I spend a lot of my life feeling like something just isn’t quite right. I know there are some changes I need to make, but I often get hung up trying to figure out exactly what to change and how to change it. If I am honest, the true issue is that I do not feel the deep motivation for change. I’m lacking in commitment.
Last week, my wife and I were in Uganda. We spent a week training local pastors on how to be effective and influential leaders. This was my fourth time in Uganda. Every time I go to that beautiful country, I feel like a two-by-four hits me in the side of the head.
When you step off the plane in Uganda, you can tell you’re in a different place. The air smells different. The dirt is red. There is something in the very molecules that just feels foreign.
When I get off the plane in Entebbe, this abrupt change always seems to slap me in the face. Not in a painful way. More of a slow motion slap. And it has one amazing affect on me: it causes me to slow down. It literally makes me walk a bit slower. I sniff to get used to the smells. My blinking becomes irregular. The hamster-wheel in my mind turns a bit more carefully, a bit more methodically.
Like it or not, I have developed a certain set of patterns. Far from arbitrary, these patterns have been developed through years of experience. My expectations have been refined by observation. My presumptions have been manicured by erosion. Everything about who I am has settled into what my brain tells me is normal.
Some of my patterns were developed by necessity. I had to learn to ride a bike, so I kept at it until I adopted the skill. Now I do it without thinking. The same goes for the subway system in New York. What was once a confusing maze is now so familiar that I often lose sense of time during my commute.Some of my patterns were developed involuntarily. I watched how my family dealt with conflict and repeated it with my family and friends. And now there is a certain approach that I have to conflict. It is the pattern that has served me in the past.
No matter how or why, our lives are a kaleidoscope of these patterns folding over one another. The reason we find it so hard to change is because we are overwhelmed by the patterns in our lives. We are all but overcome by the continuous tides that are so familiar to us we hardly know how to name them.
The Path To Change
When that plane landed in Uganda, many of my patterns were called to attention. This is the value of travel. The more exotic, the better. When our patterns encounter something that strains our thinking, we are on the road to change. The mold has to be broken before it can be recast. So many of our preconceptions are subtle, subconscious. It requires a newness to invite us to change, to make us aware of our patterns and to invite us into another way.
There is a certain magic happening in Uganda. There is a purity of joy that is not often found in the United States. Being exposed to this has showed me that there is something about my patterned thinking that is not quite working. My System One is out of whack and I need to engage my System Two.
System Two thinking is slow and deliberate. It is through the engagement of our System Two thinking that our System One behaviors were originally formed. And if I want to change my System One, I need to slide back into the system that informs the way I think and feel and behave. If I want to change my patterns, I need to step into the arena where patterns are developed.
This is the great gift of Uganda for my life. It has interrupted my patterns. It has been an invitation to change.
For more on systems thinking check out the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.