Change is more about letting go of old ideas than finding new ones. Most of the time, people are sufficiently happy with the way things are, so they feel no need to change. Life may not be perfect, but it’s good enough; the effort and uncertainty change brings look too great to be worth it. That’s why the moments when you’re open to change are precious. Miss them and your growth goes on indefinite hold.

Robert Thurman, scholar and friend of The Dalai Lama, describes such times as “teachable moments”: Moments when you recognize consciously that your previous ways of thinking and coping aren’t adequate for what’s in front of you; when life serves up something you can’t handle properly with the tools you’ve used before.

Most of the time, your habits, ingrained social conditioning and long-term values have your mind tightly barricaded against any possibility of significant change. Yet when events are just right (or just wrong, depending on your viewpoint), that doorway to your innermost mind is forced open for a little while. Of course, all those habits and past conditioning immediately set up a howl of protest and start closing it again, even if the result must be a choice or action that won’t turn out well. They prefer to keep the status quo and never mind the pain. Still, for a few, precious hours or days, they aren’t in control and your mind is receptive to fresh ways of seeing the world.

Here are some ways to take full advantage of these precious moments:

  • Let yourself consider the opposite to your normal way of thinking. Even if it’s not the answer, it will allow you to see past your habitual mind-sets. For example, if you usually like to plan carefully before acting, imagine what might happen if you just took the first, most obvious decision and allowed things to develop from there.
  • Let your imagination to run wild. Create mental pictures. Play with analogies and metaphors for the situation. Challenge your mind with thoughts like: “Suppose I was 20 years younger (or 20 years older, or the opposite gender, or had unlimited money, or decided to re-locate to Mexico), what might I do then?”
  • Combine and recombine options into all sorts of novel combinations. Don’t worry whether they’re feasible or practical. Just allow your mind to play. Then pick a few options and see how you might make them work.
  • Don’t allow the idea of failure to enter your mind. There are no failures; only actions that didn’t turn out as you anticipated. Take them and track exactly what happened, using that knowledge to produce still more alternatives — this time, backed up by actual experience.
  • Above all, do something. Anything is better than nothing. Any action will lead to a result you can learn from, even if it doesn’t work out exactly as you wanted.

Precious moments of open-mindedness are worth more than gold or diamonds. Never waste them. Use every one to learn something to help you develop. There’s a name for the rare people who make this a way of life. We call them geniuses.

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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