Oliver Wendell Holmes was quoted on his desire to find “simplicity that exists on the far side of complexity.” It’s a wonderful but frustrating idea because, as with many great insights, it’s far easier to say than it is to do.
The other day, after a 3Gaps seminar in the LA area, I was talking with a woman who has dedicated her life to kids in trouble. She asked me if it was possible to teach the idea of closing the values, time and belief gaps in our lives, to millennials and younger Gen Xers. I told her that, of course she could. And, I reminded her of the story in Hyrum’s book, “You Are What You Believe” about Hyrum’s teaching the Reality Model to drug addicted high school kids.
In that book Hyrum talks a lot about “principles” or “natural laws” – things that don’t change over time. It’s easy to identify and become comfortable with never-changing principles in areas like physics. For example, gravity is not a complex principle to grasp and accept, even if it requires a fall or two early in life. But, I’ve learned that many people are not quite so open to the idea of eternal principles in areas like human psychology and behavior.
These principles of behavior are often learned, not in the classroom, but through careful observance of life. You don’t need a PhD in anything to observe the patterns of life, evidenced in the behavior of all of us. Hence, the phrase – ascribed to George Santayana – “Those who can’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” If human behavior was as arbitrary as many want to believe then what is there to learn – it (meaning human behavior) is random and, therefore, the past shares nothing with the present or future.
But, behavior isn’t arbitrary and there’s lots to learn. And, one of those patterns worth, first noticing and then learning from is that, not only across the span of history but within the span of a single life, much of what we experience remains constant. If you step off a ledge at 4 or at 54 the consequences are exactly the same (although more painful at 54). And so, in reverse chronology, I believe what you can learn at 54 you can likely learn at 4, if it’s presented appropriately.
And, what’s appropriately? People of all ages learn best when the learning is couched in the form of a story. Think back on your most impacting memories and, more likely than not, they’ll surface in the form of stories. The far side of complexity, in teaching, is found in the story that teaches the principle, not the principle itself.
When I teach people about the power of closing the Belief Gap by challenging and changing beliefs that aren’t working for us a common question is, “How do you change a belief, especially if the one you want to scrub off your window, has been there for a very long time?” The best answer I have lies in the story of The Little Engine Who Could and her desire to get the stalled train cars over the mountains and into the next valley. As she starts her journey she pushes herself forward, into new and difficult territory, with the repeated phrase, “I think I can, I think I can”. And, as she picks up energy and moves down the tracks she begins to change her tune from “I think I can” with “I know I can” and, having crested the peak finally rejoices in “I knew I could, I knew I could”. The belief “think”, becomes “know”, becomes “knew” and, in that verbalized belief change she’s changed at all levels – forever – far more ready the next time she must hook up, clear the peak and deliver the goods to the further valley.
The next time you think about beliefs and how to change them I’m betting that most of this article will have disappeared into the mists of lost memory except for one phrase, embedded in a simple story – on the far side of complexity – that starts with “There was a little engine…”