We can control our attitudes towards any or all of what happens to us, including challenge, change and adversity.
And unlike desires or feelings, we uncover direct access to our thinking.
The mind is composed of three functions: thinking, feeling, and desiring or wanting. Wherever one of these functions is present, so are the other two. These functions are continually influencing and are influenced by one another. We do not change feelings or desires by substituting other feelings or desires. It is only our thinking that we have direct access to. We can discover our own thoughts, experiment with new thinking and change our habits of mind. Our feelings, desires and behaviours shift in accordance with the change.
“Consciousness can be shown to be constructed reality; in order to create stable, manageable environment, sensory-filtering system develops from childhood and is continually shaped by subsequent situations. What is experienced as reality is actually only representation [and]… consciousness may be altered simply by changing the manner of its construction.” Robert Ornstein, The Psychology of Consciousness.

Everyday applications
The largely subconscious fuzzy thinking and faulty logic behind common approaches to leading and managing collaboration is hugely wasteful and causes many unnecessary problems.
Managers, for example, are often unable to articulate the range of decision-making processes they routinely use, describe the circumstances in which one is preferable over another, or define the generic process of management.
Few leaders can define leadership or – beyond bumper-sticker slogans – their own values. They make unsafe, untested assumptions about their performance effectiveness.
Teams cannot usually explain what constitutes team or teamwork any more than those who believe they use “consensus” can define that term or process.
Those whose routine duties include resolving problems or managing and improving their own effectiveness seldom methodically design, monitor, refine and evaluate their approach to these tasks. Under scrutiny, their actual practices demonstrate wasted effort or serious dysfunction.
Faced with conflict or sometimes even simple need differences, most of us fundamentally, though not necessarily consciously, revert to thoughts like: “Conflict is dangerous and leads to unpleasant outcomes. I usually cannot deal with it [or deal with it well enough].” We then think:
• This is going to be painfully unpleasant again.
• I’d better deny its reality, avoid it, or prepare to defend myself by attacking in retaliation.
The consequent feelings of anxiety or anger promote “fight or flight” behaviours which reinforce the original set of beliefs. It becomes, in other words, self-fulfilling prophecy; closed loop.
For most of us, life is based on subconscious thinking and thought processes seldom explicitly articulated. Negative thinkers for example, rarely say of themselves; “I am choosing to think about myself and my experience in largely negative terms. I prefer to be as unhappy as possible.” Those who anxiously withhold from giving others honest feedback usually do not register the most common thinking behind their decision: “I choose to exaggerate the possible consequences and deny the probable benefits of my doing this to the point where I become immobilised throug

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