[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
We all know the story about the three guys doing the same physical work at quarry yet feeling different — one felt miserable because he felt like he was just chopping stone, the next kind of enjoyed his work because he felt he was practicing a worthy profession, and the third who loved what he did because he was helping build the most beautiful cathedral the world had ever seen.
How do you become the cathedral guy? As long as you’re doing the same work, wouldn’t you rather enjoy life? I’m sure studies have found cathedral guys don’t just enjoy their work more but also get more done and enjoy the rest of life more too.
Still, many people stick to living like the first guy, defiantly claiming to be realists who see things as they really are, not realizing they’ve chosen to live in misery. But nobody prefers being the first guy. He doesn’t get as much done, hates his life, and probably resents the guys loving life.
How do you make yourself the building-a-cathedral guy?
So how do you transform yourself to become the cathedral guy?
I’ll tell you one thing — you don’t just wait for it to happen. He isn’t believing anything you can’t. So you start by believing you can learn the skills to change your beliefs.
You do it by learning to create new beliefs, to be flexible about what beliefs you hold, and to crowd out counterproductive beliefs (counterproductive to your goals, presumably of getting the job done and living a great life).
Start with awareness (today’s exercise)
My first step for improving any part of life is awareness. Today’s exercise will make you aware of your current beliefs.
Here’s the exercise:
1. Carry a notebook with you every day for a week.
2. When something in your environment triggers you to notice a belief, write that belief in your notebook.
That’s it. It costs nothing and takes a few minutes a day. At the end you’ll have a list of most of your daily and weekly beliefs.
Some beliefs you’ll have once in that week. Others you’ll have daily. Some more than daily. Some will annoy you. Others will calm you. The point is to record them without guilt, blame, or any judgment — just to record them.
Benefits of this exercise
First, you’ll clarify the world you live in — not just the physical world you sense directly, nor the world you consciously think you live in, but the world you actually believe in.
What’s the difference between these worlds?
If the exercise asked you to write what you observed with your senses, you might write something like “My boss walked into the room.”
When you write your beliefs, you might instead write, “My boss sucks. I hate working for other people. Bosses make you do things you don’t want to.”
Very different worlds!
The world you sense exists, but you only interact with it superficially. You spend your mental effort on the world of your beliefs. And you can change your beliefs.
Without awareness, change is hard. Most people don’t realize how much their beliefs affect their perception of their worlds, and therefore they don’t know how much their beliefs influence their emotions, motivations, and behaviors.
As a result they make themselves unnecessarily miserable and miss opportunities to improve their lives.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees