An eagerness to continuously learn has always been a big part of my character. From academic pursuits to picking up new sports, my most fulfilling days are those where I spend time learning something new. With expanding knowledge, comes an ability to form and morph opinions and behaviours. I pride myself on being adaptable.
When in a learning curve, it is natural to develop a set of assumptions and beliefs based on limited knowledge. For that reason, it is often possible to observe very smart people that are yet to be exposed to more advanced knowledge, hold – with a false sense of righteousness – wrong assumptions. However, it is an openness to deconstructing your opinions based on new knowledge that separates those who can evolve and adapt as the world changes and those who don’t.
Watching from within while technology and science evolve faster than ever, one knows that change is like the ocean. You can’t stop the wave. You can swim away, you can dive, or you can stay where you are and be smacked in the head unconscious.
I believe that openness to change is one of the most critical traits a person needs in order to succeed in modern times. Which is why I have a real problem with people that hold tight to false or outdated knowledge when contrary empirical evidence is available. I also find it hard to understand people who are slow and resistant to changing habits based on progress or adversity.
If anything, 2020 has further reinforced this in my mind in 2 ways: Watching people, businesses and nations adapt as the pandemic unfold, and the Black Lives Matter protests spread across the globe, confronting people’s ideas of racial injustice.
Who do you think has a better chance of finding success in the so-called “new normal”? Those who resist, or those who embrace the change early?
What psychological research shows is the reason why it is so hard for some people to change their mind, is that for most people, opinions are often based on emotions and social norms, not facts.
A point that makes my eyes roll back big time.
I could explore the role of social media in this conundrum, using, for example, the polarisation of political opinion based on echo chambers created by algorithms and fake news, but it would require a book to unravel this topic. An interesting study to look at here is Thurner’s model that predicts that the formation of consensus.
The point I wanted to make with this article though, and where I think openness to change is a real advantage is: “new normals” are the “new normal”.
New technology is changing the way we live drastically. For example, my grandmother was born in 1942 and grew up on a farm with no electricity. It wasn’t until 1956 that electricity arrived, and in 1964 they got their first phone, followed by their first TV in 1968.
By the time she passed away in 2014, she was ordering her prescriptions online, booking her doctor’s appointments using a mobile app, calling her granddaughter in Ireland via Skype, ordering her taxis on Uber, and streaming her favourite movies using Netflix.
She saw vinyl records, becoming tapes, becoming CDs, becoming files in your computer, and then files in the cloud. She experienced monarchy, dictatorship and democracy, wildly different systems with different rules that required different behaviours. She lost the ability to walk at the age of 60. She lost her parents, her brothers, some cousins and a daughter. Economic hardship saw her having to pack up the farm and move her family of 6 kids and a husband into the city.
The examples of change in her life are countless. Luckily, she was a very open person and took any change, positive or negative, with a stride. Otherwise, she would have lived a very difficult and miserable life.
It used to take years for a new technology to come along and disrupt the way we live. Today, new technologies, processes, products, medicines etc are developed at a speed faster than ever, if you don’t believe me, look up Kurzweil’s explanation of this driving force, which he dubbed the law of accelerating returns.
Social change happened slowly, mostly at the local level, and was centralised around the existing systems as it was hard to share and organise through long distances and to imagine alternative realities. All those barriers have been pretty much broken today.
Meanwhile, there are still people that resist change…
Psychological research suggests that, for most people, once their minds are made up on important matters, changing them can be “as difficult as stopping a train hurtling at full speed, even when there’s danger straight ahead”. Unbelievable (to me).
So, as we enter an age of “new normals”, here is a simple way you can have a simple advantage over most people:
- Keep learning the facts and keep up with the empirical evidence. Holding opinions or behaviours that have been proven to be wrong is detrimental. Eg. Don’t smoke, there is plenty of scientific evidence that it increases your chances of getting lung cancer.
- Keep asking questions, to yourself and to others. Learn from people’s perspectives, find inspiration on what information to go dig into. Eg. If your friend has recently become a Vegan, ask why, ask how…
- Discern between your own held opinions based on facts and social norms. Don’t get caught up in believing and behaving a certain way just because it is the way everyone else does it/ has always done it. Eg. Maybe your parents always voted one way, and you just ended up following their footsteps.
- Learn how to accept and communicate that you were wrong and changed your mind. A common mistake people make is to fear changing opinion because they have publicly shared a view before and they don’t want to look bad. Quit it. Forming new opinions and habits means you are evolving. If the people around you don’t support this, they are weighing you down.
- When life throws you lemons, open a margarita stand. Or… seize the opportunity and view the positive in every change. It doesn’t mean you are naive to the negatives or that you ignore the threats, it means you approach it from a place of hope.
Live these 5 things everyday, and you are bound to be in a better place than most and actually enjoy the ride!