Malleable Mindsets

Broadcasting intentionality

Let’s imagine you want to change some aspect of your current mindset. Maybe you’ve lived a good life, have lost friends and family, and are feeling down. You’re falling into a spiral of depression and apathy. In this situation, you may not even be able to see that you need to change your mindset. A loved one may need to intercede. Let’s play out what that might look like. We’ll imagine a new kind of interventional product called a “Which Watch” that lets you choose which mindset you’d like to build, when. We’ll also tie the product to a known change methodology that has been shown to help with a particular mechanism for shifting or growing new mindsets. In this case, we’ll use the method called “Perspective taking” developed by Steven Hayes, Paul Atkins, and David Sloan Wilson of Prosocial World. 

Kimita couldn’t believe the day had finally arrived. She hugged her friends, picked up her box of memories, and walked out of her company’s doors for the last time.

Kimita couldn’t believe the day had finally arrived. She hugged her friends, picked up her box of memories, and walked out of her company’s doors for the last time.

She was officially retired.

Over the next two years, she lost three of her work friends, her sister. In a crushing blow, last week, her husband of over 40 years passed away. She was left wandering the empty hallways of her past. She shut down.

Loneliness consumed her, she really didn’t even know how to be alone with herself. Her big house made her feel as if her life was even smaller than when she was a child.

All those thoughts, from when her dad yelled at her mom came back to her. Those times he threatened to walk out and leave her with two small kids “not a pot to piss in” as he used to spit as he slammed the door, circled in her head. “You are nothing without me” he’d tell her mom. “Nothing.”

She wanted to give up. All of the things she lost weighed on her mind and she found herself paralyzed. She was looking out at decades of bleak wasteland.

She found solace in her giant glass of wine and sat for long hours watching vapid shows that made her life seem like a dream.

A knock on the door brought her out of her funk. A care package sat on the stoop. No label. No note. Inside she found a watch. “Oh, great. Another reminder of all the time I have left.”

She put it on and it began to glow. A compass lit up the watch’s face and started pointing outside. She felt curious for the first time in ages and shut the door and began to follow the map that was now displayed on her watch.

She found her way to a place called “Masterpiece Living” and peeked around the hedges. She saw a giant board in the lawn with people standing on various quadrants whispering into their watches, giggling, and sharing laughs with each other. They all looked older than her yet had a light in their eyes that made them seem like children.

As the crowd broke up, one of them walked over to her and invited her to come and join.

Fear crackled up her spine. She hadn’t talked to another living soul since the funeral. She couldn’t do it yet. She demurred. “I’m too busy right now. I’m on my way to an appointment, but thanks.” As she walked back home she found herself weeping and broke down on her steps.

The next day she woke bleary-eyed from a bit too much wine and wondered if she should even get out of bed.

Her watch lit up with a question. “What’s inside you that you really want to walk towards?” And it gave her some choices: Joy? Making a difference? Genuine Connection? Something else?”

She was surprised by the questions and how much she wanted connection. The watch lit up after a little while and displayed, “Would you like to talk? I’m just here for you, I won’t share anything with anyone else or any other system. This conversation stays between you and your watch.” She scrolled through the details and realized that she really did want to talk, even if it was only to a machine. She clicked “Ok.”

The watch spoke to her, “Say more about wanting genuine connection. What does connection mean to you?”

As she settled into the conversation the watch encouraged her to stand up and walk towards the things in her house that made her feel a genuine connection.

She roamed the house for what seemed like hours, picking up photographs, holding keepsakes from her trips with her husband. Flipping through work journals and laughing to herself about this or that crazy moment with her teammates. Sharing her innermost feelings about her memories and when she felt deeply connected. She walked out to her garden and sat for a while. When she slowed down the watch peppered her with more questions. “What are you doing when you are moving towards a more genuine connection?”

“We planted that tree and those bushes. Friends came over to help us build that deck.”

“What are the things inside you when you are moving away from genuine connection?” the watch asked. She was still. Silence fell over the garden. “I guess I close myself off. I feel resentment at the world, at my husband for leaving me here to battle loneliness, I think I’m nothing. I resent my office mates for carrying on without me. I know it’s small but I can’t help but feel left behind in the trenches.”

“When you say battle, and being left behind, what does that mean to you?” the watch prompted.

As they explored the idea of connecting more deeply, she realized that her metaphors, her way of thinking, her adjectives about the way she was approaching each day were all around a battle, a war with the world trying to break her. The watch helped her reflect on these thoughts. It exposed the patterns circling in her head. It became silent for a time. “What are you doing, tangibly doing, not just thinking about, when you are moving away from genuine connection?” it asked. She sighed. “I shut down. I yearn for connection while watching shows, I drink by myself. I turn down offers like that one the other day.”

The watch lit up with a simple four-quadrant illustration. Her heart and head were in the upper quadrants, her hands and feet in the lower quadrants. In each square was a short summary of the conversation. Her inner thoughts and her outer actions were plain to see. The watch prompted her to drag an arrow towards the direction she wanted to explore. She saw a deeper connection and some examples to the right and dragged the arrow in that direction. The watch opened up some options for her to try that would only take a few minutes and some others that might take the whole day.

