Dale A. Hicks, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, Certified CEO Effectiveness Executive Coach 

boots-181744_1280In his most recent post, Dr. Anton discusses mental models as decision rules that determine how we think and “what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell.” That is virtually everything that we experience. These mental models, which typically develop during our early years without the advantage of critical thinking or questioning, often continue to drive our perceptions and subsequent behaviors throughout our lifetimes. That is, until we make a conscious decision to actively challenge and question these mental models and decision rules and to open ourselves to the possibility of discovering disconfirming evidence that often is all around us.  It’s a bit like wearing shoes that are too tight.  It feels great when you take them off!

Throughout many years of clinical practice, it remains fascinating to me, yet readily understandable, that even individuals who seek change as a result of recognizing significant conflicts and limitations in their lives, nevertheless tenaciously cling to the very mental models and beliefs that are serving as obstacles to their greater happiness, satisfaction and success. Generally, even individuals with admittedly disturbing symptoms, severe emotional discomfort and/or obvious self-defeating behavior patterns, who know that they are limiting themselves both personally and professionally, readily acknowledge that certain changes would be in their best interest.  They genuinely want to change but find themselves unable to do so and may become frustrated and discouraged with themselves for their lack of progress or visible results.

The process of meaningful or transformative change is difficult, precisely because our mental models conspire, so to speak, to keep us stuck where we are and limit our ability to see new possibilities. They often provide us with a semblance of order in our lives and allow us to make decisions and engage in behaviors without challenging ourselves or critically examining the evidence at hand. This, in turn, provides a certain level of comfort and is the opposite of what people refer to when they say “think outside of the box” or “step outside of your comfort zone.” To do so is inevitably discomforting at first and we readily succumb to our more familiar ways. The shoes no longer fit, but we were told long ago to keep them on, so we insist on wearing them without questioning, despite the pain.

Mentors, supervisors and inspirational role models can be helpful in identifying areas in which change might benefit us and those with whom we interact.  But taking off shoes we have outgrown and accomplishing truly transformative change often requires the facilitative intervention of a professional psychotherapist or experienced coach.  That person can not only identify the roadblocks impeding change, but can expertly guide the explorer on a new path to his or her truer and greater self.