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"I changed my mind."

By Edwin Harkness Spina

These are four of the most powerful words in the English language. They can prevent you from being manipulated into an undesirable outcome and launch you on the road to personal and spiritual growth. Depriving yourself of the freedom to change your mind will lock you into a rigid mindset that can hamper your successes and your development.

Early in life you may have been led to believe it's not good to change your mind. There are numerous words with negative connotations associated with those who do change their minds: fickle, indecisive, hesitant, unsure, wavering, erratic or wishy-washy. You'd much prefer to be known as steadfast, decisive, confident and sure.

Skilled manipulators use this near-universal conditioning against you every day. For example, how many times has a salesman asked you, "Are you in a position to make a decision today?" Once you agree to this proposition, you'll feel pressure to "make a decision today," and buy the product, even if you have reservations. After all, if you don't buy, you'd be indecisive.

But this is not what changing your mind is all about. Changing your mind means that after thinking about the subject or after gathering more complete information, you came to a different conclusion — a better and more informed decision. This is not being indecisive. It's being logical, prudent and wise.

What would happen if you weren't allowed to change your mind? You'd be forced to believe the sun revolves around the earth. Your evolution on every level depends on your ability to assimilate new information and "change your mind" as to what it means and how it applies.

Psychologists call the unease you feel when you hold two conflicting opinions cognitive dissonance. The theory is that you will be unwilling to simultaneously hold two apparently contradictory beliefs in your mind and will attempt to modify one or the other to minimize the dissonance or conflict.

If you told the salesman that "you would be in a position to make a decision today," and yet, you feel you need more time to gather additional information and think it through, you are experiencing dissonance. The skilled salesman will use your cognitive dissonance to push you to a buying decision today! If he lets you think it over, you may not make the purchase or may buy from someone else. Ever buy a new car after talking to only one dealer?

Imagine what would happen with instances of more deep-seated beliefs. You think so-and-so is the best candidate, the finest restaurant or the fastest car. To complicate matters, also imagine that you are on record as publicly stating that so-and-so is the best candidate, the finest restaurant or the fastest car. You have invested your "credibility" in this belief. What happens when new evidence comes along that contradicts this deep-seated belief? You immediately discount it.

Not only do you have the dissonance associated with trying to hold two contradictory beliefs in your mind simultaneously, but, even worse, if you accept the new idea, that might mean the first one was WRONG and you've lost your invested credibility!

How would most people handle the situation? Most people don't like being wrong, so they would either ignore the new idea or, even worse, come up with all sorts of counter arguments as to why it's wrong. In extreme cases, they may outright lie to others and to themselves, just to avoid the cognitive dissonance. To an independent observer, this appears totally irrational. To a student of human behavior, it is understandable.

As mystics, we're after the truth. So if it turns out the second idea is more accurate, serves us better, or is otherwise superior to the first, we owe it to ourselves and to others to accept it, at least until a better idea comes along. We may be forced to utter three words that are even more powerful than "I changed my mind":

"I was wrong."

Being able to admit a mistake is a sign of humility, which is a prized mystic virtue. It does not mean you're a doormat or that you are subservient to somebody else. Changing your mind after gathering more complete information and thoroughly thinking things through is a sign of being logical, thorough, thoughtful and wise. Your prime allegiance is to the truth, regardless of where it originates.

There is tremendous freedom in uttering these powerful words. Your cognitive dissonance vanishes. You don't have to expend any energy defending the idea of "being right." You are free to pursue the truth without baggage.

Once you get into the habit of allowing yourself to say "I changed my mind" and "I was wrong," you will experience newfound freedom. You will have taken 7 powerful steps towards the mystic virtue of wisdom. You will have also added the foundation of another mystic virtue: detachment. We will discuss more mystic virtues in future newsletters. •

© 2006 Edwin Harkness Spina

About the Author
Edwin Harkness Spina is the author of the award-winning spiritual thriller Mystic Warrior. To learn more about the book visit Mystic Warrior — 2005 IPPY Award-Winning Spiritual Novel.

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