Letting go of your mental baggage

by | May 15, 2014

Many people are hindered by negative mental baggage. With a three-step process, mindsets can slowly change.

BY: Goh Kim Seng

Mental baggage happens and sometimes, pile up. Without letting go, they tend to become a hindrance.

Mindset change occurs more frequently than many people realise and, in rare cases, it can occur instantly as the result of a traumatic experience.

Tom was a reckless and daredevil driver. One day, driving much faster than he should, along a busy narrow road, he suddenly saw a child crossing his path. He braked hard but it was too late. He heard a sickening thud as his car knocked down and ran over the child. His car came to a grinding halt. With a heavy heart he got out to investigate and was utterly horrified by what he saw – the head of the young boy was a flattened, twisted and bleeding mass, almost detached from the body which lay motionless on the road. That sight was to be imprinted in his mind for the rest of his life and his mindset on fast reckless driving changed, instantly and forever from that moment. Similarly, others who encounter traumatic experiences may also undergo sudden dramatic mindset changes, which occur instantaneously.


Common mindset changes occur slowly

More commonly, mindset changes occur slowly over many years, sometimes with very negative consequences. Jane was the younger of two daughters, the more playful and mischievous of the two. As she grew up she increasingly found herself in the shadow of her elder sister who was pretty, smart and had many friends. She sensed that her parents liked her sister more and treated her differently. Her mother in particular was a strict disciplinarian who often punished her for playing instead of studying. Overtime she began to develop an inferiority complex and grew apart from her parents who, she felt, were always demanding too much from her. Such differential treatment of siblings, usually unintended and unrealised by parents, could have lasting negative impact on the less loved one for the rest of her life.

The great majority of people on reaching adulthood usually remain set in their ways for the rest of their lives. They live out unvarying life scripts, entrenched in values and beliefs, which they hold dear but which may or may not serve them well. Many people are needlessly burdened and hindered by past mental baggage typically acquired during their growing-up years. These could have resulted from instances of child abuse, negative parental modeling, and other traumatic past life experiences. Not many people realise this. They could and should review their lives periodically, take cognizance of changing times and personal circumstances, and make the effort to effect personal changes. Such changes could lead to a much improved quality of life. However, it is certainly easier said than done.


The three steps of change

Direct exhortations to change and simply making New Year resolutions seldom work. The chances of succeeding will be more likely if we follow a three-step change process advocated by Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), often recognised as the founder of social psychology. Very simply, these three steps are:
(2) CHANGE, and

Defreezing is the most important pre-requisite. This recognises that each of us has firmly entrenched existing mindsets that somehow must be loosened, dislodged and dismantled if we are to accept and take on new ones. Change means letting go our dysfunctional mindsets and replacing these with more beneficial ones. Defreezing can occur if we deliberately expose ourselves to new experiences, question ourselves periodically, and review our personal responses after encountering some adverse circumstances. Accepting negative feedback without being defensive about it is a key door opener to personal change.


Effecting change

The next step is effecting change. Here the main obstacle is lack of clarity on what to change and the discipline to consistently work on it. Achieving clarity is not hard once you put your mind to identifying this. Sometimes it stares you in the face. You would probably have received much feedback already on what you need to change from your spouse and others close to you as well as from those who have conflict with you. To facilitate change implementation, translate this to some specific behaviour that is manifested from a particular mindset. For example, if being hot-tempered and easily flaring up is the mindset you wish to change, one manifested behaviour would be immediately making defensive angry statements in response to a provocation. Each time you receive such a provocation, deliberately hold back. Use a mental technique such as counting to 10 to allow yourself to calm down before replying.

The third step is refreezing. This is needed as there is a great tendency to revert back to the original mindset and its associated behaviours. There are many reasons for these – we forget, meet with embarrassment or difficulty, find it hard to implement effectively, etc. This is where perseverance, discipline and encouragement will go a long way towards overcoming such setbacks. Keep a diary of your implementation efforts. Work with a friend or a mentor and use regular meetings to check progress and plan improvements. Practise! Practise! Practise! Practise consistently to develop the behaviour you wish to change to into a habit. When that habit is established, you have changed.


A founder and managing director of 6M Management Consultants, Goh Kim Seng has practised as a management consultant for over three decades, specialising in strategic planning and management training. The 69-year-old has served as founding president of the Association (now Institute) of Management Consultants Singapore, vice-president of the National (now Singapore) Productivity Association and president of the Rotary Club of Singapore North. He is currently president of the Singapore Association for Continuing Education (SACE), which is championing the establishment of the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Singapore.


(** PHOTO CREDIT: Blue cases, gundolf, freeimages.com)





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