She had nothing else to do today. A vast empty day of nothingness. She picked the “whole day” option. “Let’s go see what’s happening at Masterpiece living today. Don’t worry, we’ll just walk in that direction and see where the day takes us,” the watch replied. “Each moment you stand at the center of these choices. Let’s walk towards connection and build some new ones!” She was nervous. talking to herself was one thing, but walking out that door was a whole new level of commitment. The watch encouraged her. “I noticed you’ve been standing at the door for a while and haven’t walked through it. I’m guessing your brain is telling you all sorts of reasons not to walk out that door. Try listening to what your brain is saying, and thanking it for thinking of those things. Then leave those thoughts at the door and let them go. We don’t have to listen to everything our brain suggests. Sometimes our thinking is just thinking, nothing more. Let’s give this a try and we’ll reflect at the end of the day on what helped you make new connections.”

She took a deep breath and stepped into the light.

Our frame of mind is shaped by our history and upbringing

It’s shaped by the culture we belong to, the friends we have, the experiences that form our world view-both, good, bad, and indifferent, who we think we are (our identity), our current state, the time of day, preferences, habits, norms we find comfort within, our zip code, and our genetic predispositions.

Some of those aspects of our current mindset have been deeply engrained by hard-won successes or by crushing failures. Others are shaped by the context we are embedded within—the what, where, when, who. The events and externalities that drive our actions shape what we see as our options.

Still, other aspects of our mindset are shaped by the resources available to us. Have we learned a particular toolset or skillset? Do we have access to tools we can manipulate that extend our reach? Can we create artifacts that drive action within our own thinking process or share and co-create with others?

Do we have the intentionality, motivation, passion, cognitive capacity, emotional wherewithal, and critically, time, to take actions that move us towards a goal?

It’s no surprise that once we’ve settled on a mindset after the exploratory period of our early life, it can be hard to change. All those factors that are listed above are in play and we become deeply connected to our mindset AS our identity. We become entrenched in our mindset and at times impervious to signals that the world—or our situation—has changed and we need to look at our basic assumptions and beliefs from a new perspective. 

But what if all those aspects of our mindset that we take for granted and that drive our responses to the outside and inner world suddenly became malleable rather than fixed and entrenched? What if the next era will be one where mindsets are as easy to change as pulling a different favorite toolset from the shelf? What if we could enlist our places, things, and the people we surround ourselves with on our journeys to help us try out and build entirely different mindsets? What will we gain by having the ability to shift or build new mindsets and what will we lose?

If something that is so fixed suddenly becomes fluid what will make you, you, and me, me? We aren’t in any danger of this coming to pass in the current environment and it seems that we’ve moved in the opposite direction where social media creates echo chambers and forces us to be smaller and more locked into our mindsets than in past generations. Yet even today the reality that we can narrow our mindset implies that with the right framework we might be able to broaden it as well. 

Here is an example of a mid-career story to play this idea out a bit more.

Jesse was always the life of the party. They had spent a decade honing their natural ability to bring energy to every project and just make it fun to work on things. It felt like they were hosting a good event whenever you joined one of their programs.

Jesse was always the life of the party. They had spent a decade honing their natural ability to bring energy to every project and just make it fun to work on things. It felt like they were hosting a good event whenever you joined one of their programs. It seemed like the only catch was that they struggled to make sense of introverts and drawing them out, don’t get them started on some of the super nerds who worked at their office. Jesse had a hard time even decoding what they were saying most of the time. If they ever spoke up it seemed like a cloud of buzzwords to intimidate the whole team rather than make any sort of progress or sense.

All that said, Jesse knew that they were some of the brightest people with very different perspectives. If only Jesse could find a way to get them to come out of their shell a bit. Or if Jesse could just figure out what the heck they were talking about.

Right after a big program wrapped up, Jesse decided to enlist their Which Watch to build their ability to connect with people that were really different than how Jesse approached things.

They set their intentions into the watch to recruit a league of office mates to join them as they headed in the direction of more cognitive diversity, and dialed the time frame down to short small projects that nobody ever seems to find the time to work on.

Jesse figured they could learn fast and help knock out some of those initiatives that were like shoemaker’s children. Never worked on, even though they knew how to fix them.

The watch lit up with 3 micro-projects that would only take a half a day to wrap up once they recruited teammates. They set team goals to be: Anyone with a spare day of time in the next week, People they had never worked with before from across the age and culture spectrum, 30% introverts and super nerds (she needed some of her own tribe the first time around). “How will you know you’re making progress toward your personal goals in the first meeting?” the watch asked. “Hmm,” she wondered. “I think if I could get the introverts to feel comfortable enough to bring some ideas to the table, and if she and the other teammates could build on one of those ideas, that’d be a good start. I’d also like to work on myself.” “How about setting a goal of speaking half as much as you usually do?” The watch suggested. They also decided that the watch would alert her if she was trending in the wrong direction.

The watch displayed a list of 10 teammates and found a time this afternoon that they could all meet and suggested another time tomorrow morning for early risers, it also suggested 2 to 3 people that had context about the project’s history and goals to make sure she kept the team focused on the problem. She reviewed the diversity mapping and picked 6 people to give it a try. The watch suggested 2 methods for shared understanding and co-creation with people that were different than her and set up a room to support the methods in case she wanted to try them out. She picked one of the methods and added one she had learned about from a friend facing the same challenges and began digging in on the project.

Syncing and sharing the cognitive load within a team is hard work, some people, like Jesse are naturals at making an event sing, but even she wants to get better and hone those skills to include people she can’t really figure out. Here is a recent study that shows that high-performing teams enter flow states where their heartbeats are synced for periods of intense collaboration, in this case, a team doing complex heart surgery.

How might we foster those periods of flow more over time within our own teams and how might a product like the conceptual Which Watch map these new suggestions of science to tangible actions that shift our collective mindset or help us build new ways of seeing and reacting to the world when we are in a team? How might we close the loop over time and use the Which Watch to flex and explore new muscles in our minds?


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