Levin: To change, we must challenge assumptions, fear

  • Article by: ROSS LEVIN
  • March 10, 2014 - 5:54 PM

When our large puppy went to a neighborhood dog’s birthday party, I was worried. Our dog is 85 pounds and 18 months old. He is friendly and rambunctious. There were kids and dogs of all sizes running around and I was prepared for the worst. My assumption was that, off-leash, he would be romping everywhere and getting his big body into all sorts of trouble. But my assumption turned out to be wrong. I almost didn’t go to the party, which would have deprived both me and our dog of a terrific night.

Our assumptions get us into all sorts of trouble. We treat them as if they were the truth, but they are our perspectives. The question is how can we better identify our assumptions so they don’t lead us to making poor decisions.

One of our clients has an opportunity to switch into a career that she had planned to start much later in life. Her assumption? Because of her training and commitment to her current profession, she can’t make the change too early.

This is a prison into which she is voluntarily placing herself. Her original career is no longer fulfilling or lucrative, but she feels tied to it because of some unwritten rules that are guiding her life. These rules may be around money or status or fear, but they are making her unable to change. What if she changed her perspective to one where the contacts and experience that she developed from her previous job didn’t lock her up, but freed her to use them in a field with more meaning?

One of the reasons we make change so hard is because we don’t sit long enough with our discomfort. We try to solve problems before we really experience them. As a result, we generate quick fixes that serve as Band-Aids for much larger issues. Sitting with her discomfort about her career and accepting that it is unlikely things will change would allow her to take a different approach.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, in their book “How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work,’’ have created a process to overcome our immunity to change. “If we want deeper understanding of the prospect of change, we must pay closer attention to our own powerful inclinations not to change,” they write.

For example, one of our clients is uncomfortable with any volatility with his investments. This obviously minimizes his portfolio’s growth potential. The language he uses is in terms of losses and he assumes he will lose everything. Ironically, he complains about his behavior, knowing that he’s undermining his long-term security. If he could shift from complaining to commitment — a commitment to take on more risk with a portion of his investments — he could assuage his self-destructive tendency. While he has enough to be secure, his irrational fear of losing everything drives his inability to temporarily lose anything.

Rather than focusing on something outside of himself such as volatile markets, he could focus on his own decisionmaking. Kegan and Lahey call this a “deconstructive stance because its central intention is neither to tear down or build up but instead disassemble, and the object of attention is … our own evaluation and judgment.”

When you uncover examples that invalidate your truth, you can recognize it as an assumption, freeing you to make better choices.

Spend your life wisely.


Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina. His Gains & Losses column appears on the last Sunday of the month. His e-mail is

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