Flexibility in changing your beliefs and perspectives is one of the more important skills in improving your life. It’s also a major component of intelligence, one psychologist told me. In my seminars and with clients, it’s one of the more challenging skills to develop, though easy with practice.
Like most challenges, the way to master it is to start easy and build. Look for all the opportunities you can to practice. Traveling provides many such opportunities.
Case in point…
Growing up, maps of Europe showed Western Europe centered on Western Europe—France, England, Spain. Then there was a thick line on the right of which was all red, with a USSR in big, imposing letters to the right. Sometimes in the bottom right corner of the map was Turkey. Maps of the Middle East sometimes had Turkey in the upper left corner. Turkey was always off in the corner, something like this:
I flew Air Turkey on my flight to Istanbul, meaning the maps in the in-flight magazine had Turkey in the middle, something like this one:
I’d never seen a map with Turkey in the middle before, let alone with all the Black Sea and Middle Eastern countries around it. I grew up not hearing about Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, the Ukraine, and other nearby countries. Obviously people in Turkey don’t consider themselves off on the margins of other places. They’re in the middle of their worlds.
From this perspective, my view, I think the mainstream U.S. view, was provincial. We viewed Turkey as marginal, but Turkey is at the crossroads of many cultures in time and space. I read the oldest settlement found in Istanbul so far date over 9,000 years ago, before the Bosporus even existed, let alone the United States.
I’m not saying there was anything wrong or right about my map or the perspective it creates, nor about the Turkey-based map. In fact, that’s one of my points. Maps aren’t right or wrong, they just give different perspectives, useful for different purposes. The more you view beliefs not as right or wrong, the more flexibility you have in choosing them. I say this as a scientist who pursues data to invalidate models. In physics we routinely use models we know run contrary to evidence when we know they help us understand or get the answer we want.
This geographical and historical data isn’t news. You could say the change in perspective is simple, even obvious. On the other hand, it gets you to change the center of your geographic world and extend your time horizon substantially. My point here isn’t the magnitude of the change, it’s that you can use your change in environment to change your internal perspective—your beliefs.
Sometime you’ll find yourself saying “I can’t do X” or “I’m not a Y person” when you want to do X or be Y. Often the belief you can’t is all that makes you unable to do or be what you want. Developing the skill with something relatively simple and impersonal will simplify the change and enable your flexibility.
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