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Success Tips: Why you should broaden your patterns of thought

Success Tips: Why you should broaden your patterns of thought

Discover your thought patterns, then act on that knowledge.

Pattern

We all develop habitual patterns of thinking: channels along which our minds run all too easily into recurring patterns of mental behavior. People often aren’t fully aware of these patterns precisely because they are so much part of their lives. It’s terribly easy to miss the role they play in limiting your options and determining how things will nearly always turn out for you. Once you grasp the automatic way that your mind tends to work, you’ll be better able to see what part you are playing in keeping things the way they are now; and what you will need to do to change.

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The only sure way to change anything for the better in your life or career is to change what is causing it to be the way it is. To do that, you must step outside the fog of your habitual thoughts and opinions and see things for what they are, not what you unthinkingly and automatically assume them to be. Those habitual mind-sets are not “the truth,” even if you believe they’re true. There’s always more that you don’t know and aspects that you haven’t yet considered.

Coming to grips with your own thought patterns offers you new possibilities. You can make choices that are far more likely to work well for you, since they’re based on understanding first what conclusions you’re most likely to jump to, and then what aspects of the situation you’re almost bound to ignore as a result. Once those are clear, you can choose deliberately to step outside your habitual mental attitudes too increase the information and possibilities available. Doing so will immediately give you more positive influence over just about all aspects of your life.

Some typical thought patterns.
There are many variations on habitual patterns of thought and no two people’s will be precisely the same. These are some of the commonest, simplified for the sake of clarity. Your own pattern may contain a little from all of these, but there will probably be a preponderance of one, or at the most two, patterns.

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  • Do you feel best when you have lots of people around you? Do you enjoy making new relationships and keeping old ones fresh? Do you have many friends, yet are always adding more? Do others see you as more of a social animal than most? If so, your mental habits have probably become set in a Relationship-oriented pattern. You’ll spot all the human, relationship-based aspects of a situation easily. Other aspects may be much harder for you to see without concentrated effort.
  • Do you prize fairness? Does injustice and hypocrisy make you angry? Are you naturally drawn to good causes? Do those who know you well see you as the kind of person who feels high standards of behavior are critical? If so, your typical mode of thought probably lies in an Ethics-oriented direction. In any situation, you’ll jump right away to noticing what’s fair and what isn’t. That may grab your emotions so completely that you become almost blind to anything else.
  • Are you an active go-getter? Do you prefer less talk and more action? Are you driven by the need to succeed and the sense of satisfaction that comes with reaching your goals? People like you gravitate towards fast-moving roles with clear objectives and challenges to be overcome. Their natural thought pattern is Achievement-oriented and focuses on what can be done right away. Putting nearly all their attention on that often obscures anything else that won’t lead quickly to action of some kind.
  • Do you enjoy ideas for their own sake? Are you drawn to discovery? Are you always taking classes and adding to your knowledge? Are you the curious kind—the type of person who wants to know how things work? Are you the one that others naturally turn to when they want to know something? If so, your thought pattern is Expertise-oriented. It can lead you into approaching situations with such a narrow viewpoint that you fail to see the overall picture. Experts often focus only on those few aspects of a situation that relate directly to their area of expertise. The rest is ignored.
  • Do you need to feel what you’re doing has a specific meaning? Do you like to see things done correctly? Are you careful and precise in what you do? Do your friends know that you won’t give up on a task until it’s completely finished—and as near perfection as you can make it? People like that usually develop Precision-oriented mind-sets. The result can be anything from getting lost in the details to that old cliché: “paralysis by analysis.”
  • Perhaps you’re creative and innovative? You prefer to solve problems with brain rather than brawn. You’re excited by innovative possibilities. You may even be a visionary who sees far into the future and thrives on radical change. People around you can’t always follow you; maybe see you a something of a dreamer? Creative-oriented thought patterns probably come naturally to you. The obvious draw-back is a tendency to miss what is right in front of your nose.

Understanding your primary thought patterns is the key to making change work.
The purpose of trying to understand your commonest thinking patterns is two-fold: to avoid being blind-sided by what they won’t show you and to broaden them whenever you can.

People’s thought patterns focus naturally on the areas where they have learned most, gathered most experience, and feel most at home. They act like blinders or mental filters, presenting you with a neat picture of the world, tuned to your biases and assumptions. What you see as the truth is only what they let you see. What you do as a result may therefore be seriously flawed, as well as limited.

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Relying on patterns of thought that have become too narrow involves high risks. Like animals and birds that become over-specialized, fitting too closely into a single niche can lead to disaster when times and circumstances change. To be able to prosper in the widest possible range of environments, you need to become more adaptable—which means adding to your ways of collecting information and reaching conclusions. The wider the kinds of thinking in which you can you can operate with reasonable success, the more successful you are likely to be. True “geeks” are often hyper-intelligent, extremely determined, and amazingly well-informed . . . but in a very narrow field. If they are often denied the respect and success they deserve, it’s mostly because their thinking and interests are too narrow for their own good.

What you need to do next.
Which thought patterns from my list do you most recognize in yourself? If you’re still uncertain—or want to check out your conclusions—you can often get a sound grasp of them by considering what people say is “typically you.” You may not be immediately aware of the typical paths your mind follows, but nearly everyone else will be.

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Careful reflection is vital, as is the honesty to see what’s there, whether it’s what you expected (or wanted) or not. Many people find that keeping a journal helps. So does talking openly with trusted friends. It’s also worth listening to criticism, which often focuses on what patterns in your assumptions and opinions most irk other people. However you do it, it will be time well spent—but only so long as you then act on what you find. A thought pattern—a mind-set —is neither something to be ashamed of nor a reason for pride. It’s always a call to focused action to move your thinking into other directions to provide greater balance and flexibility.

No one can control their future; yet everyone can influence it to some extent. How successful that influence will be depends a good deal on luck. But a sound understanding of where your habitual patterns of thought are going to lead you, unless you re-direct them on occasion, can give that luck a strong push in a positive direction.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include How to find and recognize a civilized job and Why fear of failure is the most common blockage to success. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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