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On Changing Your Mind

a poster that says "Update your Priors" and has a thumbs-up

There's changing your mind, and there's getting evidence that your belief or way of thinking has been debunked. In that case, "changing your mind" is really you adapting and updating your priors. Go you! Be proud.

When I was getting my doctorate, which was largely neuroscience (i.e., how humans learn, how to create ways for them to learn, and how to assess whether learning has occurred), neuroplasticity wasn't the dominant paradigm. It was all about learning styles and how your brain was wired to learn. At least there was an acknowledgment of social learning, which has only expanded since then and is one of the few things I learned that hasn't been debunked. If I had moved forward without constantly paying attention to the research on the brain and how humans learn, I'd be misinforming people on-the-regular.

Fast forward to me being trained in the curriculum for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), created in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I'm one of thousands of certified teachers trained at one of a dozen places globally (my training was with Brown University—the center of that global training ecosystem). It takes a while for changes to be institutionalized, but updating priors is crucial. You don't want teachers misinforming people, particularly on a global scale, and particularly about what we know about the brain.

For example, MBSR wasn't originally as trauma-informed as it is now. There was a lot of eye-closing and focus on the breath, and now those are more of an invitation. In addition, the story about reacting and responding, which is still popular, turns out to not be what's happening, as the brain is predictive. Changing the model we use to describe what's happening is paramount if we have evidence. We adapt.

Be Proud of Changing Your Mind!

The primary conscious reason people don't update their priors, I think, has to do with not wanting to admit they were "wrong." But that's not a helpful way of looking at it. If you followed the then-current evidence and narrative, having done your research, and then new evidence shows up, you're not really changing your mind as much as you're updating your narrative.

Think of it this way: you weren't misinformed before; you're adapting now.

But if you spread what you now know is no longer an accepted narrative despite the evidence against it, then you're misinforming others.

There's also the reality that if you've created a business or a model (like MBSR) that turns out to have some information that needs to be updated, you have to do that. It's easier for the individual brain to not change (it's notoriously lazy), and there are business reasons that make revising your model inconvenient. But what's the alternative?

So change that mind and be proud you're adapting and following the evidence!

Here's just a handful of things I've changed my mind about, following the evidence:

  • There are learning styles and we all have one and we learn better when information is presented according to our learning style. (Nope.)

  • We are"right-brained" or "left-brained." (Nope.)

  • Learned helplessness is a thing. (Learned helpFULness is!)

  • Mindfulness is a way of responding rather than reacting. (Nope. The brain is predictive and takes the path of least resistance.)

  • Flow is an optimal state for performance. (Nope. Optimal takes conscious work. Sorry.)

  • Attachment theory. (I hadn't kept up on this one and it turns out it's been debated for years and declared debunked by some but others find parts of it valuable.)

How it Feels to Change Your Mind

When my mind has changed, I'm humbled, excited, and in awe of how much we don't know. When the new information doesn't change what I do professionally or personally, it's easy. And when it does change what I do, it's more complex and takes effort. But that's okay, as I want to operate with the most current information and not continue to believe things because they're convenient or I'm attached to them.

How About You?

If you want to chat about this or anything else, come to Thursday Drop-ins (there's one today!) at 11am, ET (UTC-4). Julie has a booked day, but might be joining us. We'll do an awareness practice around neuroeconomics, then reflect, and do some Q&A around whatever arises.

A purple circle with a blue "Mary" inside it

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