When I was a kid, I was given a book called “The Book of Think: Or, How to Solve a Problem Twice Your Size.” It was full of optical illusions, brainteasers, and puzzles in hopes it would teach children to be creative in their problem-solving. One optical illusion I remember was the duck-rabbit. This illustration is a fairly common illusion you can view in two different ways. Viewed one way, you see the duck, and viewed another way, you see a rabbit.
The idea of using creativity or looking at a problem in another light can also be called a paradigm shift. Paradigms are defined as a pattern or model with unwritten rules that direct actions and how you behave within those boundaries. Dr. Stephen Covey said,
“Paradigms are powerful because they create the lens through which we see the world… If you want small changes in your life, work on your attitude. But if you want big and primary changes, work on your paradigm.”
Paradigm shifts represent a departure from the pattern or model thinking or behavior. When Copernicus went forward with his idea that the earth revolved around the sun, it was a significant paradigm shift that changed how the entire world saw the universe and the Earth’s role in it. Copernicus was a medieval cosmologist, which meant he studied both geography and astronomy. By looking at the geography of the earth, they could understand the universe and how it worked. As he looked at a map of the world and the continents, he was able to discern that the current theory of the cosmos could not be correct. The contemporary belief held that the Earth was at the center and was a solid ball of land that passed through spheres of water, air, and fire. Then there were individual spheres for the moon, the sun, and the other planets, which ended in the sphere of stars, the outer limits, or realm of God. For centuries the oceans were explained as being where the Earth passed through the water sphere. Copernicus saw that the American continent did not fit with then-current thinking. That meant a total departure from their understanding of the cosmos.
Paradigm shifts in our lives may not change the world’s understanding of the cosmos, but most large advances in science result from a break with the current paradigms and could be the same for us on an individual basis. The world we live in has changed for all of us through the recent pandemic, and it seemed like everything we had as a framework for life changed. How we work, shop, and connect changed. We have a unique opportunity to see our day-to-day life with a new lens. This is where paradigm shifts can happen. It may seem like something easier to say than to do, and that is true: Paradigm shifts are significant and can be difficult but not impossible.
I had a friend raised in a religious home, but she decided to break ties with these beliefs as an adult. Thoughts of guilt and shame plagued her, and it became so bad she ended up visiting a therapist. The therapist told her if she wanted to be free from those thoughts, she needed to either change her paradigm about this religion or change the paradigm of her life choices. It had nothing to do with the religion itself but how she saw it. If she continued to believe that the lifestyle the religion espoused was correct, she would never feel like she was right. She was the one that had to decide what was suitable for her, and if how she was living wasn’t ideal for her, why was she doing it?
I had a paradigm shift when I was a kid. I was shy, and it took me a while to be comfortable with new people. I hated new social situations, especially when I was alone, because I felt awkward. When I was about nine years old, I thought, what if I pretended that I was comfortable until I was? These new people I thought were so scary didn’t know I was uncomfortable, only I knew. I decided to test it out, and it worked. No one else changed; they were all the same, but my paradigm of shyness changed. It allowed me not to fear going into a new situation with new people.
Paradigms shift in science, in society, in everything. There are businesses I shopped at in my childhood that no longer exist because they couldn’t adapt to the changing world. Don’t let that happen to you. What paradigms are you holding on to because you think you have to? What would happen if you changed?