Many years ago, I worked with someone who constantly changed their mind, making working for them exceptionally difficult. While they were a nice person, they never seemed to know what they wanted. Everything required multiple iterations and lots of dead ends. It resulted in loads of wasted time and energy. Worst of all, I never felt like I was getting anywhere or finishing anything. It wasn’t fun.
A 2010 Harvard study found that a lack of progress is one of the biggest de-motivators in the workplace. In contrast, when employees thought they were making headway or received support that helped them overcome obstacles, their emotions were the most positive, and their drive to succeed was at its peak.
As I’ve written about before, people want to feel they are making progress on work that matters. When you or your team makes progress, it builds commitment and elevates confidence.
We also want to be led by confident leaders, and decision-making plays into that. Psychologist and decision-making expert Daniel Kahneman found that we expect leaders to be decisive and act quickly. He said “We deeply want to be led by people who know what they’re doing and who don’t have to think about it too much”.
We equate good leadership with decisiveness and holding firm on opinions, and so we punish (figuratively not literally) people who we perceive as unnecessarily slow decision-makers. We want leaders who know how to stay the course, not prevaricate or change their minds too often.
It’s a delicate balance because if you are never willing to change your mind, you’ll likely fall into the sunk cost bias trap and not progress. Worse still, people in this mindset are invariably unwilling to admit when they are wrong. A former US President immediately springs to mind on that front.
Oh, the complexity (or should I say irrationality) of humans!
It leads to the question, when is changing your mind a good thing?
Here are a few suggestions:
- At times, we need to make decisions with imperfect knowledge and data. If over time, you learn more or the data you based your decision on has changed, you may want to rethink your approach
- When keeping with a particular course of action isn’t going to get you to where you want to go
- If changing your mind helps ensure a better outcome for those impacted by the decision
- When the decision to change isn’t just based on a fad, a whim or a fancy with no thought of the consequences, but is deliberately considered
- When you know that sticking with your decision is primarily based on vanity, ego and a concern as to what other people will think of you
- Life is an adventure, and if we never change our minds and open ourselves to new experiences, there is so much joy we will miss
- As we grow and evolve, we learn more about ourselves and our thinking styles and accepting the need to think differently and take on new perspectives aids that evolution.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive, as it’s not possible to write a prescription as to when you should or shouldn’t change your mind. It’s about you challenging yourself and being conscious of the impact that the change has on you and those around you. So, on what perspectives, topics or behaviours do you need to change your mind? I am sure you have ideas.
Recognising that you want to change your mind is the first step. The second step is to do that, which is not easy.
There are a number of factors that will help.
Recognise the courage involved in changing your mind. Some people may see your change of mind as a weakness. It’s not weakness. It takes strength of character to change course.
Know your why
It helps if you understand why you want to change and what led to the original decision. Search for the underlying assumptions and belief structures that underpinned your prior decision-making. Next, determine how those structures may need to change.
Be ready for resistance
When you change, other people around you may be uncomfortable. They can feel that your desire for change somehow threatens or negatively impacts them. This is particularly the case if your change challenges the status quo.
Source your anchor
Identify what helps to anchor the change you are making and where you are moving from and to. Anchoring can help strengthen your resolve to change.
Broaden your network
Surround yourself with people who will challenge your worldview and open you to different ideas. The broader your network, the more comprehensive your source of ideas and inspiration.
Avoid the curse of expertise
Accept that one person can’t hold the licence on being right and that no one has all the answers. Expertise is valued and valuable, but not when it means you stop listening to other ideas.
When our brain is on automatic pilot, it decides based on instinct and learned patterns. So, if you want to choose differently, you need to be more deliberative and reflective.
Find your sounding board
For me, changing my mind is something that requires lots of talking and having a good sounding board, and if you are a regular reader of this column, I don’t need to tell you who holds that spot in my life. Who is your sounding board?
There is also fascinating research looking at the use of psychedelics in changing minds. A whole fascinating world of science, and a topic for another conversation.
In closing, reflect on the beautiful words of Pico Iyer in his book, The Art of Stillness, which remind us:
“I sometimes think that so much of our life takes place inside our heads – in memory or imagination or interpretation or speculation – that if I really want to change my life, I might best begin by changing my mind“.