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Ever work with someone who refused to consider a new idea? Who insisted on doing work a particular way or who wouldn’t change? They likely suffered mental fixedness. Episode 40 of Faithful on the Clock identifies the three main reasons mental fixedness is harmful, then presents three techniques you and your team can use to expand your thinking.
[00:32] - Mental fixedness is a resistance to change the way you think and behave. Neurologically, it happens because, through repeated thoughts and behaviors, you’ve built up strong neurological pathways in the brain that are incredibly easy to fire.
[02:24] - There is a difference between fixedness in terms of integrity/charcter and fixedness in terms of being willing to learn or change. God is constant, which is why we can trust Him.
[03:29] - Abandoning mental fixedness can help you seem like a better team player.
[04:45] - Mental fixedness can hold back entire organizations, not just individuals.
[05:24] - Mental fixedness can stop you from developing into everything God intended you to be and serving Him as He deserves to be served.
[06:58] - Lists and games is the first tool for breaking mental fixedness. They help you break things down into components and see alternative uses.
[07:42] - Spending time with people outside of your department, discipline, or industry can help you learn new rationales and techniques.
[09:33] - New activities and learning can expose you to new concepts and teach you about yourself and the world. You can apply what you learn to your innovation and decision-making.
Mental fixedness is a cognitive bias we have that develops from repeating the same thoughts and behaviors. This repetition helps build strong neurological pathways in the brain that make continuing the patterns efficient and easy.
There is a difference between fixedness in terms of character/integrity and fixedness of the mind. The former is good; the latter can hold you back.
Mental fixedness is negative in that it can make you seem too egotistical to be a good team player, allow competitors to get out ahead of you, and stunt your innovation. It prevents you from reaching the full potential God had in mind for you because it makes it harder to create and appreciate the world and others.
You can break mental fixedness through lists and games, connecting with others outside your department, discipline, or industry, and committing to learning and doing new activities.
Come up with one list and one game to work on this week to reduce mental fixedness.
Send an email or call someone to ask if you can do some observation in their work or chat about how they do things.
Identify a topic you’d like to learn about or an activity you’d like to do and put it on your calendar.
What’s coming up next:
For sales and marketing professionals, having a customer-centric approach is standard operating procedure. But did you know that this approach can apply to your coworkers or team, too? Episode 41 highlights how to keep employees as your main focus to unify your organization and support great results.
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Hello, listeners, and welcome to the Faithful on the Clock podcast I'm your host Wanda Thibodeaux, and this episode is all about mental fixedness. Why is it so important to get your brain unstuck from your usual ways of thinking, and how can doing that benefit you and your business? Let's sort it all out right now.
So mental fixedness is just, I guess I would define it as the resistance you have to change your way of thinking. It’s just a cognitive bias we have. And generally what happens is, from a neurological perspective or neuroscience perspective, the more you engage in the same patterns of thought, the more ingrained the pathways for those thoughts become. So, when you're doing the same behaviors over and over again over time, like you might in a long-term job over many years of a career, it becomes harder and harder to not use those pathways. And I like to describe this like the development of a road you know when you first start it might just be a little dirt pathway that's barely wide enough to walk on. Because that pathway isn't really built up yet, you know, you can't go really fast, and it's the same way for the electrical signals in your brain. But over time, as you use that pathway again and again, it widens. Eventually, you might pave it. Then you get more and more lanes, and before you know it, you've got yourself a five-lane highway. So it becomes very, very easy for those electrical signals to travel along those routes in your brain, and it's hard to not take those routes because your brain actually likes the efficiency that they offer. And I want you to understand that, because when we talk about changing mental fixedness or breaking out of it, this is not just an overnight choice. It takes real work. It takes time to build up new pathways for your brain to use. But the good news is, you can build those pathways, and the brain is incredibly dynamic in terms of how it can rewire itself. So I really want you to know that you are not as fixed as you might think if this happens to be a problem for you.
Now, that said, I want to draw a distinction between fixedness in terms of integrity, in terms of character, and fixedness in just your thoughts or being able to learn. Fixedness in terms of integrity or character, that is a good thing. Hebrews 13:8 tells us that “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Malachi 3:6 has the same idea and says, “For I the Lord do not change. Therefore, you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” God is always reliable and constant. That is part of why we can trust Him, because He's not wishy-washy. And people are going to look for the same reliability in you when they're deciding whether or not to trust you. So I'm not talking about changing who you fundamentally are here. I'm simply talking about being willing to entertain possibility, being willing to consider that you might be wrong sometimes, being willing to have new experiences and allowing them to enrich your life.
Now, okay. Why would you want to be willing to do that? The first reason why you would want to get rid of mental fixedness is because, quite frankly, it can make you seem like an egotistical jerk. You know, if you're not willing to consider that you might be wrong sometimes or that there are potentially other ways of doing things, you're probably not gonna come off like a good team player. And that matters because, right now, the current work environment that we have, collaboration is everything. People want to know that you will hear them out, even if your experiences don't match their own. I mean, I just had an executive the other day, and he told a story of how he had an employee who just thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread, kind of had an "OK, this is the way we've always done it" attitude. And you know, this guy, super smart, but when push came to shove and it came time for the executive to decide who to mentor, you can bet that that guy wasn't on his list. And in fact, the executive ended up letting that worker go because he just wouldn't cooperate with anybody. He wanted to do things his own way. So that's just one example in real life how mental fixedness really can get in your way.
