Mental complexity

Immunity to Change by Lisa Lahey and Robert Kegan is a great book that will change your perception about change on a personal level. It revisits the old ideas people  still have today about change, despite that reality and some hard science prove that they are completely wrong. 

Amongst some ideas Lahey and Kegan discuss, there is a powerful model about adult mental development. This model explains how people differ in their mental complexity despite age.

Lahey and Kegan propose that people, based on their meaning systems, can be categorised into three level: The socialised mind, the self-authoring mind, and the self-transforming mind. People with each type of mindset perceive their surrounding and process information in very different ways.

The socialised mind. People who have a socialised mind are shaped based on the definitions and expectations of their environment. They are more likely to say what others want to hear from them and do what they are expected to do; they are more likely to adhere to the values and norms of the groups and communities they belong to. This is why they tend to be better teams members.

The self-authoring mind. People with a self-authoring mind are shaped based on their personal ideas and agendas. They say what they want others to do, and they strive to control what is happening to them rather than being controlled by others. This also impacts what they want to hear from others and hence filter anything that might not agree with their personal views. They are more focused and more able to prioritise.

The self-transforming mind. People with a self-transforming mind shape their own ideas and agendas and tend to revise them. They are able to step back and look beyond what they believe. There is no mental filter that excludes ideas not compatible with their own. Rather, they tend to reflect on what others say and are ready to change if they discover that they are wrong.

In the past it was believed that people, after a certain age, obtain a fixed mindset. So either they develop an advanced mindset while they are young, or they have to live with a specific type of thinking forever. Reality as well as modern science proves that this is not true.

We often see people who are pretty old but have a socialised mindset, tending to follow rather than have their own idea. At the same time we also see young people who are very reflective, wise, and inspirational.

Neurology proves that there is nothing as a fixed mindset. Brains are able to change and form not only new connections between cells, but also new cells, as opposed to what was believed in the past. Of course, the speed of physiological changes in the brain become slower by age, but they nevertheless are happening.    

I think what Lahey and Kegan are talking about is the same thing Steven Covey describes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People where he describes effective people as those who about move from dependance, to independence, to interdependence. People with interdependence tend to think in a win-win situation, seek to understand others before being understood, and are able to form teams and rally others around a common goal. Therefore people who are interdependent have necessarily a self-transforming mindset.

This model should be a strong motivator to seek awareness in order to develop one’s own mindset, and a reminder that change is possible for everybody. If your brain can grow, it means you can change. You have only to want it.


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