Developing Mental Complexity Will Help You at Work (and Life)

woman thinking - pipelineBy Nicki Gilmour, Executive Coach and Organizational Psychologist

The world is increasingly complex and can be quite confusing these days.

How do you ensure you have the guts, glory, stamina and agility to survive all this change?

Mental complexity is the answer according Harvard psychologists Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey in their book “Immunity to change”. This is my personal favorite book right now for two reasons; I am writing a paper on behavioral change and also am grateful for the change I have personally experienced from committing to examining paradigms that no longer serve me.

This work can take the guise of coaching but touches on all aspects of your existence and is a vehicle for a happy sustainable life in my opinion.

Kegan and Lahey talk about how we tend to be in one of 3 “minds” or mindsets when it comes to our mental complexity levels and this has nothing to do with IQ.

So, level one is a “socialized mind” and is where the majority of people operate. Certainly, junior and middle managers can be successful here as part of being here requires following, caring what people think of you and generally towing the line be it within a corporation, culture or even a religion. People here are good team players. But, what does one lose by seeing life though this lens? If you do not fit with what the norm is, you might find yourself feeling inadequate and uncomfortable or undeserving in some way.

At work, you may be at the mercy of the effects of politics and feeling not aligned (and in society too). You will fight yourself to get aligned and reduce your cognitive dissonance. At what cost?

The next “mind” is the “Self-authoring” mind which with this increased mental complexity, you can relegate others opinions (and even your own opinions) to an appropriate place where they can be referenced within a bigger system than your own direct value set. Therefore, outliers from yourself and others will not consume you, and instead give you the power to bed the author of our own reality. You get to direct the movie in your head.

I can personally attest when I stared to think with this self-authoring mindset it was growth. It changed my life and I see it work well for my coaching clients and when (if) they get there then I can honestly say the ball is in their court which usually results in happier choices and happiness with choices made as well as robust future decision making ability.

This is particularly good for people who have set high standards for themselves or seek approval from others. This level of processing information will move you from having subjective feelings and suffering the emotional fallout from them to seeing things more objectively and in perspective.

By learning to look at as well as through certain lenses, you can evolve and as Kegan and Lahey put it “not be forever captive of one’s own theory, system, script, framework or ideology”. Then, you can start to be in the zone of the “Self-transforming mind” where expansiveness around what you see and hear at work is not uniquely filtered to meet your informational needs. In plain English, you can make meaning on a big picture level and not feel the anxiety around how it effects you which if you are in the socialized mind, will trigger you and make you take it personally. You can care and not be consumed by caring. Doesn’t that sound amazing?

So, how do you build mental complexity to thrive at work and in a crazy world? Tune in next week to find out more….