So, in that example, you can see how that employee became less competitive with his coworkers because of his attitude, because he couldn't get out of that fixedness. But you can apply this concept to your entire organization, as well. If your business has mental fixedness where the workers are resistant to change or new ideas, then your competitors likely will explore those changes and ideas before you do and get out in front of you. So they're going to be able to see far more functions for the resources they have than you do. So mental fixedness can hold an entire organization back, not just individuals.
But the third, and in my view, the most important, reason you should consider getting rid of your mental fixedness is that, at least in my opinion, it stops you from developing into everything that God made you to be. Because when you have mental fixedness, you typically don't try as many things, which means you don't realize the full set of capabilities that He's gifted to you or where those gifts can take you. You don't see or appreciate the way that He has made things, you know, you're not looking at everything in this world through multiple angles, so you don't innovate the way you otherwise would. And if you don't know your capabilities and can't really see the glory of what is in this world or the potential that sits inside of it, then you can't really serve God the way He deserves to be served. You know, you're giving God the short end of the stick in that way, and that's no good. That's not what He wants. Deuteronomy 10:12 says, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” OK? So not some of your heart and soul, but all of your heart and soul. So you've got to make sure you're in a position where you're equipped to do the jobs that He calls you to do. And lastly, remember, too, we are made in the image of God, right? So in the sense that He is always creative, I think you are the most like Him if you let yourself think "what if?".
So, you know I always like to give you all something practical you can actually do. So how can you go about breaking your mental fixedness, or how can you encourage somebody else to do it? Well, the first thing I wanna recommend is lists and games. So for the lists, you can take something and try to think of as many alternatives for using that thing as you can. You know, how many ways can you use that fork? And you just start asking yourself not "What was this thing made for?", but "Will it do this job in front of me?" And you also can take something, if it's made of lots of components, just list out those components. That's gonna help you stop looking at it so firmly as a single unit and be more aware of the entire structure.
The second recommendation you can use for fixing mental fixedness, believe it or not, is people. Most people, and this is a totally natural thing to do, but they try to find people who are like them. Because if you have people around you like that, you get a lot of reassurance that your way is right, and for most of us, that feels great. But that creation of an echo chamber, that is also a problem, because you aren't ever going to hear much that contradicts you. There's not gonna be a lot that's new. So if you're an employee, go talk to people outside of your discipline or department. Go do some shadowing. You know, take up that offer when your coworker asks if you want to go with them somewhere you've never been. And if you really want to get some real results, go up even another level and go do those things at other companies. Go network with people outside of your industry and ask how they do things and what their rationale is. I promise you, you'll learn a lot.
And if you're an executive, you can do these things, too. But if you're an exec, you've gotta think strategically how to make all this shadowing and networking work. And yeah, that might mean things like changing your scheduling a little so people can connect and explore. And depending on what's going on, you might even have to rethink your organizational structure a little bit. That's a big deal, I know. But the thing is, you get benefits beyond a freer mind. You get people who end up more empathetic because they can see how other people work or live. And when you have empathy, you have relationship, and if you want to be successful in business, relationship is everything.
The last item for you is to commit to learning and doing new activities. So maybe you finally make that appointment to sky-dive, I don’t know. Maybe you’d just like to see how it feels to paint or volunteer somewhere. I will admit, I’d do that before I sky-dive. And learning, you could watch documentaries, read books, take a class, whatever. And you know, everybody’s got different amounts of time and resources, I hear you. But the idea is just that all of these things will broaden your perspective. They’re gonna give you more information, both about the world and about yourself, and you can factor that information in when you look at new problems in front of you. So you can start small, that’s OK. Maybe just do 5 minutes, 10 minutes a day. But I challenge you to work up to an hour a day of this stuff. And you might say, “Oh my gosh, an entire hour!” But let’s be honest. A lot of us are just spending that time looking at memes online or eating pizza in front of the TV. Here in America, I don’t know if you know it, but the average person still spends about 3 hours every day in front of the television, according to Statista data. So switch it up, OK? It’s your life. Choose to use the time you’ve got well.
With those tips in your hands, let’s take a moment together. Pray with me a second, would you?
Lord in Heaven, the human mind is one of the most brilliant of your designs. But without your help, our minds can be pretty closed. So give us your eyes. Help us to remember there’s always more. There’s always possibility. And let us choose to see others and everything in this world with all the potential you’ve placed in it. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
I’m gonna call it an episode, everybody. Next time, I’m bringing the customer-centric mindset into focus. I’ll show you how to apply that mentality to your team to close the gap in perception that can happen between levels of your organization. I want to invite you in the meantime to go check out our Youtube channel! There’s a link for you in the show notes, or you can go to the show website, faithfulontheclock.captivate.fm, and use the link at the top of the page. But go there, I’ve got all kinds of inspirational videos and teasers, even previous episodes of the podcast if you need to catch up. So let me know what you like, subscribe to the channel so you stay in step with me as co-producers for the show, and until next time, be blessed.
Faithful on the Clock is a podcast dedicated to ensuring your faith and work align. You won’t find mantras or hacks here--just scripture-based insights to help you grow yourself, your company, and your relationship with God. If you want out of the worldly hamster wheel and want to work with purpose, then this is the show for you. Hosted by freelance business writer Wanda Thibodeaux.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer based in Eagan, MN. Since 2006, she has worked with a full range of clients to create website landing pages, product descriptions, articles, professional letters, and other content. She also served as a daily columnist at Inc.com for three years, where she specialized in content on business leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and behavior.
Currently, Thibodeaux accepts clients through her website, Takingdictation.com. She is especially interested in motivational psychology, self-development, and mental health.