How Changing Your Mind Can Lead To Growth

Changing your mind about something as important as vaccination isn’t a sign of weakness – being open to new information is the smart way to make choices
People tend to stick with their stated beliefs. But here’s how external forces like vaccine mandates can push people to do something they don’t want to do – and provide some face-saving cover.

Social psychologists know that, on the one hand, people are motivated to maintain consistency across their beliefs. Because people want their web of beliefs to be coherent, they tend to give a lot of weight to beliefs that are consistent with their overall worldview and to discount those that are contradictory. As a result, people will continue to hold on to a set of beliefs even in the face of mounting evidence that they should revise what they think.

Psychologists describe this unconscious strategy as a way for people to minimize any cognitive dissonance they experience – when things don’t add up, it can be disturbing, so to avoid those uncomfortable feelings, they ignore what doesn’t fit well with their existing beliefs as a way to maintain balance.

In the context of COVID-19, for example, someone who is predisposed to dislike the vaccine will give little weight to new evidence of vaccine effectiveness, because that evidence contradicts their current worldview.

Eventually, though, enough counterevidence can lead to what psychologists call a shift in coherence, in which people can come to believe that their initial viewpoint was wrong.

When environments change a lot, exploration is important. Good decision-makers will often forego the best-known option in order to determine whether other options are now actually better.

In these situations, helping people to change behavior requires reducing their need to feel bound to act in a way that is consistent with the attitudes they have expressed

More generally, people are creatures of habit. You likely feel most comfortable doing what has worked for you in the past. The more you learn to pay attention to how much change there is in the environment, the more you can work to push yourself to explore new options and change your beliefs and behavior based on new evidence.

This is one of the predominant myths of conventional minds. They believe that changing your mind is a “sign of weakness”, as it signifies you’re all over the place and “aren’t really standing behind your beliefs.” While this can be true for someone who changes their mind repeatedly, back and forth, to suit their needs in the moment, for someone who explores and sees a change in their environment and thus permanently changes their own beliefs and values to match it, this pivot is more commonly known as psychological growth, whereby one expands one’s worldview in the process.

In fact, as I’ve noted to others before, psychological growth and development actually requires these paradoxical shifts to occur at certain stages in one’s life, as the expansion of one’s worldview frees the individual from their past beliefs which are no longer empowering them but are actually limiting them.

Of course this can be confusing and disorienting to the individual who navigates their life with their beliefs. But once they recognize their outdated beliefs are no longer working for the current reality they are living within (like an outdated GPS), they in time will see that updating their beliefs as an empowering act, rather than a sacrilegious one. In effect, after going through one of these psychological paradoxical shifts, everything will make perfect sense upon reflection within their newer worldview.

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