We Change When We Change Our Mental Representation
“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” –Jim Rohn
Tony Robbins always said that the most meaningful moment when it comes to change, is the precise moment where we make new meaning.
The change occurs when we form a new association in our mind of what something means, and then our emotions and body follow. For example, if snake means “fun, slick pets” for you, then you’ll do much better if you happen to land in a pit of snakes, than for somebody who had a different meaning where snake means “fear and loathing.” O.K., that’s not the best example, but you get the idea.
It’s not what happens to us, it’s how we respond, but the key in how we respond, is how we make meaning. That meaning is our internal mental representation. And that mental representation holds our key to change.
I’ve been looking for a great explanation of mental representation, and I found one. In the book, Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds, Howard Gardner explains what mental representation really is.
Our mental representation is the ideas, concepts, stories, theories, and skills that make up how we internalize something in our mind. Gardner writes:
“Generically, mind change entails the alteration of mental representations. All of us develop mental representations quite readily from the beginning of life. Many such representations are serviceable, some have notable charm, others are misleading or flatly wrong. Mental representations have a content: we think of these contents as ideas, concepts, skills, stories, or full-fledged theories (explanations of the world). These contents can be expressed in words — and in a book, that medium is customarily used. However, nearly all contents can be expressed in a variety of forms, media, symbol systems: these systems can be exhibited publicly as marks on a page and can also be internalized in a ‘language of the mind’ or a particular ‘intelligence.’”
Gardner says that “the content of the mind is by its nature an open, infinitely expandable category.” Gardner explains the content of the mind as follows:
- Concept — A concept is the most elementary unit. It’s an umbrella term that refers to any set of closely related entities.
- Stories — Stories are narratives that describe events that unfold over time.
- Theories — Theories are relatively formal explanations of processes in the world.
- Skills — Skills consist of procedures that individuals know how to carry out, whether or not they choose to, or even can, put them into words.
So if you’re thinking about change, start with your mental representation.